Passing the Emirates Stadium on the train home this week, I was reminded of an anniversary of sorts.
I’ve been at the Gazette 10 years.
And my first Newcastle United game for the newspaper was at Arsenal’s former Highbury home, now a luxury housing development in the shadow of the Emirates Stadium.
The team, then-managed by Graeme Souness, lost that night on what was the club’s last visit to Highbury, one of my all-time favourite football grounds.
Another is the Boleyn Ground, though it has changed much since I first stood on the away terrace there.
Back in the early 1990s, it was very different. I remember one West Ham fan in the “Chicken Run” waving a thick wad of cash at the travelling support, much like Harry Enfield’s “Loadsamoney” character.
You had to laugh.
Sadly, just getting through the turnstiles costs loadsamoney these days.
Barring a cup meeting later this season, Newcastle won’t be back to the stadium as West Ham move to the rebuilt Olympic Stadium in Stratford at the end of the season.
And the club’s last league visit to Green Street was memorable – for all the wrong reasons.
The day started with delays to trains into London – a fatality on the East Coast Main Line stopped all services passing through St Neots – and there was gridlock around Upton Park in the hours before the match because of an accident.
Even the team was caught up in the traffic chaos, and Steve McClaren and his players arrived at the ground less than an hour before kick-off.
I ascended the 90-odd steps to the Press box – not ideal a day after completing the Great North Run – half an hour before the game was due to start and there was still no sign of the players.
Things were no less chaotic on the pitch from a Newcastle standpoint.
The away end had sold out well in advance of the game despite the fact that it was being screened live on TV.
And the 2,200 supporters who took the club’s allocation will have endured plenty of capital punishment over the past decade.
Managers and players have come and gone with an alarming frequency during my 10 years at the Gazette.
There have been few common threads bar the unwavering away support from a fanbase whose club hasn’t won a major trophy in 46 years.
There have been some London highs, of course.
Remember THAT goal from Papiss Demba Cisse at Stamford Bridge? Or the club’s first win at the Emirates Stadium?
Back-to-back wins at White Hart Lane are fresh in the memory.
But back to Monday night. Before the game, I read West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan’s programme notes.
“I cannot remember a more exciting or successful window during our time at the club,” he wrote.
“We brought in players at a cost of over £40million. We thought it was important this season, with the move to the new stadium, that we bought players in every position to create the best squad and team that has been at the club since we arrived.
“As a result, we are now right on the maximum of wages we are allowed to pay under Premier League rules. It also means we expect the club to make a loss of between £10million and £17million depending on where we finish in the Premier League and the number of games we have televised.”
Basically, West Ham have gone for it in the transfer market. Big time.
Newcastle have spent more – £52.6million according to managing director Lee Charnley – but that headline sum is slightly deceiving given that at least some of that figure was addressing under-spends in previous windows.
And the club’s squad STILL looks short of a striker and lacks an English core to the team.
West Ham bought Premier League experience with their outlay.
By contrast, none of Newcastle’s four major signings had experience of English football before they arrived at St James’s Park.
I remember Sam Allardyce once saying that you couldn’t expect an overseas signing to seamlessly adapt to English football.
Allardyce, if I recall rightly, was talking about Jose Enrique, whose own adjustment to the Premier League took the best part of a season.
It can take time, and McClaren, whose side have two points from five games, doesn’t have time.
Saturday’s home game against Watford is followed by fixtures against champions Chelsea and league leaders Manchester City.
Patience is already wearing thin ahead of the dark winter months on Tyneside, where there had been hopes of a bright new dawn under McClaren.
McClaren – angered by the fitful contributions of several players – tore into his players in the dressing room after the game. He was more measured in his criticism in his post-match Press conference, though he admitted his team’s “organisation, discipline and defending” weren’t good enough.
He also has a Capital One Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday to contend with next week.
A cup run, however, would buy McClaren some time as he rebuilds the team.
Unlike many North East clubs, Newcastle haven’t been to the new Wembley. I’ve reported on England and Gateshead games there, but Newcastle haven’t come close to the national stadium over the past decade.
Sir Bobby Robson took a team which had been propping up the division to the old Wembley for a FA Cup semi-final in his first season at St James’s Park.
McClaren, whatever the need for Premier League points, will do well to give the competition and opposition the respect they deserve next week. London, and specifically Wembley, has long been calling Newcastle.