Gavin Berry, Sport Journalist, Daily Record / Sunday Mail
Despite living in Glasgow for the best part of 40 years, my dad hails from the Northumberland coastal town of Blyth in the north-east of England. It is for this reason I’ve always had an affection for Newcastle United.
I can remember at Christmas most years I’d get the kit – including a green and yellow striped change strip and the less said about that the better – and one year even a half Newcastle/half Brazil wooly hat, when Samba fever swept Newcastle following the signing of Mirandinha.
In later years, when the English Premiership really took off and the Kevin Keegan revolution was in full swing at St James’ Park, it became fashionable to be a fan of Newcastle – the Toon Army was opening eyes in British football thanks to Sky Sports’ exposure. Who could forget that giant banner behind the goal?
The bond with Newcastle got stronger as time went on. Myself and my dad would try to take in at least one game each season. There have been some memorable moments – like at Loftus Road on the final day of the 2009/2010 season, when they returned to the Premiership as champions.
But nothing will beat the night of November 13, 2002. It was at De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, home of the famous former European Cup winners Feyenoord. Against Bobby Robson’s Newcastle.
Sadly, the Magpies haven’t won anything for quite some time (42 years and counting to be exact) but nobody could argue they haven’t provided entertainment both on the park and off it with their fans. On that night in Holland we got both.
If following Newcastle is a roller-coaster then it was summed up perfectly that evening.
Having lost the opening three games of their Champions League group that year, they were written off for reaching the second phase. But victory in their next two games had left them with the slimmest of chances. Even then, they did it the hard way. Racing into a two-goal lead through Craig Bellamy and Hugo Viana looked to have put them on easy street.
And when news filtered through from the Ukraine that Juventus had come back from a goal down against Dynamo Kiev – exactly the result Newcastle needed – then it was the stuff dreams were made of. But that was the just the start of the drama. In typical Newcastle fashion, the thousands of fans packed behind the goal had to be put through the emotional ringer as Feyneoord scored twice to dampen the mood.
It was hard to take in. Two up and coasting and dreaming of the second stage, to utter deflation. Until the very last seconds. Shay Given brilliantly denied Feyenoord at one end and then at the other Kieron Dyer’s shot was well saved, but the ball fell to Bellamy who slotted home the winner to complete a night of nerve-jangling drama.
Fearing trouble on the streets of Rotterdam, the local police had rounded up visiting fans and tricked them into going to the stadium hours before kick off by pretending to take them to a safe drinking area in town. On top of that, they sold non-alcoholic beer, but supporters were intoxicated on the excitement of the match as they danced their way into the night before being herded onto football special trains heading back to Amsterdam (it’s more fun than Rotterdam).
We woke up the following morning still on a high – and to top it off it was my 24th birthday. Even now, Newcastle games seem to have twists and turns. In the final game of last season they were 3-0 up to West Brom yet ended up drawing 3-3. But few of them can match that night in Holland for drama.