Life as a Newcastle United fan has rarely been a simple life.
I see the term ‘plastic fan’ used with successful clubs and laugh at any suggestion that this could be a description used for anyone in black and white.
Why would you choose to live this life part-time or superficially?
However, this year has been the most challenging period of my time in the Toon Army and has left me struggling to find an answer to the question, ‘What is the point?’
People support football teams for a variety of reasons and with different levels of intensity and enthusiasm. A fan can grow up in the shadows of a stadium and attend every game, or be born thousands of miles away yet be drawn to a particular team for an inexplicable and irresistible reason. Supporting that team can give people a sense of belonging, the unity that comes with being part of something bigger than any individual, or simply the pleasure and enjoyment that match days and football can bring them.
However, for me, the majority of this year has provided none of the positives things that following Newcastle United has brought me over the years.
Regardless of the standard of football, I have always enjoyed match days.
Whether it’s a home game involving several hours in the pub with the lads before heading off to the cathedral on the hill or an away game, usually watched in a pub with the same select few. It’s always good craic, positive anticipation, illogical excitement and that feeling of belonging. Regardless of the result, you’ve had a day with your mates and escaped from the reality of your working week for an afternoon. You’ve had a release and you’re recharged.
COVID-19 has taken that away from us all and watching the season play out behind closed doors and seeing empty seats where our faded denim should be sitting was difficult for us all. This was amplified by lockdown and restrictions meaning that even the pub was out of bounds, furthering the sense of abnormality to match day routines. Sitting at home, alone, watching the game on TV, offered no sense of belonging. No release.
The football, other than some brief moments, was largely awful to watch. Maybe this is highlighted when watching on TV at home, rather than live or in the pub. There is no distraction of chatting with mates, being at the bar or someone obstructing your view. Your eyes are fixed on the screen and there is every angle available on replays to make sure you saw just how bad it was. I now see why we drink.
Without your usual match day group, football communication is now strictly by phone or internet and when your mates are of the slightly older generation and don’t engage much with technology, there is limited contact with the usual comrades. Using social media as your sole source of NUFC news and interaction, when you are used to face to face conversation, is quite the culture shock and ought to come with a health warning.
Where pub conversation always has the possibility of entering the realm of dark humour and light-hearted abuse, the unfiltered world of social media goes straight for the jugular in a manner that would see doormen and police involved in real life. The level of angst, anger and aggression is a Bigg Market Friday night on steroids.
All real life match day talk of being united and part of something bigger than yourself apparently has not reached the ears of social media users, who turn on their black and white brothers and sisters as though a mortal enemy.
Social media is the place that reason and calm go to die, with no room for measured discourse. It is extreme, polarised and violent. There is no room for the middle ground who want to visit both sides and arrive between them. You are pro or anti or you’re not worth engaging with.
Protests regarding the takeover offer some semblance of unity but even that has been littered with infighting and bickering over the best way to achieve our common goal.
With no football, no match days and no real life conversation and engagement, I have become lost in a world I always felt so familiar with. This is not the Newcastle United experience I have always known and I don’t know what to do with this new place I find myself in.
What brings me pleasure and enjoyment now?
Where do I experience that sense of belonging and unity?
What is the point?