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Newcastle United Stephen Cooper

The Prime Minister's Challenge on Dementia

It wasn't at all intentional.

I was dragged along to go looking for a dress with my missus for an upcoming wedding, when we passed by a pet shop.

As a dog lover, I paused to gaze through the window at the little puppies who were either asleep or playing with each other with their little tails wagging.

There he was, just sitting looking at me with those big brown eyes.

My heart melted and I knew he belonged by my side.

I went into the shop, much to the chagrin of my better half who was impatiently fidgeting to get to the shopping mall, and told the shop manager not to sell 'that doggy in the window', I was tempted to sing the rest of the song, 'the one with the waggly tail', but I curbed my puerile urges and slapped fifty quid down as a deposit on the counter and headed off to shopping misery.

I spent the next hour or so just nodding and telling the wife that whatever dress she tried looked great, and we should buy it, just wanting to get out of the place and go and get my new best mate.

Eventually, after two hours, we ended up inevitably at the first shop we had visited earlier and I was so relieved to get the ordeal finished I wasn't even miffed about the fact that we were back where we started, and also that it cost over two hundred quid for the pleasure.

I hate shopping.

Today though, I loved it, because here I was on my way back to the store to pick up my dog.

I got back to the shop and signed the papers and bought a bed, a squeaky yellow hedgehog and a large bag of dog food, and last, but not least, a collar and lead and we were off.

I placed everything on the back seat and told my new mate to 'stay' in his bed whilst I drove home. I was already flitting through names in my head. What would I call this little blighter?

He was a basset hound with long droopy ears, the most adoring eyes and the white tip at the top of his tail which was bred to indicate where he was when hunting.

I turned on the radio and turned my rear view mirror so I could glance occasionally at him as I was cruising along. At one stage, I rebuked him, with a 'hey you!' when he tried to get out of his bed, and then coincidentally, the song with the same name came on the radio by Pink Floyd.

Bingo!

Being a massive Floyd fan, that would be his name, and the more I looked at him, the more I thought it fitted.

He looked like a Floyd.

***

It was the 96/97 season, we were blitzing the league and playing the best football I had seen as a supporter.

We had the game being played the way it was meant to be, two wingers and two centre forwards who would run through walls to get that ball into the goal.

Ginola was unplayable on his day if he was in the mood, Gillespie was just frightening with his pace and when either of them they got their crosses in, there was Sir Les with his aerial ability and if he didn't get it, then there was a certain sheet metal worker's son hanging around the vicinity who wasn't too bad at clearing up any misunderstandings or loose balls with consummate ease.

Behind these was a combination of guile and solid graft. Batty, Lee and of course Beardsley linked the play from the midfield and the overlapping full backs of Barton and Beresford complimented the forward options, anchored by Albert and Peacock, with Pavel between the sticks.

What a line up!

At the time we had the granddad type shirt collar with the large oval shape of Broon ale on the front and life was good.

Floyd had become a permanent fixture to me each night walking down to my local after tea and he looked the part with his proud gait and head in the air like some sort of aristocrat.

I no longer bothered with the lead anymore, as months earlier I had left the house preoccupied with work and had got halfway to the pub when I realised he was walking beside me with nothing attached, and I just carried on and he stood outside the bar door expectantly waiting for me to open it.

Every night I would pour a little bit of stout into his special bowl, which was beside his cushion, which was beside the open fire, which was beside the elongated bar.

Peter, the proprietor doted on him, as well as all the regulars and many times punters would come into the premises and enquire where Floyd was.

'He'll be here at eight' replied Peter as he knew our routine.

Peter's wife, Joan, knitted a small black and white scarf with an elastic strip on it, and after being presented with it, I put it on Floyd every time we went out and I could tell he felt he looked the part as he trotted along beside me, every so often looking up at me with almost a smile.

Throughout the season, our support often sang the 'Walkin' in a Keegan wonderland', and when I sang it to Floyd after a few beers, he would sit up and throw his head back and howl like a banshee in an effort to join in.

The regulars in the bar thought it was hilarious, and even more so when he would join in with anyone who sang it to him.

Class.

Sometimes folks from out of area would come in to watch the match on the TV and if we scored, the place would of course erupt with our cheering, and Floyd would bark at the Tele and then join in our sing song with his usual howling when we started up the 'wonderland' chant.

The visitors must have thought we were all mental.

It's funny looking back how the city felt different.

You could feel the buzz of excitement in the air, our club were doing us proud, people all over the country marvelled at the players we had and some of the goals being scored.

In addition to the starting eleven I mentioned earlier, the rest of the squad were quality.

Local boys Clark, Elliot, Howey and Watson provided the youth of the City an inspirational dream to follow and Asprilla was just a one off; nobody was quite sure of what he would do in any match.

Getting a ticket back then was very difficult, they were like hen's teeth, but I wasn't that bothered, as I was content to saunter down to the bookies before any game.

Floyd would sit in the corner beside the door while I would place my bet for an interest, and then we would head back up to Peter's for a few pints and cheer on the lads.

Floyd had become quite famous, and his new trick was when I introduced him to people, he would hold up his right paw and get it shaken, then he would turn and dander back to his little cushion with aplomb and promptly go to sleep.

September gave way to October and we were hovering around top spot.

Shearer and Sir Les were just unstoppable, they were knocking them in from every angle.

We beat Leeds away and then a dramatic home win against Villa and an away victory at Derby.

'We are top of the league, I say, we are top of the league' became the new refrain as we looked at each other in amazement.

Imagine us!

Top of the league!

The big one was coming up though the following week.

Man United at home would be the real litmus test, as they were the benchmark as always.

They had some world class players, like Keane and their keeper Schmeichel and had walloped us four zero at Wembley in August.

It was fair to say, I wasn't feeling that confident and would have gladly accepted a point before the game if I was offered.

I had my lunch in brooding silence, my wife was jabbering on about this and that, but I was on another planet.

All I could think about was the match.

Who would start?

What formation?

Would Kevin risk throwing Tino into the mix?

I showered and changed into my lucky underpants, and silently intoned to any God to please give me one day to savour or at least, to not be embarrassed.

I left the house a full hour before kick - off and as usual, Floyd was at my right heel, proudly prancing along with his scarf on and no doubt looking forward to a few sips of stout and a good afternoon's kip.

Little did he know, there would be no peaceful snooze this day.

We got in and I settled myself with a pint and gave Floyd a splash in his bowl.

The build up had began with the talking heads analysing the two teams and spouting their usual inane nonsense.

The line ups came on and the room fell silent as we took in the formation.

Watto was in for Barton and Gillespie was on the bench, which surprised me, but on the plus side, we had Batty sitting behind the power house Rob Lee and Pedro was playing a sort of right half/in the hole position, which I thought would give the reds a few headaches.

I gritted my teeth as the studio guests constantly referred to Manchester as 'united' and after the fourth or fifth time shouted at the TV my disgust, 'There's only one United, and they play in Black and White', this got a cheer and the tension was building.

Little Pedro led the teams out, and we could feel the hair on our necks standing up.

Floyd lay on his stomach, gazing up at me from time to time, sensing my frayed nerves.

It didn't take long for the perfect cure though.

Ginola whipped in a corner and Shearer nods it across and Peacock gets it over the line, despite Irwin's best efforts.

Cue bedlam in the bar.

Drinks are spilt and hugs and crazy dancing ensues.

Floyd stands up and barks repeatedly at all of us and I am so happy I could bottle this up and sell it to myself in years to come.

Another fifteen minutes or so and Ginola receives the ball with his back to goal and swivels and launches a pile driver past the Danish legend.

More madness, more barking.

Shearer hits the post and we are tearing them apart, and they don't like it.

Sir Les tucks away our third after Shearer puts him in.

Batty and Butt are at it, and then Cantona decides to attack Pedro and their team retain the ball even though he is down and in need of treatment.

Typical.

They get their comeuppance though.

Our fourth is sweet for wor Al, who taunts the away support and as I am half drunk I nearly cry with joy when Albert chips the best goalkeeper I have seen with a glorious fifth.

Floyd and I are singing the 'Wonderland' song, and everyone is in full on party mode.

I got home later that night, and apparently my wife could hear us both from the bottom of the street.

You see, days like that are to be celebrated and as I staggered up the road, singing and mumbling in my drunken stupor, Floyd was howling his support as well.

The last thing I remember was her indoors standing at our door with her hands on her hips.

I didn't care, nothing could anger me after that performance.

***

Floyd died in my arms on the 10th of October 1998, two years later.

I dug his resting place in my back garden with the sweat dripping off my nose, and rivulets of tears accelerating the flow.

I laid him to rest for the final time and kissed his lifeless body.

As I patted the soil after planting forget-me-nots on his grave I couldn't help myself from whispering between sobs the 'Walking in a Keegan wonderland' song and I could see him with his head held back, like so many times before, howling out his support for his city, his club and his pride.

© 2013 Stephen Cooper for true faith

 

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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