Note to NFFC readers: Forgive me if I am outstaying my welcome here, but I thought you ought to know this.
Those reading the news in the morning are unlikely to come across this important breaking story regarding Newcastle United. I can promise you this is a world exclusive.
At this very moment, I am wearing black and white stripes.
To be more precise, I am wearing a replica version of the home strip from the 1996/7 season. The year Newcastle finished second in the league for the second year running. Not the one where we blew our chances of winning the league after being 12 points clear in January. The one where Kenny Dalglish and Alan Shearer were the key figures in a late surge following Kevin Keegan’s departure. It has a large Newcastle Brown Ale logo and was made by Adidas.
My choice of clothing is unlikely to make much of a dent on the keen journalistic instinct of the scandal-mongering tabloids, while their more sober broadsheet counterparts may dismiss it as a trifle, but I can assure you that this news is highly significant.
I can’t tell you exactly when it was that I last wore the stripes, but it must be near two years. I can tell you with certainty that I officially disowned Newcastle United on 14 April 2005, during a defeat to Sporting Lisbon in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. That night, I circulated an e-mail to friends and family explaining why I had decided that I was no longer prepared to support a team of over-paid primadonnas whose ranks included, among other things, convicted thugs and alleged rapists.
It had been a long time coming. The final straw came when Laurent Robert missed the game, dropped thanks to some unguarded, but entirely reasonable, comments in the local press. Lee Bowyer played, less than two weeks after assaulting his team-mate Kieron Dyer on the pitch.
The incident finally convinced me that there was something deeply wrong about all of this. It was for me time to turn my back on the club and on the Premiership as a whole, recognising that many of the issues I faced were not unique to Newcastle United. I was not alone in deserting either ship.
In 2005-6 my attention was taken instead by Guiseley AFC of the Unibond Premier League. Guiseley have their own problems, of course, but on the whole they are not a direct result of human vileness. One of the major factors in my choice of new team was the knowledge that I could hop on a bus yards from my flat in Leeds and be at the ground in half an hour.
The season’s results (mid-table obscurity of the most dismal variety, early exits from all but the County Cup) were disappointing, but it was refreshing not to see them subjected to hyperbolic analysis of what went wrong according to Andy Townsend or Gordon Strachan. If they had an opinion, they were keeping it to themselves. They were also conspicuously silent regarding the other team who enjoyed my patronage, Hexham Juniors, the youth team coached by my brother.
Yet tonight I wear the stripes. I initially justified my decision on the grounds that I needed appropriate clothing for a stroll in baking heat, and it is after all an old shirt, not the new one. But I cannot deny that there is further meaning in my choice. Much has already changed at Newcastle, thanks to the exits of Souness and Shearer, and most recently Bowyer (the timing may be significant). Other unpleasant characters remain, most notably chairman Freddy Shepherd, but with takeover talks apparently in progress there is a hint that we are working towards a clean slate.
I am yet to be completely won back. The thought of going to St James’ Park is still much less appealing than a trip to Guiseley’s Nethermoor. I am secretly sniggering about Michael Owen’s continuing injury woes. I certainly won’t be buying the new shirt.
But I might just wear one of the old ones again, perhaps even while watching a Newcastle match in the pub. And I’m starting to say “we” instead of “them”, like I always used to. I feel like a runaway child skulking back to the family home. I’m not going to knock on the door, but if they open it, I might come in.