On Saturday, 26th April 1975 my dad spoke the words I’ll never forget and which sealed my fate forever: “Come on and get ready, I’m taking you to the match!”
I’d celebrated my 6th birthday three weeks earlier but this was better than any present I could’ve received then. My uncle arrived soon after I’d dressed in my replica black and white shirt with my neck proudly adorned by my black and white scarf. I was reluctantly forced to spoil the look by putting a duffle coat on top “because that wind might get cold” but nothing could dampen my sprits now!
We headed off in the old, white, well past its best, Hillman Hunter and drove towards Newcastle. Some fellas were discussing the match on the radio and my dad and uncle seemed to be joining in the conversation as if they were all in one place together. I sat in the back with butterflies in my stomach at the thought of finally seeing my beloved Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.
We parked in a car park with a sign saying ‘Van der Veldt’ and another saying ‘To Let.’ I couldn’t see any toilets and wondered why it had been mis-spelt but as I grabbed my dad’s hand and the three of us walked on I stopped wondering about that. Other people were walking in the same direction in twos and threes. The excitement began to grow. I then noticed rows and rows of huge motorbikes standing next to each other as if in a queue. We walked on across the road and I didn’t have a clue where I was. I could smell a strange smell though. It smelt a bit like my granda on a Sunday afternoon after he’d been to the club.
“That’s the smell of the hops in the brewery to make beer” I was informed. I didn’t know if I really liked that smell but when I’ve noticed it ever since I’m suddenly transported back to that moment.
We came to a garage at the end of the road and there was a man selling badges and another selling programmes. I had a few of these already as my dad would bring me one back from the match and tell me how the game went as I looked at the pictures, read the names on the back and tried to read the words inside. My dad gave the man 10p and he handed me the programme. It had a picture of a scarf, just like mine, on it and the words ‘versus Birmingham’ in blue down one side.
“Keep tight hold of it!”
We started off a bit faster now and all of a sudden as we came to cross the road I looked up and there it was, St. James’ Park! I could see the floodlights, the main stand on the left and loads of men going up a maze of winding steps up to the top of a steep bank with big bushes dotted all over. We ran across the roads and my feet were almost not touching the ground as my uncle grabbed my programme grasping hand. We stood in one of the queues and I looked at the other men and kids getting ready to go in. My dad went in first, pushed through the turnstile and then I was led through by uncle as my dad had paid for me as well.
We walked quickly up the concrete steps and I noticed men coming out of part of the maze all pulling up their zips! I had no idea what was going on but my head was turned back to face forwards as we reached the top and came to a big wall. My dad and I went in a gap as my uncle said he’d see us further along.
I found myself amongst a sea of legs as my dad, who now had me in front of him with both hands on my shoulders, walked me along the other side of the wall. I was then lifted up on the wall and I could see my uncle’s head peeking over the other side. He’d put a blanket on the top of the wall so that my bum wouldn’t get cold! All of this happened so quick but I could suddenly see the pitch and the players were coming out of a tunnel that went into the main stand. I was here, this was really happening. I was engrossed by the men stood around in front of me so close together, the smell of beer and the strange words they were saying.
As I looked across to the Leazes End it looked as if the fans in there were moving together like black and white waves with a big surge as the ball came closer to the goal. I also found out why everyone had been zipping their trousers up earlier as I was taken for a wee at half time. I thought of Lindisfarne because I was being encouraged to have a ‘wet on the wall’. I just took everything in around me the whole afternoon but the smells down there weren’t very pleasant!
I don’t remember a great deal about the match other than some baldy player called Howard Kendall scoring for Birmingham past Willie McFaul and someone else scored for Birmingham City to win the match. But I didn’t mind because I’d earlier watched Stewart Barrowclough running down the right wing towards the corner flag at the Leazes End, crossing the ball into the penalty area and my hero, Supermac, rose above everyone to head the ball into the goal. The whole place just went mad. Malcolm Macdonald, the most important man in the world to me, had just scored again for Newcastle United, but this time I was there to see it!
I was well and truly hooked!
My first game at St. James’ Park was the last match of the 74/75 season but the above memories, emotions, sights and smells come flooding back.
Many fans will be taking their kids to their first match next season. Hopefully they’ll have a great time but can any of you remember your first match and what are your abiding memories?
Here’s to next season. Howay the lads!