20th April 2022 may very well be looked at as one of the major watershed moments in the history of Newcastle United.
Yes, I know that we aren’t mathematically safe just yet, but that hard fought win – our sixth in a row at St. James’ Park – against a strong Crystal Palace side, who’d just played an FA Cup Semi-Final match, put us onto that coveted 40 point total with five games to spare.
Yes, Sunderland and Bolton were relegated with 40 points, Sheffield United and West Ham sent down with 42 points (Sheff Utd played 42 games in 1993/94) and Crystal Palace with 45 and 49 points in 1994/95 and 1992/93, respectively (both seasons 42 games were played), but no one can see Everton, Burnley, Watford, or Norwich, catch us this season.
Checking the score between Burnley and Southampton last Thursday night felt like observing the battle at the bottom unfurling, rather than being a worried spectator slap bang in the middle of it. It was a peaceful, easy feeling, for once!
That feeling of peaceful positivity and belief that we’re finally on the up only continued on Saturday, seeing us move into the top half and up to 9th via a resounding 3-0 win over Norwich. But that Wednesday night win over Palace is one I’ll never forget. Eddie Howe became the first manager since Sir Bobby to make it SIX Premier League victories on the spin at St James’ Park and sent us up to 40 points in the process.
It was more than just job done, it was mission impossible accomplished and so much more, as we saw the new owners having a kick about on pitch just a few hours after they’d been waving flags in the stands ahead of kick off. Imagine that under the previous owner? Nope, me neither!
Back in December 2020 I took part in the Zoom premiere of the movie “We Are The Geordies”, which sadly has only been shown at one cinema in Hexham, due to Covid restrictions. It was a privilege to be in the movie and although it felt really strange having a premiere online, it was a fantastic occasion. Brilliantly hosted by George Caulkin, the movie watch was followed by a Q&A, which included the thoughts and feelings of Zee Zomorrodian and James DeMarco (producer and director); the cast members; Chi Onwurah (MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central); and Malcolm Macdonald (Supermac). The love for everyone involved was palpable and it was an extremely emotion occasion for all. My wife, Sara and I had been in a movie, for goodness sake!
Bizarrely, after such a positive night, albeit reminiscing about promotion under Rafa Benitez and the general feel good emotions generated by the movie itself, the evening was ending with talk of Mike Ashley, still at the helm, but without bothering to steer the club in any direction other than down; the stalled takeover by Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, Reuben Brothers and Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia; and the general uneasiness at the club, with Steve Bruce as manager.
Personally, I didn’t want the night to end on a negative and asked George if I could say something before bringing the virtual curtain down. George invited me to speak…again!
I talked of the way I felt on 26th April 1975, just turned 6, a few weeks previously and how I felt attending my first match. We lost 1-2 against Birmingham City, but I was hooked. I was already hooked long before I attended that game, listening week in, week out on the radio and catching as many clips as possible on telly. The season before, we’d been at Wembley for the FA Cup Final and the following season we’d appear there again against Man City in the League Cup Final. In 1976/77 we finished 5th and qualified for Europe, our first appearance since losing on penalties to Pécsi Dózsa from Hungary in the 2nd Round of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup on 4th November 1970. It felt like the club was in a significantly positive period, but that feeling very suddenly all came crashing down. Many felt that Gordon Lee’s decision to sell Supermac to Arsenal in August 1976 was the beginning of the downturn, despite the exploits of the following season. At the time, I was devastated to see my hero leave and it was the first of many disappointing moments, Wembley losses aside, that I would experience as a fan.
I went on to talk about relegation to the old 2nd Division in the disastrous 1977/78 season, winning only 6 games from 42 and the numerous false dawns in the years that followed. Crowds dwindled to an average of 16,001 in 1980/81. I said that back then there was a sense of having no hope at all and it reminded me of King Kong, where everyone was inevitably about to die in the movie and there was a cold, empty feeling in St. James’ Park. In the movie, King Kong appears and saves everyone and for Newcastle United, Kevin Keegan proved to be our saviour and the two seasons he played for us were amazing to witness, culminating in promotion back to Division One.
There followed another period in the doldrums, not backing Arthur Cox, who subsequently left the club; selling our best players: Waddle, Beardsley and Gazza; the false hope of the 1987/88 season, finishing 8th, only to be inevitably relegated in 1989. This led to fan unrest and the Supporters For Change campaign to rid our club of a board who didn’t seem interested, coming far too close to relegation to the 3rd Division. Kevin Keegan proved to be our saviour, once again, this time as manager, along with David Kelly scoring one of the most important goals in the club’s history v Portsmouth on 25th April 1992.
I spoke of the new upturn in our club’s history under Keegan, coming so close to winning the Premier League; witnessing some of the best football every seen at the club; the short downturn under Gullit, a downturn that, nevertheless, included a return to Wembley for a successive FA Cup Final appearance; before Bobby Robson came to steady the ship and continue an unbelievable spell of amazing football, including many a famous European night. I then went onto, briefly, describe the next period of this riding of the football waves, no longer on the crest, but heading for a crash.
The whole point of what I described on that 2020 December night was that we’d experienced great times getting promoted under Ashley, but we should never have been in those positions. I said that it felt like something was on the horizon. We were in that sense of little hope again, but that Ashley wouldn’t be around forever. There was some hope that the takeover may succeed, but we didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. I stated that I was confident that there’d be an upturn once again. When? I couldn’t say! Sooner rather than later hopefully. My little speech left people feeling positive, which was shown in the immediate comments and George Caulkin stated,
“That’s a great speech, Davy. I don’t know what you’re running for, but you’ve got my vote!”
I found out later that Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi had been present for the premiere and the thought that the positive feelings from the movie and my little speech at the end could have had a small impact on their resolve to continue with the takeover, gives me goosebumps. We’ve been through so many ups and downs over the years I’ve mentioned, especially in the last few.
It all makes any future success that much sweeter. We are now at the beginning of a new wave and it’s promising to be a huge tsunami wave that will continue for a very long time. I’m so pleased to be around to witness it.