“Nah man I’m Pele.”
“Well I’m Kevin Keegan then.”
“Who are you Simon?”
“Me, I’m Kenny Dalglish.”
“Bastard, I wish I’d thought of that.”
“You swore, I’m telling Miss.”
That was Hardcastle, snivelling little grass, he wasn’t in our gang but he hung round the edges. He was shite at football as well and claimed he didn’t like it. Welbeck Road Juniors was no place for a lad who didn’t like football and he had to play with the lasses most days.
“Who can I be then?” I whinged as eight year olds did at dinnertime in the seventies when all the good players were took already.
“You Andy. You can be Rivelino.”
“Aye man, he scored that free kick in the world cup. He was deed good.”
“HA HA – you’re called Rivers and Simon said you could be Rivelino. That means you’re Riverslino. HA HA.”
“Piss off man Hardcastle.” Deka smacked him in the face and he ran off crying, looking for a teacher. Deka was my mate.
“Reet then.” I said, happy at being thought worthy of a brazilian nickname and knowing in my heart it was because all the lads compared my skills to the south american tricksters' and not because my surname was vaguely similar to a little known ex international.
“We’re kicking towards the dinner huts and I’m Rivelino.”
Aye, them were the days. That’s my very first football memory, probably Hardcastle’s first taste of football violence as well. However, my first taste of professional football was in the 1976 season, we hadn’t long moved to Byker and Uncle Charlie took me to the match with him. I can vaguely remember us playing Arsenal, me sitting on a barrier bored and it being absolute shite. Obviously that was me sold and set for a lifetime of misery, Cheers Charlie.
At that age football consisted of watching Shoot on a Sunday afternoon. For those of you who don’t know, Shoot was a regional highlights programme that operated a strict rotational policy no matter which division your team was in. In practice this usually involved you sitting through an hour of Carlisle United (fucking Carlisle aren’t even in the North East) versus Darlington and then at the end you got two minutes of Newcastle being twatted four nowt off some Cockney team. I once sat in and watched it, while my mates played in the street outside, purely to witness the mighty Peter Withe score in a three one defeat to Brighton. In the interests of balance I have to point out that obviously as well as Shoot you also had Match of the Day on BBC one but, if you didn’t support or want to watch Liverpool then this was utterly pointless, a bit similar to supporting Sunderland really, enough said.
Anyway, at the tender age of six there was no way I’d be going to the match on a regular basis and there was no way Uncle Charlie wanted to interrupt his pre match drinking to take the nephew along so Shoot was the closest I got. The real football action at that age was in the street where, as inventive future bouncers, entrepreneurs, plumbers, butchers and drug dealing layabouts we created games that would keep us occupied for hours on end. The names trip off the tongue even now, Gates, Three pots in, Headers and Volleys, Spot and of course Kerbs. You can stick your playstations and DVD players up your arse, proper kids played these games, usually in packs of twenty or so and always with some blood and tears mixed into the equation.
During the ephochal 76 season when I saw my first live game and fell in love with the club that was to be my life for the rest of my life we achieved something that has happened only twice since – we got to a cup final. Granted it was only the league cup and not the sexy FA version but it was a cup final. We’d fucked up badly in the 74 FA cup final but I’d been too young to understand that, now though at the age of six I was old enough to know what was going on. Actually, in this city, where Grannies who’ve never been to the match can tell you who’s shit and who’s not trying and even people who don’t like football can tell you why we never win anything, I was old enough to have an actual opinion.
All I can remember of the game was that we lost and an alleged geordie (Dennis Tueart – wanker) had scored the winner past us with an overhead kick. It didn’t matter that we’d had a weakened team or that we had laid the ghost of the spineless 74 cup final team, we’d still lost. Now obviously as a six year old who knew that we’d been in a final only two years before this wasn’t the end of the world as obviously we’d be there again quite soon wouldn’t we? All these adults that filled my house drinking party sevens and singing Blaydon Races were always telling me how we were the best team in the world so it stood to reason that we’d win it next year. Oh the innocence of youth!
Me and the lads were soon out in the street playing Cup finals, the misery of losing at Wembley soon forgotten, well unless you claimed to be Dennis Tueart, you soon got a clout if that was the case. Me, I was Rivelino, Brazil had never beaten Newcastle in a cup final so that was alright.