When you think about the best match you ever saw your team play, most will probably hark back to a glorious final with a trophy filled happy ending, or a thrilling, unexpected, against-all-odds victory against a superior opponent. There are not many fans who will say that the best match they ever saw their team involved in was a draw at home, but mine was. You see, I was one of the lucky 52,000 who was at St James' Park the day Newcastle came back from the dead, back from a 4-0 deficit to draw 4-4.
It started off as a run of the mill rubbish home game, a bloody freezing Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere was a bit flat and it soon became clear that half of our team weren’t really ready when the referee blew for kick off; but my word, Arsenal were. They went for the jugular straight from the off and it didn't take long to draw blood. Walcott quickly burned off the Newcastle defence before calmly slotting home after 44 seconds. Two minutes later, an unmarked Johan Djourou powered a header home, 2-0, three minutes gone, good start lads. Before too long Robin Van Persie decided to get stuck in to the action, helping himself to a couple from Newcastle's all-you-score open defence, 4-0, half an hour gone, game over. And to make matters worse, it was still bloody freezing.
There were a few people who got up and left at this point, but to be fair, there was far from any kind of mass exodus that others would have you believe, I think it was just too early!!
The usual half time discussion with my friends on the St James' concourse was something along the lines of "How many are Arsenal actually going get today?", "Is this the worst match we've ever been too??", and "Doesn't it suck that we have to sit through another 45 minutes of this shite before we go back to the pub!!"
So, as the Arsenal fans serenaded us with chorus’ of "You might as well go home", the second half kicked off with zero expectation, damage limitation was the only real priority. To the home teams credit though, they did come out with a lot more purpose and urgency, Pardew really must have got stuck into them at the break.
When St James' Park is at its loudest with 52,000 fans going berserk then it truly is something to behold.
Five minutes into the second half, after a tangle with the universally loved Joey Barton, Abou Diaby attempted some sort of death grip on the Newcastle man and chucked him to the floor, followed by a shove on Kevin Nolan for good measure; straight red card, oh well that helps our cause a little.
About quarter of an hour later, after a clumsy foul by Laurent Koscielny, we were awarded a penalty which Barton coolly converted, 1-4. Even with twenty-five minutes left and Arsenal down to ten men, there was still the feeling that the game was over and the goal no more than a consolation.
A few minutes later, and after some sloppy Arsenal defending and more good work from Barton, Leon Best scored, 2-4, or so we thought, linesman's flag was up, Best wrongly called offside. As it was however, just a few minutes later justice was served and Best did score; 2-4 for real now, fifteen minutes left and this is more like it, it's still a tall order but they're rattled, let's have a go at them, nothing to lose.
Ten minutes later and things started to get really real. Koscielny was adjudged to have pushed Williamson in the box, it was soft, but by that point the Gallowgate was past caring. Again Barton stepped up, and by this point I was really bloody nervous, if he's scores this then we’re in for a mental last five minutes. Brazenly, he goes for the little dink, Scezney gets his foot to it and I nearly have a heart attack, thankfully it ended up in the roof of the net, 3-4, game on. Suddenly it’s not so cold anymore.
The place was rocking, and I mean really rocking; when St James' Park is at its loudest with 52,000 fans going berserk then it truly is something to behold.
With just a couple minutes remaining, Newcastle were awarded a free kick, it was partially cleared but only as far as the edge of the penalty area.....then it happened.
Then he hit it, left foot volley, clean as a whistle, and for a split second 52,000 fell silent, it was like something out if a movie.
I can still remember it clear as day, it's like it's in slow motion in my mind. By this point the whole crowd was on their feet, screaming, praying for the goal to beat all other goals. I was in the corner at the goal end; I can remember watching the ball loop off the defenders head high into the dark Newcastle sky. As it began to fall I can remember thinking 'just fall to a black and white shirt', I looked down as saw what I was hoping for, I’d have preferred it to fall to Nolan or Barton but by that point beggars couldn't be choosers, Tiote would have to do, 'if you’re going to hit it, just get it on target and get it through the crowd' went through my mind. Then he hit it, left foot volley, clean as a whistle, and for a split second 52,000 fell silent, it was like something out if a movie. As it nestled in the bottom corner I don't think have, or will ever again, experience anything like it; sheer unadulterated pandemonium. The sound was unholy, a complete and utter explosion of ecstasy, strangers jumping on top of strangers, groups in arms falling on the floor, all screaming at the top of the lungs, pure madness.
It nearly got even better, a minute or so later, Nile Ranger cushioned a long ball down to Nolan to hit a wicked half-volley, skimming the post, going just wide. If that had gone in, I literally think I may have died as I'm pretty sure my head would have exploded by that point.
When it finally came to an end and the final whistle blew, myself and my two mates just looked at each other, words failed us, all three of us knew we'd seen something special that day and that we'd been through it together. No one would ever be able to take those 45 minutes we'd just witnessed away from us.
What many fans of so called ‘big clubs’ won’t be able to comprehend is that as a 32-year old Newcastle fan, I have NEVER seen my team win anything; as an England fan, I have NEVER seen my country win anything. Unlike Man Utd, Chelsea, Everton fans, etc., I literally have no idea what it feels like to see my team win something (Christ even Boro won the League Cup!!). On the 5th February 2011, as a ball fell out of the night sky, with one swing of his left foot Cheick Tiote sent me, and 52,000 others into complete euphoria, giving a taste of that much deprived football amber nectar. For that reason, a draw at home to the Arsenal, is the greatest match I have ever witnessed.