It’s impossible to talk about anything to do with football last weekend without reference to the Fabrice Muamba incident, something that rocked most football fans to the core.

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Sometimes something happens which transcends inter-club rivalry and this was one of those occasions, with the world of football closing ranks to offer support, and, thankfully, at the time of writing it seems that the lad is making good progress.

Of course, that looked unlikely on Sunday afternoon and the thought of Muamba fighting for his life hung heavy as we made our way to the ground, putting a mere game of football into perspective.

St James Park (I just can’t bring myself to call it the Sports Direct Arena) is one of English football’s most iconic grounds, a brooding presence on a hill just outside the city centre, but it’s a real endurance test for visiting supporters.

The reason for this is that the area reserved for them is somewhere just below the stratosphere, accessed by climbing 14 flights of steps, unless you can grab a ride in the crowded lift.

Once you are up there and have managed to get your breath back in the rarefied air, your next problem is identifying the players on the Subbuteo pitch set out far below when the occasional orbiting satellite isn’t obstructing your view.

Unfortunately for footballing romantics like me, the interior of the ground ensures that Sports Direct can’t be ignored as Mike Ashley seems to have managed to get his company logo onto every available flat surface.

Not a man given to subtlety, the concept of subliminal advertising is something that has clearly passed him by and it wouldn’t have surprised me to see it tattooed on the Toon players’ foreheads.

Regardless of all this I had expected the stadium to be a cauldron given the status of the north east as one of football’s hotbeds, but I have to say that I was disappointed by the lack of atmosphere (as well as the lack of oxygen).

Again, this may have been something to do with our lofty position, but it certainly seemed pretty quiet down below, and having watched the Sky coverage when I got home, the 2,000 of us who made the trip can be heard above the 50,000 Geordies for most of the game.

While I’m on the subject of our fans, this week has seen the launch of the Aviva Fan of the Year competition, for which I am delighted to be one of the judges.

There are so many great fan stories out there and this is a chance for you to nominate anyone that you think is worthy of winning this competition. Just go to and tell us all about them.

I’m expecting the job of picking a winner to be extremely difficult.

Anyway, back to the game, and despite a hesitant start City showed that they still have plenty of desire and the confidence to play with pace and touch.

Despite losing only two home league games all season Newcastle looked very rocky in the second half, as evidenced by Alan Pardew throwing on an extra defender with half an hour to go, and his side indulging in some shameless time wasting.

Unfortunately, City’s shooting boots had been left at home for once and the home side were able to ride out the storm.

While it was disappointing, and somewhat unjust, that City came away with nothing, the quality of some of their play and the hunger shown by the players suggests that last week’s malaise has already dissipated.

This did not look like a team lacking confidence or prepared to rest on its laurels and that may be bad news for a struggling Wolves side.


Previous columns by Robin Sainty