Gallowgate Flags started in a back office of a Chicago car hire company. I was on a work placement in June 2016 through a US – EU entrepreneurship scheme (so the referendum result was a bit awkward for me) and I had a lot of free time as work placement’s tend to fizzle out. Rafa Benitez had recently been confirmed as staying on as manager and as a fan base we were properly buzzing. News filtered through that season tickets for The Corner had sold out within days and it was going to become our ‘end’. As someone who’d been in The Corner since Level 7 was ‘relocated’, the news was magnificent. The Corner had been excellent the previous season even before Rafa turned up and I was enthused that we’d have a full ‘singing area’ with everyone standing and non-stop support. It didn’t turn out that way.
Michael Martin deserves the credit for actually thinking up Gallowgate Flags – he posted this article on this very website calling for flag displays in The Corner and said true faith would work with anyone interested in making it happen. I already did a bit for true faith and podcasts keep me busy but I thought that this was something that needed to be done. The atmosphere for so long had been so bad at nearly every Premier League ground i’d visited. Flags, although being visual could represent support – they were big in Europe and where there were flags there tended to be noise.
I also had loads of spare time in the US working with a company who I’d done all I could for a week- so I spoke to Michael and we got the ball rolling. A twitter account was created, and a gofundme page (donate if you haven’t) and that was that really. A quick website was created and we went from there, aiming to raise £1-2k across the season. I set the funding goal at £5k but we had no idea how much it would cost to make a flag and no idea what we were actually after. That was that and I headed back to the UK after a month working abroad not thinking much more of it and hoping it wouldn’t tank.
As you’ll already know the fan base took to it. We raised just short of £20,000 across the season and had immense help from local journalists, Newcastle United and countless others. A genuine fan lead effort – culminating in the manager and players putting together this quiz for us on a fundraising night. Watch it if you haven’t. The players spoke publicly about the flags campaign and the manager backed it.
The images from displays are used regularly by all major sports new organisations around the world. If there’s an article on NUFC in any outlet there will be a picture of one of the displays – particularly our ‘We are United’ surfer flag. That flag is a great example of why paying attention to the baying mob of bell-ends following NUFC on social media are best ignored. When the design was released it was universally discredited according to the design experts of twitter. The flag now defines Newcastle United’s support and is probably the most photographed and shared flag in world football. More than anything at Man City, Palace, Boro, Sunderland (don’t laugh) or anywhere else. The club love it. The players love it. The fans love it.
So Gallowgate Flags was a success and it snowballed into something far bigger than we’d ever hoped. The sheer amount of work put into it by a group of 15 lads and blokes was phenomenal. The first display against Huddersfield took us about ten hours to put together in the ground. Countless other days have been lost to grafting in the Gallowgate before and after games. The planning takes hours. Debates over what we’re doing, how we’ll do it and pay for it aren’t straightforwards. We’re still novices at this really. There was a lot of trial and error. There are disagreements occasionally . Loads and loads of flags have been nicked and were nicked on the last day of the season. That’s not something we can do much about. It was demoralising though (and still is). After the Legends Day display We had pretty much given up on the project until the problems with Rafa and the January transfer window surfaced.
I walked away from the QPR game angry. We’d just lost two points in the last minute through carelessness. But I could live with that. The home atmosphere was toxic. It was actually, in my opinion, detrimental to the team. Ayoze Perez played badly. He was abused non-stop by pretty much everyone around me in the Corner. There were boos at half time and full time. Rafa Benitez was leading us back to the Premier League (comfortably) and the atmosphere was worse than it had been at any point at a home game under Steve McClaren. It didn’t make any sense.
All season the doubts had begun to grow about the Corner. These people that had moved into it after last season. None of them wanted to stand. Not ideal for me – but I can live with it. At times the atmosphere had been up there, noticeably against Brighton and Norwich but for the majority of games it was poor. 50 or so lads in the Corner sung non-stop. About another couple of hundred would join in regularly but that was it. The other thousand or so people in there were at best ‘sing when you’re winning types’ and at worst only raised their voice to berate our own players. As a friend told me this season ‘I remember when it was the opposition players who would cop dogs abuse at St James’ Park’.
Simply the project had failed. The atmosphere was rubbish and we were winning every week. In January i’d had some contact with a new fans group called Wor Hyem 1892. Their aim was to create a singing section at St James’ Park. I met a couple of the lads before the Derby home game and we were on the same page. Tom and Anth subsequently joined Gallowgate Flags. Two better mags you couldn’t wish to meet. They’d had positive discussions with the club about a singing section and the club were very interested. Wor Hyem had a single goal that was to create a singing section and were expanding with like minded individuals. We’ve had ‘fan movements’ before which have ended being just social media accounts. This was more than that and each time I spoke to the lads it was clear their movement was getting bigger and better – the club was taking them seriously.
The club were interested as Rafa Benitez had consistently pleaded with the crowd for patience and support. He wasn’t getting it. I know the club had been delighted with Gallowgate Flags but we’d failed to translate the displays into vocal support. Wor Hyem recognised this and wanted to work with us and the club to get an area of the ground that like minded fans could create noise. It’s immensity positive that Newcastle United are keen to improve the atmosphere for home games but it’s also a little embarrassing. Our numbers are incredible but how many times have you heard that it was the opposition was lacking, or we need an ‘injustice’ to get us going. It’s football not theatre. I’ve heard all of the excuses this season for the atmosphere. Even when our own fans are abusing our players it’s because they ‘need to let off some steam’. Rubbish. Well, actually maybe it’s true but how about getting annoyed at the opposition, or the ref or something. Not Paul Dummet.
All sorts of people go to football these days. Families including people of all ages. Not everyone wants to stand up. Not everyone wants to sing or make a noise. It’s great that today football appeals to a much wider demographic of people than it did 30 or 40 years ago (or less). I like the fact that anyone is welcome at St James’ – but in doing so football clubs have pushed out the traditional fan who just wants to make a noise and support the team. Until recently the Premier League and most of it’s clubs denied there was a problem. For years you’d have more chance of getting a letter reprimanding you for standing at a home game than you would getting someone else to join in with a song or chant. Fans have tried to move together to create noise. Level 7 is one example. There are countless others at clubs. However clubs have either disbanded these areas using standing as an excuse. That’s not to say singing areas are perfect – you still get your fair share of arseholes booing and slating his or her own team. Both FA Cup away games last season were embarrassing from a support perspective. I could go on. What it was felt was needed was an area where fans who wanted to ‘support’ the team could gather. No abuse. No moans. No one who forces a player to close down their social media activity because of the abuse they receive from ‘supporters’. It was agreed with Wor Hyem and Gallowgate Flags this was to be the aim of a singing section. The club unanimously agreed.
We met with Newcastle United in early April. A meeting took place inside the ground and areas were looked at about where a singing section could be housed. The back of the Gallowgate was the only realistic place it could happen and we could stand. So Block V was chosen and there are around 240 seats that will equate to the ‘singing section’. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. It’s 240 like minded people who will support the team, regardless of how they are playing. Hopefully the enthusiasm will spread to the rest of the stadium. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Gallowgate Flags ended up being a success far beyond my expectations – hopefully this will be as well.
There have been comments about moving support away from the Corner and that we should have ‘concentrated’ on that area. Simply speaking the Corner is full of people who don’t want to stand or sing. They have chosen the Corner despite 95% of St James’ Park not standing and singing, yet they choose the Corner. We’d never win these people over. The lads and lasses who walked out at 0 3 against Fulham (and there were many) will never share the goal of unequivocal support. That’d why we need a singing section.
The singing section will grow, season on season. Football culture is fighting back. Safe Standing is firmly on the agenda. Ticket prices for away fans have been capped for away fans in the Premier League. That was unthinkable five years ago. As were the scenes at St James’ Park with 500 fan owned and paid for flags and a singing section. In five years time it’s a little bit less unrealistic to think that the whole of the Gallowgate will be standing in rail seating and 8,000 people will be the ‘singing section’. You can help us make it happen. Move to the back of the Gallowgate. It’s free.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
For information on the singing section and how to move seats please click HERE
Follow Wor Hyem on twitter