The Newcastle fan whose grandpa tyuk the bus fra’ Balmbra’s

Garry Steckles, with whom Monsieur Salut worked on a newspaper in Abu Dhabi, is not Bob Marley but knows as much about him as most living souls, spending lots of his time in the Caribbean, involving himself in the reggae scene and, a couple of years ago, publishing a biography of the great man. Another claim to fame: his grandfather – Garry’s not Bob’s – once owned Balmbra’s. The Blaydon Races link is appropriate: there’s always a downside to good people and Garry is a Mag. Tomorrow, we get his answers to our questions about Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby. Today, we recall a brilliant piece he wrote for Salut! Sunderland before the 2008 equivalent, won by us 2-1 …

Before I start, I should point out that I don’t really have any memories of Tyne-Wear derbies.

Most of my Newcastle memories are from the Fifties, and while I might have been at one I can’t honestly recall anything about it.

From 1960 until I left for Canada in 1968, I was working every Saturday during the football season, either in the office putting out a paper or at a match covering it. Since 1968, I’ve been more or less a long-distance fan. Anyway, I think I can write around all of that. Here goes …

I’m dating myself here, but I grew up thinking I was destined to be a fan of a winning team. That’s because my earliest memories of Newcastle United are of the days when they were a winning team – when the FA Cup, in those days THE biggest prize in English football, was next to a permanent fixture in the North East of England, and not, thank goodness, adorning the board room at Roker Park.

I’m talking, of course, about the majestic Newcastle team of the early to mid-Fifties, and about names like Bobby Mitchell, Alf McMichael, Joe Harvey, Len White, Ronnie Simpson, Frank Brennan, George and Ted Robledo and Jimmy Scoular.

Just making sure you’re paying attention; I haven’t really forgotten Wor Jackie, and more about him in a moment.

One of my earliest football memories is being perched on my father’s shoulders in the heart of Newcastle, one of thousands of fans welcoming back The Lads and The Cup. I can’t honestly remember the year, but think it was probably the 50-51 edition (for the record, we beat Blackpool 2-0).

A few years later, I was deemed big enough to be taken to matches, and was one of the hordes of tousle-haired kids taking up the prime real estate behind the goal at the Gallowgate End, where, in those innocent days, parents could safely take their youngsters and leave them with their peers in the certain knowledge that they’d find them there at the end of the game.

From there, I saw some of the immortals. It was a long time ago, and I’d be lying if I said I could remember the nuts and bolts of every match. But I do remember seeing Stanley Matthews, on the right wing for Blackpool, running circles around what in those days was a seriously solid Newcastle defence.

And my most vidid memory of all is of a young team who everyone said would soon be the best in the world. They wore red shirts, and among the names were Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower, Tommy Taylor, David Pegg, Dennis Viollet and Harry Gregg. A few months later, I was rushing to catch the train from Monkseaton Station to West Jesmond, on my way to school, when I spotted the headlines that told a stunned nation that eight members of that Manchester United team had been killed when their plane crashed trying to take off in Munich.
My Newcastle-watching days ended in 1960, when I was hired as a junior on the sports desk of the Shields Gazette.

After that, my Saturdays during the football season were spent either working in the office putting out the football edition, or covering matches.

And I was nowhere near experienced enough to be covering Newcastle United, although I would occasionally be sent to Redheugh Park to report on the misfortunes of Gateshead, where one of my frequent companions in the press box was Jackie Milburn, who worked for years as a reporter after his playing days where over.

Like every kid on Tyneside (and every grownup, come to think of it), I’d revered Jackie as a player, and was overjoyed to discover that the class he’d shown on the field was very much in evidence off it. The statue of Jackie Milburn on Northumberland Street isn’t there just because he was a great player, it’s because he was a great Geordie, and I’m proud to have known him.

Oddly enough, the last time I saw Newcastle play at St James’ was also against Manchester United. It was in December of 1968, and I was spending a few weeks with my parents before flying to Canada for what I thought would be a year and turned out to be much of a lifetime. The weather for most of that winter was vile – nothing unusual there – and the pitch was the proverbial sea of mud; this, remember, was long before the days when ground-keeping techniques guaranteed lush expanses of green turf from the beginning to the end of the season.

That Man U team included Munich survivor Bobby Charlton, by now England’s greatest forward, a goal-poaching Scot called Denis Law and a fairly talented young Irishman called George Best. They slaughtered us.

Just over a year later, in the spring of 1969, I was back in the North East for a few months after the death of my father, and working on the news desk of The Journal in Newcastle. I was also doing casual shifts on the Sunday Sun, and wrote the front page headline on what remains the team’s last trophy victory.

It was the old Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and they beat Ujpest FC 6-2 on aggregate in the final. I’m still rather proud of the headline, which was splashed in huge type across the front page: IT”S WOR CUP.

Soon after that, I was back in Canada, and, since then, I’ve been a long-distance fan, following Newcastle misfortunes from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Chicago, Barbados and the Caribbean island I know call home, St. Kitts. But I’m still a fan, and, like Newcastle supporters everywhere, I still start out each season brimming with confidence and end it confident that next year’s going to be the big one.

See how Garry answered our questions in 2008 by clicking here

*Garry Steckles on Garry Steckles:
Born in the Hillfield Club, Grainger Park Road, Newcastle (opposite the General Hospital) in 1944. My grandfather was one of Newcastle’s leading bookmakers between the wars, and owned many pubs and clubs, including Balmbra’s, of Blaydon Races fame, and the notorious Uncle Tom’s Cabin in North Shields. My parents were publicans, and among the boozers they managed and I was brought up in were the Station Hotel, Killingworth, the Rockliff Arms, Whitley Bay, and the Portland Arms, Manors, Newcastle. My mother also worked as a barmaid at the High Point Hotel, Whitley Bay, and retired at the age of 83 after working for about 25 years at the RAOB Club, Whitley Bay.
I became a journalist in 1960 at the age of 16, earning 30 shillings a week on the sports desk of the South Shields Gazette. Also worked in the UK for the Sporting Life, the Daily Mail, Manchester, the Evening Chronicle and The Journal, Newcastle, and, as a casual, at The Sun and the News of the World. Worked in Canada for the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette and the Vancouver Province, in the States for the Chicago Sun-Times and was founding editor of Caribbean Week, published out of Barbados and circulating throughout the West Indies.
Main hobby: Caribbean music. Have promoted reggae and calypso concerts, written about the music for major magazines and newspapers in North America and the Caribbean, and hosted Caribbean radio programmes in Montreal and St. Kitts. Have just written a biography of Bob Marley, published in North America by Interlink Books and in the UK and rest of the world by Macmillan Caribbean (
buy it at a bargain price by clicking on this Salut! Sunderland Amazon link – ed)

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

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