I've wanted to write this piece for a long time but there's always been something else to take my attention, stopping me from getting these words onto a page. As an inherently lazy person, I've put off all kinds of things until it's almost too late, losing out on a few good opportunities in the process, leaving me desperate to chronicle one particular day in my life before the time elapsed between that day and the present day has rendered the memories so fuzzy that it would be impossible to recount it in any kind of detail. The day in question was Saturday 15th of August 1992, I was 10 years old and this was the first time I would have any kind of experience of Newcastle United Football Club.
My Dad is a Sunderland fan. Yes, that's right, a proper dirty red and white Mackem. Only he's not. He's just my Dad. In 1984 he decided that, at the age of 2 years old, he'd take me to St James' Park to say farewell to Kevin Keegan, a player who was a hero of my Dad's from his time at the team my Dad secretly always wished he'd supported instead of Sunderland, Liverpool. Obviously I have no recollection of the event, but I'm assured by the old man himself that I was there and a recently found ticket and programme in a shoe box at my parents house would suggest he isn't telling porkies.
My Dad didn't shove Sunderland down my throat as a kid and for that I'm eternally thankful, but he recognised my love for the game, bought me my first boots (Gola mouldies) and a Mitre Delta Cosmic ball. He encouraged me to follow England as, in his wisdom, you'd only get disappointed every 2 years instead of every other week. So aged 6 I entered into a life of pretending to be Gary Lineker, scoring 2 yard tap ins with balled up socks on the landing of our Jarrow council house. In 1990 he decided to take me to Roker Park to see Sunderland play Bournemouth in the pissing down rain. The score was 3-2 to the home side and I rushed home to continue sorting through the swapsie pile for my Italia 90 sticker collection. I never did shift that Paul Parker sticker.
Sunderland was all well and good but I was left cold both literally and emotionally that day. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the experience, at that age your Dad is still your hero and any kind of day out with him is a great day, I just didn't get that buzz that I got from a foil Colombia badge or another Trevor Steven swapsie. That would hold some power in the playground come dinner time.
I remember crying when England went out of Italia 90. Even at 8 years old it hurt. It hurt more then anything I'd experienced in my life until that point, including the time Jonathan Connor pushed me off my moving bike in the park. Football wasn't just a game we played on the field next to the corner shops, it was the thing which infiltrated my every waking hour to the point where my teachers became worried that I was falling behind in my development at school.
My best mate, Stephen "Besty" Best, who was also my cousin and happens to still hold both of those auspicious titles, was a huge Newcastle fan. Massive. At the age of 6 or 7 he was going to games regularly, had replica kits, a junior magpies card and didn't really understand why I idolised Bryan Robson so much. His giant fireman of a Dad, my Uncle Steve, had threatened to take me to Newcastle a few times, however, I think the very real threat of relegation in the 91/92 season stopped him from subjecting another young mind to that kind of life.
As the dawn of the 92/93 season rolled round Uncle Steve said, if it was ok with my Dad, that he'd take myself and Steve Junior to the opening game of the new campaign against Southend United. Thankfully my Dad agreed and even gave us a lift into town that day in his new red Diesel Fiat Uno, a car so loud that you could hear it coming from around half a mile away. It was August in the North East of England so obviously it was absolutely tipping down with rain and the Uno's windows had steamed up making it impossible to tell where we were from my viewpoint on the back seat. My Dad dropped us off near the old Gallowgate bus station and we walked into the deluge up towards Strawberry place. Hotdogs and burgers were bought and consumed in the rain along with a match programme, the cover of which had a photo of Brian Kilcline from a pre season friendly at York City, resplendent in Black and White barcode stripes with the iconic blue star on his chest. The programme from that day was almost completely destroyed due to the rain and my Mam eventually threw it in the bin, claiming that it stunk. As a giddy 30 year old man-child I found one on eBay and have kept it pristine since it was delivered. One thing missing from the eBay programme would be the signature of David Kelly, Newcastle United's Irish striker. We bumped into "Ned" getting out of his car at St James' Park and he gladly stopped in the rain and signed 20 or 30 autographs for the waiting fans. As I handed him the programme to sign he glanced down then back up and said "You're spilling your drink" as I accidentally poured a can of Schweppes Lemonade down my trouser leg. I was star struck.
The air of expectancy around Newcastle at the time was probably quite misguided looking back. The team had narrowly avoided relegation the previous season but this, coupled with the torrential horizontal rain, did little to keep away the Geordie faithful. 28,545 of them turned out that day and the attendance surpassed that of many of the games played on that saturday, the very first day of the newly formed Premier League. I paid £4.50 to get in and we were ushered through the turnstiles ahead of my Uncle Steve and down to the front of the Milburn Paddocks close to the corner with the adjoining Gallowgate end. Looking to my right, the Gallowgate was already pulsating with fans a good 40 mins before kick off. I scanned the stand, taking in the different sights. The old scoreboard, the pylon style floodlights, now sadly missing from most grounds, Dads hoisting kids onto the concrete crush barriers in front of them while all around people talked, laughed, sang and waited to greet their team. Even before kick off the buzz of St James' Park had me excitably shifting my weight between my feet, something which I still do to this day when taking my position at the match. I remember looking down and noticing a steady stream of brown dirty water running from left to right at the front of the paddocks right over my new Nike Air trainers which I'd only acquired after a long protracted negotiation with my Mam, the likes of which the UN would be proud of. I told myself that it was rain water mixed with bovril and the like, but I knew, even at 10 year old, there was probably a good old helping of man piss in that stream.
After what seemed like an eternity the game started and it went off at one hell of a pace. Newcastle flew out of the traps and I craned my neck to see the action at the Leazes end that they were attacking. At this point Newcastle were still "they" but within about 5 minutes that would be changed to "we". As I scan my memory for the details of what happened next I have a number of very vivid images...
...Newcastle attack and a chance is missed, or was it a save, I couldn't tell you because I didn't see it due to the big lad on my left leaning forward. What I can tell you about is the noise I heard. Like 17 jumbo jets taking off, it swelled to a roar like nothing I ever heard. I didn't have much hair around my body at that age, but what I had stood on end instantly. As the resulting corner came in, Besty, who was standing on my right, dropped the pie he was attempting to shovel into his mouth and was looking down at it hitting the floor. I still can't see the action, but suddenly, the big lad to my left moves back and I see the ball roll out to Paul Bracewell.
He hit the ball first time like a rocket. It leaves his left foot and flies straight down my line of vision away from him and into the top right corner of the net. I still think it's the hardest a ball has ever been kicked and videos of the action show that the Tyne Tees camera man couldn't keep up with it. The noise again, but this time different. Louder again, a huge release of emotion and passion as people jump and fall and punch the air. Besty didn't see this goal until he was 30 years old and that pie was ruined.
It's still my favourite moment as Newcastle fan and after only ten minutes of my first ever game, I could say I most definitely was a fan of Newcastle United. WE were flying and the attacks came in waves until poor old Spencer Prior shanked Lee Clark's cross shot into his own net. The whole ground erupts again and I fall ever more helplessly in love. 2-0 at half time and looking comfortable, I remember taking out my soggy programme and looking at the back page. I read down the list of names in the Newcastle Squad a few catching my eye...Clark...Bracewell...Peacock...Beresford...Kilcline and of course the name of the man who's signature adorned my soaked programme, David Kelly. Over the season I grew to idolise him in the way I had Lineker and Robson before and his attitude, work ethic and goalscoring ability made him my firm favourite. In an interview with Terry McDermott he claimed that Kelly would happily "chase a toffee wrapper all over the pitch".
After conceding a scrappy goal in the second half, shaven headed local lad, Lee Clark, popped up in front of the Gallowgate. He beat his man, steadied himself and poked the ball between the legs of the keeper before running off to celebrate. I was delirious. I didn't care that I was soaked through to my underpants or that my Mam was probably going to go ape shit at the state of my new trainers, I was hooked. A late goal from Southend made the final score 3-2 and I remember leaving the ground with the songs and the noise still ringing in my ears. I was in, I was a lifer, another young mind lost to the highs and lows of following the most frustrating team in football. That Christmas I asked my Mam for a Newcastle United shirt. She couldn't find one anywhere, they were entirely sold out. She was devastated and bought me an official Umbro tracksuit, just like the players wore in training and before the games. I loved it, and wore it all day Christmas day while my Dad bristled, making me eat my Christmas dinner off my knee while sitting on the stairs.