As the crow flies, it’s a 500-odd mile round trip to the land of the Geordies. Even in 2015, that’s a long old hike if you’re driving, or taking coach or train for Sunday’s fixture.
Anyone doing so, I salute you – especially if you’ve already made the trip to Sunderland.
Back in 1992, the North East seemed a million miles away. That was when I moved up there to live and work in Newcastle for what turned out to be three years.
My abiding memories of the place?
At the risk of dealing in time-worn clichés:
1. Big hair – mullet-style most notably (but not for me I hasten to add).
2. Hard drinking with ‘Newkie Broon’ flowing as freely as the River Tyne (and about the same colour).
3. Viz comic – the area’s contribution to world culture – in its heyday, with Billy the Fish and Biffa Bacon et al it ruled the roost.
I haven’t been back since 1995 but suspect that the second of those recollections is very much still in vogue.
Viz is still going although maybe not as stomach-achingly funny as I found it in the golden period of the early 90s. That might be an age thing.
For the uninitiated, one character – Finbarr Saunders – specialised in double entendres. Predictably it quickly became my nickname in Newcastle, and still today I share Finbarr’s love of a smutty double-edged gag.
In my stay in ‘the Toon’, I took in a few trips to St James Park. While Newcastle does have a cathedral, the footy ground provides a far more religious experience for the locals who have an unrelenting passion for the game, maybe unlike any other footballing army.
1992 was a time between number 9 legends, Mick Quinn and Alan Shearer. David Kelly was their spearhead. David who? This was the time of Kevin Keegan.
I saw the Canaries battle it out on the hallowed black and white pitch twice during my stay up north. Both ended in 3-0 wins for the Geordies’ heroes.
Compared with the ever more cosmopolitan squads of the 21st century, in the 1994 disappointment, 21 out of the 22 players were British born (Newcastle had a Czech keeper), while in 1995, the Geordies had a Swiss right-back too.
For them, we’re talking Peter Beardsley, Andy Cole, Barry Venison and one of our old boys, Ruel Fox – who had a brief stay in the North East before reaping richer rewards at White Hart Lane.
For us, it was the likes of Mark Bowen and Spencer Prior having rings ran round them and Ashley Ward and Darren Eadie firing blanks at the Gallowgate End.
Things haven’t improved much for Norwich in more recent visits.
We’ve never won in the Premier League era – five losses and a draw is all we have to show in the past 23 years – the most recent one being a 2-1 defeat in 2013 with that old Carrow Road ‘favourite’ Leroy Fer getting a late consolation effort.
For comparison with those mid-90s encounters, on that day there wasn’t a single British player starting in the Geordie strip.
Sunday’s forthcoming tea-time clash sees both sides desperate for a ‘bounce back’ from their last match.
Our loss to a lively Leicester was disappointing but ultimately competitive. Newcastle’s second-half Aguero-bashing at the Etihad was the latest instalment in the Steve McClaren car crash.
While Alex Neil and coaches will hopefully have our boys prepped for a West Ham-like front foot display, the former brolley man is under big pressure for a first win of the season. It won’t take too much more disappointment for the Geordie faithful to get very ugly as they did with previous boss, Alan Pardew.
And therein lies the danger for Norwich. We’ll be taking on a wounded animal – always a dangerous creature to be confronted with.
Some may make the comparison between McClaren and ChrisHughton in their managerial capabilities (maybe both a couple of Premier pussycats?), but in 2013 Hughton fired our boys up sufficiently to bounce back from that 7-0 Manchester horror show with a fine 3-0 home win against West Ham – a brief misery reprise.
Personally, I hate these Sunday fixtures – and this will be our third of the season already. 3 pm on Saturday (or 7.45 on a Wednesday) is the proper time for football.
There’s something deeply unpleasant about having to see all the other teams battle it out on the Saturday, and seeing us inevitably slide down the league table helpless to act until 4 bloody pm the next day.
It’s also distinctly out of order expecting Norwich fans to have to stay up north overnight or get back home at some ungodly hour of Monday morning. Surely in this day and age, such long distance stupidity can be avoided in the fixture list?
So, with next Saturday afternoon spare, I’ll be making my way up to the loft to dust off my old Viz comics and have a good chortle at Finbarr and friends to keep my pecker up (“fnarr, fnarr!”) before Sunday’s clash.
I have some “canny” memories of my days in Newcastle, but that was a lifetime ago and a City win at St. James’ would be “reet champion”.