‘So what d’yi want for your borthday, kidda?’
The kidda thinks aboot this and sez with a shrug, ‘futbaal boots?’
‘Nar, man, what d’yi want if yi cud have anything at aal?’
There’s only one thing the kid wants more than anything at aal an that’s to see Newcastle play. He’s reluctant to say it because his mam has said he cannit go coz it’s too bliddy dangerous for a young lad, and his da is too bliddy drunk most of the time to tek im, but he sez it anyway.
And then a few weeks later Uncle Jim cums roond to tek im ti the match. They catch the bus doon Sunland Road and doon Gateshead High Street and ower the bridge into toon. The kid can feel the excitement grow inside him. He sees the black ‘n’ white scarves ‘n’ hats, and he can hear the hum of match day in the conversations. It’s really hapnin! He’s ganni see the lads.
It meks niy difference to him that it’s a second division game; he naas the teym’ll cum when it’ll be a forst division game. That’s how the magic of the game works, man. Leyk a cauldron of boilin vegetables, the eddys force you up and then doon and up again. You cum 6th, then you cum 10th, then its 15th, 8th, 13th, 9th, 5th, 12th. Sometimes the fates are against you and you get relegated, but you aalwiz cum back up. At least Newcastle diy. It’s written in the history. He’s read it. Newcastle aren’t like Halifax or Exeter or Workington, places that must’ve been built to fill up the lower divisions.
They gerroff the bus and waak doon a cobbled street that the kid didn’t naa existed. Aye, he’d been to Newcastle before, leyk, but he’d never seen it on match day, and on match day ivrything seems diffrint. Somehow aal the buildings luk stately and prood, and he half expects to see Orl Grey wearing a black ‘n’ white scarf up there on his monument.
They join a queue and aal he can think aboot is beatin’ Derby. He luvs the chitchat, and when somebody says, ‘Whey aye, man, wi’ll gan up this year. Wa r’aalreddy top, yi naa,’ the kid cannit contain his emotions and he laughs oot loud. Uncle Jim gives him a weird look. ‘Aalreet, kidda?’
Thi kidda’s gob is too claggy to say owt.
‘His forst game,’ Uncle Jim sez to an auld gadgie, and that starts people taakin aboot Wor Jackie and the cups. Aye, the kid thinks, we’ll win one of them soon an aal.
They push through the tornstile and head to some steps. More steps than he thought there’d be. Up he gaans. He can hear the crowd now. Singing. He can smell the tab smoke. He can feel the atmosphere bubblin’ ower the Galagate waals and doon the steps.
Then he gets to the top and loses his breath when he sees the pitch. It glows. It’s like a big green mat that floats above the terraces. Aye, there’re broon patches left ower from other games, but even they shine like gold dust, well, gold mud – it’s been rainin’. Funny that, he thinks, he thought it’d been sunny aal day.
By the time he’s started breathin’ again, he’s standin’ near the front, but he can’t see much.
‘It’s aalreet, kidda, yill see the baal when it gans in the air,’ somebody says.
‘Y’aalreet, son,’ some other bloke says. ‘Yi wanna stand here? Yill git a berra view, leyk. Ahl stand behind yi. ‘Champion,’ Uncle Jim says.
The kid shuffles forward. He can smell the grass. His ears ring with New-cass-ell being called from the Leazes End. And he sings alang with the Blaydon Races when it happens. He wonders if he was born aalreddy naain the words. He luvs the Leazes crowd. That’s where he wants to be when he grows up. Ower there, singing his heart out for the lads.
The game passes in a blur of action. It didn’t seem this fast and physical on telly, and to see the lads in the flesh is something wonderful. Black ‘n’ white had nivver been more colourful. At half time his uncle tells him how to read the scoreboard, and a wave of anticipation rolls ower him as the big white numbers are placed next to yella letters by some unseen people. Sunland are losin. Get in!
The second half flies by as fast as the forst. Uncle Jim says, ‘Ten minutes left,’ and points to a flag pole in the corner. The kid hasn’t a clue what the hell he’s taakin aboot, but he doesn’t care; there’s futbaal gannin on, reet there, reet there in front of him.
Then it’s aal ower. Full time. How can ninety minutes pass so quickly? People head back yem.
‘Ah gorra gan ti the bog,’ the kid says. ‘Divvint droon,’ Uncle Jim says. ’Yi mam id kill iz.’
The kid goes to the toilet and steps into a puddle of piss. A guy pisses into a basin, another pisses against the waal coz there’s a queue five deep to get to the trough. The kid finally gets a chance to piss.
A bloke with a big kite and a cloth cap sees him and shuffles ower so the kid can get in. ‘Move ower, man,’ the gadgie says to the fella next to him. ‘ … the kid,’ he adds, and nods the kid’s way as if that explained ivrythin. A whole bunch of blokes shuffle doon a bit.
The place smells like beer and piss, and tabs float in the yellowish froth in the trough. The kid cannit hear anything in particular; it’s aal just a big droning noise … or has his lugs gone deef cos of the roar of the crood? The kid pisses on a tab end and it dances in yellow liquid. 2-2, he thinks, and he relives the moments when Newcastle scored – the jumpin up and doon, arms raised, clappin’ like a maniac, and then the groan of the crood when Derby scored, and how he almost felt like cryin’ then. He relives the other hundred emotions, of near misses, bad passes, missed opportunities, great tackles, the thud of boot on baal, the ripple of baal on net. F**king hell, man, he thinks, because he isn’t yet confident enough to swear oot lood when grown-ups were roond. Aal he really naas, tho, is that there’s nowt better in this world than actually being there and watchin’ the lads play.
He does his zip up and wades oot i the bog and into the dark November night.
Uncle Jim smiles an winks. ‘Y’aalreet?’ Aye, the kid’s champion, man.
The two of them traipse oot i St James’ Park. The kid vows he’ll be back as soon as he can. Nowt was ganni get in the way of him enjoying this again. Nowt. Absolutely nowt. And there’d be nowt anybody could diy or say that would stop him from supporting Newcastle United.
He’d just had the best experience of his ten years on the planet, and it would remain up there with best of them for the rest of his life.