Football is undoubtedly the greatest sport in the world.
Let me start this article with a quote:
I think of it whenever I hear anyone say, dismissively, that ‘football doesn`t matter`; or that ‘football is just a game`; or even ‘well it`s only football.` No it isn`t. Not for me. It bound us together when nothing else could. Without football, we were strangers under a shared roof. With it, we were father and son.
That comes from a book called ‘The Footballer Who Could Fly` by Duncan Hamilton.
I haven`t finished the book yet but those few lines at the end of the authors foreword have had me thinking ever since I read them.
Football is undoubtedly the greatest sport in the world. I have been going to Newcastle United matches since I was six years old, almost a quarter of a century now! My dad used to take me and my brother in the Gallowgate end at St James` Park when it was still an open terrace. He used to stand behind me as I sat on the thick concrete barrier with my brother. In those early days I would spend more time looking at the large scoreboard behind me or reading the match programme. Over time though, my love for the game grew and my attachment to Newcastle United became unbreakable.
And that unbreakable bond is something all true football supporters will relate to. When you can`t simply switch off your emotions even if you really wish you could, when your team loses or when a flirt with relegation has you anxious for weeks, is what being a true football supporter feels like.
For me, there is only one person to ‘blame` for me feeling every high and the many many lows of Newcastle United. My dad. I don`t mind though, some of the best experiences of my life have come at Newcastle matches.
Over my 24 seasons watching Newcastle I can probably count on one hand the amount of games I`ve been to when my dad hasn`t been present. I was there by his side the day Newcastle beat Leicester 7-1 on the last game of the season in 1993 when Keegan took us up to the Premier League. I was there by his side when Newcastle beat Barcelona 3-2 in the Champions League. I was there by his side when Newcastle beat Manchester United 5-0. I was there by his side when Newcastle lost that game 4-3. I was there by his side when Newcastle lost 2-1 to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi final at Wembley in 2000, but we celebrated Rob Lee`s goal like no other before or since. I was there by his side in the San Siro when Alan Shearer scored twice in a 2-2 draw in front of 12,000 Geordies. I was there by his side for hundreds of other less memorable matches too. But most vividly I was there by his side at Wembley in 1999 when Newcastle lost to Manchester United as they went on to win the treble.
I remember it vividly because it was just after his birthday and we`d talked about how it would ahve been a great birthday present if we won our first trophy in 30 years! I can still see my dad sat in the glorious summer sunshine after another Newcastle no show, just staring, dejected at the Wembley turf. I wondered at the time whether he`d ever get to see his beloved Newcastle win a trophy. I guess he was probably wondering the same thing. So far the answer remains no.
Since then we`ve sat together at matches all around the country, seen the club play in the Champions League and the Championship and watched us play Scunthorpe away in the League Cup. In a sense we live and breathe Newcastle United together.
And all this makes me wonder, just like Duncan Hamilton, is there more to football than it just being a game? Just another sport?
I wouldn`t be as drastic as Mr Hamilton to say that my relationship with my dad is purely about football, it isn`t. Far from it in fact. But there is no doubt it is the dominating factor. For four years I commuted to work over an hour away. In that time I would call my dad at least once a week on the way home and our conversation would predominantly be about Newcastle United. We`d set the world to rights about football. If football wasn`t part of our lives the conversations wouldn`t have been as often, or as long. Now twitter acts as our medium for debate.
I think we both understand the pain, and the joy of course, in a way that no other person in our lives do. Football does bring us together.
Of course we all know that some things are more important than football. My Grandad died recently and that has left a void in my life that is impossible to fill again. When he was taken into hospital following a stroke, football came a distant second. I had a ticket for a Newcastle match but of course I opted to be at my Grandad`s bedside.
But this doesn`t mean that football is ‘just a game.`
I`m sure there are thousands of other football supporters across the country and round the world just like me, where football is a force that brings them close to their families. Football has the power to bridge the generation gap effortlessly. And it does. You often see two or three generations of a family attending matches together. There can`t be many other ways where this kind of family togetherness happens so easily? Football builds and maintains relationships by becoming a focus point. It provides moments of happiness, of celebration and moments of despair and a feeling like the world is about to end.
But no matter what happens to my club, good or bad, I know that my dad will be there to share it with me.
And that is really special.