And we’re back! I hope everyone has had a good Christmas and a great start to the New Year, despite the Toon games of course but that comes without saying. This article will effectively be in two parts, the first will be about my perspective of attending my very first Tyne Wear Derby, followed by a quick recap of the following weeks of football and an update on my year in Newcastle. We’re manager-less since Pardew’s departure to Crystal Place (good riddance!) and seem to be searching for identify again on and off the football pitch.
It was the biggest week of football NUFC had played since the quarter-final with Benfica and Derby in 2012 and as could be expected, the players choked. Pardew could never rally his players for the big occasion, and in true Newcastle fashion from the three games we played, we lost on aggregate 9-1.
We’re on the inevitable football roller-coaster once again: the extreme highs are always followed by just as extreme lows, particularly under Mike Ashley. I remember during that winning run just trying to enjoy the moments as they came, knowing that that winning feeling we had would quickly turn sour. Injuries have again been horrendous this season. This can’t be put down to bad luck anymore; something seriously has to be looked at behind the scenes as to why we pick up so many. Players do seem to be rushed back too early (De Jong and Aarons), or the conditioning of players already injured is not being handled correctly. Maybe training sessions aren’t as physical as they need to be so the players aren’t prepared; or we simply don’t have a large enough squad. Regardless of the reason, we seem to be constantly in an ‘injury crisis’ year after year.
After being on an incredible high after beating the undefeated Chelsea at home, we were away to Arsenal and Spurs. I’m going to skip over this as we all know what happened: two absolutely horrendous results. Let’s get to the derby. The feeling in the city during the weeks beforehand was edgy and tense; any fellow Australian born Aussie Mag’s reading this will find that odd. In Newcastle, it’s not a game to be excited about; most fans dread it. Its 90 minutes of awful football with so much on the line. Both sets of fans desperately want the bragging rights for another 6 months. Everyone was nervous. After the last three results, Newcastle fans were all expecting the worst. Even a few Sunderland fans I’ve become friends with through work didn’t expect much, believing that their winning run surely couldn’t go on much longer.
It’s hard to explain to people from Australia how much it means to both of these cities. It’s a hatred and rivalry that goes back hundreds of years. Newcastle is generally seen as the more prosperous of the two cities, boasting award wining restaurants, pubs and bars along with an international airport and the region’s main train station. Sunderland is often seen as sitting in Newcastle’s shadow; something which their fans will fiercely deny, even though nearly all of the Sunderland players live in Newcastle! Put it this way, imagine Melbourne which is completely obsessed with AFL: exactly one half supporting Essendon (north and west of the city) and the other half supporting Collingwood (south and east of the city). The MCG and Etihad are the home grounds and each are sold out every week – rarely do any of each other’s fans venture to the other side of the city. Twice a year, they come together in a clash of overwhelming proportions. It allows fans to vent their passion for their club and their hatred for the opposition.
Newcastle United is the beating heart of the city: when we’re winning all we talk about is football. The buzz and excitement for each game is incredible. However, when we loose, especially to Sunderland, you can’t forget about football fast enough!
The atmosphere in St James’ Park for the match was unbelievable. The entire Gallowgate end was pumping; everyone was on their feet singing. I imagine that’s what it was like in the 90s and early 00s under Keegan and Sir Bobby. Although one has to wonder why the majority of fans feel they only need to get up and sing once a year against the Mackems. If St James’ Park was that loud week in and week out, who knows how we might have been able to swing the game in our favour. It was a scrappy game with each team having their fair amount of chances. Johnson scored in the 90th minute and that was that. Four derby wins in a row for Sunderland. Alan Pardew’s record as a manager was horrendous, and even worse when you take into account his performances against the bitter foes form South of the river, he won’t be missed.
I shook off my Christmas day hangover and headed to Manchester on boxing day, despite the football result (as usual on away days) it was a memorable experience once again. The away day ‘culture’ if you could call it that is one I’ve really taken too since coming to Newcastle. My months seem to revolve around which away days I can get to next. As usual we backed up a fine result against Everton on the 28th, to draw with Burnley on New Year’s Day. A deplorable result considering we led three times, after the Leicester result however its’ made Burnley seem less crap than it was.
We sit bang in the middle of the table at the halfway point of the season. About where you’d expect us to be in all honesty. I don’t think we’re genuine contenders for relegation or Europe. However we do have worrying form slides and a few bad results could see us sucked right back into the dog right at the rear end of the table. Despite the fear of this I’m still living out the best year of my life so far, and intend to kick on and make it even better. A trip to Amsterdam is booked for February and plans are in the making for a backpacking jaunt around Spain and Portugal in the summer. This year couldn’t really get any better, unless we fluked a place Europe and in that case I’d be at the box office renewing my season ticket in an instant! Once again thanks for reading – until next time, Howay The Lads.
Jem Sullivan – Follow Jem at @anaussiegeordie