Sunday, February 17, 2008

My life story in ... Newcastle Utd

What with the players having enjoyed a not exactly well-deserved break this weekend thanks to our earlier FA Cup exit at the hands of an Arsenal side who went on to be cannon fodder at Old Trafford, things have been a bit quiet round these 'ere parts. So, to fill the hole, here's a post courtesy of occasional Black & White & Read All Over contributor Jonathan, originally posted on his own blog Crinklybee.

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It is a question that I imagine my grandchildren asking: "So where were you, Grandad, when you heard Keegan had come back?". In a kitchen in south Manchester, will be the answer. I had turned on the radio to catch up on the Stoke City replay, and when the commentator took advantage of a break in play to inform "anyone who has just spent the last two hours in a cave", that the Messiah had made a shock return to the St James' Park helm, sent Tyneside into a frenzy, and put twenty thousand on the gate to turn a humdrum midweek Cup replay into a St James' sell-out, it was all I could do not to fall into a swoon right there at the sink and end up the first casualty of the Third Coming of Keegan, a Fan Drowned In Fairy Liquid.

And that close shave with mortality got me thinking about where I was at other "Kennedy Assassination" moments of the club's last thirty years...

1978: Relegation from the old First Division

I was only eleven, had only been going to games for three months, and was not really ready for this sort of trauma yet. Nevertheless my parents had let me tune in, on a schoolnight, to live Radio Metro commentary on the decisive game, away at West Bromwich Albion. We were in our old house in Hadrian Road, Fenham and for some reason (perhaps during the preceding three months spent listening to crackling broadcasts of away defeats from all over the country I had formed the conclusion that all the other rooms in the house were unlucky) I spent the second half pacing up and down the upstairs corridor like an expectant father. If this manic activity was indeed an effort to placate the footballing gods, it was to no avail. As Albion's second goal went in, the commentator intoned that "the last nail has just been put into Newcastle's coffin". The language did not strike me in any way as overly dramatic. The next day I burst into tears during double Geography, and passed it off as hay fever.

1982: The first coming of Kevin Keegan

It was the summertime, and we were on holiday with our cousins somewhere on the North East coast. Every night the rain would hammer down on the metal roof of the caravan, and as you lay on the top bunk (a privilege afforded to you as the oldest cousin present on this particular holiday) you would be lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the bingo caller plying his trade in the social club next door. "On the blue, Two Fat Ladies, eighty-eight. On the green, Key to the door, twenty-one." Earlier that evening you had been playing consequences with your cousins when the newsflash had come on Radio Metro (so we can't have been anywhere exotic like Seahouses, it was probably Whitley Bay, or Gosforth). In a move that had shocked the world of football, England captain Kevin Keegan had signed for second division Newcastle Utd. Your cousins were acting like they weren't impressed, but then they were Sunderland fans so that was their only option. Already you were making plans to spend the last precious Monday of the school holidays standing in a sweltering queue at St James' to get your hands on a ticket for "Wor Kev"'s' sell-out debut versus Queens Park Rangers. You would be succesful in your quest, but on the day would miss Keegan's winning goal as you were still trying to barge your tiny fourteen-year-old frame through the terrace throng with your half-time steak and kidney pie. This last detail is one which stands to be be airbrushed from later accounts delivered to rapt gatherings of grandchildren.

1985: The sacking of Jack Charlton

It's summertime again and Phil Weightman from Linden Avenue, who is in charge of these things, has decreed that we are going to have a one-week cricket season. You have just been adjudged LBW after misjudging the flight of the ball while attempting an ambitious lofted off-drive over a passing number 12 bus. This idyllic scene is interrupted by Phil Weightman's dad, who is running across the field with the desperate, ungainly gait of a man escaping a chip pan fire. "Jack's away!", he is yelling gleefully to anyone who will listen. "Fucking Jack, he's away, man!". It's fair to say Phil Weightman's dad was never a great fan of Jack Charlton's selection policies and he is maybe allowing the excitement of the moment to override his innate sense of decorum. Back at the crease, Rob 'The Horse' Maughan from Almond Place comes in to bat and makes a tidy fourteen before being caught in the deep by a bloke coming out of Oxley's chip shop.

1992: The second coming of Kevin Keegan

You have left Newcastle, and via Wolverhampton Polytechnic, ended up in San Sebastian, northern Spain, where you spend the days teaching English and the nights consuming squid sandwiches and cheap lager in a backstreet bar. It is the days before mobile phones so your parents keep in touch by placing regular international calls to the payphone of the backstreet bar. One day the crackling voice of my dad tells me: "Ardiles is away - you'll never guess who they've bloody brought in". I come away from the payphone grinning like Phil Weightman's dad, and order squid sandwiches and cheap lager all round. None of us really know yet, but The Glory Years have begun.

1995: The selling of Andy Cole to Manchester Utd

You have returned from Spain, and in a series of events which made sense at the time, ended up as a supply teacher of Modern Languages in Oldham. It is half-term and you have resolved to spend the day preparing lessons for your difficult fourth-year GCSE class. In reality this means sitting on the floor of your tiny shared-house bedroom flicking absent-mindedly through a pile of flashcards while listening to dance classics on Manchester Kiss 102 Radio and debating with yourself whether you have enough money left to afford three bottles of Hooper's Hooch from the cornershop. Suddenly your torpor is interrupted by an announcement. Manchester Utd have captured the Premiership's top scorer from their deadly North-Eastern rivals. Back in Newcastle, angry Geordies are besieging St James' Park in their thousands to confront Keegan on the main stand steps and demand an explanation. You briefly consider splashing out on a train ticket north, then content yourself with running across the road to breathlessly break the news to your your mate from Whitley Bay who works in the university bookshop.

1999: The second of the two disastrous FA Cup Finals

This time, though, you have come home from Manchester especially - just like you did last year, when you had sat in your mate Mark's front room and watched Dalglish's team being systematically picked apart by Wenger's all-conquering Arsenal. This year it's going to be different, though. It's only Manchester United this time - and in a cunning move you have switched the viewing venue from Mark's front room (which was obviously unlucky, like all the rooms in the Hadrian Road house, the tiny bedroom in the south Manchester houseshare, and the province of Guipuzcoa) to your mam and dad's front room just round the corner. At least that's what you hope. In reality, Manchester Utd canter to an easy 2-0 victory and you spend the Sunday drowning your sorrows in town with your mate Mark before getting the last train south. It's pissing down, which is wholly apt. At some point in the afternoon the team, their Wembley suits sodden with rain, creep by shamefacedly on the prearranged open-topped bus from which they had hoped to parade the Cup to the adoring masses. Instead the adoring masses consist of you, your mate Mark, and a smattering of other hardcore types who couldn't bring themselves to stay away but, on the other hand, cannot quite bring themselves to look. The glory days, it seems, have well and truly come to an end...

2008: The third coming of Kevin Keegan

... Until now, of course. Let's see what this latest resurrection brings. You never know, this time we might really end up with something to tell our grandchildren about. Keep the faith, as we say in the Geordie diaspora. Just keep the faith.

* * * * *

We're trying, Jonathan, we really are... Thanks for the memories, as they say.

Remember where you were and what you were doing when news of any of the above broke?


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