The past 18 months have been difficult for all of us, with many of life’s pleasures being stripped away and leaving us with the bare minimum.
We had all been living rather than existing. Visiting loved ones, holidays and hobbies were replaced by Zoom calls, staycations and home workouts but, thankfully, it looks as though normality is slowly resuming… and I can’t wait.
Why? Because, on Saturday, I will be going to my first Newcastle away game for almost two years.
Following the Toon away from home is somewhat of a cult. Why would anyone in their right mind travel the length and breadth of the country to support a below average football team who, the majority of the time, end up on the wrong side of a pasting?
It doesn’t matter who or where we are playing, you can fully expect The Toon Army to be out in force – even if the fixture list or broadcasters try to shaft us half of the time (cheers, Premier League, for giving us Southampton away on New Year’s Day!).
The atmosphere in St James’ Park has been pretty drab during the Mike Ashley era, with the exception of the 2011/12 season and certain spells under Rafa Benitez.
However, away from home, Newcastle United has the best away support in the country. Bar none.
Despite the obvious geographical hurdles Toon fans must overcome, NUFC’s travelling contingent will still pack out away ends and belt out iconic chants until the very end, regardless of the scoreline…
Why is this the case? Is it down to an intense pride in our football team and city? Or are we just naïve enough to think that, one day, maybe the long hours and relentless trips will all be worth it and the club will finally give us something worthy to shout about? Who knows!
Win or lose, we’re always on the booze.
There is a real, raw beauty to an away trip. Heading off at five, six, seven o’clock in the morning while sitting on a jam packed coach, with a bunch of strangers you don’t even know but all share a mutual connection with: Newcastle United, one of life’s greatest ever ice-breakers.
Supporters get drunk from the moment they wake up, with 90% of the busses leaving a trail of Makina music from yesteryear in its path while on route to wherever Newcastle are playing.
Everybody is positive; it doesn’t matter who we are playing… The Toon ALWAYS have a chance when you are on an away day!
I remember one trip, against Liverpool in 2019… I said to the lady who organises the coach: “You must have been to Anfield a LOT of times over the years, have you ever actually seen us win?”
She replies, boldly: “Don’t be silly, of course I have you cracker… Andy Cole scored!”
That game took place in the 1993/94 season – 25 years previously – and remains the last time we beat Liverpool at Anfield.
It was at this moment I realised that these experiences aren’t just about football to us Geordies – it’s a way of life.
We don’t expect Newcastle to win. In fact, most of the time, we know deep down we aren’t going to, either. All we crave is that one moment in the game where you get that buzz, that sudden rush of excitement while standing in the away end with your fellow cult members.
A goal, a penalty save, anything. Just something to make the trip all worthwhile.
Jetro Willems scored a screamer to give us an early lead that day, before we ultimately got tonked 3-1. We came home with zero points, but going one-up against the European champions meant so much more than that.
My first away game was at Villa Park; 14 September 2013. Alan Pardew’s men claimed a massive three points thanks to goals from Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran. The place was absolutely rocking.
On the way back, my fresh-faced, 16-year-old self got called to the back of the bus by a group of blokes.
I was absolutely hammered.
“Hello there, my name is Simon Cowell and this is Louis Walsh, welcome to the X Factor, what is your name and where are you from?” one of them said.
“My name is Charlie… and I’m from Newcastle.”
“Waheeeyyyyy! Go on lad!”… The full bus roared me on.
The man, with the world’s worst possible Simon Cowell impression, says: “What are you going to sing for us today, Charlie?”
For me, this was a no-brainer. Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis came straight to my head before he even finished his sentence. Let’s pick a song, I thought, that everybody knows the chorus to and let’s get this place bouncing.
Even as I write this, I still get goosebumps. The whole bus was electric and each person sang along with every word, albeit drunkenly.
I was ecstatic. My first away day resulted in a victory, and memories were made that I will never forget for as long as I live.
Skip forward to my most recent away game on Boxing Day 2019, just months before the global pandemic halted the world.
The battle bus was this time headed for Old Trafford and, as you can imagine, many people on the journey had not been asleep from the night before.
We went one-nil up courtesy of a Matty Longstaff strike – his second in two months against the Red Devils – but were smashed by a bigger club yet again, losing 4-1 on the day and never really troubling Man Utd after our early goal.
However, my standout memory from that day takes me back to the bar we went to prior to kick-off.
Three away coaches rammed with boisterous Newcastle fans had pulled up outside a pub that I can only describe to you as being like something out of Harry Potter .
A small, stereotypically English pub with an extremely low ceiling had been invaded by an army – The Toon Army – and all hell was breaking loose.
The three bar staff were being run ragged by a sea of black-and-white punters, as people jumped on top of tables while chanting every Newcastle song imaginable.
It was Boxing Day bedlam and, if I’d have known that was to be my last away game for almost two years, I would have indulged in the moment a little more consciously rather than get swept away by an avalanche of Magpie mayhem.
These experiences are just a taste of what following Newcastle United away from home means to me.
Come three o’clock on Saturday, when I’m inside Molineux and the game is about to kick-off, I can’t promise that I’ll be sober, but I can assure you that I will never take these moments for granted again.
Win or lose, Newcastle United’s fan base will never be defeated.
As the chant goes… we’re gonna win **** all again, we’re gonna win **** all, but we’ll still follow United!
Howay The Lads!