Away games. They’re like going to see Tottenham, but different. Unless you go all the time of course, in which case you are used to yer lukewarm Tottenham, yer non-spectacular, kryptonised 80% Tottenham. For your fair-weather non-travelling home-games-except-for-the-champions-league-and-fulham-if-I’m-lucky season ticket holder like me, away games are disappointing more often than not. This is why I tend to make my once or twice yearly pilgrimage to as distant a destination as I can – Burnley last season, Newcastle this. Somewhere you can make a weekend or an adventure of it. Somewhere you can forget about the masochism at the heart of it all. I’m jealous of people who can go to home and away games, but I’m not sure I want to be one of them. I’m neither rich nor single, for a start.
Newcastle on a Friday night certainly is an adventure. My god. Girls girls girls (that should get the hits up). X-rated. XXX-rated (see what I’m doing?). 80 proof carnage on the streets. Broken bloody Britain. A night out in Newcastle is like living in an ITV2 reality show. Or Viz.
The cliché is that Newcastle girls don’t wear coats but they don’t seem to wear much else either and whilst this might have been my idea of heaven if I were a grossly overweight 19 year old fella, I was one of the few male revellers who wasn’t. I could say more but as fellow away day yid Christine said it’s hard to say too much without sounding like a misogynist. Or a prude, neither of which I consider myself to be. Still. Young ladies of Newcastle. Wear more clothes. And don’t urinate in the street. The main street. Young men of Newcastle, umm… Well they’re no different from anywhere else, I guess. I blame society. And Jenas.
If there’s one thing Newcastle hates more than ladies wearing clothes, it’s anyone wearing trainers. Being told we were ‘too casual’ in a town that considers outer garments optional is hard to credit. Aren’t the provinces simply charming.
Eventually we found one pub with acceptably dressed people, acceptably depressing guitar music and more than acceptable beer. We asked one lad where else we could go. ‘Sorry mate – this really is it’. At a loss, we wound up in the 24 hour casino til 4:30am, where we met the only people with accents more impenetrable than the local one – a couple of lads from Cork over for their first premiership game. We had fun (and made money) but Newcastle – you really made us work for it. It’s no place for anyone over 25 to be on a Friday night. In my experience of this glorious isle it comes second only to Bristol and its drunken blow jobs on the street (neither by or to me I should add) for debauched rank-ness.
In its favour though – Sarah’s cafe and its breakfast bap. Worth the visit all by itself. Seriously.
As for the game, I’m afraid it went by in a bit of a blur. After our glorious recent run we have now had three disappointing league results in a row. Taken in isolation this was a decent point, as was Man Utd, but this game is as good an example as any of why we will probably fall short. We were better than Newcastle throughout but we created very little until a frenetic last half hour or so. When we did create with a lovely little VDV flick the chance was spurned by Defoe – Crouch would have buried it. No, Pav would. No wait – they are all as bad as each other.
The first half saw us having to chop and change. Bale’s back is clearly a major concern – it’s the kind of injury that I would imagine inhibits a player psychologically as well as physically unless completely fixed. Let’s hope it’s not too serious, especially with Milan on the horizon. I would have expected Gallas to have shifted out to left back in the absence of Bale and the already injured Benny, but instead Bassong came on and looked like a central defender. Maybe Capi has it in his contract that he gets to score an own goal if he plays there but he surely has more experience in this position than Sea-Bass . Either way our threat was nullified on what is usually our most productive area of the pitch. Pienaar wasn’t having a great debut and already I can sense some of the Tottenham massive eager to get on his back. Let’s hope not, he improved as the game went on and I reckon he will be a shrewd investment.
Newcastle were very ordinary but their one tactic – lump it long – worked well against us on occasion. We played the neater football but they carved out the chances. When they took the lead, it served us right for having failed to take the initiative. From that point on we changed shape and started to carve them open at will. Modric in the middle was running things, and Lennon on the left was getting behind the defence with ease. Unfortunately it was back to the frustrating Aaron of old – low drilled crosses ricocheting off defenders again and again. Newcastle should have killed us off more than once – Ranger missing when clean through. But when the equaliser finally came, I really felt we could go on and win it even deep into injury time. It was not to be.
So we end the round of fixtures with a gap opening up between ourselves and Chelsea. 4-0 away to Bolton and you have to assume that they are to some extent back. We may have rescued a point but we are dangerously close to letting this league season slip away from us.
Wanna talk Stratford? A couple of thoughts occurred to me whilst in the toon. First of all – what a stadium! Actually it’s ‘only’ a pretty identikit box stadium with a big L-shaped second tier clunked on top of it. But you could say something similar about most big stadia and from the outside it is genuinely imposing and impressive. Approaching St James’ Park feels like a big deal. Like you are going to see one of the world’s great teams even if, in fact, you are going to watch Mike Williamson and Shola Ameobi. Moral of the story no.1 – big grounds are great and I want one.
The other thing about Newcastle is that it lives and breathes football. The whole city is barcoded. Everyone wants to talk about the game. I know it’s slightly different in London but having a long-established patch really does help ratchet up the pre-match atmosphere. Moral of the story no. 2 – it’s good to have your own traditional heartland.
Mind you, moral no.3 – you can still call it a derby even if your rival is from about 25 miles away. Maybe we’ve nothing to worry about. Naaah. Say no to Stratford.