Tales From The Sporting Weekend

Newcastle United vs. Chelsea : 4 April 2009.

This was another of those games that snuck in under the radar.

My head has been full of work and other issues of late – to say nothing of the upcoming cup encounters with Liverpool and Arsenal. Once I had the travel arrangements sorted out, I wasn’t able to dwell too much on the game up in Newcastle.

Of course, the appointment of Shearer as the new Geordie manager upset the apple-cart a little…would he be able to inspire them? I doubted it. Newcastle have been really poor of late.

I set the alarm for 5.30am and set off on the long road north at 6.15am. Alan and Gary were travelling up on the official coaches and Al had to leave his flat in South London at 4am!

Chris – “Wor Jackie Kerouac, Like.”

Alan – “Wor Reggie Varney.”

I again drove up the Fosse Way, the old Roman road linking Exeter and Lincoln. It’s a great road, just as long as you pay attention to the speed cameras. Rather than think about the game at St. James’ Park, or even the cup games, I found myself thinking about the summer beano in America. This will be the ninth year in a row that I have headed over The Pond. I enjoy the anticipation and planning just as much as the actual trip.

The plan, like last year, was to drive to Nuneaton and then my mate Andy would drive up from there. The 640 mile round trip is just too daunting, even for me and my love of the open road. After a quick McBreakfast just south of the town, I was at Andy’s house just before 9am. His daughter Sophie was in the front seat and I made myself comfortable in the back seat. We soon picked up Woody in Atherstone, but then had to double-back on ourselves to collect Lovejoy from his gaff in Coventry. We set off at 10am.

Lovejoy – and his lady – had just got back from Miami. I’m surprised that it didn’t make the news headlines! He appreciated the “sights” on the beach.

“You wouldn’t believe the Jack & Danny out there – talk about taking coal to Newcastle!”

While he was over in Florida, he found himself eating at the same restaurant as Jenson Button, the Formula One driver who had just won the first Grand Prix of the season. We found ourselves listening to “Five Live” – the UK’s best sports radio station…Pat Nevin was on, there was a lot of talk about Shearer’s first game in charge and the Grand National horse race from Liverpool was on at 4.15pm. The Malaysian GP was previewed too – Button was in pole for that…he’s quite a hero as he comes from Frome, my small Somerset town. Quite a weekend of sport – more of that later. There were sunny skies overhead, but also a few clouds.

We had heard that there had been an accident on the A1 just near The Angel Of The North, the huge piece of public art which welcomes drivers to Tyneside. Our plans were to stop off at a pub for a meal and we hoped that the tail-back would have subsided by the time we had finished. We polished off a lovely plate of grub at the Toby Carvery in Washington – splendid fayre and only a fiver.

“A table for five, but food for ten please.”

The pint of lager went down well too. We asked a couple of the bar staff for alternative routes into the town, but ( accent apart ) they weren’t the most knowledgeable of people.

At just before 2pm, with about five miles to go, we set off. Thankfully, the route was relatively clear. The road took us through Gateshead, then Dunston ( the home town of Paul Gascoigne – that most typical of Geordie stereotypes ), then over the River Tyne, with the massive white steel understructure of St James’ Park dominating the city skyline at the top of the incline to the north.

Newcastle United – I don’t mind admitting it, I always used to have a soft spot for them. My first ever Chelsea game was against them in 1974 and our paths used to cross in the old Second Division back in the ‘eighties. When Keegan first took over in 1992, the whole club was re-energised. During the 1992-1993 season, when Chelsea enjoyed a particularly flat season, I even went to three Newcastle away games with my good mate Pete…at Brentford, Swindon and Bristol City. One of my favourite images is of a packed Gallowgate in around 1983, the rain peeing it down on the 10,000 drenched souls, but hundreds of Geordies stood on crush barriers, steam rising off them. It encapsulated the passion of that wild town on the banks of the Tyne.

I have already detailed my trip to Newcastle in 1984 in another report – but it needs re-stating that it was a massive game in 1984. I have never heard more noise from a 36,000 gate at a game in England. Great memories. Talking of 1984…

My next game after the trip to Newcastle was an away game at Cardiff City. Let’s talk about that one.

Saturday 31st March 1984…my eighth game of the season. I had passed my re-taken “A Levels” in the November and was applying to study geography at a few polys…meanwhile, all other energy was devoted to following the team on their triumphant march out of the Second Division. Around about that time, I had purchased two iconic albums…The Smiths debut album and the second Cocteau Twins’ album “Head Over Heels.” For those of you who listened to the Pat Nevin podcast, you will remember that my question to him was about his favourite Cocteau Twins album…it was “Head Over Heels.” Just another example of 1983-1984 coming back to haunt me twenty-five years on.

I had also purchased my first casual garment, a Gallini sweatshirt, around that time. However, it wasn’t really a known name…although I had seen a few Gallini items at Chelsea, it wasn’t on the same scale as the other names of the time. At least it was a start.

I remember the trip to Cardiff so well. We were going by train from Frome and I had arranged to meet Glenn at the Wallbridge Café opposite the station. As I walked in, I scanned the busy scene. Glenn was there with Winnie, a Leeds fan from my year at school, but so too were three of the town’s known ne’er-do-wells…two of them weren’t even Chelsea…they had obviously come along for a bundle.

I met a mate from Frome at the station in Cardiff – he was a Pompey fan who was at college in the “delightful” valley town of Pontypridd. He was lured into Cardiff for the game, but for some reason chose to watch from the Bob Bank, the large home terrace. We avoided going into any pubs as we were sitting targets. We made a bee-line for the ground. As I remember it, I was the first Chelsea fan on the away terrace…I was with Winnie and Glenn. The other chaps from Frome had splintered away from us by then. Good luck to them, I thought.

Well – believe it or not, we played awfully. Cardiff were no great shakes, but they raced to a 3-0 lead. This was not on the cards at all. This was going to be our worse defeat of the season by a mile. There must have been around 5,000 Chelsea in the 13,000 crowd and during the last quarter of the game, the lads in the front were pulling the fences down. I was watching from the rear in the middle. There had been outbreaks of trouble in the main stand too.

With six minutes to go, we pulled a goal back to make the score a bit more respectable. Then Kerry scored a second…game on! The Chelsea support urged the team on and in the last minute of the game we were awarded a penalty.


Nigel Spackman slotted it home and our end went mental…hugs, kisses, shouts, screams, arms thrusting heavenwards, our voices shouting and singing roars of triumph.

As we marched out onto the bleak Cardiff streets, we were invincible.

What a team. My team. Nothing could stop us.

On the train back to Frome, we regrouped, but two of our party were missing. Dave and “Gulliver” had been knicked for something or other. It had to happen. They were dressed in boots and jeans – sitting ducks for the Welsh OB…me and Glenn were a bit more street-wise. On that train home, I met Paul ( PD ) for the first time and he was a fearsome sight…real Old School Chelsea…twenty five years on, Glenn, Dave, PD and myself go to Chelsea together.

Beautiful, eh?

Back to 2009. The area around St James’ Park was swarmed with cars parked everywhere – and I mean everywhere…but thankfully Andy managed to find a spare place up on a kerb. By 2.45pm, we had ascended the 140 steps. This season, we were in a new part of the stadium – not in the corner as before, but at the end of the northern section…still top tier, though. Alan, Gary and myself were in Row B, but there was nobody allowed in Row A. That’ll do!

For the last few minutes, the PA boomed out a few Newcastle anthems, including the wonderful “Blaydon Races” but I thought how symptomatic it was of the modern game. In 1984, the supporters would have sang their own songs…they wouldn’t have needed any promptings.

“Howay the lads, ye shud only seen us gannin’,
Passin the foaks alang the road just as they wor stannin’;
Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces,
Gannin alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.”

As the teams entered the pitch, way down below me, the crowd made a fair din, but I have to say I was sorely disappointed for the rest of the game. 1984 and 2009 simply did not compare. The 3,000 Chelsea fans were in good voice and it seemed that our support was boosted by a few Rangers fans – Rangers were due to play on Sunday. I noted a few home fans with “A Wise move – Shearer’s coming home” T-Shirts. Of course, the Dennis Wise / San Siro song got a few airings!

Newcastle were as poor a team as I have seen this year. We never looked in doubt really. I managed to capture on film the lovely celebrations after Frank’s goal right down below me. It was what we deserved. Frank was the star yet again, buzzing around…however, Essien and Anelka were quiet. For the second year running, Malouda scored the second goal of the game and we celebrated wildly. The game was safe. We could have scored a few more actually. Franco De Santo really impressed me when he came on for Anelka.

It seemed odd to only get inside the ground at 2.45pm and then, barely two hours later, leave to return south. All that way for ninety minutes of football. What does it all mean? Am I mad? I did think that it was all a bit of a dream – too easy, no atmosphere, quite dull even.

The nerve-tingling excitement of 1984 seemed a long way away. Another world.

We inched out of the streets as the Geordie Nation quietly wilted away. I was tempted to call in on the Toby pub and ask the youg lad who had struggled to give directions…

“Sorry mate – was it second left at the roundabout?”

After a few moments in the car, I fell asleep for an hour. We listened to the commentary of the Fulham vs. Liverpool on Five Live – and I squealed when the Scousers scored a painful winner on 93 minutes. That hurt. It spoilt our day.

We reached Nuneaton at 8pm and I dropped Lovejoy off in Coventry on my way home. I eventually drove into my driveway at 11.30pm. With Liverpool away coming up on Wednesday, it would be over one thousand miles following Chelsea in five days.

On this sporting weekend, spare a thought for my mate Pete – my Geordie friend…( who was at that fabled game in 1984 ). Pete also follows Bristol rugby ( they were relegated on Saturday ) and his home-town Scunthorpe United ( they lost at Wembley yesterday – he was there with his daughter )…quite a weekend, all three of his teams lost important games. At least Lovejoy’s mate Jenson Button won again.

Liverpool next!


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