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NUFC & Football in 2000...From 1963


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Every Friday this semester, as part of my Uni course (History) I'm on a work placement in the Local Studies Centre of Newcastle Central Library. I'm doing an exhibition (to go on public display) on Libraries past and present. Anyway, as the plans for the present library originated in March 1963, I was looking through some old papers, and stumbled across a range of articles in the Evening Chronicle on 'Tyneside 2000'. It was a very sixties view of the future, but some things they called right (Computers in most homes with instant worldwide communication, dishwashers, microwaves, multi channel TV, the Metro, music and films on discs etc). Anyway, Here is the article on what Football (and specificly NUFC) would be like in 2000, from the Chronicle, on March 6, 1963 (for the record, the following day, Newcastle thumped Bradford 6-1 at Valley Parade........ in the FA Cup, 3RD ROUND, a match that had been postponed because of bad weather on just the TWELVE previous occasions.)



Well, now. What have we here? The time is the month of February in the year 2000. The social habit is much the same. It is Saturday afternoon and all "the lads" are on their way to watch Newcastle United play.


But...here's a strange and exciting thing. the snow falls in deep unending clouds. It has been like that since Boxing Day, 1999, when a cold spell suddenly descended after a succession of mild winters.


So severe did it become that quickly it had the veterans comparing it with the winter of 1962-63. Was it as bad as that? Worse, much worse, they said.


But for the sportsman and especially the football fan and the addict of racing there was one fantastic difference. No referee was ever called to inspect a pitch. No clerk of the course ever announced that racing was cancelled.


The football pitches remained as soft, green and inviting as if it were glorious spring. On the racecourses the going was always "just right".


Of course this was merely common sense and had been the rule for so long (ever since 1970 in fact) as long ago to be accepted as normal. But it deserved comment this bitter afternoon in February, 2000 if only to stress how times had changed.


The winter of 1963 had started it all. At long last the intrepid winter spectators of sporting festivals in Great Britain had rebelled against the attitude of controlling bodies who refused through inertia, ignorance or lack of funds to find a new way to beat the weather.


At long last the soccer follower and racegoer had stated with an awful finality that they would attend no more football matches and no more race meetings unless they were treated as civilised human beings.


And wonderfully the authorities had acted. It was a fight for survival and they had decided that they wanted to live.


First they toyed with the idea of summer football and rejected this because the ingrained habit of the spectator said "no".


And Cricket in England in any case was now a mass summer sport with the abandonment long ago of the out moded County Championship, the substitution of three-day weekend matches with festivals during general holidays.

This together with the discovery of an unending stream of super-fast bowlers and batsmen who scored at the ratio of 60 an hour brought the football fans to the cricket fields in their thousands.


In Durham and Northumberland - the combined side was now rated as strong as Surrey and Lancashire - the game had never been so popular.


So summer soccer was out - so what then? The final solution did not come until many of the ancient directors of football clubs had been replaced by go-ahead young men interested in the game and dynamically alive to the fact that it had to be played under the best possible conditions.


Under-pitch heating was widely adopted, but this in turn quickly became out of date. From America came the example of a baseball stadium which had been built complete with a plastic dome.

Crowds of soccer officials went to see the new wonder and returned enthusiastic.


Quickly the idea spread, the more so since so many of the clubs in the new Super League (to which Newcastle and Sunderland most fortunately belonged) were building new stadiums seating 100,000 people in comfort with restaurants, bars and snack bars for all. Why not, they argued fit the plastic domes to the new stadiums?


And so it turned out. The dome could swing open and slide into deep recesses in the ground during fine weather and shut tight against, snow, frost or rain that was too prolonged.


When the weather turned really fiendish as it had done in the bad old days of 1963 - and as it was doing right now in the soccer season of 1999-2000 - why, there was still no problem. Special heating kept the snow from piling up on the dome. Special air conditioning kept the pitch and the stadium fresh. They watered the pitch occassionally - just to give it a nice stud hold - but that was all.


The result of this had improved the standard of soccer out of all conception. (though the old-timers could still get excited over memories of Milburn). The philosophy of "getting stuck in" had been abandoned by managers because it didn't pay off.


Now everything was art and science and intelligence because in the Super League when you played Real Madrid and Benfica and the best clubs from South America during their annual tour that was the only way to have a reasonable chance.


All in all then, the football picture was bright and it was generally agreed that the disappearance of the old Third and Fourth Divisions in the late 1960s had done nothing but good.


For now there was only the Super League, concurrently playing two tournaments against home and foreign clubs and one other league. They called themselves the "near elite" and the fact that the top ten went up each year (and the bottom ten in the Super League went down) provided a tremendous spur to excellence.


Of course everything was not perfection. Since there was now a world movement of players and Newcastle currently rejoiced in a centre forward by the name of Leonel Sanchez da Coutinho from Rio (Leo for short from the Geordie crowd), it followed that transfer fees were astronomical. Leo had cost £175,000, which was rather less than the plastic dome. Both were considered worth the money.


And yet the Tyneside football fan being what he is, there were still those who hankered for the bad old days. They argued that the old atmosphere was missing and since it was now no longer possible to throw snowballs at the referee, with all that the intimacyhad implied, some of the fierce cameraderie and frantic involvement was absent.

To which the younger element replied that they were not old fuddies who did not know when they were well off.


This then is the soccer situation on Tyneside in February 2000 and everyone eagerly awaits the World League which should evolve about 2005. For Newcastle and Sunderland, the agonsing question will be: Can they make it? But that, at least is for the relatively distant future.


A 1963 artist's sketch of St James Park in 2000.


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