Once upon a case of Newcastle Brown Ale, the Toon Army had a football team that they could be truly proud of. Certainly during my early years, there was a lot of success around the club. St James’ Park hosted fairly consistent European football during the early 2000’s, they had a crack at the Champions League and the UEFA Cup, an achievement that seems well beyond the current outfit.
The Premier League’s greatest ever goalscorer graced the city for so many years, Alan Shearer scoring goals that young lads didn’t dare to dream were possible as they feasted their eyes on their first taste of live football. Shay Given was an immovable rock between the sticks on numerous occasions, and Nolberto Solano could ping a ball onto a five pence piece from the opposite bank of the Tyne. Blindfolded. I’m sure Laurent Robert could have done the same, but he’ll always be best remembered for picking out the face of Olivier Bernard (an achievement no less deserved of applause, might I add).
Nowadays, it’s an altogether different story. Mike Ashley bought the club, and promptly killed it. The footballing home of the North became just another marketing exercise, and I’m almost certain I saw a ‘Buy one mug, get Lee Bowyer half price’ advertisement in my match programme. Let this be quoted by pundits and your mate Steve down the local, Newcastle United are a fallen giant.
My weekend on the continent had left me somewhat poorer, so there wasn’t a night out to be enjoyed for our Coventry pit stop. I’ll let you guys decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Instead, we sank a few beers whilst enjoying the lack of Wi-Fi that our hotel could provide, before settling down ready for the early departure further north.
We arrived in a drizzly Newcastle just gone midday the next day, and, as I’m told is custom for Premier League away days, Jamie quickly wandered off in search of an away pub. We weren’t to find one sadly, but that wasn’t to stop us sampling some of the local drinking holes anyway. I forget what the pub was called, karma for me writing these blogs so long after, but our first stop of the day included some of the best food I’ve had on my travels this season. A grilled sandwich and some soup. Vague, but like I say, specific details are eluding me here. If you’re a culinary expert, have a look at my photo and get back to me. It was incredible.
Just over a decade ago, AFC Bournemouth were on the brink of extinction. If you could have put money on them falling out of the Football League and into the abyss of non-league, or just folding altogether, you would have done. Those were dark times for the club from the South Coast. On this drizzly afternoon in early March however, you wouldn’t have known that. You wouldn’t have even entertained that piece of footballing history as being anything other than fairy tale.
I didn’t know how to feel on the drive back down south (via another night in Coventry, which, trust me, was equally as grim the second time round). I almost feel sorry for the club, it’s died a death and is still being kicked. Necastle United will never be what they were unless something changes at the top, soon. The Toon Army love a boo, but they have a lot to complain about. 50,000 people sang ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ that Saturday, aimed in the direction of Steve McLaren, but in the end, even Rafa Benitez couldn’t keep them up. For now, the glory days are long gone.