This Saturday Newcastle United crosses the Tyne for our first warm up game of the new season. The game is sold out and to no-one’s surprise the majority of the attendance will favour Newcastle United and provide a bumper pay-day for our Geordie kin, Gateshead FC.
There will be a big shout out to ex-Mag defender, Mike Williamson now managing the Tynesiders and doing a good job at the International Stadium.
I’m sure the vast majority of us will wish The Heed all the very best for the new season.
A few days later we’ll take a staggering 8,000+ to Glasgow for a testimonial game with Rangers for their long serving goalie Alan McGregor at Ibrox Stadium. Thereafter Eddie Howe’s side will travel to the USA for some pre-season games which have a commercial dimension too.
Finally we’ll come back to St James’ Park for the SELA tournament with attractive continental opposition in Serie A regulars Fiorentina and Villareal from La Liga.
The weekend will include an opportunity to see NUFC Women at SJP too.
I won’t be in the least surprised if the SELA tournament takes place in front of full houses but I’d hope the games provide an opportunity especially for families with children, who find it difficult to get to games at SJP and feel part of Newcastle United.
The demand for tickets to see United play is off the scale.
I thought we’d been here before when the Kevin Keegan rollercoaster picked up momentum in the early 90s but this is on a different level altogether. It is impossible for the club to meet demand as things stand.
That is as crazy as it sounds for a club that hasn’t won a domestic honour since 1955 or any kind of silverware since 1969 (as we’re frequently reminded). Love for our club is buried deep into the DNA of the North East region and beyond.
I’m reminded of my old man looking bemused at me when I told him how impressed I’d been by my first trips to Anfield, Old Trafford and Highbury back in the 80s when the charms of SJP were er, on the primitive side and the most modern part of the ground consisted of park benches bolted onto a terrace in front of portakabins imitating executive boxes. Naturally, we endured Tyneside winters on open terraces.
My old man insisted Newcastle United was at least the equal of those storied clubs in the NW and N London and I can assure you he was far removed from being a wild-eyed, deluded B&W fanatic of popular imagination. But my Dad insisted he knew who the aristocrats of English football were and had The Magpies firmly amongst them.
That was a long time ago and a lot has changed. It’s fair to describe some PL members with the sobriquet “super-clubs” as they have become known over the last couple of decades. My old man never fully witnessed the Premier League transform English football and in that time the likes of Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal have become global behemoths such is the financial strength of our domestic competition and the money gained from Champions League participation year on year.
I’m not sure what he’d have made of Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham being described as the “top 6” but such was the temperament of much of his generation he’d have been saddened by the demise of Sunderland. The continuing inability of Gateshead to get back into the Football League would have continued to irk him.
There are other clubs who justifiably consider themselves as special football institutions. Everton and Villa are amongst them but so too are Leeds and Sunderland.
Where do we stand in the pantheon of English football?
We can all dive down various rabbit holes to prove and disprove our prejudices. One test is the silverware taunt which is one we face now we’ve been elevated to competing for honours again.
Although a historic haul of four Championships, six FA Cups and an Inter Cities Fairs Cup is considerable, the fact that United’s last title win was in 1927 and the previous FAC glory in 1955, it’s a bit desperate to refer to them as a sign of where we are now. That said they represent a greater haul than Tottenham currently boast and far greater than what Chelsea and Man City begun with prior to being catapulted into the big time via their lottery win-style takeovers.
We should remember at the time of the FAC Final of 1974, both Liverpool and United were exactly square on trophies won. Indeed, we’d won the FAC six times before the Reds won their first. Things have changed (cough) slightly since then.
On the silverware front let’s acknowledge there are as many European Cup wins in Nottingham as London. Few put Forest ahead of clubs such as Arsenal, Spurs, Everton or ourselves and Leeds should and could have won the European Cup in Paris in 1975 but for some incredulous officiating in favour of Bayern Munich – the Elland Rd club being only the second English club to reach the final at that time along with Man Utd (1968) – with Celtic having reached two (1967 (W) and 1970 (L)).
We’ve heard and likely participated in via tortuous “big club” conversations and understand there are numerous measures to gauge the size of a club and they are subjective and wrapped in emotion and at times self delusion.
But Newcastle United is massive.
Let me refine that. Newcastle United is not Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter, Man Utd or Liverpool massive. Those clubs have gilded histories and blessed by the greatest players in the world wearing their colours. We are nowhere near that and I seriously doubt over what remains of my lifetime we will be.
Are we Arsenal massive? I’d say of course we’re not. Arsenal in my view (and one shared by several Londoners of my acquaintance who follow other clubs) is historically the biggest club in the capital despite Chelsea’s two Champions League wins. History and well, class counts.
Are we currently as big as Chelsea and Spurs?
My view is we have a higher ceiling to reach than Chelsea simply because Newcastle United possesses a support and regional identity no London club can match.
Contrary to the myth put about by the metropolitan media and their slack-jawed acolytes there is a huge advantage in being the only PL club north of Leeds in a football mad region as opposed to one of many in a capital city with many different attractions but sorely lacking the partisan intensity of NE1 on match-days. One day soon, they will realise that.
Chelsea is currently better known internationally to Newcastle United because of the Abramovich success of the last two decades. Tottenham is a club with a fan-base second only to Arsenal in London in my experience. They should have won more but like us their glory years are sepia tinged at present.
I’ve seen some spiky exchanges between Mags and fans of both Villa and Everton on social media.
In my opinion both clubs are historically important football institutions but neither dominates their regions or catchment areas as we do ours. Everton in particular suffers from being across the park from one of the biggest clubs in Europe whereas Villa, although West Midland’s largest club is surrounded on all sides by medium-size clubs in Wolves, Birmingham City, Coventry City and West Brom.
There is no such concern for Newcastle United.
Newcastle itself is the regional capital, the largest between Leeds and Edinburgh and a one city institution whose appeal spreads from the Tweed to the Tees. Unlike Liverpool we don’t have an awkward parochial rivalry to occupy us these days.
Miles of column inches have been expended on what capacity Newcastle United needs in order to satisfy demand. The discussion in itself of c.70,000, just 18,000 greater than what we have currently is a stark illustration of the scale of Newcastle United right now, after one decent season in almost two decades and on the back of that much mentioned empty trophy cabinet.
Some can be forgiven for baulking at Newcastle United in a stadium with a 70,000 capacity because it’s that number which hosts Man Utd at Old Trafford, accepted as the biggest club in the country. But who doesn’t believe Newcastle United couldn’t sell another 18,000 seats right now? Factor in the demand from ordinary punters, corporate customers and international fans and it all starts looking far from the wild eyed ramblings of a fanzine writer.
The size of the support is one thing but it is the city-region and geography we occupy which provides us with something intangible and precious. We’ve heard no-mark gobs for hire and numbskull fans of rival clubs trot out lazy clichés about life in our city-region and whilst their ignorance is laughable they are onto something about the sense of difference here to elsewhere in the country. They just haven’t worked out that it is an advantage for us.
We have a unique, immediately recognisable dialect and identity which allied to our geographical distance from the rest of England makes us stronger, more unified and well, passionate about who we are. John Hall clumsily referred to us as the Geordie Nation and whilst that was a bit of a toe curler, he was onto something, though I don’t think he fully understood what it was.
Others in Liverpool and Glasgow might claim that sense of difference too and with some merit (Scouse Not English etc) but our location and status as a one city club makes Newcastle United so much more than others.
There are no other clubs like us and we are located in a city which has the same on offer to any other in the country, London aside – accessible from the airport just like Berlin, Paris, Milan, Rome, Barcelona, Belfast, Dublin with areas of natural outstanding beauty a 20 minute drive from the Gallowgate End.
I’m not going to do a sales pitch for our little plot of heaven but the breathtaking stupidity of some opining about our home can stop you in your tracks on occasion and that’s before we get to the regional-class prejudice of some who can’t bear to believe there is life beyond the London orbital.
Anyway, I’ll say it again our location is strength and feeds the defiance I’ve felt we have of us against the outside. Now that much of the football world has eschewed the patronising, head patting bollocks of Newcastle United as their “second favourite club” (thank god) for reasons of our controversial ownership, that defiant, siege mentality has only increased. That’s a good thing in my opinion.
Newcastle United’s story over my lifetime has been of unfulfilled potential. The club has previously been in the hands of men who have lacked the wherewithal, the passion or the vision to take the club where it should have always been. There have been times when I have wondered if the energy which kept our club going wouldn’t have finally drained away but it never has. The supporters have kept Newcastle United’s life support machine switched on and now we are making a full recovery.
There is a reason why Amanda Staveley and her colleagues with the Public Investment Fund chose Newcastle United as the one they wished to invest so much money, expertise and energy in. It was because she like we could recognise how powerful a football club was largely lying dormant and how much potential it had.
Sure, Newcastle United was available for what was always a bargain price of £300m but let’s be clear had they wanted to the consortium who own United wouldn’t have needed to scratch around for the money to get their hands on West Ham, Spurs, Villa or many other continental outfits.
They bought United in a similar way to our recruitment of players of massive potential to reach.
There’s also a reason why Newcastle as an entire city-region has welcomed the ownership so heartily too. It’s not because we’re simple-minded, sports-washed dupes with little in the way of an ethical compass. It is because here are people for all of the baggage that accompanies them who recognise the same strengths in our football club as we do. Here are people whose interests align with our own, with ambition, money and a professionalism to see Newcastle United succeed.
I don’t expect the bitterness of some in the football media to thaw any time soon and nor do I believe the question of whether nation states should own football clubs (it would be good if they extended that to questions about governance and fan ownership as well however) should be parked. But if they could see our success through a different lens for a short while they might draw something from that – e.g. a part of the country having some happiness it doesn’t usually get and a Premier League being disrupted by a club outside of the usual suspects.
I won’t hold my breath.
It is little more than a month until we bounce into SJP for a late Saturday afternoon KO and season opener v. Villa. Drink will have been taken, enthusiasm will be on turbo, the flag displays will be epic and there is a sense we are building for something special.
All hail the Geordie Massive!
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin – @TFMick1892