I was in awe of Pistone, not Shearer

Supporters’ Association’s Mark Hollis on his memories of ‘98

The draw for this year’s third round FA Cup tie was perfect for a lot of Stevenage fans, particularly the ones who remember 1998, remember Shearer and remember the injustice.

Granted, we were never expected to do as well against Newcastle as we did and we should be proud that we held them in the way we did, but there’ll always be that niggling thought of what might have been had the linesman at St James’ Park that night got it right.

I was only 15 when that game came around and that morning I was nothing but a ball of excitement covered in red and white face paints and flags. I’d literally never been so excited about a football match.

We decided to walk to Broadhall Way from Pin Green that day. Partly to build up the excitement but mostly because my Dad didn’t want the aggravation of trying to park near the ground.

The whole journey seemed to take forever but was punctuated with drivers beeping their car horns at us and shouting good luck messages out of their windows.

When we arrived at the ground it seemed bigger than it had done before.

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Looking back now it was probably only because there were far more people in it than usual but I’d exaggerated everything in my mind on account of the excitement.

I was so excited in fact, that I was a little bit beside myself when I saw Alessandro Pistone. Not Shearer, not Barnes, not Beardsley. Pistone. I’d seen him on TV so I was a bit star struck.

That lasted until about two minutes into the game when the crowd got right on his back because he was the closest one to us and he didn’t like it one bit.

Not that anyone likes being shouted at from 10 yards away when they’re trying to do their job, of course.

The majority of the game is a bit of a blur really. I spent most of it doing my best to jump at the right moments and not get knocked over. I don’t even really remember the goal. I just remember the ball being crossed in. The seemingly 20 minute pause. The silence. And then the delirium.

I’ve never known the East Terrace like it. Even the Championship celebrations last year were nothing in comparison because most of the celebrating had been done the week before in Kidderminster.

That final whistle brought with it more delirium. And another walk back to Pin Green, although this time it didn’t seem to take as long!

This year, the prospect of facing Newcastle United once again is just as exciting as it was the first time round but being a bit older, that youthful exuberance is no longer as strong and instead I tend to look at things a bit more objectively which is not only irritating but excruciatingly boring.

The childish part of me still thinks we could nick something out of a game we have no right to nick anything from but the adult part of me knows that it’s probably a task too much for a team that has achieved so much in recent years.

So, instead of going into this game relishing the prospect of a giant-killing or a replay at St James’, I’m going in relishing the prospect of seeing how Coloccini reacts to a bit of stick from 10 yards away and watching Bozzie clatter Joey Barton in front of the Barmy Army.

Not as innocent as it was first time around, granted, but times do change.

Whatever happens, though, the draw in itself will again do so much good for the club with the extra revenue coming in from ticket sales, media coverage and the television broadcast.

Games like this don’t come around very often but when they do, in my experience, you just have to let yourself go along with the ride and see where it takes you.

I know the lads will do us proud and hopefully that will encourage some of the floating supporters to get behind them in the league campaign.

* Mark Hollis is the public relations officer of Stevenage Supporters’ Association and writes a monthly column for The Comet newspaper. This column, plus other Boro v Newcastle United interviews and stories, will appear in The Comet’s free 16-page souvenir edition which will be handed out to fans outside the Lamex on Saturday before the game.