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Newcastle United Margaret Nesbitt

 

I can remember my first match as though it was yesterday. In fact, it was a wet and windy Wednesday night in 1950: Newcastle United versus Huddersfield Town. My Grandad had always promised he’d take me to see, ‘The Magpies,’ and when he gave me a hand knitted black and white scarf for my eighth birthday , I knew my time had come!

‘I used to take your dad when he was your age.’ There was always a tear in Grandad’s eye when he mentioned my dad. He would sniff and mutter, ‘Bloody wars.’

I never knew my dad, I never missed having a dad, but I loved my Grandad.

‘You’re not taking that bairn to a football match.’ Mother didn’t approve.

‘It’s what your husband and my son would’ve wanted.’ She couldn’t argue with that.

Grandad met me at the school gates and we ran all the way home. After a mug of tea and two slices of jam and bread I was in bed for a catnap by four o’clock. I didn’t sleep a wink, but lay still, with eyes tight closed lest my mother changed her mind.

We left home at six o’clock and joined the long queues to take us the three miles to Newcastle. Bus after bus went past full. Everybody was going to the game. After fifteen minutes Grandad pulled out his pocket watch. ‘Howay pet.’ He grabbed my hand and we started to walk. A mile along the road we caught the tram to Gateshead.

First off the tram and across the Tyne Bridge. I hung onto Grandad’s hand as we ran up to Gallowgate and St James’ Park. Newcastle won 6-0, Jackie Milburn scored a hat trick and I was completely hooked!

Football with Grandad became an important part of my life. He built me a box, which when carefully placed in front of a barrier in The Leazes End kept me safe. I was able to sit on it before and stand on it during a game and most important of all, I could see all corners of the ground. I was careful not to give my mother any cause for complaint; working hard at school and always out of bed early on match days to fill the coal bucket and set the fire. When Christmas came, Grandad bought me, ‘An Encyclopaedia of Football.’ Before Boxing Day was over I’d memorised the first six pages.

January brought the first round of the cup and we won with ease. The fourth round saw us win at home in front of a crowd of 69,596. Cup fever was gripping Tyneside and also gripping me! My mother remained unconvinced. I was devastated when I wasn’t allowed to go with Grandad to the semi-final against Wolves which was played in Sheffield. The game was drawn. There was to be a replay, but I knew without being told that a midweek game at Huddersfield was out of the question. We won 2-1 and were in the final at Wembley. How could I persuade my mother my attendance was absolutely essential? I begged and begged, went to the shops every day, cleared the table, washed the dishes, made my bed, but she stood firm. ‘It’s too far, and you’re sure to get travel sickness on the bus and the wireless says 100,000 people are going and you could get crushed and you’re not going.’ Grandad suggested a compromise, ‘tell you what, pet, I’ll take your scarf.’ I stayed at home. Jackie Milburn scored twice. We won the cup and my scarf went to Wembley.

When the following season started with a 6-0 home and a Jackie Milburn hat trick, I was in no doubt we’d be going back to Wembley. Programmes were kept and treasured. I made a scrapbook containing every important newspaper cutting I could find. Milburn kept on scoring and on May3rd we were back at Wembley again! My mother had made it very clear she wouldn’t entertain the idea of me travelling to any away games so I decided against begging, After all, they’d managed without me the last time. I sat on the cracket with my ear glued to the wireless. We beat Arsenal 1-0 and equalled a 60-year-old record of winning the cup in consecutive seasons. And of course, Grandad wore my scarf.

It was another three years before we got back to Wembley, but 1955 was a record tenth appearance! Determined not to miss out this time I prepared carefully for the great occasion. Grandad made sure we had enough vouchers to buy two tickets and as I’d reached my teenage years and had been to nearly every home game for five years my mother reluctantly gave her consent. I was ecstatic!

The night before the final my feet barely touched the ground as I ran home from school. Crossing a makeshift bridge at the burn I fell. I ended up with my leg in plaster, a neighbour took my place on the bus, and Grandad took my scarf!

Our opponents Manchester City had, ‘the Revie plan’ but we had ‘Wor Jackie and he duly obliged with a header in the first minute of the game. My favourite player, George Hannah added a second, Bobby Mitchell got the third and we won 3-1’. Newcastle had won the cup five times in three years. And my scarf had been to every game!

The following season we were given a fifth round draw at home against our archrivals, Sunderland. We’d beaten them twice in the league, so confidence was high. Grandad hatched a plan to make sure we got our tickets. We left home at 6a.m. on a cold, wet Sunday morning. When we reached Gateshead we went into the church on Sunderland Road. When we left the church half an hour later we were rested and the buses were running.

We arrived at the ground to see the queues stretching for miles. It was 8.00a.m.and the tickets went on sale at 4p.m. It rained all day. We shared a bottle of water and Grandad had filled a biscuit box with egg and tomato sandwiches. I’d taken my standing box and at p.m. a weary Grandad asked if he could sit on it. He did and it promptly smashed to smithereens! We got tickets for the game and were beaten 2-0.

During the next few years I continued to attend every Newcastle United home game with my lovely Grandad and my black and white scarf. They were lean years for our team: we spent four of them in the second division. We no longer had the prolific goal-scoring machine that was Jackie Milburn. Despite the fact that he was getting older Grandad generally refused to alter the match routine we’d had for many years. On Good Friday 1965, we played Bolton Wanderers. We’d won the match, but our defenders struggled to contain the Bolton centre forward, Wyn Davies. There were no buses raining and I was surprised but pleased when Grandad agreed we should take a taxi. ‘I’m feeling tired to-night,’ he said, I'll have a long lie in bed tomorrow.’

‘And I’ll push the paper through your door in the morning so you can read all about the game.’

‘Not many matches to go now, we’ll be back in the First Division next season and I’ll bet you any money we buy that big centre forward we saw today.’

They were the last words my beloved Grandad ever spoke to me. The following morning I used my key to enter his house. There was no reply to my shouts. He was sitting in his armchair beside a cold, burnt out fire and he was dead. I was distraught. I closed my bedroom and pulled out the box holding all my football programmes.

‘He didn’t suffer,’ my mother said when she brought me food.

‘What happened, how did it happen?’

‘Heart attack.’

‘I didn’t think…’ I began to sob.

‘He left a letter for you.’

‘I’ve bought two season tickets for next year’he wrote, it’s not right for a good looking lassie like you to go the match alone, so, if I’m not around you’ll just have to find your self a nice young man who likes football. You made me a very happy man. Howay the lads.’

Standing at the graveside as they lowered his coffin into the grave, I was overwhelmed with special memories of this precious man. My mother stood to one side and invited me to throw earth upon the coffin. I stepped forward, pulled my black and white scarf from my neck and threw it into the grave.

Margaret Nesbitt

 

 

Newcastle United Foundation have a heritage project for fans of all ages called Toon Times.

Toon Times will culminate with a major Newcastle United exhibition at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle, although in the lead up to this event Toon Times wishes to reach out to all Newcastle United fans across the North East and further afield to get involved and share their memories, experiences, photos and memorabilia what people have collected over the years.

We are supporting the project by helping to collect NUFC memories online - fans can share their memories on the Replay Football website, simply select the Toon Times tag when submitting yours.

For more info contact the Toon Times Heritage Project Coordinator, Newcastle United Foundation, gavin.ferry@nufc.co.uk

 

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