Scoring a match-winning penalty at the Gallowgate End last season was a special moment for lifelong Newcastle United fan Toby Flood, who is hoping for a similar outcome on Saturday March 23 when Newcastle Falcons bring rugby back to St James’ Park.
‘The Big One’ sees the Falcons hosting northern rivals Sale Sharks in a 5.30pm kick-off at the Magpies’ nest, the Gallagher Premiership clash following on from last season’s 25-22 triumph over Northampton Saints at the same venue.
That game almost trebled the Falcons’ record attendance figure as 30,174 supporters filed through the St James’ Park turnstiles, Flood re-connecting with Newcastle United after featuring for their academy team in his youth.
“I played football for my local team, Alnwick Town, and I had a couple of years in Newcastle United’s Centre of Excellence when I was 10 or 11,” said the fly-half, a three-time Premiership title winner who counts a Rugby World Cup final among his 60 England caps.
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“John Carver was the coach at the time, who went on to become a first team coach and manager. He’s a top bloke, and I actually bumped into him recently, which was nice.
“What is probably less known is the fact I actually played a couple of games for Sunderland Academy!
“My mate and I went there for what we thought was just a training session, but it turned out to be a trial game. He scored twice and I scored one, and I also had a trial with Middlesbrough before settling on Newcastle United.
“I was there for two years and it was fun, but I never took it that seriously. You could tell there were certain kids who were totally driven and focused on making a career out of it, whereas I just wanted to play because I enjoyed it.
“Once that enjoyment began to wane I moved away from it and gravitated towards rugby, but I did play a few games for them and it’s nice to have done that when I look back.”
Kicking six penalties and a conversion on his last visit to St James’ Park, next Saturday’s return represents a big chance for Flood and his Falcons side to continue their late-season surge, having beaten Worcester Warriors and Wasps in their last two outings.
Flood and his team-mates will once again be wearing black and white stripes for The Big One, this time with a tinge of tartan as they raise funds for My Name’5 Doddie, the foundation set up by Newcastle great Doddie Weir for research into motor neurone disease.
“Playing at St James’ Park was doubly special with having gone there as a kid so often to watch the football and be a ball-boy, to then get the chance to go and play in this ground where you had so many memories from your youth,” said Flood.
“We got more than 30,000 people there, hopefully we can beat that this year or get similar numbers, and you could just tell there was a little bit extra on the game.
“Scoring at the Gallowgate End in the second half was a bit surreal given all the football connotations around that, and I hadn’t actually realised how much of a slope there is on the pitch.
“That winning penalty was right on my limit, it crept over by a millimetre or two and it just meant so much to get that result for the boys. It was a great experience, and the challenge now is to repeat it next Saturday against a very good Sale Sharks side.”
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