This isn’t apiece of writing that has been done for TRUE FAITH and we don’t know the writer. We’ll offer our supreme apologies for being so presumptuous as to put it on our site and if the author is unhappy about that we’ll remove it immediately with apologies.
You can read the original version of the article here and you should really as there are some great photographs to illustrate it.
We do know that the author is a Geordie and a product of the City of Newcastle Upon Tyne. He is a man of significant talents it seems and we should be proud of his achievements. More about Daniel Maier here
I’d heartily recommend going to Daniel’s blog – you can get at it here – its not a football site per se but there is some marvellous writing o a range of subjects that are right up the street of many of us associated with this gob-shite fanzine.
Given world events now seemed a very poignant time to hopefully bring Daniel’s article to you all.
Werner Maier misses only one home match of Newcastle United’s 1946–47 season.
On October 5th, 1946, he isn’t at St. James’ Park but, curiously enough, a few moments walk away, in a more intimate house of worship. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the highest of holy days in the Jewish calendar and even for the only moderately observant Maiers, attendance at Leazes Park Synagogue is mandatory. Not that Werner is lost in spiritual contrition, ignorant of the altogether more secular service being conducted on the other side of Strawberry Place. Even if the noise of over 52,000 nearby supporters is inaudible over the ancient, sonorous prayer echoing around the Victorian building, the punishing duration of the Yom Kippur service means low-key comings and goings amongst the synagogue’s congregation are inevitable and some worshippers use the opportunity to gather updates from the neighbouring stadium.
There are a lot of updates.
Thirteen at least, as a double hat-trick on debut by Len Shackleton contributes to The Magpies’ 13–0 victory against a sorry Newport County. Fourteen, in all probability, assuming news of Charlie Wayman’s missed penalty is also passed along the pews. The only home match Werner will miss all season turns out to be Newcastle United’s record victory — a record that he’ll never see broken, despite attending the vast majority of the club’s home matches the next season and the 70 or so seasons that follow.
A community bonded by displacement, language and religion forms among the refugee families in the Newcastle suburbs of Gosforth and Jesmond. Freddie Ichenhauser becomes Werner’s best friend. In the early 40s, when the Football League is adapted to account for the restricted movement of fans and for players going to war, Freddie invites Werner to come and watch Newcastle United. It’s the era of Albert Stubbins, Bobby Cowell, the emergence of Jackie Milburn.
The bug bites, instantly. The thrill, the chaos. “Tens of thousands of people standing six deep,” Werner will recall, “and one policeman on a horse, chatting to them.”
Unable to see over heads, carried along by the fluxing, jostling crowd, caught up in the swell, the boys, barely teenagers, squeeze in to the Gallowgate end. Their view of the pitch restricted, what happens off it is sometimes more memorable. A visit to the toilet — “you needed a sou’wester and wellingtons” — is as optimistic as it is harrowing, getting there and actually making it back again an impossible dream. Those packed in near the front enjoy well-practiced alternative arrangements. “Here son, pass that back.” Werner is handed a steaming bottle, once (and in sense, still) full of Brown Ale, to be relayed to the back of the stand where the last link in the chain will decant it over a wall. At one match, a woman standing nearby ill-advisedly wears a fur coat, presumably for the first and last time, its back quietly and thoroughly streaked in piss.
After each match, Werner and Freddie walk back to Jesmond, kicking a tennis ball through Brandling Park. Freddie takes up position between two trees, announcing, “Torwart Freddie Ichenhauser spielt jetzt für Deutschland!” as Werner scuds the ball towards the improvised German goal. Allegiance is complicated.
The thickening fear of invasion curdles the public’s already patchy sympathy for Jewish refugees into suspicion and hostility. Martin and Albert are among some 30,000 incomers interned as potential enemy spies, and their tailoring business, producing boys’ formalwear, falls under the stewardship of spouses and colleagues. When they return, Martin founds his own business in exactly the same line, the brothers leave the trading estate and each takes one floor of a looming, soot-blacked four-story warehouse which they buy on Tower Street, within sight of the Tyne Bridge.
Around the end of decade, Werner invests in a season ticket and the Gallowgate’s hazards are exchanged for the relative sanctuary of the West Stand. He and Freddie — now Ingram, Ichenhauser, like so many European Jewish surnames, having been westernised for conformity and convenience — will watch their team from here for more than 60 years.
Werner joins his father’s firm. One day there’s excitement amongst the machinists as Newcastle captain Joe Harvey, supplementing his meagre income with summer work at a local garage, appears at the factory to deliver a car.
Werner takes a course at the Tailor & Cutter Academy on London’s Gerrard Street. It’s a learning experience in more ways than one. “In Soho the ladies started work at 9am.” he remembers. “Very educational.” While in the capital, he saves up for a ticket to the 1955 Cup Final. Jackie Milburn scores after 45 seconds and Newcastle beat Manchester City 3–1 for the club’s third cup win in five years and last for a period that remains unspecified.
Werner marries Freddie’s cousin, Edna. The business thrives, the Jewish community swells as the refugees’ children have children of their own. Werner and Edna have three, all boys. On the pitch, relegation, recovery, Joe Harvey as manager. Newcastle win the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Clark, Moncur, Davies.
The decade turns. Sideburns, thick glasses, a touch of grey. The 70s Peter Sellers Dad archetype. After a lengthy illness which sees his son take over the running of the firm, Martin passes away. The Jewish community consolidates into shuls in Jesmond and Gosforth. Leazes Park Synagogue, where Werner was obliged to miss the demolition of Newport County, becomes a shopping arcade. Around Strawberry Place, at least, the new temple outlasts the old.
In 1978 Werner takes his youngest son to his first match. A 1–1 draw with Bristol City, a week before the boy’s 10th birthday. The season is dismal and the club is relegated.
I’m not put off.
A season ticket of my own. Every other Saturday. We park on Barrack Road near the car dealership and walk to the ground. A programme, a creak and click of the turnstile. Up and down the steps of the wooden stand, floodlights, anticipation, the Embassy Regal miasma. The Leazes End knocked down but not rebuilt. Freddie in his flat cap. Afterwards, the tipping up of seats, we crowd to the exits, our strides lengthen back up Barrack Road in the gathering gloom. Into the car, Radio 2, the Sports Report theme tune, home to hot tea and Saturday night TV.
The tired, leaky building on Tower Street is sold and the factory moves to a unit off the Coast Road. Meanwhile, the football is abject — until Kevin Keegan lights up the tired, leaky stadium. McDermott, Waddle, Beardsley. It feels like the sun is always shining. Thousand of feet bang on the old wooden boards every time a corner is awarded, a low thunder as if the stand itself was alive. I bring sweets for half time. One day, from across the aisle, Werner asks me for a sweet and I refuse. Genuine affront at the slight is maintained to the point of absurdity, after the game, back up Barrack Road, into the car. It’s brought up the next week and periodically thereafter. An in-joke with an edge.
The old West Stand is demolished and replaced. When a corner is awarded, thousands of feet can only rattle on dead concrete. The football deteriorates. My attention drifts, I skip the odd game. From home, when the wind is right I can still sometimes hear the crowd noise swirl across the Town Moor. A season ticket for me is becoming uneconomical for my dad and in any case, university calls. I go to Leeds, Werner keeps going to the match. Sansom, Hendrie, Pingel. Relegation.
Sir John Hall pulls me back in, at least to watch from afar. The Leazes End finally rebuilt, along with the team, the pride and the excitement. Keegan again. Beardsley again. Ferdinand, Asprilla, Lee. Werner and Freddie, greyer, smaller, surrounded by both newcomers and those who understand this is not what supporting Newcastle usually means. This is not normal. It’s Werner’s favourite era, better than the times with Keegan as player, with Joe Harvey, with Milburn. And his favourite player of all, of any decade, is David Ginola. “An artist. Cool, competent.”
Werner sells the business and retires. I move to London. I manage a few away games, a couple of European trips. Up on Barrack Road, parking is harder and so is the walk. Werner, Freddie and a couple of friends share a taxi to the match.
The club’s fortunes revert to type. But they reach a Cup Final, against Arsenal, and we go. This time, 43 years since the last, Werner needn’t save up for a ticket. This time Newcastle lose.
A new century. Werner has been watching Newcastle United for half of the club’s existence. Friends pass away, or move to London to be nearer children and grandchildren. The community shrivels. The two synagogues consolidate into one. The taxi still comes shortly after 2pm, every other Saturday. Werner waits, smaller, whiter. Given, Solano, Shearer. Flashes of promise, never built upon. I write a book, a comic football dictionary. “To Werner,”, says the dedication, “Sorry about the sweet.”
Funerals come more frequently now. Watching the match is a little bit harder. Everything is a little bit harder. Mike Ashley, Sports Direct, Nolan, Barton, Ben Arfa. Hope then dissent then apathy. The concrete stairs are harder to climb. Only two left in the taxi now. Werner reverts to driving, a regular space somehow becoming available in the petrol station across the road from the ground, for a few quid a time.
Another new season. Freddie, his partner in this thrilling, frustrating, comforting, absurd ritual since that first dizzying afternoon on the Gallowgate, moves to Israel to be nearer family. Familiar faces greet Werner in the stand, but none he knows from the Keegan days. Neighbouring fans exchange greetings with him, and withering opinions about underwhelming spectacle on the pitch. But none were with him when thousands of feet banged on wooden boards. None shared his excitement at the 50’s cup wins. None threw him a tennis ball in Brandling Park and claimed to be the German keeper.
In Israel, Freddie passes away. I take Werner to a pre-season friendly against St. Etienne. He is a week into his 90th year. On a bright summer day, we sit — untypically — in the East Stand. Beyond the pitch, beyond Matty Longstaff’s delicious long-rage screamer, beyond the illusion of a season that might deliver, we face the Milburn stand. The west stand in which Werner has taken his seat for more than seven decades. From where he watched Shearer, Beardsley, Keegan. MacDonald and Gowling, Moncur and Clark, Scoular, White and the player that gave the stand its name. Where his St. James’ Park journey will end with Alain Saint Maximin and Callum Wilson.
It’s just getting too hard.
The space in the petrol station is no longer available. Now, it’s a taxi ride again, on his own. If the drop off is stressful, negotiating the distance to the pre-arranged pick up point after each game is more trouble that it’s worth. Unsteadier on his feet now, fans stream around him heading for the exits. The kid who couldn’t see over heads, carried along by the fluxing, jostling crowd, caught up in the swell.
Lockdown hastens the decision. An increasingly tempting option, watching in the comfort of home, becomes an obligation. And when going back once again becomes possible, it just doesn’t seem sensible or particularly safe.
As the new season begins, Werner, now 91, will no longer be a Newcastle United season ticket holder. His hearing in decline, it’s doubtful he’ll catch the crowd noise swirling across the moor. As things are, it’s doubtful there’ll be much crowd noise to hear. Home matches will be indistinct from away, now. Watched from the comfort of an armchair.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. How could it be easy to give this up, regardless of how hard it’s become to get to his seat, let alone to enjoy the display once he’s there? Is there a relationship in Werner’s life that had lasted longer? A routine, a ceremony that endures for decades. Perhaps only religion — albeit sparingly observed — has been with him longer. The old religion which trumped the new on the day of Len Shackleton’s debut. The old religion which obliged my Dad to come here in the first place, to a new country, a new language and a new way to pass a Saturday afternoon.
Daniel Maier – @danielmaier