Quick recap to how I became a Newcastle supporter: Last August I took a trip across the pond with my friend, Lee Duggan (Native Geordie now living in Atlanta), to catch a couple Newcastle games and get a taste of the famous Newcastle night life. We saw a 1-0 Europa League victory against Artromitos and a 1-1 home draw with Villa which included a stunning HBA goal. I was lucky enough to spend New Years in London and was sitting in the away section at the Emirates for the 7-3 defeat. On the bright side, it was close for most of the game and my wife was entertained by the 10 goals.
I went back to the States and was hooked. I was a full blown Red-White-and-Blue Black-and-Whiter. Which is fitting considering if you blended those colors it would turn out to be some shade of purple –the color of my Baltimore Ravens of the NFL. I suffered through the second half of the season with my Atlanta Mag mates and watched Newcastle barely escape relegation. I quickly learned expectations were different than in previous years following Manchester United. I didn’t get goals galore – but I enjoyed each one tenfold. I learned to appreciate a hard earned draw instead of expecting 4-0 victories and being disappointed in anything less.
Fast forward to the new season (because it’s not like I missed recapping any news in the transfer window) and I found myself planning a trip Tyneside again. I work for an airline so I fly standby – which is not guaranteed – but I promised my Geordie friends I would make it there for the Fulham weekend and they went out of their way to accommodate me and plan a weekend of fun. I had to make it. Now, I know Newcastle fans are known for their support and travel well, but I think I might have set a record – at least for a Newcastle v Fulham game:
Atlanta – Dusseldorf (flight – 9 hours, 4,490 miles)
Dusseldorf – Manchester (flight – 1 hour, 394 miles)
Manchester – Newcastle (train – 3 hours, 150 miles)
Newcastle – Manchester (train – 3 hours, 150 miles) Flights were full – had to get to London for an open flight
Manchester – London (train – 3 hours, 200 miles)
London – Atlanta (flight – 9 hours, 4,222 miles)
9,606 miles, 28 hours.
But hey, I was FINALLY in Newcastle and hanging out drinking pints with some guys who I have grown close to over the past year and honestly call my friends. As much as this trip was about Newcastle and football and all that, football is really about camaraderie and friendship. Friday night we hung out local for a few, played pool and watched the Chelsea-Bayern game knowing that in just a few hours we would once again be sitting in St James Park and probably not see the same quality of football we were watching that night, but nobody really cared.
Saturday Morning was here. GAMEDAY as we call it back home in the states. It’s always easier to wake up on Gameday; even with the headache courtesy of the bevvies consumed the night before. Gameday starts with my modified English breakfast which is basically everything but the beans and black pudding. I did try the black pudding and it was a lot better not as bad as I expected. After my cup of tea we ran to the bookies to place some bets. Newcastle had managed only one shot on goal in two games for the young season, but that didn’t stop me from putting a couple quid on Newcastle to win 3-2. I was told that was a very American bet. What can I say? I wanted goals!
We hit the usual cycle of pubs before the game (apparently the lager is nice in City Vaults and Beyond according to Paully…………..) I just assume it’s the usual because it was the same bars we drank at pre-game last year. The lads couldn’t be any nicer. People I didn’t even know were buying me drinks when they heard my accent. They were genuinely happy to welcome an outsider into their Black & White family. My mate Graham was able to get me tickets this year, so cheers Graham!
Newcastle started off looking similar to their previous two games of the campaign but gradually looked like a team that wanted to win. The second half spawned a dozen chances, but the lack of finishing meant I potentially travelled 10k miles for a goalless draw. Then in the 86th minute, Hatem Ben Arfa made eye contact with me and I gave him the “you know what to do” look. He picked up on the ball in the corner, did a few step overs, and for the 2nd year in a row with me in attendance hit a curling wonder shot that beat the keeper sending the St James crowd into euphoria. This time the goal was worth 3 points instead of 1. (Disclaimer: parts of the previous paragraph may have been exaggerated).
The game part of Gameday was over and suddenly Newcastle didn’t look like a team that would be battling relegation (I can’t say the same for the Red & White neighbors.) You could feel the optimism around town. We celebrated the victory the way we started: Pints, some nice scenery, maybe a couple shots of tequila and/or sambuca, arms around each other talking about football and enjoying the hell out of life. This is what it is supposed to be about. A BIG THANK YOU to the Geordies who went out of their way to make an American feel at home – though I’m still working on the accent like.
Ten thousand miles and worth every one of them.