Where Are We At?

29 Jan

Since Edge’s post on the anachronism of notions such as ‘romanticism’ and ‘passion’ in Premier League football, and the incongruity of multi-million pound global franchises with local communities (see below), I have been suffering from something of a detached existentialist ennui concerning football. This has not been helped by Mike Ashley’s continued campaign to morally bankrupt NUFC.

I have joked a number of times that if a person put you through the emotional rollercoaster – made you feel as hopeless, powerless and impotent, before offering you just a glimmer of hope to draw you, like a moth back to the flame – as much as NUFC have, you would be told by all those who love you to leave them; that they were a bad influence on you, and you should save yourself the heartache. But there is a seriousness behind such a statement. I have been shown, in no uncertain terms, time and time and time again, that I mean nothing to Newcastle United Football Club. Even my money is of little consequence to them. Sure, we the fans could stage a mass walk out, we could (and I have) voice our support for noble causes such as the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST); maybe we could organise a boycott for one game. But could it really force Ashley to sell? Who would buy? As I mentioned below, unscrupulous bastards come from all over the country, so a(nother) ‘Geordie Messiah’ (or even ‘Geordie Abramovich’) doesn’t look likely. Pragmatism forces us to accept that football now is dominated by the mega-rich. To exists even as a mid-level Premier League club, we need it; and those who have a lot of it (without starting to sing ‘The Internationale’) tend not to be very pleasant people; or at least not so altruistic that they would run a football club as a not-for-profit enterprise with only the wishes of the supporters in mind. Football is a big business.

Yet despite this, I still love my club. I do still feel a passion for it, a romanticism for it, a deep connection to it. I love NUFC. Why?

I think I stumbled upon some semblance of an answer the other day. I don’t love NUFC, I love what they have afforded me over the years. Irrespective of the veridicality the club’s actual position as a representation of ‘localness’ or ‘working class culture’ or any of the other things it is ‘supposed’ to be, so many of my key memories growing up have been expressed through the paradigm of football, and specifically NUFC. I have experienced great joy, profound despair and excruciating frustration (lots of that) because of NUFC, and I continue to do so, irrespective of the financial dealings of our esteemed owner. Therein lies the ‘passion’ in English football.  

Does that make me an emotionally stunted person? Maybe, but I don’t think I am the only one. Many social scientists have pointed to the fact that men (in particular) use their football club as a metaphor to express their emotions. I have had conversations with many people – close friends, casual acquaintances, strangers, my dad, my old boss, pupils of mine – and whilst on the surface they have been exclusively ‘about football’, the tacit subtext has always been understood and often profound.

Maybe this sounds too apologist. I do abhor the encroaching (already fully encroached?) ethos of globalised industry in football. I hate the insularity of the Premier League purview that excises all else as, at best, mild curiosity; actually even this twenty-team world has, arguably, been downsized to ‘the big four’ – always pre-empted by the conciliatory ‘so-called’, always so called.

But I can divorce this cynical face of football from the personal vignettes, the emotions, the love, the wilfully (destructively) nostalgic remembrances. NUFC: I’ll support you ever more. I have no choice. I fucking love you.  

I Remember… NUFC

With all due respect (and apologies) to Joe Brainard. I would love any (non-NUFC-related) additions to this list.

I remember the first toon game I ever went to. 0-0 against Brighton and Hove Albion.

I remember laughing as someone in the crowd at that game shouted “are your shirts made out of deckchairs?!” at the garish Brighton and Hove away shirts.

I remember Phillipe Albert chipping Schmeichel to make it 5-0.

I remember, in the sensationalist early sky Premier league days, watching cheerleaders freezing in late October drizzle, and four burly men wrestling to tether down the inflatable brown ale bottle in the centre circle against arctic winds.

I remember berating a young Arsenal fan from South-East London for ‘not knowing the meaning of supporting a real club’ after a fairly harmless jibe at the fortunes of the relegation-bound NUFC. I was his music teacher.

I remember staring out of the window across a desolate playground the day I heard Keegan was back (again). I remember thinking ‘the wheels will inevitable come off… in spectacular fashion, but at least we’ll see some entertaining football.’

I remember the ‘Newcastle Shiny’ Panini sticker. I never owned it.

I remember, to my chagrin now, that I didn’t listen to the last 15 minutes of the game against Villa, when we were relegated. I couldn’t bear it. I went to bed instead.

I remember ‘Bic’, the guy who had the season ticket next to my dad. He was never happy. Ever.

I remember getting to an evening game late, in the days before season tickets (in the days before seats). My brother and I had to climb up a wire mesh fence to get even a partial view of the pitch. It was raining and almost unbearably cold, but throughout the game I was kept warm by the unassailable knowledge that ‘this makes me a true fan’.

I remember Alex Mathie’s overhead kick from outside the box in that game – a 4-2 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. In the second before the ball hit the back of the net, a fat man below my feet shouted ‘good effort, young’un’ before erupting into unbridled cheering.

I remember being so proud of Shearer joining us, and not Man. U.

I remember the summer we signed Les Ferdinand, Warren Barton, and David Ginola.

I remember after beating Man. U. 5-0, in the crushing crowd exiting the ground, through the chants, laughter, and general hubbub, overhearing someone say ‘if only we’d done that last year, we’d have won the league’.

I remember agreeing with Keegan; I would have loved it if we’d beaten them, too.

I remember putting one of my milk teeth into the plot of old St. James’ turf my dad had bought, then telling my brother that it must have been Malcolm Allen’s tooth.

I remember the first time I heard my dad shouting at a match. I was about six, I was sitting on his knee. It was loud and terrifying.

I remember watching my dad remove Brian Kilcline’s ingrown toenail in the medical room in the bowels of St. James’. Pavel Srnicek walked past, saying ‘see ya, Killer’. Without thinking I shouted after him “see ya, Pav!”. I think he said ‘see ya’ back.

I remember the sheer euphoria which met Shearer’s thunderbolt strike against Everton in the dying minutes of a game it looked certain we would lose.

I remember I missed our 3-2 victory over Barcelona as I went to see Oasis live. Liam Gallagher wore a toon shirt and informed the crowd ‘your man Tino’s just scored!’

I remember just standing still, unable to process the magnificence, as Ginola first chested, then deftly manoeuvred the ball before fiercely striking it into the top corner against Ferencvaros.

I remember the gravelly voiced woman who sat behind us calling some forgotten player (possibly even one of Newcastle’s own) ‘a useless, black bastard’. Bic, to his infinite credit, turned around and told her to shut the fuck up.

I remember watching us lose 6-1 in a pre-season friendly against Leyton Orient. It represents one of the lowest points in my 26 year relationship with this football club.

I remember the excitement welling up as the announcer would say “the teams are in the tunnels!”

I remember when me and my brother had to sit on concrete crash barriers at games. My dad would bring foam squares for us to sit on, and hot chocolate in a flask for half time.

I remember when my brother fell off the crash barrier when Newcastle scored. Everyone around us stopped celebrating until he was safely returned to his makeshift seat.

I remember listening to ‘Home Newcastle’ by Busker on my dad’s record player. I thought then, and still think now, that it’s one of the most sincere songs ever written.

I remember the tacit confidence that filled the stadium every time Beardsley was on the ball.

I remember Rob Lee’s audacious shot from his own half – predating the flamboyance of Beckham’s against Wimbledon – against Brentford. The referee disallowed it for some unexplained reason.

I remember when Mike Ashley first bought the club. I really thought that it might be a new dawn for the club.

I remember Paul Kitson, Clarence Acuña, Daniel Cordone, Michael Owen, and Jon Dahl Tomasson. I wish I didn’t.  

I remember going down to Wembley to see us get beaten by Arsenal. My brother got heat stroke, and my view of the pitch was almost entirely blocked by a fat man in a black-and-white jester’s hat.

I remember that our team song was written by Sting, and that Arsenal’s was a re-working of ‘Hot Stuff’ by Donna Summer. And that Arsenal’s song was better than ours. Which says something about Sting’s effort!

I remember going to see a reserves game, and Lee Clark was sitting immediately behind me. All game, I wanted to turn around, but I didn’t dare to.

One Response to “Where Are We At?”

  1. Mariley 31/01/2011 at 00:29 #

    Tom, I’m not into football, well you know that, but this rendition is worth print publishing. I love your memoirs, good and bad. That’s proper football passion that! Luv, me

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