St James' Park
Newcastle United v West Ham United
Saturday 10th January 2009, 3pm
By Scott Bowman
(West Ham United fan)
This trip at some point looked to be dead in the water as the club sold the tickets out before I could get my paws on a couple, but I can thank my lucky stars that in this 21st century weíre able to reach out to people in all parts of the world thanks to the wonders of the world wide web and specifically WestHamOnline.net, I was able to nab a couple off a bloke in the far northÖ North London that is!
Itís Saturday morning, I havenít slept as I have a constant fear that if I kip the night before an away day outside of London, I wonít wake up for it. Luckily this time my missus was in toe with me for the long journey north and stayed up with me because she shared the same fear and also because it was her first away game with West Ham and was looking forward to it on the basis of the home game she attended earlier in the season, which coincidentally was Newcastle at home. Sheís also American and Iíve been giving it the verbal about away games for ages. Poor girl puts up with me and my football obsession, so I reckon Iíve bagged a goodíun here, eh?!
Our journey begins at 5:30 am leaving the lovely splendour that is east London for the short trip to Kings Cross where our train is waiting. Also really looking forward to getting to our seats as itís freezing bloody cold and weíre knackered and the 4 hour journey will give us more then enough opportunity to catch some winks on the way up. The next thing I remember is waking up before reaching Hartlepool and I have to say, I love this part of the country. Not only do you get the see the gorgeous British countryside and coastline, thereís some ruins and other historical monuments that if given the chance would be wonderful to visit, but weíre on our way to watch a game, not bask in the wonders of the past of the north-east of England.
We get into Newcastle just before 11 am, which is perfect timing and gives us plenty of time to find our hotel, relax and then dart to a pub. The hotel was a doddle to find thanks to the locals who were more then happy to help out a gobby Cockney and his missus locate the area. Shame me being blind and stupid, I walked past it twice!
After doing all the checking in, we found a pub not far from the hotel which was near empty when I walked in. In an ideal world Iíd have found a boozer packed full of West Ham, but it was convenient and had Soccer Saturday on the box, and thereís nothing like listening to Geoff Stellingís soothing tones when sipping your first pint! After about ten minutes, the empty pub was packed solid with Geordies and not once did I feel threatened. I never wear colours to games as itís really not my thing, but thatís the least of my worries when going to away games as my accent is quite thick and you could notice me a mile off. Needless to say a few locals heard me speaking to the missus and instead of getting the hump with the soft southern fairy in their boozer, decided to serenade me with a Geordie version of Bubbles which went down well.
After a swift half it was off to find mates at the Lloyds bar round the corner, which was another place full of the Geordie faithful and a few West Ham. With our reputation as aggressive fans from the south, youíd think this fixture would be prime for aggro and it was in the 80s, but modern Geordie fans are as good as gold and very welcoming hosts. I have to say that Newcastle away is one of my favourite away days as itís easy to get about without any bother as long as you show respect to the locals and mind your own business.
From the Lloyds bar, itís a short walk to the magnificent St. James Park for the football. Also you could never lose your way walking to the ground unless youíre a complete melon as you just follow the black and white barcode likes shirts of the home fans.
The one thing I and Iím sure all away fans hate about St. James Park is long walk up the stairs. If youíre a bloke who loves a pie and a pint, itís not ideal. Luckily on this occasion a few stewards let us jump in a lift, which I can tell you was a God send as I was dying to find a toilet. Walking up the stairs would have been excruciating and I reckon Iíd have wet myself!
Now my one major grip with the ground is that it has the worldís worst concourse which canít take large away crowed and the menís room in situated right near the bar, which forced me to use the disabled toilets. Also the organisation on the clubs part for seating arrangements for the away section is really poor. For a Premier League club youíd think theyíd have no problem placing supporters in their designated area, but my seats and many others were already taken when we tried to find our seats and ended up stealing some other poor sods space. Itís not that problematic as the view is incredible. I canít think of a stadium Iíve been to in Britain with such an impressive view. You have a full view of the pitch and the wonderful Newcastle skyline to view if your teamís performance is crap. On this occasion thankfully I spent my time viewing the game and it was an entertaining battle that could have gone either way.
A back and fourth game which either side could have exploited and taken the three points from. Both have enough chance to kill off the other side, but neither could hit that final killer blow and a 2-2 draw was a fair result. Our fans were bouncing from start to finish, singing for near 90 minutes and stayed for afters once the final whistle had gone to clap the team off, but the famous Geordie faithful seems to be a myth from personal experience, only making a peep when the they scored a goal. Iíll take into consideration that the current climate of football attracts all types nowadays and many whoíre happy to sit in silence and watch the game, but personally I think football is as much about whatís going on, on the pitch as it does with the fans trying to generate an atmosphere.
The town and the people in Newcastle are first class and no bother whatsoever. Itís an away trip Iíd advise anyone to take up given the chance and enjoy what Newcastle has to offer, because thereís plenty to do away from the ground after the games finished and there doesnít seems to be any problems mixing with the Geordie natives (unless youíre from Sunderland of course).
The ground is fantastic from a football perspective, but the concourse is terrible. If youíre claustrophobic donít bother, if you fancy a half time pint/wee, donít bother. You have to go at least 10 minutes before them games reaches the half time whistle as youíll find yourself waiting around and leaves this review a bit bare on information regarding prices and quality of the snacks/drinks theyíre serving.
Programme was much better then last years offering as itís not an odd sized monstrosity. Enjoyable reach and fairly priced for the modern game at £3.
St. James Park gets an 8/10.
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