It dawned on me whilst watching England limp to a draw against the Republic of Ireland last week that I'll probably never see a team I support win anything meaningful.
I remember my first time at St. James’ Park; the sea of faces trained on the green square in the middle, a man doing a Native American style war-cry from up in the East Stand, the smell of yeast from the brewery mixing with the pungent whiff of armpits, cigar smoke and the tang of Bovril.
I stood and watched as Ian Rush put the ball in our net twice. I simply rolled my eyes, tutted and said, ‘What’s he like eh?’, not realising that the other 33,000 fans’ happiness for the rest of the weekend had been destroyed. I also came to realise that their hopes of being happy for the rest of the weekend had rested almost entirely on the shoulders of Billy Whitehurst. The only thing that mattered to me at the time however, was that I was having a lovely day out.
The more games I watched live, the more invested I got and the more swear words I learned. I soon realised that going to football was very rarely a nice day out. I came to realise that it was actually the equivalent of paying someone thirty five pound without knowing if in return, they’d give you a crate of Brown Ale or a punch in the face.
Instead of gazing wistfully at the pitch as I had done from the Leazes end during the Liverpool game, I gazed down from the East Stand as Trevor Steven scored Everton’s third and fourth goals on Boxing day in 1986, feeling myself getting a little bit irritated. ‘I’m not enjoying this very much’, I thought. And so it went, Newcastle United and its inimitable brand of perpetual disappointment was in my blood.
The Steve Nicol hat-trick on the telly followed, then John Cornwell’s hair, Tony Cottee’s hat-trick, Dave Beasant, Frank Pingel’s seemingly-eternal grimace and ultimately relegation. I had watched excitedly as Coventry City lifted the FA Cup in 1987 and again as Wimbledon did the same in 1988 – underdogs – dreaming that one day I would watch a Newcastle Captain lift a trophy of the same magnitude.
Even though I enjoyed maybe one in five Newcastle games in the mid-to-late eighties, I kept coming back; I kept on believing in miracles. Even when Newcastle were almost relegated to the third division, I was there on the terraces smiling, cheering, jumping about like I’d won the Postcode Lottery when Liam O’Brien stuck out a leg to give us the lead against Bristol City in Kevin Keegan’s first game in charge.
Then it happened. Keegan built a team I could barely believe was happening. Looking back, I can still hardly believe a team in Black and White who weren’t Juventus could play such exhilarating football. A team that in the latter half of 1995, swept all in front of it. But even with the likes of Beardsley, Ferdinand, Ginola and Asprilla – Newcastle came up five points short at the end of the 95/96 season. Humiliated in the 1996 Community Shield and 2nd in the league again in 1997. Coming third in both FA cup finals in 1998 and 1999 with a limp showing in each of the 2004 UEFA Cup Semi-final and a couple of quarter finals in the ensuing years.
I look at the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United lifting trophies year in year out and wonder what it must feel like to have won that much and still feel absolutely gutted to lose to Brighton in an FA Cup third round tie.
Surely winning a trophy would be a bit like completing a computer game you’ve been playing for thirty years. Finally beating the end of level boss and seeing that screen with a burst of fireworks telling you ‘well done’ and that you have ‘saved the world’. Wouldn’t winning a trophy be like that? Wouldn’t the following season be a bit ‘so what’, been there, done that?
The point of this article however is as I said at the start, England’s performance against the Republic of Ireland last week. As with Newcastle United, I watch England with as much fervour and anticipation of winning something whenever we qualify for a major competition.
And in much the same way as Newcastle players do, the England players end up running about with confused expressions and getting outwitted by players who have day jobs. These are the same players I watch playing for Manchester United and Liverpool, tearing the Newcastle defence to shreds – allowing the likes of Denmark and Northern Ireland to do the same to them.
I’ve seen England in many quarter finals and even a few Semi-Finals only for them to capitulate in a Newcastle United fashion and humbly shuffle out of the side door on penalties.
So, with Aláin Pardieu firmly in place for next season, I propose that we do away with the Magpie as our club mascot and replace it with a Raven; Edgar Allen Poe’s raven to be precise.
Maybe then, when we finish mid-table next season and get knocked out of both cups early on, failing where the likes of Swansea, Wigan and Birmingham have triumphed before us, I can sit in my study, much like the narrator of Poe’s famous poem and gaze at that Raven perched on the bust of Sir Bobby Robson above my door, succumbing to my ‘sorrow over wisdom’ and start enjoying football again instead of using all the words I learned at my very first Newcastle game when Ameobi is brought on to ‘change’ the game.
“Will a team that I support ever win a major trophy in my lifetime?”, Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore”.
Wrriten by Peter Nuttall