NOTE: This article was to arrive a while back, but I had an incident at work where my wrist was lacerated, and I had to be taken to the hospital. Needless to say, typing was hard. And while this article is overdue, I believe it is relevant for all times, and my trip to Chicago was all about this.
I arrived in Chicago at about 10:30 am, or was it 9:30 am? Depends on what time my car’s clock was set at at the time of arrival. Immediately, Chicago made its impression on me. Driving into the city, the skyline forces you to marvel at its beauty in the Loop. But it’s not like I didn’t want to. This city is beautiful and depending on where you’re at, you’ll get a different viewing angle every time.
But I wasn’t just here for leisure (tell my bosses that). Underneath Her 1920s Greco-roman architecture is something that needs to get out. A deep dark secret that’s been too deep for too long. Chicago has Newcastle United fans. And not just any fans, but fans willing to come out from all over the country to unite over their love of food, beer, and Newcastle United. Chicago has plenty of each.
While being in touch with Toon Army Chicago I came in contact with Adam Snider, the founder of the group. He picked me up from my hotel at 4:15 p.m. on the Saturday of to get to AJ Hudson’s Pub for a meet up which was going to take place in a few hours. We took a detour first.
During the drive Adam told me his Newcastle United story. I reciprocated with mine. Becoming a fan of Newcastle is oftentimes something that we fall into. And no story is the same. I didn’t watch football during the Entertainers era, and only started getting interested in the sport towards the beginning of Pardew’s managerial reign. So he proceeded to tell me about the pub that we were going to be going to. AJ Hudson’s. Originally, this was not Toon Army Chicago’s dedicated bar. It used to be blocks away from their current location which was dominated with Arsenal fans. And according to Adam, they were unruly.
We arrived at a small sandwich shop, Mr. Beef on Orleans. Italian beef is something that Chicago is known for, and Adam brought me to the place that did it best. I ordered an Italian beef sandwich with provolone cheese, dipped, with sweet peppers, and a side of fries. I copied Adam.
While we ate I asked Adam questions about Newcastle. The current state of the club, what he thinks about the potential sale, and more importantly, Toon fans in the States.
Of course, it’s easy to agree that Rafa Benitez is the absolute reason that Newcastle United is in the position that they’re in right now. It’s a no-brainer. In fact, if you ask me, there was little that Adam and I disagreed on when it came to Newcastle United. Two people from different walks of life, and different experiences, feeling the same way about a club thousands of miles away, while living hundreds apart.
Newcastle United’s fanbase is massive, one of the largest in the world. Their ticket sales can often outpace that of the largest clubs, and they’re always selling out away games, as well as their home games. The loyalty is unbelievable, and that has extended to the United States. Many cities, like Chicago, have dedicated groups who watch games together.
Toon Army Chicago is one of many groups linked to the US-based Toon Army America, which represents a significant number of Newcastle United fans in the States. We were lucky to be having Toon Army Denver join us. A group that would quickly win me over with their made up chants, and one man’s absolute love for Paul Dummett.
We reached the bar about an hour and a half later, driving by wealthy apartment buildings in Chicago’s Northside. We drove by Wrigley Field, a landmark that has changed the landscape of the area around it. If they weren’t out of town, I’d have caught a game.
We then arrived at AJ Hudson’s. Because I don’t drink alcohol, I couldn’t really give you guys an accurate description of what it felt like going in, except that I went in totally prepared to order a Pepsi.
The bar loops, and we found ourselves looped around the counter towards an exit. The area had been given to us for the night. Adam and I walked in and waited for the guys from Denver to arrive. The four of them came in, ready to party, and ready to show their favorite football team some love. The gentlemen I came to know are Joshua, Justin, Dave, and yeah, another Adam.
Joshua started Toon Army Denver, and just by word of mouth, he managed to generate a solid group of people. His friendship with the three others blossomed out of Toon Army Denver, but you wouldn’t think that when you meet them. They’re genuine friends.
Like many Toon fans, these guys are a product of the Entertainers era. Something I’m not. They watched the likes of Shearer, Peter Beardsley, and David Ginola just dominate the Premier League in a way that Newcastle United hasn’t done since. I’ve always said that the closest we got to that era in recent memory was when Newcastle finished fifth in 2011-2012.
I talked to Adam from Denver a lot. Wearing a Paul Dummett shirt, the man is a wizard at pool, and if I didn’t know any better, he’s also from Wales. His favorite player? Gary Speed. As a musician, he helps write chants with the group which they chanted throughout our meet up while watching legendary matches, such as the 5-1 Sunderland drudging.
It got loud, it got rowdy. We were joined by a few more Newcastle United fans that I unfortunately did not have a chance to get to sit down with one on one, which I regret greatly.
But I can say that going to Chicago, and meeting the people I did has more than inspired me that Newcastle United’s fanbase in the United States needs to be talked about. People from different walks of life, different backgrounds, and different circumstances came together on the weekend of April 20th and watched old Newcastle games, sang, drank, ate, and bonded. People I’d never met before, people I would never have met in my line of work. People I could only meet as a Newcastle United fan.
And that’s really not just a statement on the beauty of being a Toon fan. It’s the beauty of being a football fan. That I can go anywhere in the states and find people who love the same team I do, and have the same passion (and in Denver’s case, a lot more) for the same team. It’s the power of the sport itself. Newcastle fans just do it amazingly well.
The people I met in Chicago are friends. They’re brothers in the fight against Mackems, and they’re people who whenever they come by my neck of the woods are going to be welcomed the same way I was in Chicago. With love.