Newcastle United Football Club - A Professional Footballers tale
It's been a long time since I was up in the North East. I was signed to Newcastle United for 2 1/2 seasons, although my contribution to the first team squad was limited to the first 18 months (Moving to Newcastle United Football Club and Life with Kevin Keegan). When I was resident in Newcastle the stadium held 28,000 ish and although it had 2 impressive stands, the Gallowgate and Leazes ends of the stadium were in a state of disrepair. I had the great pleasure of returning to the Geordie stronghold for Charlton Athletic in the 2000/2001 season. What an experience that was. The stadium had been completely redesigned with the wrap around of the 2 stands behind the goals completed. It was an amazing experience with over 50,000 spectators seated in luxury.
The main entrance of the Milburn stand was still the same, as was the changing rooms and the players lounge area. The only difference was entering the away Dressing Rooms, which in my 2 1/2 years at NUFC, I don't think I had ever seen. Walking out onto the pitch though, felt a bit like being at Wembley, Beranbeu or the Nou Camp. Peering around the stadium and looking up and up and up at the gigantic new stands brought goosebumps to my skin. I have been to the Nou Camp and visited the Museum, and then walked out into the stands. NUFC felt a bit like this.
We beat the geordies that day, so I am sure the atmosphere was a bit subdued. I can only imagine that once the Geordie faithful have something to be proud of that this will be a very intimidating atmosphere for away teams and many special nights will be held here.
The old stadiums with the spectator standing areas close to the pitch used to create a hostile atmosphere for away teams and their players. I remember playing at the Old Den (Millwall) many years ago, and warming up, literally within touching distance of the hostile fans. I was playing for Newcastle United and received some charming comments as I jogged up and down the side of the pitch. F**k Off, you Geordie Wan**r was one of the verbal blasts from the stands as tat toed, crop haired mean looking diehards, worked their menacing intimidation tactics on our substitutes. Funny thing I thought to myself is that I was born only 20 miles away from Millwalls stadium. I got the call to play from the manager and took my waterproof coat off to find a stream of spit oozing down the back of the jacket!! I am not picking on Millwall because this used to happen at many of the old style stadiums where the fans were right on top of the players. Although Millwall Fans did produce a higher than average volume of spit.
The new stadiums, with the All seater arrangement tend to be further back from the playing area, creating less intimidation for the players. I believe that Newcastles stadium, although a grand structure in every way, has certainly lost some of the fear factor for opposition players. I didn't feel at all intimidated when I played at St James Park in 2000 and in fact revelled in the opulent surroundings.
I'm sure old time football players and fans will look back with fond memories of these pre-taylor report stadiums, but I certainly feel the game has improved with the new mega stadiums. Many of the modern games young premier league players will rarely be exposed to this kind of intimidation, only when they play in FA Cup matches against lower league opposition and pre-season friendlies. I for one am glad I never have to be spat at again.