With an enticing home fixture on New Year’s Eve and everything looking rosy in the black and white world,we take a suitably seasonal delve into the nostalgic memories of our regular TF scribblers. This week,Matthew Philpotts (@mjp19731) recalls when the New Year fayre on Barrack Road held rather less allure, more like the nauseous after-effects of fifteen bottles of cheap supermarket Thunderbird…
1 January 1990
Newcastle Utd 1-4 Wolverhampton Wanderers
NEWCASTLE: Burridge, Anderson, Stimson, Bradshaw (Gallacher, 73), Scott, Kristensen, Fereday, Brock, Quinn, McGhee, O’Brien. Unused sub: Sweeney.
Goal: Brock (74).
WOLVES: Kendall, Bennett, Venus, Bellamy, Downing (Jones, 85), Streete, Paskin, Cook, Bull, Mutch, Dennison (McLoughlin, 81).
Goals: Bull (50, 56, 59, 76).
Once upon a time we were shit. Truly shit. And never was that more apparent than in the festive season of joy, merriment, and the gut-wrenching shattering of teenage dreams.
Thirty-three years ago, Jim Smith was seeking to build a promotion challenge at the first time of asking. And when his ramshackle band of journeymen professionals had easily beaten promotion challengers Sheffield United in late November 1989 (or “Magpies blunt Blades” as the Pink’un put it, in reassuringly customary style), everything seemed set fair. Alas, a run of three defeats and a draw immediately dropped us to sixth after Christmas.
In those days, attending every home game was a ritual act of masochism and atonement. The wind blew all noise straight out of the crumbling dilapidated ground. The toilets were a concrete wall halfway up the Gallowgate steps. That or the backs of your legs. And boardroom unrest, fan boycotts, and the wider malaise of 1980s fandom ensured crowds hovered just above the 20,000 mark.
Still, at least it beat the agony of listening to away matches through the medium of Charles Harrison’s peerless tones on Metro Radio. In the two last games of 1989, that involved the furious impotent acceptance of 90th minute goals conceded in a defeat at Stoke and a draw at Swindon. First-half leads were squandered with all the weary inevitability of a missed Kevin Dillon one-on-one.
And so to New Year’s Day 1990, the turn of the new decade (unless you’re the kind of pedant who deserves to die alone and unloved), and the visit of Graham Turner’s Wolves, fresh from back-to-back promotions from divisions four and three. To be honest, the details are hazy in my mind. But the imprint of the overwhelming trauma of that day has never faded, enough to keep a succession of therapists in clover for the three decades since.
What I do remember is the sheer mediocrity of the starting eleven. There was plenty of solidity in veterans like John Burridge – already 38 years old and on the tenth of his 593 league teams – John Anderson, and perennial Jim Smith signing Kevin Brock.Bjorn Kristenson (a proto Philippe Albert without the talent) and the ever error-prone Kevin Scott (the most astonishing signing Spurs ever made) constituted our gloriously porous centre-back partnership.
Meanwhile, we were uniquely privileged that day to witness three of the piss-poorest players to ever don a Black & White shirt: the fabulously anonymous centre-back cum midfielder Darren Bradshaw (no, me neither); Mark Stimson at left back, all bleached floppy fringe and long aimless hoofs of the ball; and Wayne Fereday on the wing, allegedly faster than the wind, but sadly a total stranger to controlling, passing, or crossing a football.
Fortunately, we had Micky Quinn and (swoon) Mark McGhee. And it was that combination who provided the only meaningful action of a goalless first half.The curious hook over the shoulder that would provide David Kelly for “The Goal”two years later put McGhee in behind at the Leazes End. Foul. Nailed-on pen. Unfortunately, only seven minutes in, Quinny was clearly still feeling the effects of his liquid intake from the night before and offered up the most inviting of kicks for Mark Kendall, the curiously track-suited Wolves keeper, to save with ease.
Still on level terms early in the second half, we would be three down and destroyed within the space of the next nine minutes. First, Benny the 70s porn star gave the ball away in his own box. Next, our back line stepped up shambolically and failed to draw the offside flag. And finally, we contrived to flick on a Wolves corner and serve up a free header two yards out at the far post.
And on each occasion, the delighted beneficiary of our generosity was the incomparable, bullying, and detestably devastating Steve Bull. I confess to a certain admiration for the last player to represent England from outside the top two divisions.I remember watching him score on his debut for England against Scotland when the clamour for his inclusion had become irresistible. All incongruous bustle and crew-cut, he was an alien figure, but a goalscoring monster.
After Kevin Brock had curled a delicious free-kick into the top corner for a consolation, Bull immediately got his fourth. I remember being stunned, unable to process what I’d seen. The seething broiling mass of celebrating Wolves fans at the opposite end of the ground induced the familiar instinctive rage, but mixed with incomprehension and a sense of existential loss. How could the world do this to me? What was this cold meaningless void into which I had been dragged?
Mind you, New Year’s Day had greater horrors to deliver. Two years later, the (Brett) Angell of Death would swoop down at Roots Hall, and the abject 0-4 defeat to Southend would mark the absolute nadir in the modern history of the club.
As the flags wave tomorrow around St James’s and a raucous crowd celebrates Eddie’s relentless impossible indefatigable Mags, take a moment to look, Janus-faced, back as well as forward. After all, light can’t exist without shade.
Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731