Life is full of coincidences. Just a few days after we arrived in New Zealand, my hometown football (soccer, blah!) team revealed that they would be visiting for a short summer (albeit winter here) tour. Almost exactly a month after we moved to Wellington, Newcastle United arrived to play a game against Wellington’s own team, the Phoenix.
Jamie and I were both excited, for different reasons. Me because it was the first opportunity I’d had in years to see Newcastle play a game of football. Jamie because she’d never been to a football game before.
Before arriving at the game I feared that Jamie wouldn’t get to experience an authentic football match. We were miles away from England so it might be a completely different experience. But when we entered the stadium and I glanced at the price of beer I started to believe she would. It was $8 or so for a half pint. Disgusting prices, but just like home!
Put off by the price we headed to our seats and were very quickly surrounded by the black and white stripes of Newcastle supporters. The man beside me stood wearing a large jester’s hat and he was already quite drunk. He shook my hand and introduced himself with a harsh Kiwi accent. After a few moments he started to sing – to the tune of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – a song about Newcastle’s captain.
Oh Collocini, you are the love of my life.
Oh Collocini, I’ll let you fuck my wife.
Oh Collocini, I want curly hair tooooo!
Another fan behind us laughed aloud, “Fucking right, man! Fucking right.”
Immediately I started to cringe inside, embarrassed that I’d invited Jamie to experience an authentic Newcastle match only for us to be surrounded by a load of drunk, foul-mouthed idiots.
It soon dawned on me that this was the authentic experience. I’ve never been to a Newcastle match where I haven’t been surrounded by people constantly swearing and jibing. I guess this was going to be just like home. Unfortunately.
Soon one of the nearby fans noticed a Sunderland fan nearby. Sunderland (for those not in the know) are the biggest rivals of Newcastle. They’re the nearest town in England, so obviously the most hated. Newcastle is filled with Geordies, Sunderland is filled with Mackems. There’s a burning hate between the both of us. Now for whatever reason, somebody from Sunderland had decided to come to the match in his Sunderland t-shirt.
Suddenly the crowd started to chant,“Who are ya!? Who are ya?! Who are ya?!” I’ve no idea what this means, but people chant it all the time at football matches. I imagine nobody knows what it means and everybody is too embarressed to ask.
The man beside me shouted at the top of his lungs, “Dirty fuckin’ Mackem!!” Partially it amused me, since said Mackem was probably born closer to Newcastle than the guy beside me. Never mind that though. I slunk into my chair and looked at Jamie, apologising with my eyes for bringing her along. Don’t associate me with these people, I pleaded, not all Newcastle supporters are like this!
Moments later a six-year-old boy pounced from his seat and screamed, “GO HOME YOU MACKEM CUNT!” The crowd applauded and shouted, “WHEYYY!” That expensive beer was starting to feel more and more appealing.
One beer later I was starting to ease a little – soothing into the foul language and boisterous behaviour. I even had a go at a few swears myself, but they had nowhere near the same impact as the young boy’s.
In true Kiwi style, before the game started there were a seemingly endless series of tribal dances and songs. A group of children in war paint, wearing traditional Maori clothing danced and chanted. Once the first few dances were completed the girls walked off the pitch. A man behind me called,
Get your tits out! Get your tits out! Get your tits out for the lads!
I cringed, the girls were about 11 years old. A few fans chortled uncomfortably. The man clearly thought this meant he was onto something, so he started again, “Get your tits out! Get your tits out!…” A second beer seemed to be calling me.
The teams came out onto the pitch and lined up. The stadium announcer’s voice blared out across the now completely full seats. It was explained that two of the passengers on the recently downed MH17 plane were Newcastle supporters coming to watch the games in New Zealand. Because of this there would be a moment of silence.
Immediately I watched as the entire crowd of thousands of people lifted to their feet. There was a loud shuffling and clunk as every seat in the stadium closed. The referee whistled and every person in the crowd went completely silent.
For me this was a profound moment. How could these people that were only seconds ago applauding a man who was asking an 11 year old to get her tits out, then give a damn enough to stand for a minutes silence? The truth is, many football fans are incredibly honourable.
There’s a quote you’ll often hear.
Football is a gentlemen’s game played by thugs. Rugby is a thugs’ game played by gentlemen.
As the crowd stood in silence for the two fans, it was hard to not believe that many in attendance weren’t decent people. They may have a love of the crass, but deep down there’s a lot of honour in football. Fans live by a very strange code.
You can be a fan of a rival team and it’s all in good jest to call you every name under the sun. Yet when it comes to life outside of the game, football supporters often show an amazing amount of solidarity and support for each other. The first people to send their condolences and help raise funds after the death of the two football fans were Sunderland supporters, which tells you everything you need to know.
The whistle was blown again and the crowd erupted into applause as the Newcastle team lined up in front of the young Maori boys. The topless young men aged, I guess, from about 9 to 14 years old danced away in front of the Newcastle team doing the famous Maori warrior dance named the haka.
It seemed at this point that most fans just found the whole thing amusing. These were no warriors, but a bunch of skinny children dancing in front of the Newcastle team, who seemed to be trying their hardest not to laugh. The children weren’t so much intimidating or scary as they were cute.
However, when the dance completed, everybody in the stadium applauded and cheered loudly and I’m sure the children felt a great sense of accomplishment. Just another strange showing of decorum from an otherwise tasteless crowd.
The game kicked off and got going and immediately I noticed two problems. Firstly there was a guy with a huge afro standing directly in front of me blocking my view. Now I don’t want to spoil anybody elses fun, but if your head and hair are the size of the moon, you should be immediately banned from any sporting and musical events. You should only be allowed into the venue if you promise to sit directly in the back or have your head shaved.
The second problem was that Newcastle were playing terribly. Turns out they must have been intimidated by the children’s war dance after all. Yet, I must point out that it wouldn’t be an authentic Newcastle match if you went along and actually enjoyed watching. Newcastle are one of the dullest football teams in the world (and that’s coming from a fan!) who really know how to make it seem like they’re playing a game in slow motion when they’re actually at normal speed.
Somehow before half time, Newcastle managed to score a goal. Unfortunately it was scored at the other end of the pitch, the opposite end from all the Newcastle fans. It took about 15 seconds for the crowd to even realise the team had scored and by that point it seemed like everybody was too confused to celebrate.
The best thing about watching a football match is the instant feeling of elation and surprise (incredible surprise in Newcastle’s case) when your team scores. When you’re not sure if they’ve scored the moment turns into an anti-climax.
Did we score?
I’m not sure…did we?
Oh look, it says 1-0 on the scoreboard, I guess that was a goal.
Bit late to celebrate now, I suppose.
At the half-time whistle thousands of spectators headed to the toilet, their bladders bursting after many beers. Of course, a newly empty bladder means room for more beers. Every fan came back to their seat with all the beers they could carry. The drunk got progressively drunker.
Into the second half Newcastle were somehow even more lacklustre. I took to amusing myself by watching members of the crowd. One man kept raising his beers to the air every 2 minutes with a shout of, “WOOOOOOO!!!” I timed him on my watch, and like clockwork every 120 seconds he would do it: WOOOOOOOOO!! He was like a very drunk useless cuckoo clock. WOOOOOOOOO! Every 2 minutes. WOOOOOOOOOOOO
1 minute and 58 seconds after his last woo I watched him take a deep breath and very quickly I shouted as long as I could, “WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” He turned around, his mouth wide, his eyes hurt. The hurt only lasted for two minutes until he once again got back into his routine.
The game soon ended and the 30 or so thousand fans headed for the exit, scattering out like ants from an ant-hill.
We stayed for a few moments to watch people leave, and I noticed all around us underneath every seat were thousands upon thousands of beer cups and bottles. I admit I felt a slight feeling of disgust and shame. I know that people no doubt get paid to clean the stadium up after each game, but the state of the floor was ridiculous.
I read during the World Cup that Japanese fans would stay behind after their team had finished to clean up the football stand. I’m disappointed that others don’t have that same pride in cleaning up after themselves.
As we walked home I asked Jamie if she’d enjoyed her first Newcastle game. “It was all right,” she said. I smiled. That’s pretty much how I’ve felt every time I’ve seen them play.
They were all right.