With the very welcome return of (safe) standing confirmed at SJP, new True Faith regular Martin Baker offers very personal memories of what it was like to stand in the seething mass of an old school terrace. Smells and all!
As the club announced yesterday, St James’ Park will introduce safe standing at the start of the 2023/24 season. The licensed standing section will accommodate 1,800 home supporters in the South East Corner of the stadium and visiting supporters on Level 7 of the Leazes End.
Apparently, 75% of 4,000 fans surveyed voted in favour. All those affected have been contacted via email, giving them an opportunity to be part of the trial or to opt out. Beyond this, there may be available space for other season ticket holders in these locations too.
Eight clubs are already onboard with safe standing. Including that atmosphere deprived club formerly known as Newton Heath who visit St James’ Park this weekend.
I have to confess, standing areas or ‘terraces’ in football offer me mixed memories prior to their abolition in 1994. I could say the same about swimming in the sea, cycling and curry.
I’ve never been a confident swimmer in open water thanks to a grumpy Greek sea urchin. I’ve had a few close shaves riding on main roads. And eating ‘curry hell’ on the Bigg Market put me off curry for nearly 20 years.
I’m not a strong contender in a ‘big brave boy’ competition. I’d be the one you’d yell at for turning away in the wall for a free kick. I wouldn’t wear a snood though.
However, if you told me there was a spare ticket for my son and me together in a safe standing area for the next home game I’d be there in a heartbeat. Wearing my big brave boy pants over my jeans. Like Superman.
Football and Newcastle United brings out the devil in me.
I’m balding, widening, and now groan and fart every time I put on socks. Even in my twenties, truth be told, I’d prefer a nice sit down. Standing hurts my tall frame. The benefits of standing are outgunned by the disadvantages.
I’m a lanky lurch with a conscience. I worry about restricting others’ view. I’m too polite to reap my revenge on all those who discriminate against my loftiness by saying ‘alreet big fella’ or ‘how biggun’. I am a considerate Hagrid. A BFG. Big F*ckin Get.
Standing in a crowd, especially when your team score is exhilarating. When your team scores an injury time winner it’s the highest of highs where you would blindly embrace even the odious Simon Jordan if he was standing next you. Erm, Maybe.
In 100 plus minutes of standing those moments are fleeting.
The conventional term is a crowd. There are various collective nouns used to describe Magpies. A tribe or a mischief. A tiding or a gulp. As a former ‘tider’ I was always intent on being with my tribe.
When the players enter the field I’d be at gate A and end up nearer gate Y by full time.
The density of the tribe after a goal led to those at the front balancing on squashed pies, spilt Bovril, hard-pressed chips sludge, and of course the inevitable puddle of piss, spittle, chewing gum, and puke.
Gulp is an apt word. You’d hear the fart, sometimes even feel it vibrating from the buttocks of the reveller stood in front of you. Gulp fast, as there was no easy way out.
I can recall one especially dreadful game. The performance pathetic. The mood mischievous. The rain was streaming faster than new material from Justin Bieber. To the extent that my t-shirt took longer to peel off than a latex onesie.
An older terrace dwelling stalwart suddenly broke into song. In club singer style, “Pleeeeaaase release meeee….Let…me go-hoooo…cos ayeee doe luurve ah-youuuu anymohurrrrrrrrr”.
Suddenly the sensation of meat pie slushing beneath my trainers and odour of beer farts didn’t matter. Everyone chuckled. Some joined in. Best song I ever sang along to. I can’t remember the final score. Don’t care.
It was unplanned, uncontrolled, unexpected fun. It’s not on YouTube. I have no idea who the other souls were swimming in that part of the terrace tide.
The best moments are usually unplanned. The best nights out start in the local boozer on a meaningless February afternoon. By 2am you’re in a nightclub you’ll never find again. If F.U.N. stands for anything it’s F*cked Up Nonsense.
An adrenaline rush from not knowing if you’ll be propelled onto the upper stand or crushed beneath the tide of sweaty and inebriated legs among the Bovril and squashed pies.
Yet after all this, safe standing makes total sense to me.
We’re all different but if Peter Beardsley smashed in a curler from 25 yards or Xisco scored a grubber with his nuts, my legs would always thrust me skywards to join in the mischief.
For those of us who just like a sit down and an unrestricted view, it allows us to be safely seated snobs. Each to their own.
To the moshers, farters, huggers and chanters, it offers an opportunity for F.U.N.
If you want to swim where fish pee. If you want to wear Lycra to protect you from articulated lorries or if you want to eat raw fire with ‘Pelaw’ rice then be my guest.
Standing at a match from here on is ok if it’s safe. As those who endured the threats at Sheffield Wednesday recently will attest, so too should be the entry and exit from stands. It won’t guarantee fun, but an upstanding tribe of like-minded souls with a shared love of nonsense will give it just enough mischief.
To quote Sky Sports summation of what it’s all about, “Seats cannot be locked in the up or down position, so fans can sit if they wish to, and the standing areas cannot affect the views of other fans. Other all other parts of the grounds fans are expected to sit in these areas.”
The chances are I’ll probably join you one day. Meat pie and Bovril in hand.
You had me at ‘safe’. The BFG begs your forgiveness if you can’t see a bloody thing.
Martin Baker @Martinb1892