NEWCASTLE 0 ARSENAL 1 (Aubameyang 58)
Sunday 11th August 2019. Attendance 47,635 .
NEWCASTLE: Dubravka, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Manquillo, Hayden, Shelvey, Sean Longstaff, Ritchie, Almiron, Joelinton. Subs: Willems, Saint- Maximin.
ARSENAL: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Chambers, Papastathopoulos, Monreal, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan, Willock, Nelson, Aubameyang.
Subs: Pepe, Martinelli, Ceballos.
Football fans love using their team’s low point as a badge of honour.
The amount of Manchester City fans having claimed they were in the 3,007 crowd v Mansfield in 1998 has reached the levels that would fill the Azteca stadium ten times over.
For Newcastle United, low points in the late seventies, late eighties and early nineties are the pinnacle – the club’s very existence was at stake then – but for some (me included) the Ashley/Bruce axis of hate threw up the sorts of nadirs that frequently brought up the question: ‘why do I bother anymore?’
The club at that time were as wholesome as those rats running round that park in Gosforth and even in the dark days mentioned above, the fans didn’t feel as detached as they did in August 2019. NUFC were going nowhere.
Three weeks earlier United had confirmed that the ever popular Rafael Benitez, whose job at the time seemed to be like that Dutch boy who put his finger in the dam, left at the end of his contract after finally getting sick of the dredge of being a coach under Ashley, was being replaced by Bruce, the least popular move across the barricades since Maurice Johnston had a change of heart.
This was the final blow for some.
Those same people now are scrambling around in ballots for tickets and they often get criticised online by people who haven’t a clue, but for NUFC fans to give up a way of life, to curtail a release from the dredge of the working week, to cut short something they had done with generations before, showed the level of anger at this appointment.
It was as if he was taunting us.
A boycott was arranged in the run up to the game. Groups with names such as “If Rafa goes, I go“ might seem a bit contrived four years later when we’ve had Covid and the takeover, but at the time, the feeling was that this was going to be a boycott up there with 1989 v Leeds.
It seemed a rare coming together in a notoriously fractured support.
In the week running up to the game where many fans agonised whether to go ahead with the breaking of the taboo of not going to the game, Bruce pooh- poohed the whole boycott on TalkSport (obviously) while appearing with Ian Holloway who said he was shocked that Bruce had not got the Manchester United job. Any floating voters were certainties to boycott after hearing that verbal nausea.
The day came and squabbles online between fans showed the emotion on this. A large portion of our support shat it and i’m not afraid to say that. “What’s the point, he’s got your money anyway”… “Support the team, not the regime” etc, etc
The people who did go on that leap of faith (marching past sports direct up to the ground) were rewarded with torrential downpours which not only set the mood but also hit the numbers.
I’m proud to say I did my bit and although it wasn’t as drastic as giving my ticket away, my non appearance on this day and coming in late against West Ham were big things for me personally. Unthinkable in the past.
The West Ham game (arriving purposely late after 11 minutes) saw us typically concede right on queue and we were met with abuse by fellow fans. This is regularly in my mind as we now find losing to Dortmund a crime.
Back to the Arsenal game. We lost 1-0 against a Gunners team who were shite, really. (Look at some of the names in that team. Willock aside obviously.)
It was pretty apt the winner was scored by a player who Graham Carr has said Ashley wouldn’t sign because of the £8m cost. It’s worth noting at this point of Aubameyang’s career he had scored 34 percent of all Arsenal’s premier league goals.
The crowd was given as only 5,000 short of capacity so the club told anyone who would listen (there were a lot of media organisations who did) that the boycott didn’t happen.
Strange then that ten thousand empty seats came against Brighton six weeks later, when no boycott took place. By Christmas free season tickets were given out to mask the falling crowds.
The BBC reported that day that Joelinton “roused the crowd by slaloming past two (!) challenges”. Not only did that show how we were so starved and easily pleased at that point, but it also shows despite the current distrust over tickets etc (I have some reservations myself) how good things currently are. Joelinton going past two challenges nowadays is seen as an indifferent afternoon.
In the future we might need some of the spirit of the boycott that day, but as we take on Arsenal again it’s worth remembering this and while I’m not suggesting the stay-away supporters’ actions get put up on a pedestal or remembered like the suffragette movement. I’d like to think at least this day can still be remembered as a watershed moment as we enter these new happier, halcyon days.