Contrary to some lazy and unhelpful stereotyping in the media, Newcastle United is not an exclusive #club that thrives on petty localism. There is no initiation process involving Greggs pasties, being shirtless or drinking pints while staring at bridges. Rather, it is the view of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, that the only requirement for supporting this club should be an unbridled enthusiasm for doing so. We’re a family with members living all over the world.
Over the past few days, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to some of our supporters in different countries. I was fascinated and inspired by some of the reasons they gave for following Newcastle, ranging from the expected familial ties, working or studying in the city for a time, and liking former players who came from their own country; to the more unusual, but no less lovely motivations such as having a taste for Newcastle Brown Ale, or finding out that their favourite singer is a Geordie. Sting and ACDC’s Brian Johnson, evidently, are effective ambassadors for the club.
Evgeny Kolobrodov, who says he is “proud to be a Geordie” in his Twitter profile, comes from Moscow. He explained that the performances of former England captain, Gosforth-born Alan Shearer, at Euro 96 had him hooked. Saikat Sanyal from Kolkata, meanwhile, said that he started following Newcastle after one of our more high-profile defeats under Sir Bobby Robson – the 6-2 drumming by Manchester United at St James’ Park in 2003. “Inexplicably, the 6-2 home defeat to Man Utd was the first Newcastle game I watched and the one which would ultimately make me a lifelong Newcastle supporter from faraway India,” he told me. “Maybe it was the crowd, the fantastic stadium, the players, or the manager, which made me connect.”
For Lucas Barboza, a Brazilian, it was the Toon’s 4-4 comeback draw against Arsenal in 2011 which gave him the black and white bug. He explained: “I started watching some games on TV and suddenly I knew all of the players and fell in love with the fans. The 4-4 [draw with] Arsenal was the moment I had turned myself into a Newcastle United fan.”
Mikkel Christensen, a Dane now living in the United States, said he got involved with the Toon after we signed Jon Dahl Tomasson in 1997. “While that didn’t quite work out,” he said, he is grateful for the boost that Newcastle gave to his relationship with his father. “I began following them in the summer of 1997, because they signed Tomasson and the jerseys were awesome. It was one of the best decisions I made, because my dad jumped on the bandwagon too, and it was something we could share. At the time, they only showed a few games from England on Danish TV, so most weekends we would drive half an hour each way to watch the games at a pub in Aarhus that had Sky Sports. The results weren’t always like what we wanted them to be, but it was some of the best quality time we spent together. I later joined a Danish fan club and read the club’s magazine, which helped me improve my English vocabulary, but I confused my English teacher [at school], because of the sporting clichés I would use! I made five or six trips to Newcastle with my dad to watch the team play live. Since 2009, I have lived in the United States, but Newcastle kept us together, and we would FaceTime regularly. Unfortunately, he passed away last March, so following Newcastle hasn’t been quite the same since, but I still watch them whenever I can, and I can’t wait for the day when I can introduce my own kids to the wonderful suffering that is following Newcastle United.”
Caleb, a retired US army infantry soldier living in North Little Rock, Arkansas, had simultaneously a heart-breaking and heart-warming story to share. “I became an NUFC supporter in 2004, when I was deployed to Iraq with C co 2/12 Cav 1st Cavalry Division,” he said. “Shortly after getting our area of operations, I met an Iraqi orphan on patrol, who lost both of his parents. He would sell Black Market DVDs, liquor, sandwiches, ice cream… anything he could make a buck off to survive. He couldn’t have been 12 years old. We started calling him Frankie, short for Frankenstein, which he liked. He spoke broken English. He loved football and was always playing or watching, and was always wearing an NUFC Shearer strip. I’d heard of them [Newcastle]. I liked soccer growing up in America, playing and watching it, but I never had a club I supported. I was deployed to Korea in 2002 and the World Cup woke up my love for the game! So when Frankie started telling me about all the great Newcastle United players, the passion of the fans…How they were a massive club but still the underdogs is how he described us compared to Manchester United or Arsenal or Chelsea at the time. The hell that was Baghdad was made a little easier talking football with him, and hearing about Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan and The Entertainers. He even knew about Wor Jackie. The kid was a legit supporter. Anyways, like most stories in Iraq, it comes with a shitty ending. Frankie was killed and I have carried on supporting the Toon in his memory. Rest in love, Frankie and Howay the Lads!”
Newcastle, ultimately, lacks the glitz and the glamour of other clubs. Not since 1969 has there been a trophy to validate the claims of being a big club, but there is no denying what a big role the Toon plays, not just in the day-to-day economy of the city, but in the lives of its supporters. Regular appearances in continental cup competitions under Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson gave Newcastle an international presence, if not necessarily a pedigree, in the nineties and noughties. But it wasn’t winning games that attracted new supporters from foreign lands; it was that export of passion that the city prides itself on that did the job.
Newcastle, in my own experience, is one of the nicest and most welcoming cities in the world. Somehow managing to meet the pressures of deindustrialisation, austerity politics and a football team that alternates between agony and ecstasy on a regular basis, all the while maintaining smiling faces, is why a team that doesn’t win anywhere near as much as Real Madrid or Liverpool, still has plenty of fans across the globe.
Are you a Newcastle United fan? Have you joined the Trust yet? No matter where you’re from or where you currently live, the Trust will support you and give you a voice. Every single member has an equal vote in our organisation.