Updated: Jun 21
If you’re proud to be a Geordie, clap your hands…. by Louise Thompson
Beyond our wildest dreams! Many of us can barely believe the positive change in Newcastle United’s fortunes. We have probably never really had too much cause for optimism and it feels almost too good to be true for us. The Geordie nation of good-hearted underdogs, giving it everything but not getting very much back in return. Not any longer! We are now operating at football’s upper reaches and with a new, global perspective and we are loving every minute of it. That has made me think about us, as the Geordie nation. What does it mean to be one of “us”, a Geordie?
Is it something like the definition of a Cockney, so proximity at our birth to the Castle defines us? Is that it? Sorry, that can’t be it. There are loads of examples of people being born far from the Castle that we still consider to be Geordies. We have produced some amazing footballing talent in and around Newcastle, the Charltons, Beardsley, Waddle and Gazza, a certain Alan Shearer and the current home-grown talent pool to name just a few. But who could doubt that Jonas Gutierrez is a Geordie? Pavel was a Geordie, we told him so over and over and over again. Seven years after leaving the club, Pappis Cisse tells his kid he will always be a Geordie, “My son looks at me and says, ‘you still think you have a contract at Newcastle United’. I tell him it’s not about the contract. I am a Newcastle fan now. It’s my team, I still love Newcastle United”. Of course, contrast that with Michael Owen played for us, but he isn’t likely to describe himself as a Geordie any time soon and we wouldn’t describe him that way either. So, it isn’t as simple as geography or birth right.
There are people all around the world now identifying as Geordie as media gathers greater reach and we have international ownership and that will grow as our success continues to grow.
I think to start to answer what makes a Geordie, you must look at the history of the city, aka the Toon, and also of the Club.
To take the Toon first, it is located in a somewhat isolated corner of northern England, close to the border with Scotland and at the point where the Roman Emperor Hadrian chose to build his wall to signify the edge of the Roman Empire, still evident in the west and the east of the city. We are also right on the eastern edge of the land mass, bordering the North Sea. Our Castle, that gives us our name, has stood in one form or another for more than 1000 years, with the city growing around it. Our motto is “Fortiter Defendit Triumphans” - triumphing by brave defence – it seems Eddie might have applied that in the last season! We have always been a bit separate, a local community with relatively few incomers. There wasn't even a motorway to Newcastle from the south until the last 30 or so years.
People tended to move away from Newcastle for economic reasons, like the founders of Hanwell Town football club (the Geordies who play in black and white in West London in the Southern League) who left Newcastle to work on the railways in the south in the 1920s and replicated our club there.
There hasn’t been much money in Newcastle but there has always been pride and a strong sense of community and of helping each other out. We are likely to bump into someone we know every time we leave the house but we will easily start to chat to those we don't know. Unheard of in London! Many of the students who attend our superb universities never want to leave and they, together with those who come to work in our ground-breaking hospitals are probably the main incomers.
So, whilst people didn’t tend to consider coming to settle in Newcastle (at least until they have visited!), we aren’t insular. We are recognised as a friendly and open city. We know that we have amazing countryside and coast on the doorstep and we know how to throw a party. We love to show how great it is. I think we are welcoming, but there haven’t often been too many people to welcome in terms of migration to Newcastle, although we have become much more culturally diverse in the last three decades or so.
Having few incomers has strengthened the Geordie identity, together with its small population and remoteness. There is a sense of pride in what we can achieve together, born from being isolated, and not having too many financial resources to draw upon. You can see those elements of pride and effort in the Geordie character with a strong sense of humour, typically forged in adversity. We are always really excited to welcome and share with others who do show interest in Newcastle and take some time to understand it and its community. Equally, having all 3 of the latest shirts and the training kit and going in the corporate boxes certainly makes you something, but, regardless of your background, it doesn't make you a Geordie....
To look at NUFC itself, while Newcastle didn’t have the earliest football team, there has been one united club since Newcastle East and Newcastle West football teams joined together in 1892 to form Newcastle United. This was 30 years after the Blaydon races mentioned in the song which is uniquely Newcastle’s – the Blaydon Races. Manchester United wasn’t formed until 1902, so we rightfully defend our claim that there is only one Premier League “United”. We have been playing in black and white consistently since the 1800s, this colour combination giving us our nickname “the Magpies”. St James’ Park has always been our stadium, located centrally in the city and known as the Cathedral on the Hill. There is no other professional club in Newcastle, which is different to many other Premier League locations - Mancheseter has Man U and Man City, the city of Liverpool has Liverpool and Everton, and the plethora of London Clubs that people growing up there can choose from. If we are born into a football family, then Newcastle is our team. It isn't a matter for debate. The first time a child of the family is taken to “the match” is a very meaningful milestone. It forms a big part of most people’s identity.
So, is going to the match what makes us Geordies? No, it has always been accepted that many in the city are excluded from the stadium on financial grounds and the ground located in the city has not been easy to expand to fit in everyone who would like to be there. That doesn’t stop a buzz on match day though, and many many people wear the club colour with pride in their day to day lives, and especially when on holiday away from the toon, even if they never go inside the stadium. The Geordie roar of a goal being scored can be heard across the town and the news quickly spreads.
At the take-over, a banner was unfurled that said, “We don’t demand a team that wins, just a club that tries.”. We want to feel that developing Newcastle United is on the agenda and we have that again now, as Kevin Keegan once prophesised that we would. The previous regime never gave any indication of caring about the club, the fans or the city. Now, we love that Eddie Howe drives into work well before 7 am most mornings and it is a requirement that the players operate at the highest levels of fitness. We love that they're putting the graft in. Another key element is respect for the fans at the ground and outside. Bruno’s message for the tot Arthur, who is poorly in hospital, when he scored his goal at our final match being a great example. He thought of Arthur right in that moment, not just when he visited him prior to the game. We loved that Anthony Gordon got a lift home from the Metro Centre on his first weekend as a player from a fan and his mam! The sense that we are in it together is so important. ASM picked up the bill for everyone in the Lego store.
With lessons in Geordie culture from Big Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff etc, Eddie and our owners have got this spectacularly right. The owners are always up for having a bit of banter with each other and with the fans on social media. They take time to get involved in the charitable events and financial and emotional support of the foodbank that is always present outside the ground on matchdays. They are willing to demonstrate that their acumen is more financial than footballing by having a kick about on the pitch; wearing the new shirt with pride and celebrating as wildly as the rest of us when a crucial goal hits the back of the net. It is amazing to feel that we are one team after they way things were before they took over.
Recently, with the advent of social media it has been even easier to keep up to date on what is happening on match day within the Club and at all other times. We are always hungry for news of antics at the training ground, discussions on fitness and tactics. Having St James’ hosting the some of the Women’s matches has been amazing, to enable people who would otherwise not have been able to join in to attend a match, at lower than usual prices. The record for attendance at a women’s match was broken at Newcastle in November 2022 with 22,241 attending a Northern League Division One North Match against Alnwick Town, proving being a Geordie is not related to gender.
Furthermore, whilst people haven’t traditionally moved to the north east, lots of people from Newcastle have migrated out of Newcastle, often for financial and employment reasons and they have continued to follow the club. There are Newcastle fans all over the world who have picked up their team from their expat families, such as John O’Hare and Stewart, the Islington Mag who is actually from Glasgow, although his grandad was from Newcastle. There are so many others who have simply adopted the club. My podcast mate John Sinclair is from Bristol but he fell in love with the club when living on Tyneside and now that he has returned to Bristol, he maintains his passion for the Club. Caleb the Geordie is a great example. Caleb was a serving USA soldier in Iraq when he befriended a young local orphan who followed Newcastle. The orphan was killed and Caleb followed NUFC in his honour and then fell in love with the club. He has learned the dialect and the history. With our newfound success, there will be many more following the club.
So, having considered all of that, am I any nearer to knowing what makes a Geordie having looked at some of the things that do and don’t form our make-up?
I am, although of course it is only my view….
Regardless of where we are from, or where we are now, it’s the shared values that make us Geordies. A bit of adversity, a bit of grit, effort, and hard work, looking out for each other, fairness, hope, respect. Humour is always important. But what is the secret sauce?
It is one word: AFFINITY.
Affinity is defined as “a natural liking for an understanding of someone or something”; for us, it is that feeling of being in it together, right across the city and even across the world. Wanting to understand the history of the city and the club, of our challenges, a willingness to join in the banter, being a bit vulnerable yourself, a willingness to contribute to the coffers where possible and to treat everyone the same and the will to win and to lend your passion and voice to the fortunes of the Club. That’s what makes a Geordie and we look forward to the expansion of the Geordie army on those terms. We need a new banner, Wor Flags… “We don’t demand a birth certificate, but we do demand Affinity" . If you are proud to have affinity, clap your hands...
Howay the Lads!