“I love football, me, John. You know? I mean, I properly love it.” I’ll never forget those words till the day I die. They were said to me calmly, earnestly and truthfully – I will never doubt their honesty. They weren’t uttered under the floodlights of St. James’ Park or on the coach to an away match. They were said quietly, over a pint, whilst standing on the sidelines at Filtrona Park as the speaker of the words watched wistfully as South Shields FC and North Shields FC played out an FA Vase derby on an international friendly weekend. It was a moment of blissful, naïve innocence; a moment in which, just for that moment, mind, all that football has become didn’t exist.
Like many of you reading this, it was watching games like South Shields v North Shields, or travelling away to watch York v Darlington for a midweek match (brilliant) that I discovered my own route to the romance of the game far removed from the sanitised, Global Branding of Premier League football and all that that entails.
Maybe unlike you, my last match at SJP was in 2010. Remember getting done 2-0 by
Blackpool? That was it. Jesus wept… Of course, my own reason for not having returned is because I am now living in Brazil. But if I was still in Newcastle would I have been going to the match these past seasons? Yes, I am certain that I would have been. Do I miss going to SJP? I do, absolutely. Seeing the black and white hordes making their way to SJP is what, if anything, gets the homesickness kicking in. If I was home this weekend would I be going to SJP? Absolutely not – even if it was the only match I could get to, I’d be in Leazes Park with like-minded fans who have also seen enough.
During previous protests I have firmly been in the camp of the majority. I found the funeral of SJP embarrassing; I have applauded the efforts of the various pre-match protests that have been organised without feeling strongly enough to have gotten involved; I found the open-top bus parade for the balance sheet hilarious, but was disappointed with the low turnout and derision aimed at it from within the ranks of our own support; and I was distraught at the inability to even agree on a time to enact a walkout against Cardiff!
What is stopping us organising and mobilising as a set of supporters? Is it apathy? Is it a belief that Ashley knows best? Is it that we just don’t want to? I can’t understand it, I’ve even tried blaming Thatcher! “If we still had proper, strong unions, we’d be out of the Popular Side en masse before you could say ‘DOWN TOOLS’”, but then I tend to blame Maggie for everything so that can’t be it.
Is it that people are looking at what is happening at boardroom level, at what is happening in the dugout, at what is happening on the training ground, at what is happening with the academy, with what is happening on the park, at the tatty company names strewn across our stadium and the players’ chests and thinking, ‘Aye, it’s gannin’ canny.’? Can that really be happening? I’m doubtful.
‘Support the team, not the regime’. I used to use that one as well, the problem is that you can’t. Like it or not, the money you spend on your ticket (‘I only buy my ticket, I don’t buy his beer!’) is how you support the regime while your presence and voice are all you have to support the team. Your presence is confirmation to the owner that he can do what he likes, say what he likes and appoint whoever he likes to whichever position he likes. Your presence at the Spurs match endorses that man and everything he stands for. In short, your presence endorses the endless travesties that have befallen our club since he waltzed into NE1. Don’t want to get involved? You already ARE involved.
If you still want to go to the Spurs match to support the team, do it. Do it, but SUPPORT THE TEAM. Sing your heart out, belt out the Blaydon Races and cheer the lads on for 90 minutes plus stoppage time. Be a fan, support the lads with all your worth, but don’t go there and sit on your hands for 90 minutes complaining about Obertan being the best we’ve got, whining about Carver being manager, twisting that ‘Captain’ Sissoko managed to get himself ruled out with a pathetic red, crying that some kid called Sterry has been dragged onto the subs bench. Because if you are concerned about the state of our club and you go to Spurs and try to complain, no-one will hear you. No-one will hear you cos no-one at the match will want hear; the only people who will be able to hear you will be making damned sure they CAN’T hear you.
But there is another way. Carry on up Barrack Road and into Leazes Park instead. Stand shoulder to shoulder with the (hopefully) thousands that are there and air your grievances. You will find sympathetic ears ready to listen and agree with you. In all probability you will find more camaraderie and solidarity than you have seen for years in the stands.
If we do this, I can guarantee that we WILL be heard. Maybe nothing will change, maybe we won’t achieve, but we owe it to ourselves and our club to at least try, and at the very least our voice will be heard. That has to be worth something, surely?
I don’t know the lads who are behind this boycott and I don’t know what their objectives are, but I’m certain that this is just a very small step on the start of what will undoubtedly be a very long journey indeed.
I’m going to be at the Maracanãon Saturday for a local derby. I’ll be posting pics of what a fantastic stadium half empty looks like – it isn’t pretty.