Monday, November 29, 2010

Unpopularity contest

Sunday 25th January 1998 was one of the most nerve-wracking and uncomfortable afternoons in my life as a Newcastle supporter. In the Fourth Round of the FA Cup we'd been drawn away to Conference side Stevenage Borough, and by casting patronising and offensive aspersions about the quality and safety standards of our hosts' Broadhall Way ground, we'd cemented our slide from the Entertainers, everyone's favourite second team, to arrogant and wealthy bullies. When the game kicked off, the whole nation - and certainly the whole of the packed university TV room in which I watched the match - was baying for us to lose.

We scored early, Wor Al netting just three minutes into his comeback from injury, but Giuliano Grazioli equalised before the break and we had to concede a moral victory to the minnows. Back at St James' a week and a half later, we did eventually ease into the Fifth Round thanks to two more Shearer goals (en route for an ultimately futile appearance in the Final), but it had been a damaging and scarring experience.

Thirteen years later and we'll be facing them on their own turf in the FA Cup again, this time in the Third Round. Boro are now a league side, sitting comfortably in mid-table of the bottom tier, and won through by beating AFC Wimbledon 2-0 yesterday. Needless to say, their fans are rubbing their hands at the chance for revenge - and you can probably bank on Sky/ITV wanting to be there to cover it.

For our part, let's hope we can conduct ourselves with a modicum of decency and professionalism this time. Our last four FA Cup Third Round ties have resulted in a replay, but we should certainly be capable of denying Boro another St James' Park pay-day.

(You can relive the whole sorry saga from 1998, if you really want, here.)


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