It was January 1990 on a chilly Saturday afternoon, the last time I was at St James’ Park.
Leicester were in Toon, crowing about a cracking midfielder called Gary McAllister. Never heard of him I thought, as I decided to go and watch.
I was in Teesside on a course for three weeks, learning to be an airport fireman, so I had weekends to fill and, despite the gorgeous barmaid in the local, I was getting bored with the pub.
So there I am in the Leazes end with Toon 4-2 down and only 13 minutes left. This young midfielder had run the show and we were getting a football lesson. Fans were leaving in droves.
Cue Mark McGee and Micky Quinn.
Some neat play around the box and bang, it was 4-3. A huge roar went up. Fans that were leaving stopped in there tracks, contemplating. Most thought sod it, I’m off, as we were still losing with not long left.
Four minutes to go, won the ball back, up to Micky and bang 4-4 !! The roar went up and the fans that had left were now running back…
The noise inside and outside the ground was deafening. The ball was pumped up again to Micky and Mark, magic happened and in the blink of eye it was 5-4, two goals a minute apart.
The noise, the elation, the high that lasted for hours. I nearly floated back to my Teesside retreat. It was magical.
Fast forward 30 years and I’m now living Ireland.
I had tickets for the home game against Liverpool, the season they won it, and I was really buzzing at the prospect of seeing the inside of the ‘new’ St James’ Park, but Covid happened and my homecoming went south.
Three weeks ago, the infamous Monk posted on The Mag comments section, after one of the articles, that 12,000 tickets were left for the Palace Cup game. I had a moment, thought, I’m going. I’m just going.
Signed up on the official website and the official NUFC ticketing section, linked them up and got a ticket in L7G.
That, at the time, meant nothing to me. I just thought I’d have a good view.
Flights, accommodation and travel booked. Great, just need to tell the missus now.
She took it quite well. After all, it was paid for now.
So, Wednesday morning I’m standing outside the ticket office waiting for them to open. My ticket hadn’t turned up but no biggie, got it sorted.
Went off for some lunch and then walked the hotel. I’d been up since half one and was knackered so grabbed a few hours kip before making my way to the Strawberry for a pre-match pint. God, I miss proper ale. First one went down swiftly, so got another. The carnival atmosphere was all around. Inside, outside, filling the air. I could feel the excitement. 19:30 on the watch, time to make my way up to level 7.
Holy s.it…I had to stop for a breather halfway up. The legs aren’t what they were.
Got to my seat and I was literally awestruck at the scale of the ground. The stands, the canopy over the Milburn stand, which has to be 50 yards long. Looking down on the flags being waved, the music playing, the players running out and as one, the fans get on their feet. Mind blown. I never expected this
Those that go every other week may have got a little complacent about how special it really felt, but I can tell you, emotions were running high in me. I won’t go on too much about the game, only to say we need three or four players to maintain the balance and standards of the first 11 when rotating the squad.
However, the Toon have got something special going on. I managed to get to some away games in the Keegan era but even then, it didn’t feel as special as now.
I’m writing this on the coach back to Limerick and its nearly 8pm on the Thursday.
I won’t get home until around 10pm. I left home at 0030 Wednesday, got a coach, a plane and the Metro to see the game and it’s the same back.
‘What, you travelled all that way, for that long just for football match’ I was asked.
Yes, I did, but for me, it was so much more than just a game of football.
It was a magical experience, every bit as good as the Mark and Micky show 30 years earlier…and I’m doing it again as soon as possible.
Enjoy the ride lads n lassies.
Howe’ay the lads.