NUFC:DXB Into Exile
By Neil Mitchell
Wednesday 28 Aug 2013 12:43:00
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Life's path is definitely a strange and winding one.  Along the journey you may take different turns and go down the odd blind alley.  But it always seems to take you wherever you need to be at that time.  At least in my experience it does.  And on that journey certain things are with you for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Or again that's how it seems to have been for me; everything for a reason even if you never really find out just what that reason was.


And so in the last month has seen me board a plane for sunnier climes and the challenge and amazing opportunities of working and living in Dubai. And as I type I am sat watching a spectacular desert sunset providing a breathtaking backdrop to the stunning skyline wondering to myself "just how the hell did I get here again?". And of course a move from the banks of the Tyne means I join the ranks of Geordie expats around the globe whose kick off time is no longer Saturday 3pm yet in some curious way benefit from the globalisation of the game and the ridiculous money pumped into clubs from television rights which seems to be skewing the balance away from the fans back home.  Out here you simply don't miss a kick, home or away. No loyalty points to get tickets, no bonds or membership, no direct debits or box office frustrations, no planes, trains and automobiles type dramas on the way to the match, no stand up/sit down arguments and no bloke in and out of his seat next to you for pie/beer/pee every five minutes.


There is a thriving Geordie expat community in the UAE.  I have come to be amongst friends, already good friends both new and old, and we all share the same passion for NUFC; proud Geordies all.  I'd already asked around about where to go to watch the match. I got 3 answers.  It has become very apparent that the challenges that faced me when I have been involved with various Supporters' groups, most latterly the innovative and open NUFCFans Utd that I am proud to be a founding part of, are alive and kicking amidst the NUFC community here too.


Someone once told me that getting NUFC supporters together was, at times, like herding cats.  They weren't wrong.  Out here there seems to be 3 groups that gather regularly and I've been privileged enough to share a beer with them all.  But get them together? In one place? That'll take time. In my experience NUFC fans hate to be told what to do.  They know their own minds and like to be listened to and have their opinions heard, even when you end up agreeing to disagree.  They like to do things their way; think for example why official travel with the club while you think it would make sense and take off big time never really seems to work with us.  We all go our own way.  Ultimately, of course, we all do what we do to the same end.  To carry our colours with pride and say "We are Geordies and we are the club and the club is us." The power of that regional identity is part of the powerful synergy that exists between club, city, fans and region.


And that's why when things happen that make the club look a laughing stock, when controversy hits and when certain areas of the media are looking for the stereotypical lazy story to run (and these days rabble rousing to do so in my opinion) it hurts.  And I can tell you it hurts the expats just as bad, and in perhaps some different ways to us when we are living in and around the "Cathedral on the Hill".  The same rich, intelligent and broad minded views exist in this expat community and I've already heard most of the same arguments that I have over the last few years in pubs, at talk ins, at the match etc etc. Universally the NUFC family are indeed one it would seem.  And still fiercely independent, outspoken and at the same time ready to stand shoulder to shoulder when it really matters.


NUFC is one of those things that most definitely is with you for a lifetime.  It gets under your skin and runs through the veins.  A tired cliche perhaps but it is true.  I can still remember my very first game, climbing up the stairs of the "new stand" having been treated to a seat, one hand in my grandfather's and the other on the handrail.  The hard concrete under foot, the cold steel in hand,  the excitement and anticipation and then emerging into the cool air, the pitch seeming so large and green, new sights, sounds and smells; all senses alive.  We lost, put out of the cup by a lowly Chester side and an emerging young talent by the name of Ian Rush.  But that didn't matter I was immediately smitten.  And some of those child like feelings still happen now and no doubt will remain every time I step into St James' Park.  Indeed many were very much there at what was my last match for a while and now my father is the grandfather and I am the father passing the tradition on (and still wearing the old man's scarf with pride). This time we won!  And no matter where I am I know St James' will be there for my return and I will be like the wide eyed child once again, of this I am sure.


It is this connection, a feeling of belonging, the feeling that wherever we are we represent a proud city, a city that has grown up in so many ways over the last couple of decade, a regional beacon to which we all turn, that makes NUFC and it's supporters what it is.  And for me the power of that connection is something NUFC need to build on.  It is a strength and depth of feeling that few other clubs can generate and something that no trophy or cup could even replace.  If the club can truly reconnect with the fans, and one way is by open communication with a no agenda group such as NUFC Fans Utd, for example, then the sky is the limit, I really believe that.  Certainly comments of late from the manager and playing staff seem to indicate they get it.  I know there are many more within the club who get it too. There are foundations there, let's build on them!


You can follow my occasional rants and bizarre ramblings on twitter @geordiedentist. If you like. Don't expect much though, I don't give out prizes or anything like that.

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