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Non-local Heroes

Supporting Newcastle United from afar

Newcastle United v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, I took objection to an article in a fanzine raising the question of who deserved a season ticket once the takeover goes through. The suggestion seemed to be that those who had boycotted had made a noble sacrifice to the cause of removing Mike Ashley and therefore ought to be rewarded with first option on remaining season tickets when he is gone. I think transparency is important here so from the outset I can tell you that I boycotted last season and no, I don’t think I deserve a new season ticket more than anyone else. As my comment at the time stated, this argument seemed a pointless one that would only lead to argument and division amongst our fan base. There’s no measure of ‘deservedness’, so why bring it up? How does someone who bought their first season ticket last year measure against someone who had one for twenty years but gave it up before last season? It seems an odd thing to say about Newcastle United, given the tactics of the last few years, but possession is the all-important factor here. The rest of us just need to get in line and hope for the best.

This subject got me thinking about fans who don’t live in Newcastle, don’t have SJP on their doorstep and therefore don’t have the opportunity like I do to attend games with ease. I then expanded on this thought and considered international fans. Why did they choose our club to support and what extra effort do they put in to feel connected to us? In other words, without all of the advantages of locality, what is life like as a Newcastle United supporter? I put out an invite to share personal stories and let Twitter do the rest. The responses were fascinating and inspiring.

Newcastle United v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Ian of Scarborough (UK), ‘Although both my parents are from the North East originally, I live in Scarborough and have done since the age of 4. Match days for me always involve a four hour road trip to SJP and I’ll be honest over the last few years that really has become more difficult than it used to be. I recognise that in those formative years of following the team I was extremely lucky. Keegan arrived, my Dad snapped up a season ticket in the Milburn Paddock for us all and I never missed a home game. After promotion, we sat in the Leazes End until the Gallowgate was rebuilt and I’ve sat there ever since. All those classic matches and goals people look back on now, Man Utd 5-0, Barcelona 3-2, Shearer’s volley vs Everton, the two cup semi-finals at Old Trafford, the Liverpool 4-3 match, Inter in the San Siro, I saw them all. I feel so lucky to have all those amazing experiences to remember. Matchdays for me are about spending time with my Dad and brother. I have so many great memories wrapped up in supporting this team and travelling all around the country following them. Perhaps as NUFC fans it’s easy to say this but I genuinely believe that football is about so much more than winning. It brings generations of family together in a way that nothing else really does. I’m so proud of the club and the region, although I’ve never lived in the North East. I visit regularly and feel a part of it, it’s my heritage and I’m immensely proud of it. And now I have three daughters myself, who are growing up in a much different time under Ashley but the spark is still there and I’m working on taking them to more games because I look back at the great memories I have with my Dad and I want to have the same with my daughters. I want them to connect with Newcastle and the North East, even though they’re another generation away from my North East-born parents.’

Sean of Chicago (USA), ‘My parents were born and raised in Whitley Bay and have supported NUFC forever. They moved to Canada in the early 80s and started a family at that time. I was born in 1990 and we moved from Canada to Chicago in ’94 and I’ve lived around there ever since. I remember getting my first kit and scarf in ’96 while we were visiting family. My first trip to SJP was in 1998 for a pre-season friendly vs Juventus and I will never forget walking up the stairs with a Mars Bar in one hand and my Dad holding the other. I still think part of me can feel my jaw open just taking the atmosphere in. Reflecting back, this is probably when I started to bleed black and white. It was tough in the US with limited Premier League viewings until around 2010 when NBC began airing them all the time. That said, I never stopped supporting NUFC growing up. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to explain ‘why’ I support them other than I was born into it and love every minute of it. I’ve been there through the great years and stuck with them through the absolute worst. You name it and I’ll do what I can to support this great club of ours. My last trip was in 2017 for the Liverpool game when Joselu scored a trickle and Coutinho a worldy! My wife now understands why I love this club and is a supporter herself, which I couldn’t be happier with. NUFC flags, pins, memorabilia, you name it, all hangs proudly in this house.’

Newcastle United v Burnley - Premier League - St James’ Park Photo by Richard Sellers/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Saikat of Kolkata (India), ‘I’ve been a supporter since 2003. First game I watched was incidentally the 2-6 loss to Man Utd. In fact, Jenas scored within minutes of me switching on the TV. I didn’t know anything about Newcastle United or Jenas or anyone else from the club at that point but that goal and how the fans went bonkers stuck with me. The same summer, Newcastle were in the Premier League Asia Trophy in Kuala Lumpur and I read about them in the newspaper. That’s when my Dad, who watched European football, told me about the legends of Sir Bobby and Alan Shearer. So I started following them from the 2003-04 season. It’s been a hard journey. Initially, ESPN shows a limited set of matches on match days. If we were live, then fine. Otherwise, there was a highlights show later in the week which crammed in all ten games and that was my only dose of Newcastle United for the week. We didn’t get kits here in India either. Only if somebody visited Europe or the UK could you get one. It’s become slightly easier and I have quite a collection now. Visiting Newcastle and SJP remains a dream, something which I hope to fulfil soon. Watching an away game with the magnificent fans is also on the agenda. All games are live now on TV or streaming platforms, so it isn’t a problem anymore. The problem is the time, though! Monday night football extends until 3:30am here and sometimes I need to be at work at 8am the next day but I have never missed a game since 2003-04.’

Newcastle United v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Tim of Pittsburgh (USA), ‘I’d say I started fully being a fan around 2008 but Newcastle was my favourite team before that. When I watched matches starting around the early 2000s, Newcastle was always the team I was drawn to but football wasn’t as easily available to view as it is now so much harder to fully follow a team. I was watching more and more around 2007-08 and I figured I already liked Newcastle so I wanted to research it further and make sure this was a team and fan base to fit me. To me, it fit perfectly as Newcastle is a very proud city much like Pittsburgh with a ton of similarities. We love bridges too (we have 446 in the city limits!), our unique ‘yinzer’ accent and the pride we take in it is very similar to how the Geordies treat their accent, both cities are underrated in their beauty and Steelers (NFL) fans take similar pride in having great away fans and wearing the team jersey to games just like Newcastle. I was completely sold. Then 2008/09 happened and we got relegated! I watched a lot of those Championship matches on illegal online streams and I was completely hooked. Compared to 2008, it’s so easy to follow and stay connected to the team now thanks to Twitter and blogs and podcasts like from The Athletic. We have an absolutely great pub in our city that’s all football every Saturday and Sunday morning and it’s packed with fans of every team. I’m part of a Newcastle Facebook fan group for our city that has 35 members. While I can watch every match on TV with a yearly subscription through NBC Sports, I still try to watch as many matches at the pub as I can with other Newcastle fans that I have met. We usually have anywhere from 2-10 fans any given match. I know it will never mean as much to me as someone who grew up in Newcastle, can remember going to matches as a kid or their family talking about the team and Newcastle is all they know but I do love the club. I’ve never been to SJP and decided once Ashley sells I will and I plan on it if possible once fans are allowed back to matches. I was brought to tears when Jonas scored against West Ham and thought, ‘Holy shit, I love this club!’ There aren’t many sports teams in the world that could have a moment like the entire crowd singing for Rafa during the 5-1 Spurs win as we were relegated and moments like that are why it was so easy to fall in love with this club and its fans.’

I’m sure there are hundreds and thousands of similar stories to this and each one will have its own personal twist but it’s clear that those who have never attended a game at SJP often show equal passion, love and commitment to our club as those who go each week. They represent the black and white from afar, often at unsocial hours, and never miss a game despite the difficulties they encounter in doing so. Ranking who deserves a ticket ignores stories like these ones. We all love the club in our own way and it means something unique to each of us. Now is the time to leave petty squabbles behind, be united as a fan base whether veteran or newcomer and embrace our supporters from outside of NE1. If things go as planned and we become a successful team, we’re about to get many more.