Like a lot of you reading this, I’ve spent a lot of the last few years contemplating my Newcastle United navel and wondering whether the whole thing is worth my continued time and money. We’ve been through bad times before with United and some say things aren’t as bad as they have been previously. I’m not so sure about that because up until Rafa, I’d never known such an extended period absent of hope the club had a future. But now we do have hope. We have hope we can escape a relegation that looked nailed on after Southampton and we have hope that if we do avoid that relegation, Rafa can start rebuilding our club with something approaching competence. Hope – it springs eternal and it was there in the away end at Anfield on Saturday.
The first time I visited Anfield was back in 1984. We played Liverpool in the FAC 3rd Round on a Friday night (it was even on the telly – gasp) and I was only 20 years old. If they weren’t Champions of Europe they were simply waiting to win another. That night was charged with emotion because Keegan and McDermott, pivotal members of the Liverpool team of the Reds’ trophy laden years of the 70s were returning to the scene of former glories and we were closing in on a return to the First Division from where we’d been absent since a heart-breaking relegation of 1977/78. We lost 4-0 and we were simply brushed aside by a far superior Liverpool team filled with some of the best players in Europe. But where we weren’t brushed aside was in the stands. United took around 14,000 to Anfield that night and we packed the Anfield Road End and had sections of the Kemlyn Road and even the main stand if memory serves me well. Our support that night was quite simply magnificent. It was relentless, it was defiant and it filled the whole stadium. For those of us of a certain vintage it remains one of the best displays of support we’ve ever been in. It wasn’t perfect though, seats were smashed in on the Anfield Road End and thrown on the pitch so that goes to prove that displays of knobhead behaviour aren’t limited to the modern era. But the support that night was magnificent. We created a wall of Black & White noise and if the result depended on volume of support, we’d have been 10-0 up at half time.
Fast forward thirty-two years and I’m back in the Anfield Road End having been in there umpteen times in between. I’m not as awe-struck by Anfield as I was all those years ago. The famous old stadium still has its legendary old Kop end but it is a shadow of its former self and like everywhere else all-seater stadiums have sucked the life out of once were rumbustious arenas of working class solidarity. It’s a whole new ball game. I’ve heard lots of Mags bemoan the behaviour of our away support in recent years. I’ve witnessed some behaviour myself which has been embarrassing, braindead and which lots of us want nothing to do with. I’ve travelled to Anfield and Goodison with a sense of impending dread at what I’ve expected will be wholly embarrassing “poverty” crack directed at opposing fans who share much the same social and economic disadvantages as us as one of those forgotten regions in Tory Britain. I know I might be one of those miserable, old arseholes who can’t spot a good bit of “bantz” when I see it. Maybe it’s my age but you know I don’t think it is because lots of younger Mags who write for this fanzine and make the same trips to the same grounds say the same thing. And so do loads of others.
But it wasn’t like that on Saturday at Anfield. Sure, there were one or two dafties who gave a few isolated shouts about signing on, rats, stereos and other assorted shite but they were shouted down and they left it at that. The vast majority of our support concentrated on backing the manager and the team. There weren’t 14,000 Mags at Anfield on Saturday but those that were, were cut from much the same cloth as those who were there in January 1984. Their support was excellent and it was from deep within the collective Geordie soul of Newcastle United Football Club.
This season like several before it, our spirits have been virtually broken. Good supporters as loyal as they come have chucked it and walked away, despairing at the cod-eyed, venality of Mike Ashley and his running of our beloved football club. Who hasn’t thought about wrapping it all in and finding something better to do with your time? I have on numerous occasions but what keeps me coming back is the longing for that feeling of unity and joy when Jack Colback pulls the trigger at the Kop end of Anfield and United have pulled it back from 2-0 down to amazingly get it back to 2-2. All around you strangers are hugging, fists are punching the air and faces are wreathed in smiles. We’re all willing Lascelles and Mbemba to win those challenges (and they do) for Anita to not stop running, for Townsend to keep making those runs, for Colback to keep picking up the bits and pieces, for Tiote to make the blocks, for Cisse to keep going and on and on. Heads don’t drop, no-one is shirking challenges, they are all giving everything for our just and righteous cause. On the touchline, Rafa is directing, pointing, cajoling, orchestrating, managing and it is working. Our support is falling in love with this bloke in a manner not known since Keegan and his La Bamba anthem is on repeat. Final whistle and we have a point and the ovation for Rafa and his team is massive from the away end. This is what it is like to support a football club. Unity is strength. There is belief.
There is a long way to go yet. We have achieved something we hadn’t thought possible a few weeks ago and that is we are still in the fight. But we haven’t won the fight. The Mackems and Norwich want what we want every bit as much. But we haven’t been counted out. We are still in it. We have come through a week of matches with Man City (h) and Liverpool (a) and we have collected points from losing positions. We are still in it. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet. We could have been virtually down now but we’re not. Still in it. Still fighting.
Up and coming we have Crystal Palace (h), Villa (a) and Spurs (h). We’ve done the hard work against those sides no-one expected us to do anything against. Now we have to do it against two sides we are expected to beat and another who might be fighting for the biggest prize by the time they come to SJP on the last day of the season. But as Rafa says, don’t look at the PL table, concentrate on the next game and the next game is Crystal Palace on Saturday and their shit-house manager who dedicated wins to Mike Ashley and blamed us for defeats. Can you ever expect Rafa to blame us for his team losing?
St James’ Park has to be rammed on Saturday with the same spirit that was in the away end at Anfield just gone. We have to recall the days of Portsmouth at home in ’92 and David Kelly et al. Benitez has to feel the emotion attached to Newcastle United and Pardew has to experience something altogether different. To give United a chance SJP has to be filled with a visceral, cloying atmosphere that our players will draw strength from but theirs will wilt under. For our own ends, we have to stay with Rafa and his players. We are supporters and not spectators with a vital role to play. The officials have to be under relentless pressure from us whilst every player in a Black & White shirt has to have our full backing, even when they make mistakes, especially when they make mistakes.
Newcastle United expects ….
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
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