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On similar days...

Guest stormrider

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Guest stormrider

When I was 16 my family had moved to Syria for a short while. Back in 1999, that was my 6th year supporting Newcastle United. Hard enough to follow English football in the US as it is, the job was even harder over there in Syria. At that time, Internet was practically non-existent, Satellite TV would never get you SKY, and there was no possible way for me to follow Newcastle. Flipping through the channels, I had found a great Turkish channel that would transmit English football- Typically back on those days, you'd get 2 games on Saturday, one on Sunday, and that is if you're lucky. The problem, however, was that the channel would show the first 2 Minutes of each half, then get scrambled until the end of the game. Analog scrambling however, wasn't all so bad: you could still follow the game, sometimes noticing goals (not necessarily knowing which team scored, though). The FA cup final in 1999 was an experience for me. I knew there were two goals scored, but I had to wait until the local BBC Arabia radio channel announced Manchester United victors.

When we started the 1999 season, we were in the gutter. Scrambled TV? not even that, we wouldn't get a game. The possibility of that channel showing a Newcastle game was close to zero, and I had to come up with another source. That was about the time I flipped through the radio channels, found the English version of BBC, and surprisingly listened to my first Five Live commentary. I remember it as if it were today. We were beating Wimbledon 3-1, and even though we weren't the main game for that day (It was Chelsea vs. Villa, if i recall correctly), it was clearly getting more attention than the game at hand. Excitement reached the peak during the end, and sadly, Wimbledon equalised for the match to end in a 3-3 draw.

BBC sport news became my addiction for the following weeks. I would come back every day from school, go to my room, and listen to the radio just to get any snippet of Newcastle United news that could be flying by. I have to say though, this was one of the worst times to support Newcastle: Ruud Gullit was throwing the team deep into relegation zone, with one point after four matches. I didn't quite know any newcastle fans back then, how would I ever? I only had my own view about our performances, but could absolutely not share them with anyone. No one told me that Gullit was a bad manager, after all, all I know was that he was a great Dutch player and that he brought Chelsea back to the top spots. I wasn't viewing matches, had no idea about Gullit's recent signings, nor his fallout with Shearer. I just assumed that Gullit was not the right manager for the club. But the freedom of reading everyone's views like I do today was not available. I went to school on one thrusday morning, The news were there waiting for me: A friend of mine just mentioned Newcastle losing to Sunderland 1-2 the night before. "Damn, I missed a game" - I didn't care much about losing as much as following an actual game, even by radio. It was so scarce, and there was no way for me to get a schedule of the games.

Five games into the season and one point, including humiliating defeats by southampton and sunderland. Could that get the manager to go? Ruud Gullit was out, but what made my day was us playing Manchester United live on TV. Scrambled, I didn't care, I just wanted to see the damned thing. It wasn't easy convincing your family to watch scrambled football for two hours. But I'll be damned if anyone changes the channel. "Son, thats not a football game. Where's the ball, the players, can anyone -for god's sake- tell me what the hell we're watching?" - My dad would complain, but I was too obsessed to let this go. He was stunned that I could tell whenever someone scores, to him, this whole thing was a mess. I knew the score this time, it was obvious that the 5 belonged to them, and the 1 belonged to us. Made me feel like crap? Somehow, at least I got to see the match. Well, not according to my dad, though. News on the BBC was that we were in the process of hiring a new manager. "Great", I thought to myself. This time it could be exciting, we will pop up on the news more often". As soon as I heard the name Bobby Robson mentioned, I got myself glued to the radio: This was someone I know. He managed England in the 1990 world cup, my first ever, how can I ever forget Gary Lineker and David Platt? Yes, that same guy on the bench back in those days was nominated to be the new manager of Newcastle United. I contemplated skipping school. I was awaiting the news on fire. My family had practically abandoned me by then, they seemed to resign to the fate that I was no longer with them, mentally that is. I came back from school around 5 PM, it was getting dark, and I sat there at the kitchen table, my mom and sister there having dinner. They just wouldn't offer me anything, they just sat down there occasionally hoping i'd say something, while I did the expected, turning on my radio. I could sense the disappointment mounting in my family around the table just as I Caught the sports news right on time. Just what I've been waiting to hear: "Bobby Robson Becomes the manager of Newcastle United". "YES! I screamed out loud". Not to the surprise of my mom and sister, they just continued having dinner in peace, while I ran back to my room to listen to the news in detail.

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