In the formative years of the club there was a distinct lack of public interest. Newcastle West End had folded in the summer of 1892 and Newcastle East End had taken over the lease of St James' Park. It was not until December 1892 that the name was changed to Newcastle United in an attempt to drum up more public interest.
Unfortunately the move initially had a disenfranchising effect on both sets of supporters; much as John Hall's ice hockey shenanigans would have a century later. The West End fans resented the "takeover" of their ground by their rivals and the East End fans were unhappy about the move into enemy territory.
The club was still in the Northern League in 1892/93, having turned down the opportunity to join the Football League because the authorities were not prepared to allow them direct entry into Division 1. They figured that they could get better gates from fixtures against local teams and friendlies against classier opposition rather than matches against the League's second rung teams.
Unfortunately gates rarely rose above 5000 and as a result the club was in a perilous state. An appeal was launched for supporters to pay a £200 guarantee, but this flopped.
Exasperated the club released an official statement "the Newcastle public does not deserve to be catered for so far as pro football is concerned.". It did not have the desired impact.
United decided to cut their losses and join Football League Division 2 for the 1893/94 season, but despite the fact they finished a respectable 4th and won all their last eleven home games the average crowd was still only 4,075 (though this was higher than the average away crowd).
The best attendance was for the Fourth Round FA Cup Tie against First Division Bolton when a record crowd of 10,000 attended.
In the previous round 7,000 had turned up to see United beat Sheffield United and the Yorkshiremen later claimed that the crowd had been underestimated so that they received a smaller share of the gate money.
Gradually the gates - boosted by the clubs' promotion to the First Division - rose, so that by the end of the century the average gate had quadrupled to around the 16,000 mark. Follow this link for an account of the crowds on record attendance days
In 1892/93 adult admission was 6d with the wealthier supporters having the possibility of buying season tickets for 7s 6d (not surprisingly there were not many takers).
In the months where sunlight made it possible games would kick off at 3.30pm to give the workers time to get to the matches. The working week had only just been reduced from six days to five and a half.
They certainly did not get many home comforts for their hard earned cash. Before the amalgamation the West End club had laid some timber boards down for spectators to stand on. The lucky pressmen were provided with a hut.
Railings were put around the pitch, though they were not very sturdy and when they played against Blackburn in the play-offs some of them collapsed resulting in a number of spectators suffering severe injuries
Promotion to the First Division was followed by the first improvements to the ground with a small stand being erected.
Despite the relatively small crowds they were soon upsetting the respectable citizens of Leazes Terrace. There were frequent complaints about bad language and the club received a complaint from the Chief Constable about fans "committing a nuisance against the wall in front of Leazes Terrace".
The club built more urinals and ejected foulmouthers, but the residents threatened legal action against the "intolerable nuisance" caused by the matches and the Council was forced to discuss a "stop football" motion. Football was not stopped, but it was not the last we would hear from these upmarket nimbys
Even in those early days of very limited travel facilities some supporters did go to away games. "Brake-clubs" were set up to organise horse-driven travel to local games. Supporters would pay weekly subscriptions to pay for the hire of wagonettes which were often decorated in the club colours.
Most matches required lengthy train journeys, but Geordies were getting a taste for the game. When United played at Villa Park in the FA Cup First Round in January 1897 an estimated 650 fans made their way to Birmingham.
The first competitive Wear Tyne Derby on Christmas Eve 1898 caused massive interest and an estimated ten thousand United supporters travelled down to Wearside to swell a capacity crowd of 25,000. Both Sunderland and the train companies took advantage by upping their prices. This was how it was reported in the Evening Chronicle
The gates were opened shortly before noon, and from that hour until the time fixed for the start - 2 O'clock - the 21 turnstiles on the field were kept clicking merrily. Those who put in an appearance at 1 O'clock expecting to achieve distinction as early birds were discomforted to find a crowd of extraordinairy dimensions already assembled, for at this juncture the spectators would number perhaps 10,000, and there was yet an hour to go.
Tynesiders came in with alarming reports of the scenes at the Newcastle Central, where each of the special trains had become filled as rapidly as they were made up. It was speculated that at least 8,000 enthusiasts entrained at Newcastle, and in addition there were innumerable private break parties to augment this total.
The crowd was a good humoured one, considering that it was practically made up of two opposing sections, but the following of the Black and Whites was fully as large as that of the Red and Whites.
The Sunderland directors had taken the opportunity to raise the prices in certain parts of the field, and although a few resented this action, the majority paid the difference cheerfully
The crowd wiled away the time by good natured banter, the Wearsiders time after time in their willingness to "Let 'em 'ave it" and the Novacastrians replying through the medina of two or three amatuer cornetists among the crowd.