As you will know, if you read ‘Coat Tales Part 1’ ‘Once upon a Tyne’ I used to live in Newcastle as a student. I loved the city and it remains what I continue to consider my adoptive home. It is more than just a collection of buildings whose coming together, the happy result of topography, suitable materials and human ingenuity: the realisation of the vision of generations of Tyneside dwellers – spectacular though they may be. It is the people, their character, wit, their homespun philosophies, their generosities. Pah! I’m getting nowhere near explaining it. It is intangible – but you know what it was when you feel it. Yes, it was with a very heavy heart that I left ‘The Toon’, more years ago than I care to remember to move down to ‘The Smurk’ (‘The Smoke’) or London as it was otherwise known. – not a hint of irony. Never to return. Not as a resident at least anyway. Now then, I could wax lyrical about Newcastle all day but I think you get the picture…. We best move on.
It’s such a cliché when people rattle on about
…. Yadda yadda…
St. James’ Park today
It’s the same everywhere. Newcastle is nothing special in this respect. People are always proud of their local club and project on to it their dreams, aspirations, hopes and so on. In 1981, I wasn’t a particularly active football supporter/watcher. I was fairly rootless having moved about more than somewhat and didn’t particularly feel inclined to devote my attentions to one club or another, or shell out the kind of potatoes necessary to watch them play at close quarters. In fact, it was to be another ten years before this little bug got its teeth into me in, of all places, Valencia in Spain, where the hallowed turf (yes, I am being ironic) of Mestalla, became the focus of my footballing obsessions. I found Valencia C. F.’s stadium with its vertigo-inducing steep stands or ‘gradas’ was on match day, host to the most exhilarating of experiences and it was, I am pleased to say the first place my kids saw professional football played. Very different to my experiences in England. (Hopefully you will have noticed and approve my refusal to apply the over-used word ‘passion’ here)
St. James’ Park in the 1970s
St. James’ Park
And so to St. James’ Park, Newcastle. Season 1981-2. Of course it looked very different back in 1981. The covered East stand had been added in 1973 – still, (but only just) allowing a handful of the adjacent University – owned student flats an uninterrupted view of the pitch. On saturdays these ample but basic living spaces contravened just about every Housing Health and Safety regulation going as hundreds of people crammed themselves inside and pressed their faces to the windows.
‘Wor Kev 1982. Leazes Terrace in background. Keegan’s perm remains calm under pressure in front of goal
The Gallowgate (Home) End was still uncovered. Almost immediately out of the Gallowgate End was popular stopping off point, before and after matches, The Strawberry. A basic no-frills town centre boozer – It was just my type. In fact I used it a lot. It was one of my favourites. Not that there was much choice. Having been thoroughly spoiled during the course of my early drinking career by the sheer variety of great beers and pubs within easy stumbling distance from my home in Rochdale, Lancashire, the North East was a sorry let down. It was gripped in the iron Scottish and Newcastle fist; the result of which was every pub sold the same fizzy shite. And as if that weren’t enough, living in Fenham we were near enough to the brewery to be able to smell it being made every week. If you were lucky you might find a 70 or 80 shillings (Mc Ewans), and very occasionally something like Belhavens, otherwise it was the ubiquitous Newcastle ‘Broon’ (Brown), Scotch bitter, or, if you were in a club, possibly a pint of Federation Brewery’s ‘Fed’ which was brewed for workingmens’ clubs as opposed to pubs.
The Strawberry: ‘Pint a Scotch, Pet’
And so it was that on a chilly Saturday afternoon 21st November 1981 we found ourselves crammed like sardines into The Strawberry. About to present ourselves as paying customers at the St. James’ turnstiles for the Home League Division Two fixture, Newcastle United vs. Luton Town. That season’s eventual league winners, as it happens. Why we went to see this particular match is a complete mystery to me. The ‘we’ in question is Yours Truly, Keith and Nige. We met during our first week in Newcastle, and have been firm friends ever since. We lived together (I nearly wrote ‘in peace and harmony….’) at 72, Sutherland Avenue, Fenham, in the city’s West End, 1980 -83 and had a blast .
Anyway, there we were, in the Strawberry, Keith conscious of damping down his Merseyside accent lest it should attract attention, while Nige (originally from Durham and therefore, out of all of us the one with the most ‘right’ to be there) chattered away with his faint East Anglian twang: result of a few years in Norwich, while Yours Truly mumbled as always in my Lancs/Yorks hodge-podge. As long as we weren’t mistaken for ‘Makkums’* that was the main thing.
The ‘Makkum’ is the Geordie’s sworn and mortal enemy, the embodiment of everything the North Easterner detests about the South East and the people who live there. Or Sunderland and Makkums as they are respectively known.
The Strawberry is heaving now. Full of male bodies clad in denim (Geordie Jeans) Checked shirts, T-shirts, Fred Perry’s, Docs and trainers. This was before the era of the replica shirt, but some were sporting black and white football tops. It is a good-natured crowd with more than a few genuinely hilarious characters who entertain us while we make a series of concerted efforts to get served. The pub is at full capacity. The only way we can get a drink is to wait patiently till someone leaves. Briefly the pressure in the building drops (more so if a group depart) There is a hissing sound, like air from a leaking tyre or footy: a big ‘sigh’ almost, indicating to occupants inside the possibility of movement. People peel themselves away from their neighbours and continue their assaults on the bar until the next arrivals restore maximum capacity again and everyone is glued together, immobile until the next punters choose to leave.
Conversation is becoming impossible, both because of the cacophony and the fact that we are separated by yards, trapped by other groups, who are for all we know trapped by other groups. We finish off our beers and head for the stadium. Two minutes thirty seconds from pub to turnstile. We pop our heads into the toilets on the way in. Now would be a good time to go, and would save later heart (and bladder) ache. But the nauseating wall of smell and unsightly scrum within is enough to stop us dead in our tracks, and turn swiftly on our heels. As if it would have made any difference anyway. We still would require several mid-match visits, given the amount we had drunk and the timeframe in which we had done it. Finally, we stumble out into the watery afternoon light, and a packed Gallowgate End. ‘As long as we aren’t mistaken for ‘Makkums’ I pray.
Where have all the Magpies gone? an unfancied fixture during the Second Division ‘doldrum years’
What then took place was typical of my experiences of going to football in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, notwithstanding some epic matches with My Best Mate Aky: Man U vs. Barcelona European Cup Winners Cup quarter-final, second leg, for instance. No, today I find it irritating, being buffeted by a large, and in turns, genial then menacing crowd: all the time struggling to see what was going on. (Something which on a Friday or Saturday night watching a live band I’d be right in the middle of, loving every minute) I am also freezing cold while the ‘Toon’ army sport bare chests and vests. To top it all off, unable to move due to the dense mass of bodies I am encased in, and so from five minutes after kick off onwards I suffer excruciating bladder pain as I strain to hold back what must now be close to half a gallon of processed alcohol etc. I knew it. I should have gone when I had the chance.
I had given up on the donkey jacket (Coat Tales1) by now and was sporting a normally cosy ensemble of Levi denim jacket and MA1 flying jacket. If nothing else, at least the MA1 jacket design made it harder for someone to piss in your pocket. A nice little souvenier to bring back with you from the football and no mistake. Speaking of which (coats and jackets I mean) Keith has a dark double-breasted greatcoat, with something of a naval cut about it and Nige, a bomber jacket.
Phoarrr! Look at that lasses. A genuine Tyne bloater.
I almost forgot … What a match! Newcastle flounder, on the backfoot for much of the game. Luton lead 1 – 2 until a magnificent final ten minutes in which the Geordies manage to put two past the visitors, including a last-minute winner. The tension unbearable. The explosion of relief at the final whisitle, unbelievable. Imre Varadi gets one, Alan Brown – irony of ironies, a loan signing from … ‘The Makkums’ – Sunderland no less, bagging a brace! Final score: Newcastle United 3, Luton Town 2.
Varadi: who didn’t he play for?
The place erupted. Twenty thousand (give or take a few) Geordies celebrate a famous victory. I am overjoyed: I might just make it to the toilets without major incident. Keith and Nige were jumping on the spot. We embraced and were embraced by high-spirited/drunken Newcastle United fans: ‘What a finish!’
Now, I didn’t actually hear the sound of crunching glass. The roar of the crowd was too strong. Keith said he felt it underfoot, but didn’t realise what it was. Then I saw it, or rather them, or rather what was left of them. For as he celebrated equally the Newcastle side’s powers of recovery and relief at a decent game seen; unbeknown to Keith, his glasses, which were not in a case, had slipped from his greatcoat pocket onto the terrace, where his feet demolished them with surprising efficiency.
Keith’s specs. Or what was left of them
He managed to recover them – Not an easy thing to do as 20,000 people suddenly decide ‘ Howay. Pub, club, home?’ All destinations which seem to involve trampling through just where you’re standing. We make a bee line for the exits via the toilets (I would have risked the grottiest, smelliest, disease-ridden facilities by this stage) Finally, we make it out of the ground and Keith shows us his glasses. In an admirable display of empathy and support for a colleague in trouble, we are left momentarily disabled by fits of laughter as he stands clutching the most comically mangled pair of spectacles.
At least they didn’t mistake us for Makkums!
© Andy Daly 2010
* Author’s note 1: I am aware of the numerous variations in the spelling of the word, (usually ‘Mackems’) but I am going with my favourite: as seen graffittied on a wall in the centre of Newcastle, c.1981 – ‘Makkum’
Author’s note 2: Apologies for the amount of updates/corrections on this post. Normal service will be resumed forthwith.