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Newcastle United David Kemp

The Prime Minister's Challenge on Dementia

August 18th 1951 is the first Newcastle match that I can recall gannin te withoot me dad. We beat Stoke City 5-0 and Wor Jackie scored a hat-trick. First matches cannot get much better than that! It was the start of a life-long passion, which has only waxed stronger with the passage of time. They say that the past is another country and certainly the experience of St James’ in 1951 bears little resemblance to the experience of the spanking new all-seater shrine, where we gather to-day. Yet there are some constants: we are on the same spot as our forefathers, we still see the world in stark Black and White and the Blaydon Races still lifts the spirits and the team. The one thing which has never wavered is the devotion of the faithful. Barcelona’s motto seemingly is (in Catalan) ‘More than a football team’. It could equally well be ours. I have always felt that football is the vehicle, which gives expression to our pride in being Geordies. Everything we stand for, believe in and feel, is channelled out on to that field and into those eleven lads, who hold our hearts in their hands. One hundred and fifty years ago it was rowing, but for well over a century now it has been ‘fyeutbaal’.

One of the myriad wonders of St James’ to my eyes as a lad in the 50’s was the Peanut Man. Refreshments did exist for the spectators somewhere where the Leazes End cover finished and the Popular Side began. I noticed a little shed there, but the chances of reaching it were as remote as getting to the toilets once you were trapped on the wall at the front beside the cinder track. No, the only bodily sustenance was provided by peanuts. The Peanut man circumnavigated the pitch on the cinder track shouting ‘Peanuts, peanuts, tanner a bag peanuts’. To my never failing amazement, spectators far back in the Leazes End would hoy doon their tanners and with unerring aim he would return a paper bag of peanuts to the expectant hands. I never heard any complaints, so it must have been a system which worked.

Getting in was an adventure in itself. Living in Fenham we would always queue up at the Boys Gate at the Leazes End with our 1/3d ready, equivalent to about 6.5p. to-day. A programme at 1.5p was way beyond our reach. Sometimes if the boys queue was snaking half way down the car park behind the old stand we would join in a mens queue. There, if you were lucky the gadgie on the turnstiles would let an adult bunk you up over the top of the turnstiles and you would get in for nowt. I always took the attendance figures with a pinch of salt, as I knew they were not necessarily an accurate reflection of the gate. If you were there in good time, you made your way down to the wall at the front, as it would have been impossible to see otherwise. If the crowd was too packed when you got in at the back of the Leazes Stand, you asked for a bunk up and were then rolled ower the heeds to the front. Sitting on the wall at this level due to the hump in the centre circle and the slope you saw nothing of the players below the knee if play was down near the Gallowgate End. Frequently we only knew we had scored by the eruption of noise at the other end.

By the way, in those halcyon days the Leazes End was the favourite end, due to the noise created under the only roofing in the ground, other than over the old stand. Some 25,000 were jammed in there and the lads always preferred to attack the Leazes End in the second half, particularly if they were trailing at half time. I still prefer to see us attack the Gallowgate end first.

Before the match and again at half time; a mere ten minutes in those pre-floodlight days; we were royally entertained by local pit brass bands or occasionally a military band. Harton Colliery Band was always a favourite as were the Fusiliers or the Coldstream Guards. They invariably gave us the Blaydon Races and other Geordie tunes. Half time was also when the racing pigeons were let loose, to let those at home know how the lads were getting on. How the birds were kept safe by their owners in the crush of bodies, I do not know, but they fared better than the spectators, many of whom passed out or passed away. White handkerchiefs waved in the crowd was a signal to the St Johns Ambulance Brigade that help was required. In they would dive, eventually emerging with some poor whey faced body, who had possibly fainted with the pressure of the crowd or had a heart attack. They would go out on the stretcher and we never ever seemed to learn of the outcome, although it was a common sight. I presume the majority recovered.

Some fans to-day complain about those who sneak out early, something I have only ever done once, when we lost 6-1 at home to Chelsea (Jimmy Greaves scoring four ) in March 1961, but it was ever thus. There used to be a massive black and white flag, referred to as ‘The ten minute flag’, which flew at the back corner of the Gallowgate End nearest to the Strawberry. Ten minutes before the final whistle, this was hauled down and the exodus began. The reason being that virtually nobody had cars in those days, so they either walked to the match or came by bus, tram or on the electric train. To ensure a return home by a decent time, they would dash out to beat the rush. For those of us who only lived a few miles away, due to the absence of floodlights and resultant early kick offs, we could still walk home and be in time to hear Sports Report on the Light Programme at five o’clock.

Aye, happy days.

Howway wor Toon!

David Kemp

 

 

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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