A Hitchhikers Guide to Away Days

New Year’s Day, 1980, my beloved Newcastle United take on Sunderland. No hangover for me as I’d just turned fourteen a few days before the big night. There was no public transport on, so me and my mate decided to walk to the Toon for the match. We didn’t have much choice really, as anyone we knew with a car was still drunk from the previous night’s partying! We set off from Benton in plenty time for our ‘epic’ trek to St James’ Park. We got as far as the Four Lane Ends and decided, for a laugh, that we would start hitch – hiking. After half an hour or so, a car pulled up next to us. The driver had clocked our black and white scarves. He said, ‘I’m going to the match, jump in lads.’ It was freezing so we didn’t need to be asked twice! The guy who saved us a long walk in the cold, turned out to be the commentator for Radio Newcastle and he was on his way to cover the game. We beat the unwashed 3-1 and even though we had to walk home we didn’t care.

Fast forward to September 1st, 1987. Mirandinha had just signed for the Toon and was set to make his debut at Norwich City. With all the hype surrounding the first Brazilian to play in England, this game was a must – see. On the morning of this midweek game, I decided I had to be there and as all the coaches were fully booked, the train too expensive and nobody with a spare seat in a car or van, the tried and trusted right thumb was about to work its magic for another road trip.

Armed with a bag of ham and pease pudding stotties and a piece of cardboard with ‘NORWICH’ hastily scribbled on it in black marker pen, I made my way over to Birtley services. I didn’t wait very long for a lift. A nice couple on their way to a camping holiday somewhere in North Yorkshire, took me as far as Scotch Corner. I managed to get two more lifts as far as Grantham but then the thumb lost its powers. I was stuck there for a good two or three hours and thoughts of missing the match were now creeping in. I was beginning to give up hope of reaching Norwich when a car pulled up. ‘Are you going to the match, lad?’ I heard. ‘Yes’, I replied. He told me to jump in. He told me he was going there too. I recognised his face, but couldn’t think where from. We got chatting and in the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he was a radio commentator.

The penny dropped and I remembered where I knew his face from. He was the same guy who had given me and my mate a lift to the Toon seven years earlier. I told him and he remembered me. What an amazing coincidence!

He dropped me off at Carrow Road and told me to meet him outside the players’ entrance after the match as he would take me back to Newcastle. Result! The game wasn’t a classic by any means, but as all eyes were on Mirandinha, I don’t think that really mattered that night. He showed glimpses off his Samba skills and had a canny game. We drew 1-1 and although Mirandinha didn’t mark his debut with a goal, he did enough to whet the appetites of the Toon Army,

When the game finished, I made my way round to the players’ entrance to meet the commentator (I can’t for the life of me remember his name!). Anyway, he was there waiting for me and beckoned me over to where he was standing. I followed him through the glass doors, along a corridor and through the tunnel to the edge of the pitch. He told me he had to do an interview with a couple of players then we’d be off. He asked if I’d got into the game ok and I said I had. Supermac was meant to be doing the co – commentary, but he hadn’t turned up. My new mate off the radio said if he had known McDonald wasn’t going to be there, he would have let me go in the commentary box with him. That would have been cool, but never mind.

I waited patiently at the side of the pitch as he conducted his post – match interviews. One was with our goal scorer, Peter Jackson and the other with a certain Steve Bruce, who was plying his trade for Norwich back then. Microphone out, quotes given, handshakes all round and we were ready for the long journey back to Tyneside. I wasn’t too bothered as it could have been a lot worse trying to hitch all the way home through the night. We made a pit – stop at a local watering hole and my generous friend treated me to a pint and a steak meal. Well not out of his own pocket as such, as his BBC expenses were taking care of the bill.

All the way back, we chatted about Newcastle United and football in general. The perfect travelling companion for a football fanatic such as myself. He dropped me off right outside my front door in the early hours. I was knackered but happy about my trip to Norwich. I usually went to away games on the train, sometimes the coach, but this particular away day, which had started off the previous morning with me standing on the edge of motorways, looking forlorn and hoping someone was going my way, had turned into a thoroughly enjoyable experience thanks to a total gentleman who had the decency to stop and give me a lift.

By Dave Brown @DaveyBrownArt

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