What do you know about the English Premier League club, Newcastle United? Perhaps you have seen the black and white striped shirts that give them their “Magpies” nickname? Maybe you've heard about their head coach, Champions League winning Rafael Benitez; or former players Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne. Does the name of their legendary manager, Kevin Keegan, ring a bell?
As you watch at home in front of the TV, you might recognize the club’s St James’ Park home, the giant stadium that sits on top of the English city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne like a crown.
You may not yet know about the rambunctious 52,000 “Geordies” (Newcastle natives) that populate those stands every week. There are even thousands more who would give anything for a ticket to see their heroes play. Even when the team plays away from that shining monument of which is the Geordie religion of soccer, there are thousands of fans who travel with the team. These soldiers are known as the “Toon Army”.
We at BetNJ know how important fans are for any sport and are thrilled to sponsor a new film which follows this incredible Toon Army on their grueling travels around all corners of England with the biggest soccer league in the world.
Following the group of at least 50 energetic Geordies who boarded a bus at 6 am on a fresh April morning, we spoke to director Rees Dale about the project and what it is all about.
“This is a film that celebrates what it is to be football fans. These few thousand are the hardcore, the people who give up their weekends, their hard earned money, their time and most definitely any sleep just to be able to support the team they love for 90 minutes, wherever in the world they play. People around the world adore the Premier League and the football they see but it is rare that anybody thinks about those faces in the crowd who give those watching at home the atmosphere that makes English football what it is”.
Despite the early hours and the knowledge of their traveling for at least 7 or 8 hours before even reaching the stadium in Brighton, the crew maintained a positive attitude. There would be no rest for Rees; his producer, Alisha; Sound Recordist, Roberto; or cameramen, Adam and James. They pushed forward with the traveling fans who sang along the entire 350-mile route to Brighton.
When the bus finally reached the new AmEx Stadium in Brighton, Rees added, “This is what football is all about - the fans, the bond, the atmosphere, and the love, passion, and devotion that these men, women, and children have for their club”.
For a while, it seemed like the longest journey in the Premier League would be worth it for the Toon Army as they sang their hearts out, watching their team take a 1-0 lead. The deafening noise from this small corner of the English coast rose across the English Channel. However, the 4,000 Newcastle fans were far outnumbered by 30,000 Brighton fans who could be heard the most. The home fans then began to celebrate as Brighton scored an equalizer and the game ended in a tie.
The disappointment of this result was not longlasting, however, as Newcastle remained with enough points to stay in the Premier League for another season. The talk on the bus after the match was already on the new season and the film which they would be starring in.
When asked why they do all of this for their team, one supporter told us, “It’s in the blood. I love it, it means everything to me, my city, my team, cut me open and I bleed black and white”.
As the sun began to set on a long day, the group looked at the clock only to realize they were not even halfway back to Newcastle. Rees and the crew were engaged in conversation with fans at the back of the bus.
He stated, “We have followed these fans, and more, all over the country on a number of away trips. When I came up with the idea for the film, I called it 'The Longest Journey,' not really realizing that it would mean quite literally that, but in terms of what these fans go through just to get to every game. It really is a long journey of sacrifice and difficulty - which even to me as a huge fan of football and many other sports makes me want to make this film even more”.
Bleary eyes around the bus began to open at 4 am as the fans started shuffling back to life after several hours of sleep. The locals soon recognized their surroundings and started packing up their flags and scarves - all of which had been held proudly above their heads in Brighton just 12 hours before. A lifeless St James’ Park loomed into view and the bus came to a stop after nearly 24 hours on the road.
As they disembarked, a fan was asked to have the last word on 'The Longest Journey.' "Why do you do all of this?" asked the crew. The fan's response - “Right now I have no idea why, but ask me again when I wake up and I will tell you all week until the next one.”