There have been moments over the past twenty-five years when I think about Newcastle supporters and their respective paths that have led them to the Club.  For many, I suspect it was a birth rite, something passed down by family, or due to their location of their birth.  Much like religion for so many, it was not something they elected to make part of their personal fabric, but was woven in on their behalf.

I have no connection to the U.K. and even less of a connection to Tyneside.  I have never been to Newcastle, though I long to find my way to St. James Park.  My connection the Club is almost random, and I will freely admit when I first decided to give an ounce of emotional support to NUFC, it was just that.  Nothing more than a laugh while on holiday in the UK.  Years later I look at that decision I made on a whim and it does not seem possible that a club could bring so much angst, frustration, worry, while occasional bouts of joy.

My first trip to the UK coincided with the 1998 FA Cup final, and it was impossible to not see either red or black and white jerseys anyplace you went within London.  In the days building up to the match you could quite literally feel the energy building within the City.  Full disclosure time to you the dear reader, I could not name a player on NUFC, I knew not of the Entertainers, Newcastle’s almost title or any of the rich history of the Club or the region.   At that moment, I knew almost nothing of football (arguably this is still true today, but I digress).  Being in London, at that moment, will all of the excitement and supporters seemingly everywhere I decided I would watch the match.  Watching the match as a neutral did not appeal to me.  What is sport without a little emotion in the mix, so I decided I would pick a club.

This process started where almost all good decisions are made, the pub.  I noticed a group of people that were nearly evenly split between red and black and white shirts.  Because I am American and the gene that produces shame is not fully formed I approached the group with a simple question:  Why should I support your club?  First off, I am forever grateful that I was not told to go “take a walk”, to keep it in polite terms.  The conversation that followed was ale soaked and spirited with each group “selling” me on why their club was best for me.

I first received a history lesson of each club.  Side note, if trying to sell someone on the merits of your club take note of how sober the listener happens to be.  In my case, I was in no state to hear of Jackie Milburn or Herbert Chapman.  I also did not particularly care about whether Alan was the best striker of all time or if Viera was “pure class”.

The term “separated by a common language” was never so evident as I sat and listened on this sunny summer afternoon about people and times I knew nothing about.  So finally, I asked about the supporters, and this is where my decision was made for me.  One of the Newcastle supporters, a Geordie, said to me these Gunners (I had no idea to whom he was referring to) think they are posh (again no idea what he meant), but the Geordies (again no idea) are working class, real people.  While I am no doubt paraphrasing given the time that has passed, his message to me was that the Club, the City of Newcastle and its people were linked in a way that no big city club could ever replicate.

I was sold.  I had my emotional connection.  I come from the middle of the United States, from a flyover state.  People from New York and Los Angeles look at my home and think it is just farmland and rusted out industry from the 1950s.  While they are not wrong completely, screw them for thinking they are better than us.  I heard the same in my now well lubricated Geordie guide.  Spite for others who come from so-called better places was a language that I could fully wrap my brain around.  I went out and bought a jersey that night (classic brown ale kit) and have never looked back.

While the FA cup obviously did not go as planned, there were Champions League nights to come, Sir Bobby and the thought that this club was so close to finding the success it deserved.  I was hooked, and while it was not always possible to watch matches on television, I scoured the internet reading every bit of content I could find, and even remember listening to some matches online through a stream.  As Football has found its audience in the States, it has been easier and easier to follow the Club.  Over the past 14 years that has seemed more like a curse than a good thing, but once a supporter always a supporter.

As this season has gone on and turned for the better, I have been wondering what it means to be a Newcastle supporter without angst, anger and worry, or at least without those being my leading emotional states of fandom.  While I always had hope for better days, that hope was starting to get smaller and smaller.  I suspect I will look back at these last few months over time and think this was the greatest period of time being supporter.  Whereas a year ago I was asking myself why do I allow this Club to hurt me, I am now asking myself to dream.  Just the other day my young daughter came home from school and told me she got to pick her jersey number for her school football team.  I expected her to tell me that she had picked a number from a Liverpool or City player, but she came home with #39.  I may have picked NUFC, but she has been born into it, albeit from 3,000 plus miles away.  HWTL!

Greg Kunstman