NUFC Season Tickets

So, another new era NUFC milestone was reached this week as the club put around 1000 season tickets on sale. It was reported that over 30,000 people were sat in an online queue at one point, all patiently waiting, Willy Wonka-like for the chance to get their hands on a golden ticket.

Given the hysteria around the club for the last year or so, the numbers weren’t that much of a surprise. If you take into account the whole feel good factor created by things that range from being as small as team photos and painting the concourses in the stadium to being as big as signing world class players or indeed any players in what I’m reliably informed is called a ‘transfer window’, then it’s no wonder people want to watch their team again.

However, while it might seem simple that people want to see attractive football again, a lot of people still aren’t particularly happy.

For me, it seemed a simple equation. If you sit in a massive queue – nothing like the numbers that Everton get for Under 23 games or the launch of new mugs at the club shop mind, but massive all the same – trying to get something that’s available in a limited amount, then you might well miss out. And yet, still people seemed outraged.

Some said that they had a greater right than others to getting season tickets, while others bemoaned the size of the stadium. So here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

First of all, I’m not that sure that anyone has a greater right to watch a football team than anyone else. I’ve always been a bit of an advocate for supporting your local team, but even then I realise that people from other parts of the UK and the world have a connection to the club. And that connection makes it perfectly natural to want to go to St. James’ Park and see your team. It might not be perhaps as obvious a connection as being local, but it’s a connection all the same.

I was born and bred in Newcastle, growing up in Blaydon while spending a considerable amount of time with family in both Byker and Walker. I never thought I’d leave, but then a combination of university and Margaret Thatcher deciding the region didn’t deserve investment or jobs happened and I moved away, first to Stoke and then back north to Leeds. So was I only passable as a season ticket holder or even a supporter to some while I lived in Blaydon? It’s a silly argument really, but I guess some people are a little blind to real life at times.

Then we come to the question of what some see as loyalty. Some will tell you that season tickets and indeed any kind of matchday seat should go to those deemed the most loyal. But then, how do you define loyalty? Is it a simple matter of attending every game home or away? It can’t be, surely because again this is an area where life can get in the way. What if you work shifts or occasional weekends? What if work takes you away for periods of time or what if you live too far away to make it practical to get to every game? And what about the fact that there’s only a finite certain amount of people that can fit into the stadium or an away allocation. What if you can’t be ‘loyal’ because of that?

And as for loyalty, what even is it? If you’re going to every game because we’re successful – probably difficult to imagine, I know – then that’s an easy version of loyalty. I’d hope I was loyal during enough of the awful football that I’ve witnessed over the years to be able to be respected for boycotting when I’d had enough of seeing how badly my club was being run and the foresight, perhaps, to see it was going to get worse. So while I’d salute (not literally, that’s be daft) those who stuck with it, I’d argue that the reasons myself and many others had for stepping away were equally admirable.

Lots of people have had a real issue with those of us who boycotted because of Ashley’s ownership. It was an early and reasonably easy choice for me to make. Having held a season ticket for years, I was driving up from Leeds and my first thought on taking my seat was often, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of ambition and by what I felt like I could see was going to happen to the club. To paraphrase a now famous banner, I didn’t want a team that won all the time, I wanted a team that tried and from the owner downwards, I couldn’t see that. Everything came to a head for me at the fateful home game versus Hull, just after Keegan had resigned again. Here was my childhood hero being roundly abused by Ashley and his cronies. In fact, we were all having the piss taken out of us. I’d had enough. That was my last game. Even during Rafa’s time, despite the pull of something a bit brighter, Ashley kept me away.

Staying away has genuinely hurt. There’s something missing in my life every time we play. Tears have been shed over all manner of issues – various protests, Rafa leaving, Wor Flags displays, the takeover, Wilson’s goal against Spurs after the takeover was done, sometimes even just the sight of someone like Justin Barnes was enough to bring a tear to the eye! I’ve missed the social side of games, I’ve missed the atmosphere, the expectancy, the hope, the sight of The Angel signalling that I’m nearly home again on the drive up, Local Hero…all sorts of things. But I knew it was important to stick to my guns.

For people to now be telling me (or us, the ones that walked away, heartbroken) that I have no right to a season ticket is a bit of a joke. In walking away, what we did was incredibly difficult, but it had a purpose and I’d argue it had to be done. I couldn’t continue to give my money to Ashley and the thought that if he was denied our money he might sell up seemed reasonably sensible to me. So, I gave up one of the biggest things in my life and something that I’d been utterly in love with from an early age. It wasn’t a simple matter of having had enough and waiting for us to start winning and signing big names again. It felt like it had broken my heart.

As it happens, I’ve not applied for a season ticket. Somehow, I’ve got to the age I’m at and found that I lead a bit of a busy life and the thought of driving up and down the motorway to get to games just felt a little bit too much at the moment. My health hasn’t been fantastic over the past few years and so this was an extra strain that I felt unwilling to put myself through. I suppose I’m finding out that sometimes in life, the time just isn’t right, no matter how much you want to do something. But, I’d defend anyone’s right to try and go back, who’s been in the situation I’ve been in. Ashley’s season ticket giveaway of a few years back suggests that there’s a lot of us too. Like me, a lot of those will have been long term season ticket holders when they decided to boycott. Like me, a lot of them would have done plenty of time following Newcastle home and away over the years. That love, that loyalty and that history can’t just be switched off. Nor can it be ignored or cheapened.

As Newcastle United fans, it seems odd that so many are determined to have us divided. I understand that everyone has a view, but I’d also suggest that people don’t criticise or judge too much when they haven’t walked in the shoes that they’re so eager to denounce. Everyone has a view, but everyone has a story too, whether it be about why we love Newcastle United or why we had to loosen our grip a little bit. When it comes down to it, we all want the same thing; the hope and the pride that comes with supporting a competitive and ambitious Newcastle United.

Newcastle United Stadium Tour

Having spent the morning and early afternoon of my first birthday treat touring a brewery before taking on a sampling session of wonderful beers, it was going to take a lot for me to budge from my stool on this particular Friday afternoon. To say that I was settled was the proverbial understatement and on any other day, I would have been more than happy to order another drink and carry on chatting about whatever subject cropped up next. But, a long held love was calling, not just for me, but for my drinking partner too. Newcastle United was once again whispering sweet nothings in our ears.

We’d been sitting in the Brinkburn Street Brewery and Kitchen for a few hours, so heading across Newcastle having drunk a sample of six amazing beers, it’s safe to say the legs were slightly unsteady. Not only that though, having not visited this side of the city for many, many years I felt like an alien. The city has transformed over the 20-something years that I’ve been away and this means that sadly, there’s not a lot left that I recognise. And I haven’t visited regularly enough to keep up with the changes in the skyline.

Where we were heading though, was probably even stranger to me. St. James’ Park, home of our beloved Newcastle United had been somewhere I’d spent a large chunk of my childhood and early adult years, watching any and every game played. However, reacting mainly to our previous owner and the early signs of his mismanagement but also the prospect of becoming a father of two, I stopped going to games. I gave up my season ticket early, feeling like I was falling out of love with the club and the game. Today would be the first time that I’d set foot in the stadium in nearly 13 and a half years. 4913 days, to be precise.

As part of my 50th birthday celebrations my wife had booked a stadium tour for my self and my mate David. I hope I don’t get it wrong when I say that we were both a little giddy as we arrived at the reception desk to check in. I think the beer helped a bit as well, if I’m being completely honest!

Once checked in, we put on our tour lanyards and were given an initial introduction to the tour by our guide Carol, who then ushered us in to the lifts that would take us up towards our first stop on the tour; the executive boxes.

I’ve never particularly fancied watching a game from a corporate box and although it was amazing to be inside the two that we looked at – in through Jonjo Shelvey’s and out again through Callum Wilson’s (steady at the back there fans of double entendre) – this didn’t do a great deal for me as a fan. That said, if anyone at the club or even Jonjo, Callum or any other box owning players wanted to invite me to a match to try and change my mind, I’m sure I could forget my working class roots and decades on the terraces in order to give it a go!

Our tour guide, Carol, was a mine of information at this point, letting us know everything we could wish to know about the corporate hospitality at The Toon, including the detail that would really put me off; the price! That said, if you have the money it looks like a pretty decent experience to have once a fortnight!

After the boxes it was Level 7, the highest point of the ground. You can take the rooftop tour at St. James’ as well and this was something I’d considered, despite not being that comfortable with heights. However, the reminder of how high Level 7 is made me thankful that I’d not taken that particular plunge. This was also the level where I had last had my season ticket and so walking out onto the concourse and then out towards the seats felt ever-so-slightly emotional. As far as I could remember, we even came out quite close to where I had sat in those days. However, I wasn’t going to let those kind of memories get in the way of the childlike giddiness I felt at being back in the ground, especially with everything that’s happened since October.

We took in the view, learning about the fact that on a clear day you can see the Stadium of Light – so if you’re ever sitting there, look the other way, claw your own eyes out or pray for cloud – as well as many other much more pleasant sights. We were told about the broadcasting facilities, matchday control and lots of other small details that as a fan, you probably don’t ever realise about.

After this we headed down to the dressing room area, starting by taking in the away dressing room which was a rather spartan affair as you’d probably expect. However, the best was yet to come. You’d imagine that sitting in the same dressing room as your heroes – and alongside their shirts – would be the kind of thing that would be most enjoyable to the several under 10s on the tour. Think again! This 50 year old was very excited indeed at being there and sitting next to those shirts! Ridiculous really, but what a thrill!

I had the same experience on the tour of the Allianz Arena a few years back and still found myself grinning from ear to ear at sitting next to shirts with the names of Davies, Lewandowski, Coman, Ribery, Muller and Neuer. No idea why, really, but it was umpteen times as exciting to be doing it at St. James’ Park. Isn’t it strange how ridiculously we behave when faced by almost anything to do with our beloved game? I struggled to get the grin off my face from that point onward though.

Once we left the dressing room, we assembled in the tunnel area and after a few minutes more information from Carol, it was time to make like a player and head for the pitch. Newcastle try to make that matchday experience side of the tour as authentic as possible by blasting out ‘Local Hero’ as you walk down the tunnel and even as a middle aged man, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Is that sad? I genuinely don’t care! I’ve followed this club for over 40 years, dreaming of playing for them as I grew up; of course walking down that tunnel is going to be exciting.

Seeing the whole place from pitchside was amazing and it makes you fully take in what a magnificent stadium we have. I somehow resisted the urge to skip over the rope and run onto the pitch, filling my time by taking photos and having a little sit down in Eddie’s chair in the dug out, again all done with a huge grin on my face. And then, it was time to go.

Newcastle United had made me feel like a kid again. Touring the stadium, somewhere I felt I knew so much about, was a brilliant way to spend the afternoon and I found out a lot of things that I didn’t actually know. Our tour guide Carol was excellent; the perfect balance of fun and knowledge – she knew her stuff and clearly loved her job making the whole thing even more of a pleasure.

If you’re a Newcastle fan, this is a must. If you’re a football fan (you know, of one of those other clubs) you’ll enjoy a look round St. James Park too. Either way, it made for an fantastic birthday treat and I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a go!

Euro 2020 Diary: The Final Instalment

Ah, the morning after the night before. For completely different reasons, had England won the final of Euro 2020, this would have been a difficult entry to write. As it goes, on the back of such a cruel loss, it’s tough to know where to start.

In fact, I started by staring at this keyboard. For quite a while. Then I flicked tabs on the internet to have another look at the BBC Sport football page. Then I looked at social media on my phone for a bit. It didn’t change very much.

I’ve tried to avoid writing too much about England as I’ve written these diaries. And although I’ll abandon that stance quite soon, I’ll think I’ll revert back there to start with.

It’s been a helluva tournament. A month’s worth of football and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, until around 11pm last night that is. What’s occurred in and around stadiums has been an absolute spectacle though and it’s been wonderful to indulge my love of the game.

  1. I’ve done a bit of freelance scouting for my team. Every football fan does this at major tournaments though, don’t they? We all watch the games with half an eye on our club side, searching for the diamond in the rough that, in our heads, we can recommend to our club side. We all know that we have no influence whatsoever and that said rough diamonds are probably playing beyond their ability just because of the lift that a tournament gives, but we still do it.

This time round my keen eye has picked out a few Italians, Elmas the attacking midfielder who plays for North Macedonia, the Welsh lad Ethan Ampadu and a few others. As ever, I’ve found that most play for big clubs and would cost way more than Newcastle United’s budget, but it hasn’t stopped me looking and playing the ‘expert’.

Sadly, I imagine our manager will be scanning the list of free transfers and players available for loan as we speak. Alas, my role as Head of European Scouting was fun while it lasted.

2. Why would you go to a game in fancy dress? Come to think of it, why would you go anywhere in fancy dress? Even a fancy dress party is about a dozen steps too far. During this tournament I’ve witnessed German fans dressed head to toe in lycra as the German flag. French fans dressed as Asterix and Obelix, Dutch fans dressed as oranges…oh wait, that’s just the colour of their football shirts, England fans dressed as St.George and actual lions and during last night’s final there were Italian fans dressed as Mario, a pizza and even the Pope. Some Scotland fans even attended games in skirts.

I don’t get it. Given the heat which has been a fairly regular feature in the tournament, I get it even less. But imagine simple logistics like sitting down in an Obelix costume. Imagine the conversation stopper that is, ‘Lads, I’m thinking of going to the final dressed as a pizza’. And the feeling of looking like an even bigger tool when some bloke a row down from you steals your thunder by dressing up as his actual holiness the Pope. I understand the excitement and the fact that people get carried away, but fancy dress? Never.

3. Why have England fans been booing national anthems? I mean, I know what reason most will give for booing the German anthem, but I think it’s time to leave this behind lads and lasses. In fact, go to Germany. Spend some time there. Immerse yourself in wonderful things like trains that arrive on time. Visit the museums, sample the night life, enjoy the people who are truly lovely, sit in an enormous beer garden and feel stunned at how friendly it all is. Don’t boo and hate because of ancient history. Don’t boo any nations anthem. Just rid yourself of your small mindedness and show a tiny bit of respect. And listen carefully; some of them – as I’ve pointed out in an earlier diary – are absolute bangers!

And why are people booing Denmark’s anthem by the way. We’ve all stood barefoot on a piece of upturned Lego in our time, but it’s hardly worth all that energy on an anthem that is a little bit rubbish and means literally nothing to you.

4. We couldn’t quite bring football home, could we? But that’s OK. We’ve been not bringing football home for years.

It was heartbreaking to watch the final as an England fan. We started so well, scored early and offered hope for a while. It looked like we might finally see a tournament through. But, to cut a long story short, we were beaten by a better side on the night.

While I’m beyond disappointed this morning, I’m going to try to be positive. We have a young, vibrant, gifted squad of players with more waiting to come through and represent their country too. The future looks bright. The experience gained last night could and should stand the team in good stead in future tournaments. We’ll have our day, I’m sure of it.

Mistakes were probably made last night, if we’re being honest. Most notably with the penalties. As a result of missing some penalties, the now usual barrage of racist abuse has appeared from a spiteful, hate filled, thick as mince underclass and this kind of thing clearly needs to be dealt with. But just for now, let’s applaud the courage of those that stepped up. Bukayo Saka, who took and missed our final penalty, is 19 years old. At his age I was frightened to talk to new people, shy beyond belief. I wouldn’t put my hand up to answer questions in university seminars, hated going into the pub on my own to meet friends, blushed noticeably if a girl spoke to me and was just too immature to appreciate the opportunity afforded me in being able to go to university and study for three years. Bukayo Saka stepped up to take a crucial penalty in front of a packed Wembley Stadium while 30 million people watched on telly. I bet he’d have no bother walking into a pub to meet his mates and he’d be at ease in a seminar. Give the lad some respect and some love. And give the rest of the squad and the coaches and officials exactly the same while you’re on.

The England team have left us with even more amazing memories. They’ve beaten pretty much whoever has stood in front of them and it’s been absolutely brilliant to play a tiny part in it all as a fan. That overrides a missed penalty kick. So while I’m disappointed this morning, I see no point in apportioning blame and forgetting how much enjoyment this tournament and our teams has given me and countless others over the last month or so.

5. Finally, spare a thought for Jordan Pickford. Jordan is a Sunderland fan and I’m a Newcastle fan. We don’t know each other, but I get the impression he wouldn’t like me just because of my allegiance. I’m not a big fan of him because of his allegiance either. He is however, the England goalkeeper.

Jordan Pickford was magnificent in the penalty shoot out last night. He didn’t deserve to lose after saving two Italian penalties and I felt heartily sorry for the lad. And while I’m hopeful that he has his usual meltdown if he plays against Newcastle next year, I hope he has a brilliant season.

So that’s me signing off on the Euro 2020 diaries. It didn’t quite go our way, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it. Here’s to writing about it all again when the World Cup in Qatar starts at the back end of next year!

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