Beardo asides, it’s not a trip down memory lane here recalling the players who graced us in yester-year, but more of a look back at the whole match-day experience.
With the talk of safe standing being brought back to the game, lets warm the cockles of our hearts with a shuffle through times gone by with the sights, sensations and….smells of standing at SJP!
So like all good stories, set the ambiance by standing in the garden, get your other half to pour water on your head through a watering can and boil some burgers and onions in the kitchen, – we are going back – close your eyes, actually don’t as you wont be able to read this! Squint maybe, you won’t wake as Henry 8th I promise.
Picture it, match-day at the old St James Park. It’s a Saturday, well when else would it be? The Toon are going to be playing Whoever City, it’s February and its Baltic….
First off for me it’s wrapping up like the Michelin man on steroids. Being a nipper, I would put pyjama bottoms under tracky-b’s under jeans, topped with two t-shirts, a jumper then the Toon top on top of the jumper. Matched with fetching sun hat (the irony) and half toon / half Brazil Mirandinha scarf. Then buying the ‘programme’ by the blokes who shouted just like the Chronicle seller Barrow boys. Whilst dodging the blokes selling five lighters for a pound!
The programme was for reading after joining the queue in front of the shut turnstiles on Strawberry Place. We stupidly used to like to try and get in first to get a spot and queued from 12 noon onwards. What a bunch of knackers we were!
During the wait the craic would be great, apart from the rabid police horse that used to parade up and down the line, foaming at the mouth like a broken washing machine. Its spittal would be daubed across the back and heads of many unfortunates, not long before it would jettison its cargo from the other end! On cold days you would see the steam!
The turnstiles were like the gates in your grannies back lane, studded through the brick. Eventually you would here the click clacking and they line would move – to cheers.
The pittance of a couple of quid (in change) would be handed over. Then click clack, you are in to the Gallowgate Court yard – the last haven before the steps to the Cathedral. Bovril and the smell of urine fill the air. I never once went to those bogs as a kid, though admittedly I wasn’t full of drink. You would have to be full of drink to go in! Always bought a Bovril, clutching it through stingingly cold fingers, so nuclear hot you couldn’t drink the bugger until it’s half life had passed.
Up we would go to the K-section, more commonly known as “THE SCOREBOARD”. I would stand at the very back, being slightly vertically challenged to try and grab myself a bird’s eye view. Too young for the Corner at that point in my life, though lived the experience once against the Mackem’s with my Uncle, in the rain, when ‘Salty’ Sellars won the game. Micey isn’t the word!
Person by person as the clock drew to three, it would become tighter and tighter. A couple of lads would be up on the barrier, I seem to remember some guy called Oxyten (?) leading some chants. Nobody had tickets, or numbers, but like creatures of habbit – everybody had their spot. Every player in turn would be serenaded by the crowd – bar none. Taking in turns to step forward for their adoring public. I used to love that. The atmosphere would be rocking well before kick-off.
Then just as its about to kick off, some late coming massive gadgee would stumble in at 2.59 with a head the size of a cannon ball and plonk directly in front of me! Bollocks, I would never get the Pinks face in the crowd now!
The announcement of the teams then, to which every player was ferociously cheered. Not like the half hearted stuff you get now. Every man a hero. Even Franz Carr.
During the game, the mass would sway keeping warm like the penguins do in the Arctic. Leaning from side to side arching to see the ball on either wing. As for corners at our end, don’t think saw one yet!
When the Toon would score you were off, I lost a shoe for the entire second half of a match. Whisked away by the black and white twister.
Should we go behind, the crowd used to get louder in defiance…
These are all happy memories from when I fell for my first love – Newcastle United.
If you take the rose tinted specs off though, it’s true that – you couldn’t see, you were jammed in, some dirty old swine would be firing out rotten beer and egg farts that you would have no choice but to chew on and inhale! You would regularly have your feet and the back of your legs watered with steaming hot piddle, as nobody could be chewed to fight the way through the crowd.
The ‘ow man, hey man’ surge to get out at the end was always a pretty tense affair.
But do you know what, for the whole experience and atmosphere – you weren’t bothered by that. It was all part of the whole day.
My route to the seats was staggered. After the Gallowgate days, came the B paddock – then into the newly built Gallowgate. When I first took my seat I was blown away by the sheer size – and actually seeing the whole pitch properly for once. The atmosphere carried on, but people were always unsure about the etiquette, up and down like fiddlers elbows with a sit down on the folded up seat for the semi exciting bits. In film classifications it had went from 18, to PG to U.
Over the years it has become more and more tame, great for families etc. But a very, very different experience altogether. It’s like back in the day watching a film on bank holiday on the BBC that has dubbed the swearing out and edited out the boob shots – a little disappointing.
It’s all very comfortable, and nice and all that. But it’s not the same. Its just not is it? Would the introduction of safe standing be beneficial – I would say for me – undoubtedly yes. For everyone – obviously not.
The Bundesliga is thriving on it. Attendances are through the roof, prices are rock bottom and atmosphere looks incredible.
I am (and we are) probably all a little too soft around the edges to go back to the real old days, but a half way house would suit me down to the ground.
Will it happen? If the money savvy chairmen want more bodies in, spending on tickets and matchday fayre – you can guarantee it.
So here is one fan looking forward to a glance backwards.