I am at a certain age or time in my life when I notice things I do, or to be more specific,
I know my Dad used to say the same things, with the same mannerisms, and I used to find them annoying, but without even thinking now, I just can’t help myself saying them as well.
My son, Roy, talks about footballers and how ‘wicked’ they are, and how cool their hairstyles are and what boots they are wearing and I can’t help myself from pouring scorn on these present day spoilt brats who wouldn’t have lasted five minutes against proper footballers, ‘in my day.’
My old man used to say those same very words and here I am sitting with a bottle of stout in front of me, like he used to do, embarrassing my own son in front of his two mates.
Mind you, I’m surprised they notice anything as they are permanently fixated with their mobile phones, twittering and face booking and whatever else it is the young ones do these days.
In my day, (there I go again), you had to have the balls to ask a girl out for a date, not just give her a thumbs up or a ‘like’ on a website and have an easy option to save face if you were blanked.
They have it easy the bairns nowadays.
They can even watch TV on their phones, and to think twenty years ago, we used to think the one lad with a radio pressed to his ear on the way back on a train from an away match was our equivalent of Dickie Davies on the World of Sport, telling us the scores from around the country!
It is scary to think how things have changed in such a short time.
I often think about my old man and wish he was here.
I miss him greatly and his company.
My memories are my comfort, and I cling to them, like a lifejacket on the cruel sea that life has become.
Small things take me to places with him; the waft of tobacco, the infrequent sight of bottles of stout and flat caps adorned by dapper wee men in shirts and ties, even just going to the corner shop for the paper.
He also passed down to me an undying devotion to our famous black and white stripes and those worthy to wear the iconic shirt.
He would talk for hours with his mates in the back room about Wor Jackie, Supermac, Bobby Mitchell, Tony Green and many other legends who graced St James Park with their prowess all those years ago.
In the fug of time passed, I forget how long ago it was that I would sit regaled by the tales of the men who talked of Puskas, John Charles and Eusebio with such reverence that it had a profound and lasting effect on me as I searched high and low in the local library for weeks afterwards for information about the ‘Galloping Major’, the ‘Gentle Giant’ and the ‘Black Panther’, respectively.
Here I am today, divorced, with a son who I see every other weekend and love dearly and an ex wife who has turned into something very different to the girl I fell in love with at school.
I like to take Roy, my son, to the match when I can afford it, he seems to like it, and joins in the chanting and the songs when he thinks I can’t hear him curse, but I think we both know the score.
I cried like a baby the first time he bought me a drink last year and slipped a tenner into my jacket pocket the week before Christmas.
I had been at a low point, wallowing in the doldrums after I had lost my job in the call centre I had been forced to work in, due to the new criteria set down by the Government to be able to claim my benefits and had thoroughly despised the place, and to be honest, it was doing my head in.
I had spent my last bunch of shrapnel produced from my dishevelled jeans on a couple of pints for us in the working man’s club and he had looked me up and down a few times as I counted out ten pence pieces and five pence coins to make up the total, and then embarrassed, couldn’t look me in the eye for a while.
I came back from the toilet and there was a bottle of stout and a whiskey on the bar.
He put his arm around me, and smiled and wished me a Happy Christmas.
I felt both ashamed and at the same time, ten foot tall.
Today I am in much better fettle.
I got a job with a courier company, the money isn’t great, but it pays the bills and I can stand my round at the bar.
I’m headin’ into Toon to meet up with Roy and have a few pints, it’s Saturday and he’ll be eighteen next week, which means we can meet when we want.
The bar I am in, it used to be a lot different years ago; now they have a large projector showing old clips of matches years ago.
My pint settles and I gaze absentmindedly at the hypnotic screen.
Classic Premiership of twenty years ago, 1993 and to my delight, they are showing Newcastle away to Oldham, I remember it poignantly as it was my father’s last match away with me.
We were wearing our royal blue kit, I can see it clearly, and I am back there in my mind.
I drove us down early afternoon, so we could take our time and not get caught up in the traffic and stop off along the way for my dad to sup a few pints.
He talked about the team and Keegan, he loved him and his enthusiasm for the game. He would often say to me, ‘see where hard work gets you?’ in relation to special K’s lack of raw talent and aptitude for dedication and graft.
Our squad back then was playing in typical cavalier fashion, with a smattering of youth and class running through the formation.
We listened to Radio five live for any news on our match and we put the world to rights as he sat, gazing out at the barren Pennines.
I recall him asking me several times if Beardsley would be playing later.
I found it strange he kept asking me the same thing over and over again, and I had already told him on each occasion that as far as I knew he would be up front with Cole as normal.
The fact that Pedro had taken a pay cut to return home from Everton had endeared him even more to my father, not that him and his magical feet needed any more admiration from that quarter.
I soon figured out what he was up to, as we arrived in Oldham and parked, or rather more accurately, abandoned the car in a residential area close to Boundary Park and he made a beeline for the nearest bookmakers.
He stood squinting at the board and leaned into me. ‘If the wee man’s playin’ we’ll have these easy tonight. What odds are we?’
We were 6/4 and I placed his twenty quid on at the desk receiving an inquisitive look from behind the glass counter.
A few pints later and he was in good form, talking about the Fairs cup and the FA cup runs of years before.
We had met up with some fellow mags hanging out of a local bar like a herd of zebras and whiled away the hours before kick-off, singing and speculating on the match.
Our seats were half decent, about five or six rows back in the tight little ground; it didn’t hold many, but our end was full and the noise was so great it seemed to permeate your whole body to the point that it became almost invasive.
The Blaydon Races bellowed out and to my surprise, dad was on his feet, his face held high to the drizzling rain and the floodlights, singing at the top of his voice.
I understood then what it all meant.
Our songs, our tribe, our pride.
The roars subsided and we got underway.
I am watching the game in the here and now, but like a weird déjà vu, I can remember it all from first hand almost two decades ago.
We go behind after half an hour or so, very frustrating as we are bossing the midfield with Brace and Venners sitting soaking up the runners.
‘That’s our weak link, son’ my dad had said about Hooper, as we sat deflated at half time, one nil down to a soft goal conceded.
Hardly the epic match I had expected.
He nudged me and said to me, ‘don’t worry, just watch the wee man second half after his chocolate buttons.’
He smirked at this, he thought it was class that Beardsley had replied in a recent interview that his pre match and half time meal was milk chocolate buttons.
The second half started off well and we were on fire.
If I had a pound for every time my dad had said to me that night, ‘just watch the wee man, watch the wee man’, I would have had a small fortune.
But, as ever, he was right.
The Oldham defence were having a torrid time, almost dizzy trying to concentrate on the deft and nimble Beardsley, until he lays on Cole and he does what he is paid to do and it’s in the onion bag.
Relief is palpable and a new wave of optimism ripples through our ranks.
The game ebbs and flows until around twenty minutes later, Pedro decides enough is enough and grabs the match by the scruff of the neck.
He picks up the ball not far outside the penalty area, and my dad is nudging me, growing in urgency and repetition, as first he shimmies one way, then the other, meanwhile in the stand, my leg is getting battered from my dad, and then with a final dummy sold to the hapless defender, promptly smashes the ball into the top corner.
It takes a collective gasp to bring us to our senses, and we go absolutely mental at one of the best goals we have ever seen.
‘Told you! Told you!’ my dad is shouting at me.
Another ten minutes and Cole wraps it up with another piece of play from our number eight and it’s game over.
Those were the days, winning away from home, players playing for the shirt and my old man like an excited adolescent, nerves all a jitter, watching in anticipation and admiration.
I’m glad he isn’t around to see the sorry state of our great club, he’s probably turning in his grave as I ponder what his reaction would be.
I would welcome his counsel on not just football, but on life in general.
I miss his steadying hand on my shoulder, and I smile to myself, as I have to admit inwardly, I even miss his nudges on my leg when we have any chance of a goal.
I wipe my eyes, pretending to yawn and blow my nose on the serviette at the bar, and pull myself together in case anyone sees me welling up.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn to see Roy there, looking at me a bit strange.
As much as I love him, I would give anything for him right now to be my old man, just so I can hug him one last time whilst I bury my face into his chest and empty these tears I have been carrying for all these lonely years without him.