I had always been fascinated with the home of Newcastle United, St Jame’s Park, fascinated not only by the lopsided nature of the stadium (2 stands being significantly bigger than the other 2 , a consequence of the planning restrictions on the 2 smaller sides), but also by 90’s and naughties memories of some class footballers delighting (if ultimately disappointing) their home fans .. players such as Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, Andy Cole, Tino Asprilla…. all of these had formulated a glorious footballing memory, particularly through my 20’s. A family trip to nearby Durham gave me the perfect excuse to sample the Stadium Tour. All in for £40, for a 90 minute tour for 4, seemed reasonable, lets see what I got!
On an initial negative note there wasn’t much in the way of grass. As this was off-season, the pitch was undergoing a dig up and replacement which meant that inside the satisfyingly impressive stadium building there was nothing but brown/grey dirt, awaiting the imminent planting of grass seeds (from Holland apparently). Oh, and the accompanying site of a caravan, so that the green-keepers could sleep on-site and keep to schedule.
20 or so of us, mainly families also, were greeted by a knowledgeable chap and his sidekick, who promptly walked and talked us enthusiastically through the stadium and all its history – from the Corporate Hospitality suites (a suite for this group of suites and a suite for another, as well as the not significant sum of up to £80,000 per season for the privilege of watching the game in a ‘box’ whilst sinking glasses of champagne), through to the Home/Away changing rooms, dugouts, and culminating in the Media room.
My personal favorite, as a fan of the game rather than someone who is impressed by the money in the game, was the Number 9 room, where the portraits of the great and gone by Number 9’s of NUFC were displayed. Not sure this is what this room was formally called but for this football, if not NUFC, fan this was a real treasure, and I took great joy in talking my sons through the glories of past Newcastle number 9’s including Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole and Jackie Milburn (ok, bit before my time that one, but can still revel in the name and history !). I seemed to get verification of my rantings later on in the hotel when my older son proceeded to imitate a Shearer shot into down the hotel corridor with an imitation “Shearerrrrr!!!!!” celebration, one arm raised an all.. .quite impressive seeing as he had never seen this first hand!
I also very much enjoyed the many marks of respect to the late Sir Bobby Robson, one time Manager of NUFC, and a favourite among just about any football fan, anywhere in the world ! He was such a well liked, kind, and successful football manager so it was touching for all to observe his statue outside the ground as well as the Alex Ferguson presented bust of Sir Bobby in the main player’s entrance. Not to mention ‘his’ seats, alongside the directors seats, which are only for use for his family. What a legend, and touching to have our knowledgeable guide speak first hand – having met Sir Bobby – of just how loved Sir Bobby was in the North East.
Observing at first hand the imposing stadium – the building – was a real delight. The two larger sides of the stadium, the Leazes End and the Milburn Stand, really do stand in stark contrast to the remaining smaller stands (the Gallowgate End and East Stand), but it kind of works as a theatre of football which demands instant recognition. It is distinct, has character, and coupled with its City Centre location, is a notable and imposing presence. How I would love to attend one of the home games, as I can imaging the atmosphere as being every bit deafening as it hints at being on television.
My kids at the beginning of the tour were presented with a small gift – a couple of DVD’s of Newcastly highlights gone by (I don’t think it includes their recent relegation exploits..), and the way in which the kids were treated and given centre stage to experience the tour was first class.
I can generally recommend this tour to anyone who is visiting the North East of England. St Jame’s Park is a real historical football treasure, which you should not miss. Even if not a die-hard football fan, this tour is worthwhile as it really qualifies the importance of sport in our regions, both in terms of the passion and tribalism of the games it all serves to conjure up, but also in terms of the increasing influence of big-money and corporatism that has infiltrated our game, even at (especially at?) our most traditional of clubs.
If, like me, you are interested in a tour of St Jame’s Park click here.
Tour of St Jame's Park, home of Newcastle United FC, June 16