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Finally seeing the Toon in person!

Coming Home Newcastle contributor Chris Parry has been a Newcastle United fan since the late 90s, but was finally able to see the Toon in person on Tuesday in Milwaukee.

Adam Snider/Coming Home Newcastle

Imagine being a die-hard fan for a sports team for over 20 years despite never having seen them play in person. Living in Tyler, Texas  -- about 100 miles East of Dallas -- doesn't exactly offer many opportunities to see the Magpies.

How excited would you be when you got a chance to finally make it happen!

I was that person earlier this week.

I blame a friend of mine from named John Metcalfe (a proud Geordie himself) for introducing me to the Toon when I was living in Saudi Arabia. Newcastle United fans have a mixture of Oakland Raiders fanaticism and Boston Red Sox loyalty. And I am no different.

This trip not only represented an opportunity to see new coach Steve McClaren and how he was going to improve on last season's relegation form, but also a chance to see all of the NUFC fans from all over the country who would be traveling to Milwaukee too.

Journey to a Beer-Loving City

Word filtered out a month or so ago that Newcastle would be making a surprise quick preseason trip to the USA, visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sacramento, California and Portland, Oregon. Right away, I figured the last two were out, so that left Milwaukee as a possibility. My only trip I recollect to the Midwest was to Iowa for a funeral when I was a kid, so this would be all together new experience.

The Magpies were matched up in a preseason friendly against Club Atlas, a team from Liga Mexico at Miller Park.

I was determined to make this happen, so I found decent airfare, bought a ticket and was going to where Miller Brewing Company was founded!

Then another opportunity presented itself. As a sportswriter for the Tyler Morning Telegraph, I am accustomed to being in the press box when covering the Red River Rivalry Texas-Oklahoma game or on a Sunday at AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.

This would be an all-together new experience for me watching this game as a fan.

I decided to try and do both. I also am a regular contributor to ComingHomeNewcastle.com, so I requested press passes for myself and fellow CHN contributor Adam Snider (he helped begin Toon Army Chicago, one of a host of national Newcastle United fan groups).

The plan was to be fans for the first half and journalists for the second half and postgame.

Adam had never been in a press box before or press conference, so this would be a neat deal for him and give me a chance to have my cake and eat it too, so to speak.

I decided to fly up the day of the game and took off from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around noon on Tuesday. The Newcastle-Atlas game kicked off at 8 p.m. CDT, so I knew I would have plenty of time.

My first impressions of Milwaukee were of the climate. It was fantastic! Summer has come to Texas and we are regularly conditioned to endure 95-100 degree temperatures, so to feel 75 degrees and breezy in July was quite nice.

Miller Park was also a site to behold. A beautiful venue and not a bad seat in the house.

Pre-Match

As I was checking into the hotel, I saw out of the corner of my eye six men all wearing Newcastle United jerseys talking in the lobby. It was Toon Army Chicago. Adam and I quickly recognized each other from the pictures on our twitter avatars and shook hands. The rest of the Toon Army Chicago guys were talking about how much fun they’d had on Monday, visiting Newcastle’s training session at Marquette and later enjoying plenty of pints at The Highbury pub, which had been converted into a Newcastle United fan stopover this week.

I later met NUFC fans from Toon Armies based in Minneapolis, St. Louis and even Dallas while I was there. In fact, my seats at the game were on the field and right in front of several Toon Army Dallas members who said I must come to the Dubliner, their Newcastle watering hole to watch a match next season.

It was just neat seeing all of these fellow NUFC fans — I am pretty sure that I am one of the few Toon supporters in Tyler — but black and white kits could be seen everywhere you looked.

There was a pregame tailgate near Miller Park, which gave me a chance to see even more Newcastle fans and hear chanting, singing in a friendly meet-and-greet setting. Even though we were from all over the U.S., we shared a common love and were in Milwaukee to feel its warmth.

I was decked out in my own Newcastle United "Alan Shearer" jersey from the glory days of the late 90s when the team was sponsored by Newcastle Brown Ale. It was great.

At about 45 minutes before game time, everyone started walking toward the Miller Park entrance and found our seats.

It was just neat seeing all of these fellow NUFC fans — I am pretty sure that I am one of the few Toon supporters in Tyler — but black and white kits could be seen everywhere you looked.

First Half: "The Fan Experience"

I wish I could say my first half viewing experience was as good as the pregame festivities, but NUFC just did not play well, surrendering two early goals and were second best to Mexican League Club Atlas.

But with just over a minute remaining in the half, Atlas got cocky and started spraying the ball all over the pitch like they were the Harlem Globetrotters.

All around Miller Park, Atlas fans were shouting "Ole’" with each pass.

Atlas should’ve just played out the final minute and gone in with a two-goal lead because their confidence led to a mistake and turnover.

Newcastle forward Papiss Cisse and midfielder Moussa Sissoko broke through two-on-one with the Atlas keeper. Cisse made a perfect pass and Sissoko did the rest.

Cheering and hugging with people I had never met wearing Newcastle jerseys ensued and then it was halftime with the score 2-1.

Time to be a journalist.

Second Half: "The Journalistic Experience"

Off went the NUFC shirt and on the more professional collared attire. To the press box Adam and I went where I met Lee Ryder, Newcastle’s beat writer for the Chronicle, who I regularly read online. There was also Milwaukee Bucks beat writer Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Sentinel, who seemed to be enjoying himself covering a different sport on a Tuesday.

I got a kick out of seeing Adam’s excitement because I remember feeling the same way the first time I stepped into the press box at Texas Stadium long ago for the Cowboys.

Newcastle dominated the second half of the match, but couldn’t get an equalizing goal.

The toughest thing for me was not showing emotion in the press box after yelling and cheering minutes earlier in the stands.

Once it looked like a ball went over the goal line, but the referee didn’t give it.

Then it was real hard to keep quiet. If I had been in my living room watching this on television, I would have been railing at no one in particular except the screen abut the injustice of the call.

But not up here.

The match ended with Atlas winning 2-1 and all of us journalists went downstairs to the press conference area waiting for NUFC head coach Steve McClaren and some selected players.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Nearly an hour after the match ended (by this time Ryder and I were chatting like old friends.) we had abandoned the press conference room and staked out the Newcastle United locker room. Finally defender Darryl Janmaat appeared trying to walk by us.

We swarmed him like a bunch of sharks following the scent of a drop of blood. Cameras, microphones and questions immediately were fired at Janmaat, who did his best to accommodate us.

Then someone said McClaren had just walked out and the same scenario ensued.

Then Rolando Aarons.

Then Siem De Jong.

Poor Adam had never dealt with this before. He didn’t realize you had to get your recording device in early toward the player and be prepared to box out television mics and other people trying to knock you out of the way. Also be prepared to interrupt to ask your question.

Through it all, I got my interviews done, took a selfie with Adam in front of the Brewers Club House to commemorate the event and headed back to the hotel.

My flight left Milwaukee at 3 p.m. Wednesday and I was back in Tyler by the evening.

What a whirlwind 36 hours!

But it was worth it and I can’t wait until I can do it again.