When in full unrestricted flow St James' Park, Bobby Robson's cathedral on the hill, is the most atmospheric football stadium on England's green and pleasant land. Bar none.
The matchday experience is one of wall-to-wall joyous noise amid relentless black-and-white bunting. Yes it has something to do with new owners buying out Newcastle's pantomime villain, a new manager bringing wisdom and passion, new signings brimming with quality, and old players rising to new heights.
However above all the lifting of SJP from graveyard to glorious fulfillment owes so much to Geordies themselves. The Great Waiters for a team to be proud of are waiting no more and Wor Flags, a passionate bunch of Toon foot soldiers, have supplied the ammunition for the rest of the world to witness an explosion of joy.
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What they have achieved visually is perfectly reflected in a new book 'Football Passion In Black And White' by superfan Angie Stanger-Leathes which has hit the marketplace just in time for Christmas. It therefore seemed totally appropriate that Wor Flags would be well represented centre stage at the book launch held in the iconic Strawberry pub nestling in the shadows of the great ground where they perform so meticulously every opening day.
I was delighted to interview Wor Flags representatives Chris Johnson and Ryan Bell who were accompanied by their official photographer George Frizzell. Wor Flags were born out of the days back in 2016 when, despite relegation to the Championship and the Scrooge like figure of Mike Ashley hovering over a bruised city, Rafa Benitez decided to stay and fight the good fight.
Inevitably Wor Flags eventually left in protest at Ashley's reign but they came roaring back when Amanda Staveley, Jamie Reuben and their Saudi backers rode into town.
"It is a wonderful time for each and every Geordie," Chris Johnson told me. "We have got our club back and far from running out of ideas we have a backlog of things we want to involve the fans with in the coming months."
Angie is a typical cradle-to-grave supporter of 50 years loyalty who has committed herself to a table in the Moncur Suite. Her book which she presented to a delighted Amanda and Co before the Chelsea match uniquely includes words of thanks in Arabic.
It was my pleasure to talk with another special United fan Wayne Dance who has written in the book about our trip to Budapest in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Fairs Cup win. Inevitably the hat-trick hero of that night Bob Moncur also had a few words supported as he was by two other members of the 69 squad Keith Dyson and Alan Foggon who came on in Hungary to score a wonder second leg winner.
Steve Walls, a legendary star of the Whitley Bay Playhouse panto every year, shared mike duties and reminisced with Lindisfarne's Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell. Ray, a founder member of the group, recalled his memorable appearances at SJP. Special gigs among many, many special gigs for the Tyneside super group.
"I've actually played at the park four times - twice playing football and twice playing the drums," laughed Laidlaw. "The first match was a bunch of rock and rollers against Newcastle Veterans as part of Frank Clark's testimonial. We included the likes of Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC, against Wor Jackie and Jack Charlton. SuperMac refereed and we lost 1-0. We were lucky to get nil.
"The other game was for John Anderson. We fielded Robson Green, Alan Hull, Sammy Johnson and Glenn McCrory. We were supposed to be playing a Jockeys' side but they had only one jockey and a whole load of Sunday League players. We got hammered."
Lindisfarne supported Bob Dylan in concert in 1984 and returned on the final day of the 1993 season to commemorate United going up to the top flight. They did it in style slaughtering Leicester City 7-1, a game Ray and the lads watched with glee from a specially erected stage built for them on the site of the new Leazes End Stand.
The invitation-only audience also heard about the vital importance of pitch side defibrillators from Keith Martin, one of the players at the Killingworth Walking Football Men’s Team that Angie sponsors. Their defib actually saved a life during a recent match. Some of the profits from book sales will go towards buying more defibrillators for local grass roots football teams.
Football Passion In Black And White by Angie Stanger-Leathes costs £18 plus postage and package and is available from www.limelightclassics.com
Special memories with John Tudor
John Tudor is a Newcastle United hero. As Malcolm Macdonald's strike partner he starred in the run to the 1974 FA Cup final amongst his 220 appearances and 73 goals for the Toon. Now living in Minnesota aged 76, John is sadly suffering from dementia but battles on with unstinting support from his caring wife Anne.
He is a special, special friend so it was heart warming to receive this photo of John and Anne (above) among 55 Toon Army fans sitting in a British pub across the pond bedecked in black and white watching United defeat Chelsea on the telly.
At this precise time with the World Cup upon us my memories transported me back 48 years not to Wembley but to the 1974 World Cup finals in Germany where John Tudor was by my side to lend his special insight into the proceedings. I also thought of the happy times when Angie Stanger-Leathes ghosted John's autobiography 'King For A Day' and I penned the foreword. Again perfect timing with Angie having just launched another book on NUFC.
Stay safe and happy John!
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