Ground #: 107
Ground: St James’ Park
Competition: English Premiership
Kick Off: 8pm
Cost: Free (Was a gift, original price £47)
Newcastle United 3
Ba 33’, Cabaye 47’, Jones (O.G) 90’
Manchester United 0
Well this was a surprise! I was determined to see a game on my annual January visit to Newcastle to see the girlfriend (not the missus, breadknife or any other term that would get me into trouble) and while I fully expected to go to the Gateshead vs Stockport clash, I was given a ticket to this almighty clash by hers truly which even before the game was a sensational present. It was Toon Army time.
Newcastle upon Tyne is the major city of the North East and has a vast and diverse history and interest about it. I could expand upon facts from Wikipedia about it’s history (lots) or it’s most known features (shipbuilding and beer) but I’ve decided to ask some actual Geordies, i.e – the people who know it best, about their opinion on Newcastle:
Ms Close (A special Geordie) “I think that Newcastle has a great big-city vibe while still being small enough to feel friendly and personal. It has a massive cultural background with a significant musical, artistic and industrial history. Geordies are proud of their heritage and most especially their football!”
Andy Hudson (Geordie’s Indiana Jones, blogging at Gannin’ Away) “Bobby Robson once said:
"What is a club in any case? Not the building or the Directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It's not the television contracts, get out clauses or the marketing departments or the Executive boxes. It's the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city"
The final sentence sums up Newcastle perfectly. In the north-east, all roads lead to Newcastle, and the biggest sense of pride in the city is reserved for the football club.
You can taste that pride on matchday, when the city truly comes alive: pubs are rammed; there’s a buzz in the air; all conversation seems to be centred on what’s happening at St James’ Park (and let’s face it, with the shenanigans of the Mike Ashley regime over the years and, before him, Freddie Shepherd’s disastrous stewardship of the club, that keeps fans busy pretty much all week).
Visually, the city has changed a lot since the 1990s; any visitor to the Quayside area before then, when buildings were ugly and empty, would be forgiven for thinking they were in a different place when comparing to the present day developments of the Baltic and the Sage. As much as the city has changed, the Magpies home ground at St James has been redeveloped to become one of the most impressive stadiums in the country. Gone are the terraces behind each goal, with giant stands replacing them. A sanitised atmosphere may prevail at many games – where doesn’t it in the Premier League where spiralling ticket prices have signalled a new type of football fan? Yet scratch beneath the surface, on days when Manchester United are despatched 3-0 or, more importantly, when local rivals Sunderland are on the receiving end of a Geordie hammering, or even any game that really has a major impact upon the season, and as well as the atmosphere travelling from Gallowgate and piercing through the shoppers on Northumberland Street, every pub from Blaydon to Tynemouth, packed out at 3pm on a Saturday or whenever television companies dictate the kick-off time to be, will be heaving with only one football club being the centre of attention.”
Ian Cusack (Mr Percy Main and blogs at Payaso del Mierda) “I loathe my childhood and all that remains of it…” (Jean Paul Sartre, “Les Mots”).
As a teenage existentialist, I could have picked a better place to be dragged up than Felling, a scenic fishing village on the south bank of the Tyne. Actually, the eastern exurb of Gateshead wasn’t that bad a spot in the late 70s; lax licensing laws in the local off licences and easy access to Newcastle meant gigs, pubs and St. James Park were always in reach. Until I turned 18, I’d always wanted to escape the North East forever; I craved London applying to University there and scanning the NME gig guide each week as I was convinced I’d make a home there. Sadly, a Grade E in my French A Level (never could get my head around le subjunctive) stalled my progress. Instead of Goldsmiths in Lewisham, the University of Ulster in Coleraine was my destination. Three years of Guinness, cheeseburgers and draw later, I emerged without a short terms memory but with a Iii. This was 1986; it was menial jobs in London, the dole on Tyneside or teaching. Post PGCE in Leeds that hadn’t become a Yorkshire Milan, but still espoused a David Peace “Red Riding” ambience, I found myself back in Newcastle. Property, partner and a profession meant I’d never leave. The season ticket and son cemented my stay, until 1999 when I threw it all up to embrace a mid-life crisis in the shape of a Slovak odyssey in Bratislava. Running out of options in 2002, I came back to High Heaton; I’ll leave feet first in a box.
Newcastle is a great city; small enough to navigate, large enough to hide. It’s safe and hedonistic; it’s against conformity and in favour of brotherhood. I’m nearly 50 so I use it for gigs and real ale. The Ouseburn Delta is my spiritual home; The Tyne, The Free Trade & The Cluny provide all you need for a night out. If you want the city centre, The Bodega, Tilleys, The Head of Steam, The forth and The Newcastle Arms have it all. The Quayside is shit, but the Crown Posada should be visited once in your life.
In the 47.5 years I’ve had on this planet, 39 of them have been spent within 3 miles of St. James’ Park. I don’t regret that at all.”
There you have it. Newcastle, possibly the greatest place on Earth.
In 1892 when Newcastle West End and Newcastle East End merged to form Newcastle United FC it started the story of one of Britain’s best supported clubs and one with a massively diverse history. (Hard to stick in one paragraph!) Joining the Football League in 1893, Newcastle have never dropped below the 2nd tier and have only missed two of the Premier League seasons, they are normally up amongst the big boys. Despite this, Newcastle do have a monkey on their back in the form of lack of major trophies, despite being a well supported club. Only 4 league championships, 6 FA Cups and a Fairs Cup in 1969 is a poor return and the supporters demand a trophy sooner rather than later as this is a major drought. Their recent history can be summed up through words such as Premier League, Keegan, “I’d love it if we beat them”, FA Cup Runners Up, Champions League, Shearer @ The San Siro, Sir Bobby Robson, back comes Keegan, down go Newcastle, Bananas in pyjamas, up go Newcastle and Alan Pardew comes in. A whistlestop tour of Newcastle United from 1992.
Their ground today of St James’ Park is a fantastic venue and is one of the modern grounds that I would be happy to go back to. Despite being a lop sided ground with one half being much taller than the other, I was situated in the Milburn Stand on the 2nd front row so had a fantastic view of the pitch. St James’ Park underwent its most dynamic change when Newcastle Utd were ran by Sir John Hall as The Leazes End that had been demolished was finally rebuilt, and opened as the Sir John Hall stand for Newcastle's debut in the Premiership in 1993. The Gallowgate End was rebuilt, the Milburn Stand modified, and a new pitch, drainage and floodlights were installed. More expansion took place in 1998 when the club was now run by Freddy Shepherd and included work done to the Milburn Stand and Gallowgate End to make the ground how it is today. Newcastle’s fans, The Toon Army fill the 52,387 ground most weeks despite having a new owner since Shepherd in the form of Mike Ashley. A really unpopular owner, he had made a new “signing” for this game as the transfer window was open with Virgin Money becoming the new sponsor mid-season for some good pre-match.
On the pitch, Newcastle have been more than excellent this season despite their recent sketchy form going into this game as the started the night in 7th place but only 4 points from 4th place Chelsea. Backed by the goals of Demba Ba and led at the back by Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle were well placed for a European tilt at the end of the season. Excellent work from Alan Pardew. In town (sorry, toon) for this game though were one of the World’s biggest clubs and the current champions. Manchester United themselves are under a bit of pressure, going into this game they had lost at home 3-2 to Championship bound Blackburn as well as trailing rivals Man City in the league and that 6-1 defeat. So much so, that FourFourTwo published this cover for Fergie’s 70th birthday basically writing him off. (cover below)
When the game kicked off, I didn’t expect much from Newcastle early on as I thought Man U would play the role of wounded animal and take the game to the home side. In fact, Newcastle started well, testing United’s 2nd choice goalie Lindegaard with shots from Cabaye and Tiote that were saved. It wasn’t a surprise though when the away side started to create chances themselves and begin to have a bit of possession themselves. Firstly Nani fired a shot from the area which Krul fumbled but collected before an onrushing Wayne Rooney could capitalise on. Then Berbatov then hit the outside of the post when he got his head to Evra’s cross. Newcastle though always had more of the energy and drive you felt in this game and after creating a few chances again, they took a deserved lead 33 minutes. Demba Ba has been outstanding so far for Newcastle this season and it always seemed on the cards that in his last game before he left with Senegal for the African Cup of Nations, he collected a flick on from Shola “big man” Ameobi and brilliantly hooked the ball into the top corner for an excellent goal. St James’ Park had been loud before hand with Newcastle’s encouraging play, that goal was met with an almighty cheer. While there was a few half chances for both sides, that was the last of the major action for the 1st half so the locals were delighted at HT.
“Never write off Man Utd” we are always told and so at the start of the 2nd half I was expecting a red onslaught. So imagine my surprise when Demba Ba runs at the Utd defence meaning Phil Jones had to take him out and receive a booking. Up stepped Cabaye from the free kick and he crashed his shot in off the bar to put Newcastle in dream land. Man U came back at the home side as off came Berbatov for Welbeck and they began to create some openings. The best of these chances fell to Rooney after some excellent work down Utd’s right found the ball in box and Rooney four yards out. An easy finish was denied by ex Utd player Danny Simpson as you began to feel this was going to be Newcastle’s night. As the match went on, the crowd got even louder and the obligatory fatman got his shirt off. Could it get even better? With the match drawing to a close for a famous Geordie win, Tim Krul’s long goal kick was about to bounce in the area for Jones or Lindegaard to deal with. In the end, Jones took command and headed the ball back towards goal for Lindegaard to pick up, but he wasn’t there. Poor communication meant that the ball rolled in for a hilarious 3rd goal and seal Newcastle’s night to be even better. The crowd loved it and so did I.
A massive thanks to the girlfriend for this one! And for her brother and father to pop along for the entertainment too. It’s always good to see Man Utd get a beating and to be beat so comprehensively was even better. The title race still has a long time to go and Newcastle will probably play a part in deciding where it goes at the end of the season with some really important games coming up. St James’ Park is a fantastic ground and can be really rocking on occasions like this. Good luck to Newcastle for the rest of the season and their quest for European football. And if Newcastle ever need a result at home, just invite me up. I’m clearly a lucky charm. *wink*
- Match: 7/10 (entertaining for the neutral)
- Value for money: 10/10 (was free, for me)
- Ground: 8/10 (fantastic venue)
- Atmosphere: 9/10 (best crowd I’ve heard in this country)
- Food: N/A – Didn’t sample a Mag Pie, didn’t look good either
- Programme: 7/10 (for a PL programme, it was a good effort)
- Referee: Howard Webb – 2/10 (completely inconsistent and overly fussy, best ref in this country? Really?)