On a recent visit back to my native north-east, I joined one of my oldest friends in his fortnightly ritual.

It started on Friday lunchtime when he met up with five friends.

For anyone who remembers the old Quayside with its factories, workshops and offices with the towering flour mills, going back now is certainly an eye-opener.

The River Tyne smells sweeter than ever and, while no palm trees grow alongside, the odd salmon has been spotted.

In my youth it would have only been that far up the river in a tin!

The flour mill has now been converted into one of the best art galleries in Europe. It's a wondrous new building of steel and glass, housing two concert halls with views right across Newcastle and Gateshead.

In addition, there are many nightclubs and fantastic restaurants.

And it is in one of these my pal, Barry, started plotting the downfall of Birmingham City, the next day's visitors to the real theatre of dreams, St James' Park.

Many of the industrial cities have their grounds right in the middle of their communities.

It is as if the ground was built first and the houses, shops etc were then constructed leading up to the gates.

Visitors to Everton and Liverpool will know what I mean.

Newcastle is no different.

After a long lunch, and taking in every possible team selection and tactical move, the group split up ...

... Only to meet again the following day at their usual table in another restaurant, this time the Italian one with the reserved car parking, followed by a 30-yard walk to the stadium entrance on matchday.

Having been spoilt over the years, I would normally have watched the game from the directors' box - at most grounds anyway.

But the group would not hear any of that and one of their wives had made the supreme sacrifice of giving their ticket up for me.

I must say that the season ticket seats were ideal, in the top tier of the wonderful ground, right above the halfway line looking directly at the players' tunnel.

The build-up to the game consists of talking to fellow fans - everyone, whatever age, wears the black and white striped scarves etc.

Just listening to everything - the jokes, the expectations - not only filled me with nostalgia but reminded me just how much the true fan believes in his club and what it means to their everyday life.

Once the game kicked off there were about 52,000 in the crowd. Some were very subdued, staid business and professional types who were calm and collected up until a minute before three. Then they changed as if touched by a magic wand, with every emotion being shown for 90 minutes.

It wasn't a great game and I've never been surrounded by so many tacticians, coaches and managers who also, judging by their comments to the man in black, were expert referees as well.

Newcastle fortunately won by a lucky goal and at the end of the day that was all that mattered really.

The league table today shows a sorry state of affairs, not only for Newcastle which, dare I whisper it, is the biggest club in the north-east, but also for neighbours Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

To see these three massive clubs languishing in the bottom third of the table does not make good reading for anyone in that part of the country.

Graeme Souness, along with Mick McCarthy and Steve McClaren, was under enormous pressure.

Because, believe me, going back to the game I saw, some of the suggestions hurled at him could never be repeated in a family newspaper. He would have to be a contortionist to do what one of the doctors sitting near me suggested!

While I appreciate supporters have this hour and a half to get everything off their chest and rid themselves of all the frustrations, a manager's life has never been too easy for too long in the north-east.

There has never been a regular run of success in the last few decades at any of these clubs.

Middlesbrough, for instance, had never been to Wembley in a final until fairly recently while Sunderland have only two trophies - the FA Cup in 1973 and the Championship in 1937.

Newcastle were probably spoiled by the fact they had three Wembley cup finals in four years, but that was way back in the 50s.

Since then, a UEFA Cup win in the 60s and not a lot else has followed.

But because the Magpies have the second biggest ground, after Old Trafford, and because they have produced a succession of world class players from Jackie Milburn to Alan Shearer, all the supporters expect much, much more.

That is allied to the fact that north-easterners traditionally feel a bit cut off as London and Manchester are supposedly the footballing capitals of this country.

I once said to a government minister many years ago the three-lane motorways used to form into two lanes once you got past Scotch Corner.

Consequently, there was very much a north-south divide in the minds of the supporters, and not only when it came to football.

The facilities in the whole area for leisure and work are truly fantastic these days. I always reckon Newcastle is more up-to-date than any other city simply because it was the last area in the country to be modernised.

Sadly the football clubs, in the minds of their supporters, have not kept pace with the surrounding environment.

Souness said recently that if you look at the history of Newcastle it seems as though there is a curse.

I have sympathy for any manager who loses their job, and you could see why he said that.

Graeme can, quite rightly, point to the bad luck he had with a horrific list of injuries, in particular to Michael Owen.

He said he wanted to be judged when he had his full team fit, but he has never had that chance.

It shows again that the priority these days is all about maintaining your Premiership position. And, while Sunderland fans would be happy just to stay up, Newcastle's fans expect their side to be in the top three or four.

I just hope on my next visit that Barry and his pals are smiling, and not because they have reached a Cup final - that would mean they have beaten Southampton!

One thing is for sure, they will still be in that restaurant on a Friday.

The reservations at the Italian will be made a season in advance.

And the seats will still be filled.

One of my charities is the Alzheimer's Society in Hampshire and Lynda Taylor, the hard working, efficient secretary of the Southampton branch is asking for people with dementia or their carers to contact her if they are willing to tell their story to help ensure that their voices are heard in a fight to retain drugs for people with dementia.

She can be contacted on 023 8047 4657.