Football: Fan's eye view: Agog on the Tyne

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The Independent Online
FOR the benefit of the uninitiated, the term 'Mackem' refers to somebody who lives in that barren wasteland that other people prefer to call Sunderland. It's drawn from the way they speak and is quite different from 'proper Geordie'.

They are naturally our biggest rivals but though the difference between us in miles is only 10, it may as well be 310 for the difference in attitudes - football and otherwise.

The Mackems have always had a chip on their shoulder because Tyneside - at least in local terms - has the superior facilities, such as the Metro underground railway and huge shopping centres.

The difference is no less marked in football terms, with Newcastle winning more trophies and enjoying European success, unlike Sunderland. However, the most marked difference between the fans is that Sunderland supporters are only interested in winning, whereas Newcastle fans want to win but at the same time demand excitement and entertainment.

Back in the Seventies, 'Supermac' pulled the fans in by the thousand. Yet, when he was sold, the crowds went down despite better results. This is my heritage and I think it's a worthy tradition. Other teams may win League titles and FA Cups, but for Newcastle fans a bit of magic goes a long way.

One manager who felt the wrath of the fans was Jack Charlton who was unable to please them. People around the country may be puzzled: he was a local lad, a World Cup winner and a well-respected manager. However, he didn't understand the fans who after the excitement of promotion with Kevin Keegan couldn't come to terms with Charlton's ideas of buying big donkeys like George ('Mavis') Reilly and Billy Whitehurst to replace the likes of Beardsley and Waddle. The length of time he spent fishing was also a frequent topic of conversation in Tyneside bars.

One manager who understood the fans' demands perfectly was Arthur Cox who not only presented us with Keegan, Beardsley and McDermott but also developed Waddle's emerging talent. However, it was a lesser known member of that team who later gave me my favourite football memory, local lad Kenny Wharton.

The game was at St James' Park in 1988 against Luton, who earlier in the season had trounced us 4-0. Newcastle gained revenge with a 4-0 victory but that was secondary to the antics of Paul Gascoigne and Wharton. With the score at 4-0, Gascoigne decided to have a bit of fun and began to juggle the ball outrageously.

This was too much for Steve Foster, who raced towards Gascoigne in a blind rage. As Foster drew near, Gascoigne simply chipped the ball to Wharton, who then proceeded to sit on it. Talk about waving a red rag, I'll never forget it and I somehow doubt whether Steve Foster ever will.

One thing about Tyneside is that it's one of the few place where players are still accorded hero status. The public demands entertainment on the pitch and expects their heroes to be as large as life off the pitch.

Newcastle fans love nothing better than to bump into their footballing heroes when enjoying a pint 'doon the Toon'. One player who eventually paid a price for this was Gascoigne who, by continuing to try to be the Geordie lad out on the 'Toon', unfortunately left himself open to attack by any thug out to make a name for himself.

Everybody has their own favourite Gazza story. My own comes from the time when he passed his driving test and bought his first car. At the time Gascoigne turned to the Newcastle captain, Glenn Roeder, whenever he needed advice.

Roeder helped him to pick a car and also helped with the paperwork, including the insurance. Roeder went with him to pay the insurance and, because of the type of car and Gascoigne's age, it was quite a sum. When they got outside Gazza turned to Roeder and said: 'Thank God you don't have to pay that every year.'

And so to the present and if anybody understands the Newcastle fans, it must be Keegan. Newcastle played some top- class football in Saturday's 3-2 defeat of Southend - played incidentally in front of the biggest crowd in the country, Premier or otherwise - and won a lot more comfortably than the scoreline suggests. Will this at last be the year when Newcastle find the perfect marriage between entertainment and success? Surely 28,545 people can't be wrong.