LFW Awaydays – Newcastle, St James’ Park
Thursday, 16th Feb 2012 00:52 by Awaydays
The Awaydays make a return to LoftforWords after a winter hiatus caused by laziness. In the first of three catch up columns, we look back on our day trip to Newcastle.
On the pitch
I recently compared Mark Hughes to a fun fair attendee flailing on the Whack a Mole game – cure one problem, and another pops up somewhere else in the team. This was his first league game in charge and it was clear that the first thing he’d identified was a lack of shape and discipline about the side when it was defending. Here QPR were very disciplined indeed, remaining in shape throughout and conceding just one goal – Hughes will quickly learn that 90 minutes of solid defending from QPR usually still includes at least one goal-costing lapse somewhere along the line.
Shaun Wright-Phillips hit the bar, Jay Bothroyd the post and numerous other chances were squandered besides that. So by the end of this encounter the mole with its head showing the most was a lack of presence and firepower in attack. Hughes, we now know, quickly identified that problem and brought in Djibril Cisse who was brilliant for a game and a half and then picked up a costly sending off and three game ban for lifting an opponent up by the throat which is frowned upon by officials as it turns out.
That Cisse incident against Wolves revealed another problem to be whacked with a mallet; a propensity to self destruct. Joey Barton was harshly sent off against Norwich, but still should have known better than to get involved in the incident in the first place, and we lost the game and the same happened with Cisse against Wolves.
Here the same fate could easily have befallen midfielder Shaun Derry. After a wonderful 2010/11 and surprisingly impressive start to the first full Premiership season of his career Derry has been on the wane for some time now. Were he the family pet you can’t help but think the parents would be having ‘the talk’ by now and he was seriously lucky not to be sent off for a dangerous lunge on Yohan Cabaye committed while chasing his own poor piece of control. Cabaye, impressive all season in the Newcastle midfield, left the field on a stretcher, berating Derry as he went. A bit of an overreaction as it turned out, because he was back on the field within a fortnight despite early concerns of ligament damage, but not a good tackle all the same. Derry didn’t seem that fussed either way, clearly seen telling the Frenchman to “go fuck yourself” on the Sky coverage.
That incident actually played into Newcastle’s hands. It meant Alan Pardew had to send on winger Hatem Ben Arfa earlier than he would have done otherwise which in turn made Newcastle much more threatening than they had been previously without top scorer Demba Ba and they took the lead soon afterwards. The toothless nature of QPR’s attack meant Leon Best’s well crafted and finished, but nevertheless defensively soft, goal was always likely to be a winner.
Scores >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> Opposition performance 6/10 >>> Referee performance 6/10
In the stand
LFW top tip for today, if you want to experience watching your team play at St James’ Park but don’t actually want to travel all the way up there at great expense simply tune your Sky box into the game, then walk down to the bottom of the neighbour’s garden and try and make out what’s going on from over there.
Clubs are too quick to move stadiums in my opinion. Both the Premiership clubs in Liverpool keep talking about uprooting and going somewhere else – Liverpool over the road to Stanley Park and Everton to Kirby for a while, which isn’t that far removed from taking Wimbledon to Milton Keynes. Clubs are far too quick to abandon the history and identity that goes with their stadiums because Arsenal and Man Utd each sell £28m worth of salmon fillets every matchday and manage to find upwards of 60,000 people to pay thousands of pounds to be part of it all every week and they’re worried about being left behind.
Imagine Newcastle without Newcastle United playing in the city centre. The stadium stands like a colossal cathedral in the middle of the town, right on the top of the highest hill so it can be seen for miles around. Even when nothing is happening the entire local population flocks here as if mysteriously drawn to the place – you can hear them coming, riding in on the Metro, thanks to the tell tale Theme from the Local Hero ring tone that you have to switch your phone to when you arrive in the same you change your watch when you go to France. When a story does break you can guarantee there will be 20 people in black and white abusing Sky Sports’ David Craig and his potato like face, or somebody on hand to assert to BBC News that Newcastle should be one of the biggest teams in Europe and whatever has happened today simply isn’t good enough. This is not a club that would be well suited to some soulless out of town development alongside a Tesco.
So they’ve developed St James’ Park into an impressive, and yet somewhat disturbing, lopsided ground capable of holding 50,000 people. The away fans are located on “balcony level seven” where your view is occasionally obstructed by cloud cover and passing long haul jets. The players look like characters from the old Nintendo Cannon Fodder game, buzzing around miles below. The atmosphere among the QPR fans (who travelled in great numbers considering the kick off time, location and Sky coverage) was quiet, despite a decent start to the game, mainly because it all felt rather fruitless; as if they could hear us way down there. They don’t seem to care very much even when they can so why waste your breath?
Orur tickets were on the first row of occupied seats at the very front of the away end, roughly three quarters of a mile away from the goal at the far end of the pitch. They seem to keep the first row of seats vacant for their own peace of mind because when the frustration of an insipid attacking display and bog standard refereeing performance got too much for me and I volted the first row to hang over the balcony and have my usual say on things I’ve never seen stewards move so quickly and with such horror to put me back in my seat. They probably should have thrown me out, but it must be a lot of effort to drag somebody in 20 layers of clothing down all those flights of stairs.
Scores >>> QPR support 7/10 >>> Home support 7/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 6/10 >>>> Stadium 9/10 >>>> Police and stewards 7/10
In the pub
Playing ‘spot the southerner’ in The Strawberry before the game was like completing one of the puzzles towards the start of a Where’s Wally? book.
Some may say this is the sort of thing that will start to happen more regularly on LFW now we’ve admitted two regular female travelling companions into the group but allow me to run through my wardrobe choice for this gentle little trip to the frozen north. In order of layers I had on: a pair of cotton socks, boxer shorts and a vest; a further pair of thin cotton socks, a thin pair of pyjama bottom trousers, and a white cotton t-shirt; a pair of thick woollen socks, a pair of Le Coq Sportif three quarter length shorts in cream, and a thicker white t-shirt; a pair of extra thick workman’s boots, black denim jeans, and a thin black sweater. On top of this I then placed a cream fleece, a woollen button up under coat, a thick black overcoat, one blue and white hooped scarf, one thick grey scarf, two pairs of gloves and a hat they stopped making in Russia before Perestroika because it was deemed too warm and over the top. And my nipples could still cut glass for most of the day.
My friend James, who has kindly given up his time twice this season to write engaging pre-Newcastle content for LFW, arrived sometime later in a thin sweater and jacket. He did, however, have a scarf with him which means either it really was bloody cold or he’s not a proper Geordie after all. So while we huddled together in the corner looking like a Michelin Man convention in an Alaskan hotel, the Geordies stood around in shirt sleeves looking at us with disdain.
Those looks only grew fiercer when it was our turn at the bar. Turns at the bar in The Strawberry are decided in much the same way as Emperor Penguins decide who has to stand in the face of the wind for the next few minutes. From the outside this strange little place, only a Fitz Hall long throw away from the Gallowgate End at St James Park, looks like it can be no bigger than ten foot square inside. It reminds me a little of our own beloved Shepherd and Flock on Goldhawk Road, except that when you go in there you find it really is smaller than the average sitting room, whereas walking into The Strawberry is what it must be like arriving in Narnia through the back of a wardrobe – if you’re a naturally pessimistic person and you’ve always imagined Narnia to be a back street pub with paintings of Pavel Srnicek on the wall that is.
Nevertheless, despite its deceptive size, it is always predictably rammed on a matchday. So you go in, find a patch of floor to call your own and then wait while the seething mass of bodies slowly rotates around the pub until you find yourself close enough to the bar to order a Newcastle Brown Ale. You then drink your Newcastle Brown Ale nice and slowly as the group rotates steadily through 360 degrees which takes about 15 minutes and then you find yourself back at the bar for another round of Newcastle Brown Ale. Should you order something other than Newcastle Brown Ale, the bar staff will start popping the lids off bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale anyway, and should you really insist that this is not what you either ordered or wanted then the pub will fall silent and glare at you to try and intimidate you into changing your mind. When you then insist on them blowing the dust and cobwebs off an old crate of Peroni you can see being used to prop open the fire escape you soon realise you’d have made more friends wearing a large sign around your neck saying ‘Rent Boy for Hire, reasonable rates charged’.
To be fair, it’s a great little pub that I enjoy visiting.
We probably would have been better off going back in there after the game as well, but facing a long afternoon on the Toon before our evening train it was, probably wisely, suggested that we find a bar that could offer both food and somewhere to sit down. Now Newcastle is a place, and the Geordies are a race of people, that I have a lot of time for and, it should be said, I have nothing against women who are suitably well endowed and too thick to earn money doing anything else dancing topless on tables in seedy bars for a living. But that’s exactly where it should take place, in seedy bars. The windows should be blacked out, the place should not have been cleaned properly since Les Ferdinand was last scoring prolifically, there should be two hired goons on the door, four dirty old pervs at the bar, a stag party made up entirely of loud twats and a spotty sexual deviant loitering outside waiting to pluck up the courage to try and get in. These places should be easy to spot and easy to avoid so that if the mood so takes you you know exactly where to go and if you’re looking for somewhere to have Sunday lunch you don’t inadvertently find your side order of union rings skewered by the Stiletto heal of a scantily clad chav.
In Newcastle the lines are blurred on this issue. It’s actually harder to find a bar that doesn’t have the lights down and breasts knocking together at every turn. You may think this is terrific and if I was on a night out with the lads I probably would too, but at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon when out with a group of male and female friends at the football I had a rather different sort of roast on my mind. Sadly, with the cold spreading to all manner of horrible crevices and the Swansea v Arsenal kick off due it all meant that we rather leapt on the first place that had clothed bar staff and the lights on.
This turned out to be Bar Bannatynes which I can tell you bills itself on its website as the “perfect venue for day or night” and in actual fact pulls off the not inconsiderable achievement of being shit whatever time it is. Decorated like a dentist’s waiting area and with as much atmosphere it served us food that I wouldn’t give to my dog (which, it should be said, sadly had to be put down seven months ago when it’s liver packed up so suddenly and dramatically that it threw up the rest of its organs in a fluorescent green horror show) while we sat around on those stools that position your knees up around your ears when you sit on them and leave you requiring a three week course of treatment with an expensive chiropractor thereafter.
Why didn’t we move? Why didn’t we go somewhere else? Because we like to moan and take the piss, and there was plenty of material here for both.
Scores >>> Pubs 6/10 >>> Atmosphere 7/10 >>> Food 2/10 >>>> Cost 9/10
On the road
The East Coast mainline is one of the most historic, and at times picturesque, rail routes in the country. Just as well really considering the bloody prices they charge. Three in our travelling party booked at the first possible opportunity and were charged £30 return, Andy and Jaz booked later and paid £64, and leaving it later than that can set you back three figures. For a return train journey it’s scandalous really.
North of Newcastle the train winds along the north sea coast to Berwick through some truly breathtaking scenery, and then up to Edinburgh, and the views weren’t bad south of all of that either as a cold and frosty morning dawned on our early morning departure.
Our early booking and £210 wasn’t enough to secure us five seats together, or even in the same carriage, and so it was down to Neil and I to be quick off the mark at Kings Cross and secure the unreserved buffet car tables for the journey north. Having played in goal behind Neil in six-a-side of late let me assure you all that being quick off the mark does not come easily to him these days, so credit to him for keeping pace at the ungodly hour.
The heater was broken in the buffet car which meant that you could see your breath in the air once we’d passed York and frost was forming on the inside of the window by the time we’d made it as far as Darlington. Three pensioners died en route.
The buffet itself had no change, and no facility to take a card payment. Now this is somewhere between not ideal and disgraceful for the first train of the day when presumably they’ve had an evening to check everything and make sure it’s all ship shape – mind you having only decided which train they were going to use for the service seven minutes before it left that seems like a bit of a tall order. Nevertheless the buffet staff did announce this before we left and so the next four hours became a study of the human condition. Just how would people respond to the clear and oft repeated warning that unless you had close to the right money, you wouldn’t be able to purchase refreshments?
Firstly, the women. The women on the train came to the buffet at their leisure and queued up patiently while staring out of the window. Several people in front of them clutching £20 notes or debit cards were turned away, several further announcements outlining the situation were made, but still they stood there oblivious to why that might have been. Once at the bar they placed their order, the man behind the counter asked for a payment for the goods, and they stood open mouthed as if he’d just spoken Swahili to them. Payment? For goods and services? What is this concept? Please, ladies, the queue is where you think about the goods you’re about to purchase and how you’re going to pay for them. It’s also an opportunity to take that method of payment out of whatever pouch, purse or handbag you keep it in. One after another they came, waited gormlessly, responded with shock at the request for payment, rummaged, then realised they only had an old £50 note or an American Express credit card and therefore returned empty handed.
Secondly, the men. They too ignored the announcement, instead choosing to arrive at the bar with a £20 note labouring under the belief that raising their voice and using words like “preposterous”, if they’d come from the first class carriages, or “fucking joke,” if they were from standard, might suddenly produce a previously concealed draw of change and functioning card processing machine. Talking more slowly and loudly may work with foreign people chaps, but if there’s no change or card machine there’s simply no change or card machine. You can buy eight bacon sandwiches with your £20, forget about the £17 change, or go and sit down quietly and stop being a tit – you cannot intimidate the buffet attendant into becoming a magician capable of producing loose change from the crack of his arse.
Four hours of this we endured.
So on the way back it was time to wreak a little revenge. All the trains home were delayed so we jumped on the first one that turned up, along with the lesser spotted Poznan Paul who enjoyed Bannatyne’s Dental Surgery so much he decided to miss his flight back to London to stay with us and then happily caught the train all the way back with us for free. We quickly found two tables together occupied only by a sleepy young couple who, when asked if the free seats next to them were in fact free, told us they weren’t because they would get stiff legs if they weren’t able to stretch out across them.
I’m a reasonable man, but if that’s not a license to behave like a drunken noisy tosser all the way back to London I don’t know what is. Young North agreed, and stretched out himself across their table as if he owned the place before looking rather stupid when he realised we’d got on the one train that evening that didn’t stop at Doncaster where he needed to get off. He changed at York, and got on the wrong train again thereby ending up in Leeds. Somehow he then managed to persuade a railway official that this was his company’s fault, was quickly put up in a free hotel room in Leeds as a result, and within an hour his little black book of contacts had yielded five young ladies for the evening’s entertainment. Each one fitter than the last. He can’t be my brother, he just can’t be.
For years I’ve travelled to sporting fixtures by train, quietly sitting there with my drink reading the paper or chatting to my travelling companion. Time after time I’ve had gangs of Man City fans chanting about the Munich air disaster, gangs of Leeds Rhinos Fans throwing things at me, gangs of chavs with their horrible excuse for music playing on speakerphone, and never once have I done anything other than deliberately sighed quite heavily while turning pages. I’m ashamed to admit, it felt good to be the noisy twats for a change.
Scores >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 4/10
Pictures – Action Images, Neil Dejyothin
Photo: Action Images
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