Sunday, 19 April 2009

How Did We Get Here?

Yet another defeat, and one point out of a possible nine with Shearer at the helm. Five games left, second from the bottom and four points adrift of safety at this moment (depending on how well Hull City perform next). I really never knew I'd be here, and the message got really driven home the other day after my Cognitive Psychology paper when I headed back to school with Shawn and, among the general musing, we started talking about soccer.

The past one or two weeks, there was Porto vs Manchester United, Arsenal vs Chelsea, and so on along the vein of mainstream news right now. Exciting stuff. Then he suddenly recalled I was a Newcastle fan and asked a very vague and generic, "how ah?"

It's one of those things that are really hard to swallow, and just so taboo to even think about. A club as huge as Newcastle United vanishing from top flight football, with a long history that has had its fair share of glory, but which has began to dry up within the last few seasons. All the while when you're a Newcastle fan, you just insiduously and subconsciously learn to develop this sense of humour because you just can't take them too seriously. I only realised about over a year back that I've found it hard to get my hopes up with the Magpies anymore. But as always, I still doggedly stood by them.

There was a time when I could say that sometimes, Newcastle play such exciting football because they've got a certain classic British x-factor about their style of play. Even during that time, Newcastle would slip into bouts of really retarded defending and gameplay that I wish I could be there playing for them. Such was the kind of kick you'd get from being a Newcastle fan. For the longest time, that kick had always been there ever since I fell in love with them in 1998 when Newcastle signed Alan Shearer for £15m and boasted a daring, swashbuckling three-man attack (most teams play only two strikers). They were terribly exciting to watch. But that time has gone; the climate has changed into unceasingly wondering how low they can keep the number of goals conceded to.

When you go out on the street and ask people which teams they support, you'd get answers like Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. But you'd never really know what that means. There are just so many people supporting teams like Manchester United that it just isn't special anymore. But when you meet a dude who supports Newcastle United, you'd know he's different, and you probably know a lot more about each other simply because of the tears and joy Newcastle United brings to its fans. It is always a unique experience being a member of the Toon Army, and every season brings about that characteristic experience that, while it can barely be explained properly, we can call our own.

So I tried saying all of that to Shawn in response to his vague and generic question (and I don't think a Newcastle fan can ever do a good job conveying that to a non-fan), and then he said that he used to be a Leeds United fan, who have been out of the top-flight for the longest time. And then the reality hit so hard that I couldn't stop regretting all the cynical jibes I've been lacing on every poor Newcastle performance in the last one season or so, just to brush off the 'sigh yet another vintage poor game from the black and white' looks I get from quizzical friends wondering how I, as a competitive soccer player, could put up with that, in a dismissive bid to avoid answering too many questions. Ah, it's just another typical Newcastle game la. Sian.

But now, would I be faced with the horrific fate that Shawn had with Leeds? Shawn jumped ship and became a Manchester United fan (pah, typical). After 11 years, I don't think so. If they're going down, I've decided that it will be a season, or however many seasons, of not being able to catch them in action on TV. It has been bad as it is already because SCV only shows Newcastle games when they're playing big teams. For the club, it is almost like death, except that resurrection is possible. But if anything, it will be the biggest wake up call in the club's history.

Which then brings me here to today, all of that culminating into rushing down to the prata shop to watch Newcastle take on Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane. I'd spent the whole evening trying to stream it on Sopcast on my computer but it couldn't work, and 15min into the game I couldn't take it hearing commentary but not seeing anything anymore so I went out by myself.

The match doesn't need much detail, except that Newcastle conceded a goal in the first half and never caught up, concluding in a 1-0 defeat. Alan Shearer tried sparking something to life by throwing in four strikers (Martins, Smith, Owen and Viduka) but although they came close on a couple of occasions, the finishing was dismal.

Once in a while, the camera would zoom in on the traveling Toon Army fans, and the few they shot carried the expressions of thousands of Newcastle fans all over the world - a mixture of dismay, agony and helplessness, but at the same time fused with a resolute refusal to give up on the team and some vestige of hope still being clung on to. And there I was, sitting alone with other random prata, kopi and football patrons (it was a tiny fraction of the kind of turnout you'd get there for a Chelsea vs Manchester United game), biting my nails and willing Newcastle to play harder and better, as if my brainwaves could somehow travel into the screen and zap energy into the battling players who, for some reason, are playing out of their skins but just can't seem to find that vital touch. And although, in the end, it was futile as we crashed to another defeat, I knew for that moment that we were joined all over the world, hearts and hands together, screaming C'MON NEWCASTLE! in our heads, just hoping for a miracle.

Soccer has been my life for the most part, and I suppose you could say that being a soccer player with no team to support is like being a spiritual person without a religion. Having to follow a team down into relegation and being denied of watching them play comes a little close, but doesn't match up as long as I continue holding on to that connection and support I have for them. However the season unfolds, best of luck Newcastle. I can see all the players fighting so hard for it, even if confidence is low, even though, in spite of all the pressing on, things just can't seem to go right. I'd go right down with them. You'll do us proud no matter what now.

I used to know you so well.

Don't count your eggs until the chicken's laid them.
- Sir Bobby Robson

Audio Candy:
Apocalyptica Feat. Adam Gontier - I Don't Care

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