Like most big football clubs, Newcastle United doesn't understand the magic it works—as the official club tour provesby Robert Colls / September 24, 2006 / Leave a comment
We were in the Milburn stand of Newcastle United football club. The foyer smelled of last night’s cigarettes, and although full ashtrays are not what you nowadays associate with “a top European football club,” in that stand, dedicated to that man, they were fitting. Jackie Milburn liked a smoke. A famous picture of Newcastle’s greatest hero has him happy as Larry, with boots around his neck and a tab in the corner of his mouth.
There were 20 of us. We’d paid £8 each for the Newcastle club tour, and along with my brother and his family, and me with mine, there was Dean, the tag-along boyfriend, and seven-year-old James, the ardent nephew, in full club kit with a golden number nine on his back and tricky red boots on his feet. As well as the Colls tribe, there was a young couple in baseball caps pushing a buggy each, an older Irish family, a pair of students holding hands, and a hyper youth who kept on saying to his long-suffering Dad that he wanted nothing but “Shearer.” “Sheeerruhh.” We were a motley crew, but dead keen.
Twenty of us, and one of him: Barry stood to attention to meet us out of the lift. He carried a grey club blazer, taken in at the sides, and a clipboard. He stubbed out his cigarette to welcome us to “the best football stadium in all Europe.” Great. Let’s get to it.
First stop is just next door. Just like here, really, only wider and lower, with a longer bar. This is the Platinum Club. It cost £3,000 to join when it opened. In return, you got a bond that guaranteed you a seat in the stand for the rest of your life. Nowadays, relatives of deceased bondholders sell their stake for up to £8,000. We have no questions and file out.
Next stop is all along the deep pile to the Learning Centre, opened by Tony Blair in 2000. Barry tells us that “this is for the kids, to give them something back.” But there are no kids to be seen. Fifty computers stare back at us in silence.
As we walk, Barry describes himself as a long-time “club servant” and former policeman. We appear to be changing floors but it’s hard to tell because whatever the level, everything has the same soft blue…