Last week, I made a post on twitter which gave a general and traditionalist view about football support. It was intended to be light-hearted and I made the comparison that not supporting your local club or a club without which you had a familial bond was the culinary equivalent of putting tomato ketchup (correction … sauce) on your Christmas dinner. It was a general observation and with Newcastle United’s very strong local and regionally based support, it didn’t even occur to me that our club was part of that equation in honesty.

Then I forgot about it, not imagining anyone would take any kind of umbrage with that.  Frankly as someone who has stood in away ends in four separate decades taking the piss out of day-tripper, out of towners at Old Trafford, Anfield et al … I felt the support I grew up with would recognise that. Having been on buses and in vans approaching Old Trafford being overtaken by coachloads of Devon Reds et al and serenading them:  “we support our local team” I didn’t think there was very much controversial in that tweet.  I’ve seen the eyes roll of fellow match-going Mags in various work-places down the years when someone claiming to follow Man Utd or Liverpool or whoever with whom they have absolutely no connection other than a SKY subscription opine on football matters as if they were the same as those who have held STs for decades going  home and away … who basically have done the hard miles following Newcastle United …. and to be fair in several workplaces I’d include people who have done the same with Sunderland and other NE clubs … including non-league from the lower divisions. Respect. Tradition and loyalty.

Let me explain where I’m coming from. For me, supporting Newcastle United is an extension of my Geordie identity and civic pride. I was born and bred on Tyneside and care deeply about the place. I believe the NE has had a raw deal from successive governments but despite that is a fantastic region to live in and has massive potential. A bit like Newcastle United.  I’m not blind to its faults and failings but despite maddening me on occasion, the NE is a family and whilst its local citizens can criticise it, woe-betide an outsider doing the same. A bit like families.

That’s my Geordie Pride. I’m far from the only one and I have a respect for any supporter who sticks with their local club or the club of their family etc.  Over the years I’ve met and am friends with people who may not have grown up in the NE but who because they have a strong familial connection with this area sometimes going back decades and are part of the Geordie or NE diaspora have maintained that connection in the face of many other competing attractions. I’m in awe of those who travel hundreds of miles to come “home” to see their football club play. Fair play to them.  Likewise those who move and live in these parts who have caught the bug. Great.

Let me say, I consider Newcastle United’s traditional geographical catchment area to reach from the Scottish borders down to North Yorkshire and across to Cumbria. Just my opinion formed in five different decades following Newcastle United.

I’m part of a generation of football supporter who started going to games in the 70s and 80s. Attendances were nothing like they are now and the game a million miles from the global spectacle it has become on the back of slick marketing and satellite TV. All of that really means very little to me. I’d prefer to be stood on a terrace with my mates and not paying fortunes to watch it or have all the bollocks about needing a season ticket and to plan my life around the whole thing.  I don’t have a rose-tinted nostalgia for the past because lots of football back then was horrible but on balance I’d prefer it to the sanitised filmed for TV sport it has become since the formation of the breakaway Premier League which was the biggest two-fingered salute to the rest of football in the history of the Football Association.   5:30 KOs in Brighton on a Saturday night? Aye, brilliant … thanks but no thanks.

I’m aware a club like Liverpool for example prefers to sell tourist packages to fans from abroad because it can make more money from them than it does to local fans priced out of following their local club. The same is true at Man Utd and will be the same at some other clubs … those clubs have stepped out of their attachment to the local communities who founded them, nurtured them and sustained them for more than a century. It’s an act of betrayal on the part of clubs who have traded on their local identity …. that’s why the vast majority of football clubs have the names of the towns and the cities in their names and local land-marks and iconography in their crests and badges. Local identity which has been part of the selling points of every club in the country.

So, I hope that explains the thinking behind the tweet I made but let me (if you are still awake) deal with the response to what people thought they had read or were told I’d written or even claimed what I’d bashed out into the twittersphere.  It’s a feature of social media that some people love to be offended and go over the top in response. Are there people who feel as though every tweet is all about them? I sometimes wonder how they would react if something really serious happened in their lives but there you go. There are people abroad who have developed a liking for Newcastle United and follow the club’s fortunes. Given the attendant frustrations and by and large under-performance of the club over an extended period I’d question their sanity but it’s nice that people without the local affiliations of the majority of you reading this, see something in the club they like. They can’t be described as glory-hunters that’s for sure.

Last July on pre-season, I recorded a podcast with a lad from Dublin who had developed a fondness for Newcastle United and I found that intriguing. We went along to the pre-season friendly at St Patrick’s Athletic together and he explained to me that Shamrock Rovers was his club and he told me loads about the Dublin football scene … rivalries, territorial boundaries with Bohemians etc and I was fascinated. His liking for Newcastle United was based upon a fondness for the kit but he felt an association with what he regarded as a traditional working class club in a region which he felt was politically left-wing and he referred to stuff like the Miners’ Strike. He was definitely preaching to the right congregation in me. He’s not been across to Newcastle this season but he did pop over to Wolves and sat in their end with a couple of his mates for that night of heartbreak. Then of course there is the lad from Bilbao, the Athletic fan who pops over to one or two games per season. I know of a group of Hibs fans who regularly come to matches and who have a fondness for United and a night in our city before getting back up the road. Myself and other Mags have been welcomed to the Leith San Siro on a number of occasions and thoroughly enjoyed the experience but we’re no Hibees like our mates and my brother and aren’t Celtic fans as a result of going to Parkhead and having a night in Glasgow to celebrate his birthday. Like Gateshead FC, I keep an eye out for results, wish Hibs well and still bitterly regret passing up the chance of going to Hampden a couple of seasons back to see them beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final. I’d have loved to have witnessed the scenes of joy and I may have even joined in with a rendition of Sunshine on Leith myself like a proper day-tripper whopper.

Fans from overseas like my Dublin mate and others are the product of the globalisation of sport. If they enjoy watching our games on TV, who am I to question that and if they like the odd weekend in Newcastle to take in a game then crack on. A good mate of mine is all over Serie A and the pages of TF have been filled with Mags absorbing the football culture in every corner of the planet over the years. I was in the company of smashing people over the Christmas with American families who have friends in the NE and every time they are here love to go to see Newcastle United play. I pulled their legs about getting some new mates in Manchester et al but it’s harmless. Those people and others like them have not turned their back on a local club like the Peterborough Reds traipsing to Old Trafford and leaving a good local club on the bones of its arse while they go mad with their credit cards at the Man Utd Mega-Store. I can assure you the match-going Mancs I know revile them as much as I do. If you are offended by that attitude I hold then I am definitely making the right decision to leave this stuff behind. I really am the football dinosaur it seems.

But what is interesting about last week’s storm in a tea-cup was the response of certain people to it. I’m not going to refer to the charvas who act the tough guy in the anonymity of social media only to say if these people behave like they do in real life they are likely going to spend some time in a hospital or a secure unit. Using language like “nonce” and weirdly “thalidomide” to express their disagreement with what I doubt they had read or even understood probably speaks more of  the cess-pit social media is and which I’ve decided I can now live without.

What is interesting is how certain individuals have sought to exploit, frankly a load of old rubbish for their own purposes and perhaps even settle scores or position themselves for something else.

There are others of course, interested in positioning themselves and attempting to raise their profiles in this fan-world through mock-outrage and all of that tedious social media palaver which over a passage of time has led me to conclude me isn’t the world I want to be involved with any longer.

This will be the twentieth year I’ve been involved with TRUE FAITH. I founded the fanzine and watched it grow, attracting some brilliant people to its ranks who are still here. Now it’s in the more than capable hands of Alex Hurst who has considerably more patience and more tolerance I have for some of the venality, bitterness, spite, envy and abuse that comes from people whose behaviour is self-seeking and feral at times. Being absorbed in this world has threatened to jaundice my view of our support given the garbage of what goes on. I think we’ve always known there are goons who follow football but social media and the opportunities of the digital age has provided them with a megaphone.  I know I’m not the only one who has come to the conclusion to withdraw from what might be loosely described as fan-activism-media after this season and it’s not because of Mike Ashley – it’s because of how they have been treated by some people who appear to relish trashing good people and abusing them for attempting to achieve something for the common good of our support.

I don’t think I’ve had the same abuse as some have experienced and the raging at the wind-ups of Sunderland fans is water off a duck’s back and a source of amusement amongst Mackems I know and who have the savvy to spot a bit of bait being laid a mile-off.  I’m more bored to tears with it to be honest, possibly disillusioned and I’ve decided I want no more to do with it. That’s not me in a huff. Dependent upon what happens with Rafa’s contract (if he’s even been offered one and if there’s any kind of discussion on the matter) I’ll continue to support the club if he stays on his terms and I’ll likely send in the odd article to be published in the fanzine if it cuts the mustard. But becoming involved in anything beyond that is definitely off-limits for me, like others is over and I’d question the sanity of anyone who offers themselves up for this stuff. It’s no accident so many maintain an anonymity in the whole circus.  Its destructive and poisonous and will lead our support absolutely nowhere. Not that those who indulge in it give a shit about that.

I’m aware writing this it might appear self-indulgent, even a bit pompous which I’ll apologise for and I’m well aware that as an abrasive, opinionated git I’ve rubbed up a few people the wrong way down the years. Do I regret that? Not really, no-one got hurt even though I’d handle certain situations differently to make life easier for myself and others on reflection. But that’s more tactical than anything else. I hope what I’ve attempted has meant that TF hasn’t become a vanilla fanzine ala The Mag and its safe, avoid-controversy-at-all-costs strategy to not provoke anyone into any response.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who has supported me down the years in developing the fanzine but I’ll be fading out of the picture for the reasons I’ve stated above. TF has done loads of good work, will continue to do so but this arsey, baldy old bastard will be completely taking his hand off the controls and leaving it to Alex as he’s done brilliantly so far and will do a great job for the next twenty years at least I’m sure.

KEEP ON, KEEPIN’ ON …. 

MICHAEL MARTIN