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Newcastle United Ian Cusack

Newcastle 2 Portsmouth 1

6th October 1990

Team: Burridge, Anderson, Sweeney, Scott, Ranson, Aitken, O’Brien, Dillon, Brock, Quinn, McGhee

Crowd 17,682

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”(Bertrand Russell)

I used to get up very late on Saturdays. The cumulative effects of the working week, gallons of imported lager and three or four nights a week standing around in chilly, half-full pub back rooms and cellars took their toll. Especially during the 1990/1991 season; there wasn’t much about Newcastle United that stirred you from sleep, to feverishly anticipate the coming match. . We’d lost the unmentionable play-off game three months previous and seen our squad supposedly strengthened by the arrivals of Scott Sloan and Neil Simpson. Admittedly the season started satisfactorily with wins over Plymouth and Blackburn, at an eerily deserted Ewood Park, but things went downhill with losses to Millwall and Bristol City and wins thrown away against West Ham and Sheff Wed with ludicrous and late equalisers. Three days before Portsmouth rolled up, we’d drawn 0-0 against the Smogs and were marooned in mid table. Crowds had just dipped under twenty thousand and wouldn’t recover, apart from the cup games that season against Derby and Forest, until KK arrived eighteen months later, but that’s another story.

Around this time, though I wasn’t to know it, my life was about to change dramatically; the day after the Boro game, I trudged to work in a foul mood and immediately met the woman I would later marry. This woman, who I quickly learned was called Sara, had been sent by Newcastle University on her postgraduate teacher training to the school in South Shields where I spent a decade alternately staring out of the windows and watching the second hand of my watch crawl towards 3.45. Idly chatting in the staff room, we discovered a mutual interest in music. In those days, being single, employed and reasonably affluent, I would regularly see a couple of gigs a week on average; regardless of merit, I’d be there if they were loud and indie. A Peel play or a halfway positive review in the NME was reason enough for me to be there. Riverside, The Broken Doll, The Cumberland Arms and medium sized venues like The University, The Poly and, to a lesser extent, The Mayfair.

The first weekend of October 1990 was perhaps the nearest we’d ever get to musical perfection, with a home game against Portsmouth somewhere in the middle. On the Friday, That Petrol Emotion were playing Riverside, on the Saturday The Pogues were headlining at The Poly and the real biggie was Sunday, when The Pixies would face a sell-out Mayfair. As well as writing for The Mag, I would also scribble a few lines for a now defunct music magazine called Paint It Red, as I thought being able to say “Hi! I’m a music journalist” would get me more than a flat refusal when attempting to impress nubile undergraduates from the Shire counties. It didn’t. Of course you didn’t get paid for those opinionated doodles, that wasn’t the point, because we were all doing it for the love. That said freebies, promos and most important, guest list places made it all worthwhile. I managed to impress Sara by casually offering her a free ticket for The Pixies, which she readily accepted, though it was the chance to see a big name rather than a night out with a pretentious gobshite teacher that impressed her I’d imagine. However, there was a long weekend ahead of me before Sunday evening.

Friday night was about to kickstart the weekend, with That Petrol Emotion headlining at The Riverside. While I curse the fact I didn’t get to see The Undertones in their original incantation, I’d seen That Petrol Emotion, a spikier, less poppy version of the original band, dozens of times in Leeds, London, Belfast and Derry during my post student wanderings, but this was their first time in Newcastle since I’d moved back in the summer of 1988 (Typical me, I leave when Keegan signs and return in readiness for our relegation campaign).

The gig was great, I’ve still got the 7” flexi given out to all punters, and naturally, the backstage party I’d invited myself to was extended to the hotel. Over 3 a.m. champagne and cognacs, courtesy of the record company, the rest band expressed a deep disappointment that they had to be away off to Glasgow by Saturday lunchtime and so couldn’t come to St. James Park, as they had wanted to hear “the famous Geordie roar” first hand. The fact that four Irish rock stars (the American singer wasn’t that keen to be fair) who were, unsurprisingly, uniformly Celtic and Man United fans and had, more importantly, released four albums on Virgin wanted to come and watch our shower of shite stunned me. Why would anyone want to watch Newcastle when you didn’t have to? I mean, I loved the team and reckoned we were about to launch our promotion push at any second, but I couldn’t in all honesty have made any sort of sales pitch to the unconverted about the merits of our wonderful stadium and its atmosphere and or the languid ball skills of our team. Especially against non-entities like Portsmouth. As I staggered out on to Osborne Road at first light, I promised them a programme each and struck out for the first Metro home.

When I woke up at noon, my first thought was not the imminent match, it was the raging hangover that was poisoning me. These days the thought of drinking alcohol on successive days sends me lurching towards the Seven Step Recovery programme, but as a callow mid-twenties social gadfly, I knew a hair of the dog was a top priority. A quick visit to Greggs’ later and then I was ready for a substantial liquid lunch. Nowadays 52,000 punters in town on a match day means that all the pubs are heaving before Football Focus has even started, but that wasn’t the case in 1990. You could go on a pub-crawl and we did; The Star, Bourgoynes, The Newcastle Arms and Rosies was an absolute minimum. You could leave at 2.55, pay in to the Gallowgate and still see kick off. For us, negotiating the stairs up to the Milburn Stand was a bigger test of balance and bladder control than stamina. To be frank, the football was so lousy, uninspiring and downright dull that the best part of the day was the pre match boozing. So it was, I took my place among a crowd of 17,682 for this all-to-unimportant mid-table clash.

The game, as far as I remember it through a fug of 17 long years and senses dulled by several pints for breakfast, was as dire as anyone would have anticipated. Mickey Quinn scored both of our goals against the team he would break his kneecap scoring against a year to the day later. Both headers, from O’Brien crosses. Ugly goals. Unimaginative goals. Third rate goals. Jim Smith goals. Yet that is what we were at the time; while the rest of England basked in Gazzamania and the post World Cup feelgood factor and faceless financial whizzkids peered intently at balance sheets and worked out a way to put less snouts in a bigger trough, which would eventually become The Premiership, Newcastle continued to shamble aimlessly along. Twenty thousand at the game and two hundred thousand at home whinging about our performance.

One incident I remember clearly was Portsmouth’s goal, scored by one of the most honest players I’ve ever been privileged to watch. A Portsmouth throw-in, taken by John Beresford, from the East Stand side came in to the box at the Gallowgate end. One person rose tallest, prepared to do his duty; John Anderson appeared from nowhere to bullet a header past Burridge to give the dozen or so Pompey fans false hope of a point. Ando’s head in his hands, Burridge hand on hips, hundreds of indignant signs denoting sexual self-abuse appearing out of the Gallowgate and all of us pissed ones in the Milburn laughing. It was as good as Dabizas v Spurs or Scott v Brentford.

Thankfully, Portsmouth were as dreadful as we were, if not worse, as they finished 17th to our 15th in the final table. They failed to produce another shot during the game as the clock aimlessly ticked away. We held out for our first win in five games and made it down to the traditional post match watering hole of The Three Bulls with a spring in our step. While poring over our copies of The Pink, it seemed clear a couple of good wins would have us putting pressure on pacesetters Oldham and Notts County (ahem). It’ll come as no surprise to most of you that we embarked upon a seven game winless run after the Portsmouth match. Now the gang of us who went to the match then, are pretty much the same gang as I go with now. As ever, I was the odd one out; they were all either married with kids, shacked up or courting strong and their idea of music was Texas or Simple Minds. The fact that I was not only staying out, instead of going home to for a wash and a clean shirt was bad enough, but the fact I was about to spend my Saturday night with a thousand sweaty students at a Pogues gig was incomprehensible to them.

To this day, The Pogues are one of my all time favourites, but they were in a fallow period back then. Shane McGowan was in his last days of his first phase and their recently released album Hell’s Ditch had bombed. While the lyrics were still as good as ever, the voice had gone and the music was all mid tempo rock. Frankly, the gig was an absolute turkey; McGowan sang about five songs maximum and kept wandering off stage. It didn’t seem to bother the audience though, as they bobbed up and down and sang Celtic and Ireland songs in a Home Counties accent. Now I’m as guilty as anyone of being a Plastic Paddy, with my Irish passport and lifelong support for the Shamrock as opposed to the Three Lions, but this got on my nerves. We were in Newcastle and what is more, the lads had won. Much to the disgust of my mate Al, whose only experience of football was our 4-0 howking by Everton on Boxing Day 1986, I started to sing Newcastle football songs, in the hope of rallying the crowd. Not a chance; I was a voice crying in the wilderness. Maybe it would be more accurate to say I was drowning in beer. The louder I battled through I Love To Go A Wandering Along The Cliffs Of Dover or We’ve Been To Chelsea, We’ve Been To Stoke, the worse it got. Half-cut students slam danced in to me as a downbeat Pogues struggled through low quality karaoke versions of songs that should have made us all stand and cheer. Pissed and pissed off, I cut my losses with a carry out and a taxi home, in which I left the Newcastle v Portsmouth programmes I’d bought for the TPE lads. I tried to engage the driver in conversation about the match, but he wasn’t interested.

Next morning, my performance up front for The Greyhound in the Tyneside Sunday League Division F was a study in immobility. I didn’t do it because I was any good at it, in fact my performances deteriorated on those rare occasions I played without a hangover, nor did I do it for social reasons, as I was always the most unpopular player among my peers, I did it to scourge myself for all the boozing I did. On this particular Sunday, the Khmer Rouge could have come up with a more cruel and unusual punishment than making me walk around for 90 minutes on a grassy corner of Windy Nook. Suffice to say, I was ready for bed come full time. However, in the nearest approximation I had to being a dutiful son, I went to see the parents for Sunday dinner and to pick up my ironing. Over lunch my dad, whose last game had been against Sheff Wed in August 1984, gave me a blow-by-blow summary of the match, courtesy of what he’d picked up from the Sunday Sun and Radio Newcastle.

Come five o’clock, I was back home and relaxed; stretched out in front of the fire at home marking exercise books and listening to Swervedriver’s debut album. I was aching from the football, dehydrated from the beer, exhausted from the lack of sleep and looking forward to an early night. The phone rang; it was Sara, wondering where and at what time we were meeting for The Pixies. Quite frankly, the idea of another night on my feet if not the beer, when I had an early start and a full week ahead of me, was not an appealing one. However, I am nothing if not honourable and so found myself in The Trent House at seven thirty. For an hour and a bit Sara and I made stilted, self-conscious conversation about teaching, our background and music. The fact I was exhausted and not even drinking made me tense and her bored. Chemistry? We were two inert gases in a deep freeze. Going to the gig should have been a relief, but it wasn’t. The Pixies, after conquering the world with their previous album Doolittle had received lousy reviews for its follow-up Trompe Du Monde and tensions were growing in the band. None of us watching were to know it, but this would be their last tour before splitting. Their astonishing descent in to mediocrity and then oblivion was hinted in the show, whereby older material was fiercely played and ecstatically received, while the new material was perfunctorily dashed off to muted applause. Members of the band stormed off stage for no apparent reason and then came back again. There wasn’t a word addressed from the stage to the audience. Thankfully, the whole thing was over by nine thirty. A total let down. I didn’t bother even asking Sara if she fancied another drink, but she asked me.

We went to The Strawberry, which was still in its radfem Friday and radgey Saturday incarnation. Gesturing at the ground with my pint of blackcurrant and soda, I mentioned that I’d been there the day before to see a hopeless game. Imagine my surprise when Sara not only repeated the score, but announced she’d seen the goals on the telly and further volunteered the information she was a Barnsley fan, who had gone to games regularly all her life. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. From then on, we relaxed and had a laugh, talking about football of course. Three weeks later, I took her on our first proper date to see Newcastle draw 0-0 with Barnsley in a game that made the Portsmouth one seem like the 1970 World Cup final in comparison. On January 2nd 1991, the day after Mark Stimson scored an injury time equaliser against Oldham on the Boundary Park plastic pitch to deny us victory, we moved in together and we married in the summer of 1992.

Looking back that weekend in October 1990, it tells me a lot of things about my life. Firstly, people move on. That Petrol Emotion split in 1994, Shane McGowan is a hopeless alcoholic somewhere in County Tipperary. Both he and Frank Black, the leader of The Pixies, reformed their bands. I can’t understand why anyone wants to go and see them. The only thing that lasts is love; I’m still hopelessly, head over heels and wide-eyed in love with the greatest, most positive, life-affirming aspect of that weekend.

While Sara and I divorced in 2001, Newcastle United home victories are as treasured and doted upon as ever.

Ian Cusack

 

 

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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