What Makes A Club: 21 photos to show the special St James’ experience
Newcastle United is a marvellous club based in a marvellous city. If you haven’t yet experienced a game at St James’ Park, here are 21 photos to show you why you really should.
Newcastle were every kid’s second team in the 90s – if not their first, obviously – and though they couldn’t maintain their success of that decade, many fans retain a soft spot for the Magpies.
Including this one. Let me tell you a story about a club and a city…
(1) The Angel of the North
For those of you who come here for the photography, I’m sorry. But please indulge me for a minute. It’s September 2003 and I was 18. While by then I’d already ticked off an unhealthy number of the 92 with Burnley, I’d yet to skip my first love to go and watch someone else.
Thing was, I was getting the wanderlust and I’d got myself a young person’s railcard. A few mates were up at Newcastle for uni, and football trips to far flung outposts were inevitable. Newcastle United at St James’ Park was always top of my list.
I was armed with an old Olympus 35mm and I was on the early morning service out of York. I saw Anthony Gormley’s statue out of the window. It’s the gatekeeper to the north east. I had to have my picture of it, even if it was out of a moving train window.
I’ve taken a million better ones of it since, but this was the first one. Photography is always better with a story.
(2) Love on the Tyne
Since 2003 I’ve been up to Newcastle regularly as family connections up there have grown. What you realise when you get off the train in Newcastle is that Geordies love their football club, but they love their city too.
In particular the River Tyne and its bridges. Civic pride is high round these parts. These ‘love locks’ could be addressed to the city or indeed the football club, of that I have no doubt.
(3) We are One
And the love is not split. Like Leeds to its south, Newcastle is a one-club city. You are United or United. Simple as that. On a matchday the city is a sea of black and white replica shirts. To clarify, they are socially acceptable in all establishments and in all circumstances.
(4) Gallowgate End
You came here for the ground pics, though, didn’t you? Well, there she blows. The Cathedral on the Hill. 52,500 capacity and just to the top of the City centre.
China Town sits just beneath it next to the metro station. Those skyscrapers to the left are built on the site of the old brewery for Newcastle Brown Ale, while just out of shot are listed Georgian apartments. A part of town full of contrasts and a statement at the same time. A club for all of the city, sat right in its heart.
(5) Sir Robert William Robson
As you approach the Gallowgate End, from just off Strawberry Place, stands this city’s favourite son. Born in County Durham, this proud Geordie played and managed at the top level. More importantly, he conducted himself with class and humility. He was an ambassador for these people.
Honestly, the first time I saw this I bowed. I practically did a bloody curtsy. He was the man. Keegan was wonderful. Rafa clearly gets it, but Sir Bobby? He was a level above. A legend. You don’t need to be Newcastle fan to acknowledge that.
(6) Sir John’s old gates
To see a bit more, keep walking past Sir Bobby.
In those halcyon days of the 90s a charismatic chairman by the name of Sir John Hall was in the boardroom. He developed the stadium at some expense but before the decade was out, needed to expand it again.
So the story goes, these gates, taken away when the early 00s building work got going, were stored at a stately home owned by Sir John and promptly forgotten.
Nigh on ten years later they were returned. There’s a photo of these gates, with the 90s refurb going on behind it, taken by my first photography hero Stuart Roy Clarke. With Clarke fresh in my mind that day, I had to put a gate shot in my own collection.
(7) View from the Town Moor
That 00s redevelopment is really something, and the best place to see it is from the Town Moor to the back of the Leazes End.
Those Georgian apartments and their listed status mean that St James’ is as big as it can be on the far side of the pitch. The options were either to move or compensate by building this side twice as big. Fortunately for ground geeks like me, they went for the latter.
(8) Strawberry Place
So now you’ve walked enough. Time for a pint? Of course it is. Fortunately, drinking is something that is almost as popular as football in this fair city.
Steve the scout used to tell me about this place as a kid. Everytime I visit St James’ I feel I owe the eight-year-old me a visit to the pub with the best name in the world.
(9) Beer Garden with a view
It isn’t just a token pint either. Can you think of a beer garden with a better view?
I always think of the conversations that have gone on inside those four walls. How many team ‘bonding sessions’ of yesteryear have started in this little pub as the lads have nipped over the road? How many superstars have been signed in here over a bottle of ‘broon’?
I could get into this. That’s the best thing about a trip to Newcastle. It’s a city centre ground. It’s a daytrip! The pubs, the bars, the restaurants, the train home. All within walking distance of a top drawer club.
I had to take this picture. Replica shirt de rigeur. That sponsor though? Oh the irony! Gamble responsibly, yeah?
(11) Kitted out
Out of the pub and into the night. Bobble hat? Check. Scarf? Check. Available in black, white or black and white.
(12) 30% off
The current chairman knows a thing or two about replica kit. The business acumen of the sport shirt retailer buying the club known for replica shirt sales was not lost on me.
Ignore the sponsor, ignore any marketing you see. That badge is a constant and so are those stripes. When you visit St James’ you see these are proud people and that this is their shirt.
PS. Please can we have the big blue star with the skyline in it back on them? Thanks.
(13) Howay the Lads
I wish this was from the dressing room. It’s a reproduction as you walk into the changing rooms of the club shop. It had me for a minute so I took the picture. After an afternoon in The Strawberry I was ready to run out and give Rafa a solid 45’.
(14) The Away End
I can’t wax lyrical about a trip to St James’ Park without mentioning the away end. That 00s rebuild I mentioned? Well guess what, you are sat at the top of it.
I hope you are fit. It’s a part of football folklore. Tell a fan you are watching your team at St James’ and they’ll no doubt mention the ‘bloody stairs’ before anything else.
(15) The Cathedral on the Hill
There she is. Lopsided? Yes. Beautiful? Undoubtedly. The lights of the city can just be seen twinkling above the Gallowgate End.
You might be high up, but this is a great place to watch football. A unique perspective. You can sit this high at Old Trafford, but the roof pitches down, leaving you with just a letterbox view of the pitch. Here the high roof lets you take it all in, including, on occasion, the rain to your face.
(16) Flying the flag
That roof offers you no protection from the elements if you are sat on row one, let me tell you. Even less so if you are flying the flag in the penalty area.
The people from these parts though. They aren’t known for being nesh. When Mark Knopfler comes on, playing ‘Going Home’ from ‘Local Hero’ it’s a call to arms. Pride in the team, pride in the shirt. Rain or shine.
They have christened themselves the Toon Army. They’re certainly fiercely loyal, strong in number and have a clear uniform policy.
Sir John Hall said that he wanted to build a Geordie Nation. That they could emulate the Basques. Many laughed. I’ve seen this place full; I didn’t.
(18) Reflections on tha’ Toon
Now, I could roll out an action shot here. A ‘local hero’ perhaps. This one seemed to things up much more eloquently.
You see, when the lights come on and the game is in full swing, the floodlights reflect the pitch in the Perspex screens at the end of the Leazes End. If you look at it just right, the pitch and the players sit on the backdrop of the city.
The black and white dots of players dodge around the bright lights of the skyline. Its club and city as one. Its Newcastle and Newcastle United in a nutshell.
As you might have guessed, I get in a whimsical mood when I watch this football club. Look at the detail of this stadium. Not a penny spared. Architecturally, a masterpiece. A case study in building a ground for the modern era that can maintain the atmosphere of the previous.
(20) Into the night
And so we leave Newcastle United for Newcastle proper. Those Georgian Apartments are now bathed in halogen light from the stadium a few feet away.
This older side of the ground must be seen. The brutalist concrete of the 1973 East Stand a juxtaposition with its regal neighbour. At the end of these two awkward brothers? Yep, the Strawberry.
(21) Good night
What photo could I use to wrap this one up? So many sprang to mind, but this is a story of a club and a city so inextricably linked that a picture of its most famous landmark just seems right.
Loads of clubs have moved out of their city centres, but Newcastle? They can never move. They can never leave this behind. The city and the club; here they are the same thing.
Howay the lads.