Before I get into this I'd like to point out that I'm not one of those Freddie Shepherd-style 'Geordie Nation' preachers.
I was born in Newcastle and I'm very proud of my City - watching Newcastle United for me is as much about watching the team play for my City as it is anything else and that's why it gives me great satisfaction when I watch a local lad playing in black and white. Mostly.
Over the years some genuinely world class footballers have been born in this region and many of them have worn the black and white. In my 28 years of watching football at St James' Park I've been lucky enough to watch Peter Beardsley, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, Alan Shearer. Even Andy Carroll made a home match day more enjoyable with his obviously-proud, robust displays (something that he has failed to match since leaving the club). Other very talented childhood Newcastle fans have played for top clubs - Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Michael Carrick at Manchester United alone.
Though none were world beaters we produced some very good players in the 1990s too - Lee Clark, Stevie Watson and Robbie Elliott.
What has happened? Why has Tyneside stopped producing these players? One observation is that I see a lot less kids playing casual football nowadays than I did when I was growing up. I can't remember the last time I saw a group of kids playing a 'jumpers for goalposts' game in my local park, or kicking a ball around in the street. In fact last summer after a European Championship game I walked through my local pub car park, a footballing hotspot in the 80s and 90s, and there was a gang of 9 or 10 teenage boys skateboarding. SKATEBOARDING! Nothing against skateboarding at all, but this was half an hour after a national football match - back in the day you would've had a game of 15-a-side minutes after the final whistle but this time there wasn't a football in sight.
Why? I think this is for a number of reasons.
First: where is there to play football? Over the years more and more 'No ball games' signs appeared in car parks, neighbourhoods and so on. Schools have erected massive fences (Harlow Green school in Gateshead was a local favourite for a tea-time game amongst the kids, it's now surrounded by a 15-foot fence), the local park is full of pot-holes (I know of two ankle ligament injuries caused on that pitch in the past few years)
Second: is the rise of the games console. Why go out and play a real game of football in the cold and wet when you can play a kid from the other end of the world in the comfort of your own bedroom? Well, if they actually tried getting out to play a game they'd soon realise what they were missing out on.
Schools are partly responsible too - if one lesson has to go by the wayside in Primary schools it's usually PE. Local football clubs could help out here but many of them employ a 'win at all costs' mentality meaning that the less capable kids never get a look in.
It's only fairly recently that kids have been able to get into St James' Park for games too. Before the stadium expansion, SJP was almost exclusively full of 'blokes'. We probably missed out on a whole generation of kids who got into football through a genuine match day experience.
Even if all of the above factors have led us to where we are now, why has this not been the case in other areas of the country? Look at Merseyside.
Off the top of my head now I can think of only a few Tynesiders who have played in the Premier League this season - Michael Carrick, Danny Graham, Sammy Ameobi, Andy Carroll. (Steven Taylor and Shola were born elsewhere but brought up in Newcastle).
Newcastle are investing in their 'development squad'. This team, the next generation of potential first teamers, has players from all over Europe and even further afield with the arrival of Curtis Good from down under. If they're good enough then great! I don't care where they're from. It would be nice to see a re-emergence of some local world class talent though - for the sake of Newcastle United and England.
GettyImagesAndy Carroll was a hero on Tyneside before he left his boyhood club for Liverpool