By now, most of Newcastle is familiar with the narrative that goes along with the Newcastle Knights’ 1997 Grand Final victory. The town’s morale was in the toilet, the closure of the BHP Steelworks was looming and the Knights were almost a decade in to their existence, with little in the way of silverware to polish (save for a cheeky Nissan Sevens trophy in 1991).
Going into the match, the Knights were given little-to-no chance of toppling reigning premiers Manly. Andrew Johns was nursing broken ribs and a punctured lung, our players lacked “big match” experience and the Sydney media assumed the Novocastrian unit would buckle under the pressure; thus handing back-to-back premierships to Manly. This, of course, is not how things went down on that September afternoon (Suck shit Hopa!)
But in 1997, many of us were simply too young to appreciate the gravity of the Knights’ victory, and the impact it had on the town. I was just shy of my 10th birthday when Darren Albert planted that famous ball down, and “forced-redundancy”, “mass unemployment” and “grave economic situations” were not terms familiar to most primary school students at the time. Days later, when my old man took myself and my brother in to Civic Park for the official Grand Final celebrations (Lord knows how, and where, he snagged a park that day) a lot of it probably went over my head – although I do remember The Screaming Jets.
So, wouldn’t it be amazing if, on the eve of the 20th anniversary, there was some way we could relive that famous moment… that excitement… that feeling… now that we are all older and slightly wiser.
This is where King Street’s Central Bar stepped in. On Friday evening, the fine folks at Central put on a Knight to remember (geddit?), by replaying the 1997 Grand Final in its entirety. Not only that, there was also appearances from ’97 legends Tony “Butts” Butterfield and Steven “Crowey” Crowe, along with some (loose) hosting duties from current cult hero Nathan “Ross Dawg” Ross. Couple this with a wonderfully-shambolic halftime set from Newcastle’s favourite garage-rock duo The Gooch Palms AND a table full of free sausage rolls, and you’ve got you’ve got the recipe for a good time.
It was interesting to note that the many of those in attendance appeared to be aged between 25-35. I can only presume most of them were in a similar boat as myself – old enough to remember the game, but too young to fully understand the wider impact it had on Newcastle. And for many of us, it was a rare glimpse back into a time of baggy jerseys, no video-ref, unlimited interchanges and, mercifully, no Gus Gould on commentary. The evening itself felt like a strange cross between a live sporting event and a pantomime stage-play. There was a delightfully-hammy element to it all. Despite many in the crowd knowing exactly how all the big plays unfolded, we all reacted as though we were watching it for the very first time.
When “Chief” and “Spud” came together, the crowd cheered. We Cliffy Lyons knocked-on and blew-up deluxe at referee David Manson, we laughed. When Adam MacDougall planted his studs into Geoff Toovey’s face, we all turned a blind eye to it and lamented that accidents, do indeed, happen. And twenty years later, Mark Carroll’s “Statue” antics still evokes howls of laughter and confusion.
“What the f*ck is that meant to be?” asked my drinking companion, upon witnessing Carroll in all his statue-esque glory. I truly wish I had an answer for her.
And while it mightn’t have reached the euphoric scenes captured from within The Newcastle Worker’s Club in 1997, you best believe the Central crowd still went up in a big way when Joey threw that ball to Albert, seconds-out from fulltime. Nothing wrong with a bit of harmless fun, at the start of a long-weekend.
At time where there has been little for current Knights’ fans to celebrate, Central’s dip into the past provided the crowd with a welcome hit of nostalgic joy; but thankfully, Newcastle are a club with their sights set firmly on the future. With any sort of luck, it will be my turn to battle for a celebratory carpark around Civic Park at the end of the 2018 season.