Season review 2011/12 – Part 3

So the Falcons had four games left to save their Premiership status, beginning with Sale at home on Friday 30th March.


The gap was eight points going into the game and we found ourselves 12-19 down at half-time following a pathetic showing, Rob Miller among the Sharks’ try-scorers.


However in the second half the Falcons, with Irish legend Peter Stringer making a home debut, turned things around and Sale didn’t seem to know what hit them. With 53 minutes gone Tim Swinson was driven over in front of a roaring South Stand, possibly the loudest we were all season, and Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion levelled the scores.


That was how it stayed until four minutes left, when Gopperth sent a penalty high into the night and gave the Falcons a priceless win.


Unfortunately two days later Wasps’ 26-24 win over Gloucester, a topsy-turvey match that showed the Pests were also not going to lie down, restored the eight-point gap.


Then in mid-April came a Saturday afternoon that no Falcons fan who was at Kingsholm will likely forget for many, many years. We had not won away to Gloucester since 1998, but now had no choice if we were to have a chance of getting off bottom.


With a couple of minutes to go until half-time, Jimmy Gopperth’s four penalties to two from Freddie Burns had us 6-12 ahead and the Shed were restless. They were becoming hostile when the score at the break was extended to 9-19 by a try from Ally Hogg.


Away fans were taking photos of the scoreboard as if we couldn’t believe it would last, and maybe that is how we felt. Indeed, three Burns penalties and a try by Akapusi Qera gave Gloucester a 20-19 lead with 10 minutes left.


Oh well, we had played well, and maybe a losing bonus point wouldn’t be useless.


However, within a couple of minutes Gopperth had restored our lead with the boot and with five minutes to go Mark Wilson was the only player to react to a lineout and ran in unopposed for a try that some celebrated wildly, while others just looked to the heavens in almost disbelieving joy. I was among the latter.


Many a beer was sunk by Geordie rugby fans that night I can tell you, particularly since two hours later Harlequins defeated Wasps 33-17.


An admittedly unlikely bonus point victory over champions Saracens would take us off bottom!


The build-up to the Saracens match was marred by controversy over the Falcons’ new kit, with its large red stripe, and the removal of ‘Newcastle’ from the logo on the shirt.


Come the Friday night game, the Sky cameras were treated to a dour first 60 minutes as neither the Falcons nor Sarries realised the other was there for the taking. By the time the Falcons decided to start playing in the style that had beaten Sale and Gloucester we were 3-9 down and though we dominated the last 20 minutes, no scoe came.


There was a feeling of frustration and despondency around the South Stand, and the following afternoon Wasps piled on the misery by taking a losing bonus point at Bath through Nicky Robinson’s late penalty.


We now had to get a bonus point win at Adams Park while winning by more than seven points, or win by 24 clear points.


500 Geordies amassed among the sell-out crowd in High Wycombe on 5th May and outsang 10,000 home fans throughout the game, even turning on some black humour when we were 10-0 down: “Que sera sera, we’re going to Jersey”.


Christian Wade’s try and five points from Nicky Robinson seemed to have done for us, despite the Falcons domination.


However, finally James Fitzpatrick got the breakthrough and Gopperth converted. We dared to dream.


The Falcons got close again but it wasn’t until 76 minutes when Peter Stringer, on his final appearance for the Falcons, put us ahead for the first time.


We won the battle 10-14, but Wasps won the war between us in the Premiership table by one point.


Post-match you would have been forgiven for thinking we had actually stayed up, as we cheered the Falcons off the pitch while the home fans slipped away to the exits.


After all, the players had given their all, not just at Adams Park but over the past few months too. We were proud of them.
We now look forward to 2012/13, in whichever division. Incredibly, 47 days since that ‘decider’ at Wasps, our fate is still not decided.


The Richards Revolution approaches and wherever it starts, I expect it’s going to be one hell of a ride!


(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)


Season review 2011/12 – Part 2


Now when Semore Kurdi took full control of the Falcons, he had three choices:

1) allow things to continue as they were,

2) accept that relegation was likely, and look to rebuild in the Championship, or

3) make changes and try to retain our Premiership status, restoring some supporter pride in the club in the process.


Fortunately, he chose option three. In the wake of the Exeter game, Alan Tait was relieved of his duties and former London Irish manager Gary Gold was brought in as Director of Rugby until the end of the season, alongside Mike Ford as defence coach. They would later be joined by Leicester legend John Wells.


Tait’s assistant Paul Moriarty managed the side in final two European games, seeing a win over Padova and a defeat in Lyon, before the new era began with an LV= Cup hosting of Sale on 29th January.


For the first 15 minute, little looked like it had changed, our players kicking away possession badly and training 0-7. Just over an hour later, with a 37-7 win in the bag thanks to some inspired and exciting play, how different things looked!


A defeat at Leicester on a freezing, snowy afternoon eliminated us from the cup but few really cared – the real business of the Premiership run-in was about to begin!


It started at the Rec against Bath, ironically where Gold and Ford will coach next season.


Leading 8-14 at the break, things looked good but a yellow card for Jimmy Gopperth and a penalty try allowed Bath to pull away, however Gopperth atoned with a conversion of Will Chudley’s last-minute try to steal a bonus point.


We then moved on to Irish at home, a game we hadn’t won since April 2005. This time the Exiles were in the lead and a rush of blood to the head from Adriaan Fondse saw the lock red-carded for a slapping (or punching, depending on who you listen to) Delon Armitage.


Then came one of the moments of the season. On the halfway line, Ryan Shortland intercepted a pass from Irish and raced downfield (I can still see it now), and we were in the lead 16-10. The Falcons managed to see out the win, Gopperth adding a penalty to be sure, and four vital points were in the bank.


The fightback was on!


The Falcons returned to Welford Road to take on Leicester in a far more important game than that of three weeks earlier, but never recovered from an early yellow card for James Fitzpatrick. Julian Salvi scored a minute later and Leicester scored six tries in all in a 42-15 win, including two from Thomas Waldrom as the home forwards dominated the second half.


Jon Golding and Richard Mayhew got consolations for the Falcons but that is all they were.


More than 7,200 packed into KP on a Friday night in early March, buoyed by a £10-a-head offer, to witness a tense and occasionally violent meeting with champions-elect Harlequins. The game was dominated by the boot, Jimmy Gopperth and Nick Evans each scoring three penalties apiece in a 9-9 draw.


Evans broke Geordie hearts in the dying seconds when the referee gave a penalty at a scrum, allowing the former All Black to equalise.


But as those who were at KP that night or watched it on TV know, that was only half the story. Post-match Harlequins fans jammed the internet in anger at the perceived thuggery of our team, who had had Chris Pilgrim and Rob Vickers sent to the bin on different occasions.


Taiasina Tu’ifua was their main target, but much to the delight of Falcons fans, the big guy was found innocent following a citing.


After the break for the end of the Six Nations, the Falcons travelled to Worcester and never really got into the game. The Warriors turned the screw in the second half and all but sealed their own Premiership survival with a 19-9 victory.


Four games were now left: Sale at home, Gloucester away and Saracens at home before R-Day at Wasps.


That the Falcons even had a chance of staying up at this point is to the immense credit of those in charge.


(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Season review 2011/12 – Part 1

It’s been another hell of a season watching Newcastle Falcons, that’s for certain. From the dull defeat to Bath on the opening day, through to the ultimately hollow victory at Wasps just a couple of weeks ago, it’s been a rollercoaster ride that we don’t yet know the result of, due to the Championship playoffs.


Alan Tait’s second full season in charge (as it was expected to be) saw a morale-boosting Premiership Sevens victory at the Stoop back in early August, the small but merry band of Falcons supporters enjoying a tense final win over Saracens in the final before invading the executive stand to celebrate with the team.


Unfortunately the league season did not promise similar returns. The first game was a meeting with Bath at Kingston Park, our third successive match against the Bathplugs after finishing 2010/11 home and away to them. For the third time out of three, it was the southwesterners who were successful. Although debutants Jamie Helleur and Richard Mayhew performed well, the game was dour, the Falcons playing in the style of Steve Bates that we had hoped had been forgotten.


Defeats to Exeter, Leicester and London Irish followed, in fact a 15-10 win over Wasps was our only success in the first six Premiership matches.


More significant perhaps was the news that Semore Kurdi had taken full control of the club, replacing Dave Thompson as chairman. Uncle Semore soon began a review of the club’s structure, that would lead to big changes on the playing side later in the season.


Following a win over Cardiff and another defeat at Irish in the first half of the LV= Cup group campaign, and a league loss at Northampton, a key game arrived in early November.


The ESPN cameras came north for the visit of our relegation rivals Worcester, but frustratingly we were only able to manage a draw with the newly-promoted Warriors. The calls for managerial changes grew louder.


No changes came yet, although after we defeated Lyon and Petrarca Padova in Europe, new signings Taiasina Tu’ifua, Suka Hufanga and Adriaan Fondse made their debuts in a loss at Harlequins.


The next home game was another key one, a match we dared not lose, at home to Gloucester. On a dark, tense evening at KP in early December, Jordi Pasqualin scored against his former club and the Falcons held on for a 26-25 victory, only our second of the league season.


A home win and away defeat against Toulon in the Challenge Cup followed, the first played in freezing conditions when the players on both sides deserved huge credit for putting on an entertaining game, even if the score was restricted to 6-3.


Over the Christmas period the Falcons lost to Sale on Boxing Day and then Northampton ensured a happy new year for themselves with a bonus point victory at KP on New Year’s Eve. Tom May was among the scorers on his first return to the North East for a competitive match.


Next up was Exeter at home, our last league game for a month and one that looked pivotal on the back of Worcester’s win at Wasps, although the Pests were beginning to look like being dragged into the relegation battle themselves.


Near the end of the game against Exeter, Tim Swinson scored a try to bring the score back to 10-16, but there was only muted celebration by the home fans. Having watched a truly awful performance, we knew there was little chance of a winner. I myself, for only the second time ever, had been tempted to leave the game early.


Something had to change otherwise there seemed little chance of the Falcons finishing anywhere other than 12th in the Premiership.


Part 2 coming next week.


(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

’twas on the fifth of June…

This weekend doesn’t just mark the 60th anniversary of Big Phil’s wife becoming Queen, you know.

It also is 150 years ago today that Geordie Ridley first sang The Blaydon Races in Balmbra’s Music Hall at the bottom of the Bigg Market, at an event to celebrate Whickham oarsman and local sporting hero (more than a decade before the second Geordie national anthem was written) Harry Clasper.

Though Ridley died in 1864, all these decades later his legend lives on and the song must surely be known by almost everybody on Tyneside. Having long been sung by Newcastle United fans at St James’ Park, it can also be heard at Kingston Park as the South Stand roars on the Mighty Falcons.

Although presumably a song to entertain his audience, Geordie Ridley was somewhat commercially-minded, sticking in a note about his upcoming show in Blaydon on the famous 9th of June. It is thought the original song at Balmbra’s ended with what is now considered the penultimate verse, mentioning the Blaydon event, and the final verse was added there.

The original Blaydon horse races were held on an island in the Tyne for many years but ended in 1916 when the winning horse was disqualified, prompting a riot. Ironically, the 1862 races were called off due to a heavy storm that made it impossible for the horses to run!

However in 1981 a new road race event was launched, and today 4,000 runners annually take on the 5.9-mile course that follows the route of the song.

I am of course not the only person to remember this anniversary and there are some events going on to celebrate it, as you will find here. I myself fancy the reet Geordie knees up that will be going down in Clerkenwell, central London this Saturday!

In the meantime, doth your flat cap, get your whippet on a lead and raise a Brown Ale to a one of the things that make Newcastle the Greatest City on Earth.


In 1891 a book names Allan’s Tyneside Songs was published, containing the following lyrics to The Blaydon Races. For rugby purposes, you only really need the first verse and the chorus:

Aw went to Blaydon Races, ’twas on the ninth of Joon,
Eiteen hundred an’ sixty-two, on a summer’s efternoon;
Aw tyuk the ‘bus frae Balmbra’s, an’ she wis heavy laden,
Away we went alang Collingwood Street, that’s on the road to Blaydon.


Ah me lads, ye shud only seen us gannin’,
We pass’d the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin’;
Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces,
Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.

We flew past Airmstrang’s factory, and up to the “Robin Adair”,
Just gannin’ doon te the railway bridge, the ‘bus wheel flew off there.
The lasses lost their crinolines off, an’ the veils that hide their faces,
An’ aw got two black eyes an’ a broken nose in gan te Blaydon Races.


When we gat the wheel put on away we went agyen,
But them that had their noses broke they cam back ower hyem;
Sum went to the Dispensary an’ uthers to Doctor Gibbs,
An’ sum sought out the Infirmary to mend their broken ribs.


Noo when we gat to Paradise thor wes bonny gam begun;
Thor was fower-an-twenty on the ‘bus, man, hoo they danced an’ sung;
They called on me to sing a sang, aw sung them “Paddy Fagan”,
Aw danced a jig an’ swung my twig that day aw went to Blaydon.


We flew across the Chain Bridge reet into Blaydon toon,
The bellman he was callin’ there, they call him Jackie Broon;
Aw saw him talkin’ to sum cheps, an’ them he was pursuadin’
To gan an’ see Geordy Ridley’s concert in the Mechanics’ Hall at Blaydon.


The rain it poor’d aw the day an’ myed the groons quite muddy,
Coffy Johnny had a white hat on – they war shootin’ “Whe stole the cuddy.”
There wes spice stalls an’ munkey shows an’ aud wives selling ciders,
An’ a chep wiv a hapenny roond aboot, shootin’ “Noo, me lads, for riders.”



(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)