Newcastle fans, let it be said once and once only, stretch from the sublime (Rachel Unthank) to the ridiculous (led by Tony Blair and Mike Ashley but in truth too numerous, or even Toon umerous, to mention). The jury is out on where Alan Sims* fits in the spectrum. The Alan I remember was a young reporter in Bishop Auckland with a weakness for payday beer, pinball machines and dreadful, Marmalade-style pop music. I overlooked the fact that he was a Mag in those days because I thought his allegiance might reflect a mental condition best not talked about, and he seemed otherwise a harmless enough character. He’s also gone on to greater things so probably wasn’t mad after all. Just misguided. But who better to invite to preview this Sunday’s big game from the “other end”? He did so at such great length that I have belatedly decided to split his epic. which may be published eventually as Wor & P*ss, into two parts. See his answers to Salut! Sunderland’s questions at Who are you? We’re N*w*a*t*e (2)
I was born a Newcastle United supporter. There was no element of choice.
My home town of Birtley is divided between Magpies and Mackems and there is no sitting on the fence. You know who you are and you know the enemy.
Apparently when I was a kid just learning to talk I used to get a ball and instead of asking to play football would ask my dad: “Can we play Jackie Milburns.” That’s how entrenched it was – and thank God for that!
The thought that but for a quirk of birth I could so easily have been aSunderland fan sends a shiver through me, just as sight of the Stadium of (Sh) Light does now. Whenever I drive past I feel the sort of tremor that
peasants in Hammer horror movies show when they glance up at Dracula’s Castle. I can hear the distant howl of a wolf, see dark clouds scudding over the sky, sense the faint flicker of bats’ wings on the battlements.
At least that’s how I felt until earlier this year when I joined the great and glorious Toon Army to march onto Mackem territory for the derby match.
I was one of a few thousand warriors who dared to venture across the A19 in a convoy of 50 coaches. I felt like a commando going on a glorious mission, one where failure was unthinkable.
The day started particularly well when we gathered at Shearer’s Bar (tribute to a living legend) at St James’ on the cold, wet morning of the game – only to see Mike Ashley, big belly pushing his black and white shirt forward, and Christ Mort, in usual suit, standing at a table with a pint of lager each. Then we clambered on our buses ready for battle.
A bobby came on board and read us the Riot Act. “The hordes are gathering,
they have banners proclaiming ‘Welcome to Hell’ slung across walkways over
the road. Do not react. Do not get violent. Do not even leave the bus until
we tell you to or you WILL be locked up. We want this to be a good day …
now go and STUFF’EM lads’.”
Policing at its best!
So we headed off with helicopters juddering above, with motorbikes and police vans ahead, behind and alongside. We were waved off through the friendly streets of Newcastle and Gateshead by office girls, pedestrians, grannies and kids, and with Good Luck posters in windows. The deeper we moved into enemy territory the more the animosity grew. Groups on overhead walkways, where we expected bricks to be hurled. They weren’t, but plenty of insults and hand gestures came our way.
At the ground we were shepherded and corraled, with horseback guards, overhead copters, loud hailers keeping us in check, and the general feeling that a sniper’s bullet waited around the corner. Then we were milling towards the Stadium. Up close it looked nothing like Drac’s Castle and I relaxed. Insults flew but little else. As Brendan Behan would have said: “Compliments pass when the quality meet.”
Inside the ground the Mackems opened one hatch with one beer pump to service 2,500 of us. I got right to the bar, within touching distance of a cool beer, then had to abandon it and run for my seat. First blood to
Suffice to say a draw saved our flagging spirits in a game Sunderland should have won. But we had the final laugh when Keane sent out some lads to run round the pitch afterwards, while we were still penned in an
otherwise empty stadium, and we at least had the pleasure of torturing and tormenting them from the terraces. “You’re shite and you know you are”, along with other intellectually-stimulating comments.
My earliest memory of a derby was going to Sunderland on my own as a 12-year-old and sitting outside Roker Park on the ground waiting for the turnstiles to open. I went in and stood where I could, among Sunderland fans. It ended a draw (I think it was 3-3, and again we were lucky) but every time Newcastle scored I cheered – and was unharmed. Those were the days when you only knew where the away fans were when their team scored and pockets of blokes would leap up around the ground. There was never any
I work in Middlesbrough now (my problem with the Boro fans is another story – they hate the Geordies and the Mackems with equal passion) but recall many years ago writing an article about the football club. A copper told me they used to police matches at the old Ayresome Park with one sergeant and two constables. Not a helicopter or riot shield or CCTV camera in sight.
The rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle in my experience is generally light-hearted and fair, despite its intensity. I know that in Glasgow there is genuine hatred between Rangers and Celtic fans, but having grown up in Birtley (where some families are torn between the clubs) its more about banter (albeit constant) than bricks. I even recall sitting in Birtley Catholic Club watching Newcastle get beaten in the FA Cup Final by Arsenal a few years back, when in the front row a huge guy jumped up as Arsenal scored, peeled off his top and revealed red and white stripes. The only angst he caused was to get a few bellowing responses. And I recall telling him to “sit down you fat B******”, which he duly did.
I reckon, honestly, that Sunderland fans are more concerned about Newcastle than we are about them. Something to do with an inferiority complex, I reckon.
I was sitting in a pub, again in Birtley, one year when Sunderland were being relegated and watched this guy leaping up in the air and chasing after his mates with such joy as he listened to a radio match report. I
thought Sunderland must have scored. But no. His joy came of Liverpool scoring against Newcastle and stopping them going top. He said he would rather Sunderland got relegated than Newcastle won the title.
Another moment I do recall is when Alan Shearer missed an 87th minute penalty at Newcastle. On the Monday morning I had an email from our Mackem-mad IT director, which simply said “one for you”. When I clicked on it, there was a video grab of Shearer’s penalty miss. That’s the kind of banter I love – unlike the Sunderland fan I heard recently who said so-and-so was now forever a Mackem legend because he was the player who ended Shearer’s career.
Of course, he ended it in a game when we stuffed the red and whites four one – thanks to a certain Michael Chopra (you can keep him by the way, the little git). I kind of hope he does a Lee Clark and wears a T-shirt with a suitable legend on it somewhere down the line, but in truth I really don’t care.
Meanwhile thank you for:
* Stan Anderson, who came to us as captain and got us promoted
* Twice being officially the worst team ever in the Premiership (tho Derby are about to better that, sadly)
* Helping us accumulate a six point start next year by staying up (looks certain now)
* Giving me a lift whenever I feel depressed, with the knowledge that things could be worse, I could be a Mackem.
By the way, the family tradition continues. My son, now 30, was born and bred in Middlesbrough territory but has grown up a true Black and White. His first toy was a hand-knitted teddy from an aunt – in a black and white strip. He had NUFC Supporters Club nailed to his bedroom door before he could read. I used to take him to matches when there were still concrete barriers at St James’ and get there at 1.30pm – pay a doorman a fiver – and get into the ground early with a cushion in my hand. David would sit on the cushion on the barrier.
My eldest daughter Jayne wasn’t much bothered about football. She’s more like her mam. But that’s OK, it’s not really for girls.
Yet my youngest, Laura, did follow the Toon with passion. She became a fully-fledged Junior Magpie and even adopted the nickname Kitson, after a Toon hero, when she played in a girls’ 5-a-side team as a 10-year-old old super-striker.
It’s so much in the blood that I couldn’t even help a charity at my local gym recently ‘cos all the gifts on offer were dressed in red and white stripes. And that’s the truth.
* One of my worst moments: when Sunderland won the FA Cup.
* One of my happiest moments: when the Mackems missed the penalty at Wembley in the play-off finals in a game they were winning about four times. I still smile now, writing about it.
* Alan Sims – the old git in the photo, with equally deranged son David – on Alan Sims;
I grew up with Newcastle names like Len White, Ivor Allchurch, and with recent glory of FA Cup wins as part of my psyche. Never saw Milburn play, but once had the honour of sitting next to him as a judge at a beauty
contest at the Top Hat Club in Spennymoor when i worked for the Northern Echo newspaper. My grandad was dead at this time, but couldn’t help thinking I was next to a legend he would have given anything to meet. When Milburn was an old man he walked past the ground one day when I was there with my son who was about 10 at the time and I sent him to get his autograph. Within a couple of months Wor Jackie had died.
When I got married I had checked the fixtures and saw Newcastle were down to play away. But that was the year they reached FA Cup semi-final, in which Supermac scored winners. That night I switched on Match of the Day in hotel room and my wife warned that if I watched the game I would never be allowed to forget it for the rest of my life. So I missed it.
Married with three grown-up kids, living in Stokesley, North Yorkshire (deep in Boro country). I’ve been there over 30 years and I’m still the Geordie interloper. Can’t go in a pub without being singled out as a Maggie fan. Leads to a lot of side-betting, arguments and chat. I also have seven grandkids (some of which are doomed to be Boro fans as I have two Boro-fanatic sonS-in-law).
I work as deputy editor on the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough and I guess I should see Boro as my second team. I would too if not for the grief I get.
I’ll write again … after THAT match.