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Match Day - Newcastle United

Tales from the Gallowgate

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

A young boy sits on his father’s shoulders as they join the sea of black and white, too young to completely understand, yet in awe of the sights and sounds. The noise gets louder and louder with every step, “Look!” the boy shouts with excitement, “That’s the best sight you’ll ever see son”. Some describe it as a church, while others simply refer to it as “home”. The father puts his son down, as they walk hand in hand, towards St James’ Park, and through the turnstiles. They are greeted by a wall of passionate noise and colour.

Fans continue to take their seats, as the father shares memories of Kevin Keegan leaving the ground by helicopter on a Thursday evening in May 1984. Strangers talk to each other as if they’ve been friends for years. Nervous, excited some are even scared about the next 90 minutes. The players emerge from the tunnel, the noise is as loud as ever. The boy grasps his father’s hand tightly, he has never seen or heard anything quite like this before. The referee’s whistle blows as eleven men carry the weight of a city on their shoulders.

“Shoot!” is the cry from the stands as Phillipe Albert strides forward, he obliges with a sumptuous chip. Time seemed to stand still as the ball floated over a helpless Peter Schmeichel and into the back of the net. The atmosphere electric, unbridled joy surrounded the father and his son, it continued for the final seven minutes of the game. The hairs on the back of the young boy’s neck stood on end, tingling from head to toe. The boy had found his home, his church.

Leaving St James’ Park the same as entering, a son sat on his father’s shoulders in a sea of black and white. Life at a standstill as fans reluctantly return to reality. A little boy’s life changed in 90 minutes, just as his father’s had all those years ago. An instant connection, a love, a passion, and a sense of belonging that cannot be found anywhere else. A weekly routine now set for one so young, a new addition to the black and white army. Traveling the length and breadth of the country, hand in hand with his father to watch his heroes in a black and white shirt.

A once plain bedroom now steeped in black and white, posters of players past and present on all four walls. Newcastle United bedsheets, curtains and even a clock. The boy now has his colours, his identity.

After every final whistle, defeat, draw or triumph the love grows deeper and deeper. Through all the long journeys, breakdowns, and cold, wet English weather the dedication and loyalty never waver. Those on the outside find it hard to comprehend, they live in a different world, one that has never heard the term “Jumpers for goalposts”.

Light showers welcomed another matchday, though this one was different. “There’s nothing quite like an away day Jack”, his father, Malcolm, states smiling from ear to ear. The mood around Newcastle was one of disbelief, excitement and sheer joy. Less than a week on from ‘Howay 5-Oh!’ The city was bouncing as Newcastle United were top of the league. The usual pre-match breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausages fill the stomach in preparation for the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Leicester.

A mixed tape labelled “Dad’s classics” blasts from the car stereo. “Nothing beats St James’ Park Jack, but away days can be special.” Arriving at Filbert Street over an hour early, the atmosphere steadily builds. Cries of “Go on lad, go on!” come from the away end, as David Ginola moves forward. The Frenchman delivers a glorious cross towards Les Ferdinand, who rises with a thunderous header. A split second of jubilation turns to shock, as Kasey Keller flings himself to his right to pull off a tremendous save. Hands are on heads as Newcastle fall behind in the 17th minute. “Heads up lads, heads up!” as the away following do their best to lift their team. Keller denies Ferdinand twice more as Newcastle try and find a way back in the game. “Offside, he’s offside!” are the calls from the traveling fans as Emile Heskey races through to make it 2-0. The final whistle blows, as Newcastle fans are brought back down to earth with a bang.

The journey back up the A1 is a somber one, Jack’s eyes filled with tears as he witnessed a defeat for the first time. “There will be more days like this son, but we still support them no matter what.” Stopping off at a service station for some questionable food, Jack said the words all Geordie father’s dream of hearing. “I want to be like Shearer!” Malcom’s face lit up as he replied “We best get practicing in the back garden then!”

With every passing game Jack learns more and more of what it means to be a Newcastle United fan. The brainwashing he received from his father is clearly visible now, Jack has nothing but Newcastle United on his mind. The daily kickabouts in the garden with his old man continue, dreaming he’ll one day emulate his black and white heroes.