On Saturday I took very nearly nine-year-old Frankie to his first Newcastle game- which prompted me to trawl the lovingly assembled archives at the fans' website nufc.com to find the first game at St James' Park that my dad took the nine-year-old me to. It didn't take much trawling really, as I knew already the game took place just before Christmas, that we played relegation rivals Leicester City, and that we won- either 2-0, or 2-1*. I also remembered some minor details- such as my dad explaining, as he parked the car in a sidestreet behind the brewery, that the game was a 'four-pointer'- meaning that with the opponents locked in deadly combat at the foot of Division One the value of a win- and the perils associated with defeat- were effectively doubled.
I remember that it was a £1 in for adults and 60p for juniors (although I'm not sure whether the latter amount changed hands; sometimes in those early days my dad knew the bloke on the centre paddock turnstile, or at least convinced the bloke on the turnstile that he knew him- and I found myself being hoisted over the top of them with a nod and a wink). I also remember the thrilling first sight of a floodlit patch of lush green pitch through the rectangular concrete-framed access which separated the dank interior of the West Stand from the terrace. Perhaps most clearly of all I recall the unmistakable 'eau de 1970s football experience' aroma that wafted across that terrace for the duration of the game, comprising approximate equal parts bovril, cigar fumes, Newcastle Exhibition Ale, freshly-cut grass, and 'Old Spice' aftershave.
The game? Well I don't remember it much. The action, in truth, passed me by in a black-and-white, blue-and-white flurry. I do recall being taken quite aback by the soundtrack- where the familiar avuncular televised commentary was absent, replaced by the 7500 Geordies in the popular end behind the goal to our left informing the few hundred away supporters separated from them by a strategically placed barrage of the Northumbria Constabulary's Finest that they were imminently 'Going to Get Their Fucking Heads Kicked In'. There is a detail here which seems unimaginable in our casually profane times : I remember the offending fourth-from-last word of that standard terrace threat being rendered somewhat less audible to us than the rest- the apparent consensus, even among swaggering young wannabee hooligans in parka coats and shoulder-length hair, being that openly swearing in public, at least when in collar-feeling distance of a thin blue line of coppers, remained quite beyond the pail. Remember, this was 1977, the year when the Sex Pistols would scandalise the nation by a single offhand use on the BBC of what used to be euphemistically called a 'Four Letter Term'.
So- what will Frankie remember from his first game? Well, he might remember Newcastle's third goal by Cabaye, which, as it was a penalty, I could see coming, and could stand him on his seat and point it out, and hoist him up on my shoulder when it nestled in the bottom Gallowgate corner. But he probably won't remember the other three Newcastle goals as he didn't really see them- which is a pity, given that one of them-a thirty-five yard dipping half-volley by Cisse belted into the Leazes goal in front of us and reminiscent of Shearer in his pomp- will live long in the memory of most of the 52000 present.
Never mind. Unlike me he won't be limited to a few words on nufc.com to fill in the gaps, and will instead be able to relive the highlights on YouTube, or whatever has replaced it in 35 years' time. And of course- like me he will remember the peripheral details instead. I should think he'll remember, for instance, that there was an energetic troupe of can-can dancers on the pitch at half-time and fans with painted on moustaches and tricolour flags in the stands (but might need google to remind him the reason- that the club had announced 'French Day' in honour of the penalty-scorer Cabaye and the other half-dozen recent Gallic additions to the playing squad). And I think he will recall the Southampton fans high above us in the Leazes corner, belting out their rousing rendition of club anthem 'When the Saints Go Marching In' even as their favourites battled to a 4-2 defeat that left them hovering perilously close to the relegation drop-zone. He'll remember, I hope, our pre-match meal of Greggs Pasties in Eldon Square Bus Station, followed, completely incongrously but at his insistence, by coffee and cakes at Marks and Spencers Deli Counter. And he'll remember, even if I don't want him to, his dad rising to his feet at various stages throughout the game to openly berate the match officials, using a range of- ahem- 'Four Letter Terms'.
Finally- he will certainly recall being rushed through the crowds and down Clayton Street at full-time, to make it down to Central Station, where his extended North East family were waiting to see him off on the train home... and fighting back the tears all the way to Durham, as he always did, because he wasn't due to see them again until the next school holidays.
We'll be back though- and I think we'll have that strange pre-match meal again, as it seemed to bring us and the team a much-needed dose of luck. That 1977-78 season, after all, ended with us being unceremoniously relegated to Division Two, which is one echo of history I think we can both absolutely do without. Keep the Faith, now. Keep the faith.
*December 3rd, 1977. League Division One. Leicester City (H). 2-0 (Nattrass, Burns). Att: 20112 (with possible addition of one nine-year old boy hoisted over the centre paddock turnstile).