Half-time at the Toon

It was a dire and clueless first half of football from Stoke City. We were 2-0 down and we were poor value for that – it could have been much worse. As a contributor to the Oatcake messageboard later put it, ‘We were woeful, embarrassing, and at times looked no better than a decent semi-pro non-league side.’

The away fans’ section at St James’ Park is up ten flights of stairs. It offers a fabulous view of the city of Newcastle, though the goal at the far end has been calculated as being a quarter of a mile away. It was very cold. I had my thirteen year-old nephew with me. He was feeling a bit off-colour, so I sat him on a window ledge at the back of the bar and purchased him a hot chocolate. The bar has a low suspended ceiling, with synthetic tiles. I was leaning back against the window ledge looking at these tiles and considering the merits of traveling to see Stoke play away, more than five hours of driving through filthy weather, multiple roadworks, abnormal loads, and filthy traffic, followed by an hour on the train after picking up the nephew. At this moment there appeared to be no worth in it whatsoever and I was considering abandoning the practise altogether. You can write a book without having to do this: you can write about something else. To my right there was a gang of ‘lads.’ The nearest one to me was an overweight, though rather good looking, young man in his early twenties. He was staring contemplatively into his pint when he began to sing: Oh when the reds, go marching in, oh when the reds go marching in. He had a deep bass voice, well suited to the funeral gospel hymn from which that song derives, and he sang it slowly, respectfully, and mournfully. He repeated the first line, and then added the next: I wanna be in that number, oh when the reds go marching in. No one else contributed. He swilled the beer round his plastic glass and began again. By the time he was half way through, the lad to his right had stirred himself to join his mate. On the second I wanna be in that number, oh when the reds go marching in I added a third voice. Suddenly, the whole bar, which was packed full of miserable people, was in chorus. A full rendition of Delilah followed. The low ceiling provided an acoustic setting that being half a mile up in the sky outside could not emulate. The coppers in the bar stopped being coppers and stood watching, as though they had not seen anything quite like this before. Four fans dressed as Santa made their way to the toilets to smoke four festive fags. An impromptu ‘Santa is a Stokie’ broke out which was followed by a bigger, better, louder reprise of The Saints, one that rattled those ceiling tiles. I no longer felt cold, and I had changed my mind about the worth of being there. It was civilised, it was dignified, it was tribal, and it was beautiful; you could neither experience nor buy this anywhere else in the world. The ‘lads’ downed their pints and made their ways back to the terrace to provide vocal backing for the team for whole of the second half; meanwhile the forty-five thousand souls of the famous ‘Toon Army’ put in an adequate impression of being at librarian’s convention.

Our winner, to make it 2-2, came in the 93rd minute.

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11 Responses to Half-time at the Toon

  1. OS says:

    Brilliant, winger. Just brilliant.


  2. AndyP says:

    I wish I’d been up there with you. All I got at halftime was a rammed toilet block with comments like “Howay, these lot are like a Championship side” ringing all around.

  3. Stephen Foster says:

    Cheers OS * low bow of authorliness, doubling up as Pilgrims’ regular ‘Mecca to Pulis’ *

    You can join us now AP: TS Cards have been outlawed…

  4. mum says:

    Brill post just one question is Joe converted ?

  5. Stephen Foster says:

    He had a sore throat and was unimpressed by anything.

  6. AndyP says:

    The cards may be gone but isn’t there some equally complex selection process to get an away ticket:
    1. Season ticket holder priority
    2. Already attended 3 away games with tickets purchased from club
    3. Oath of Allegiance sworn to Tony Pulis

    One of the main reasons I was there was to catch up with my old friend from university, so more than likely I’d always be in the home end with him. Plus the ticket was free! 😉 As for future away games… I’m afraid to say apathy is beginning to set in and I don’t know how much more awful football I’m prepared to take. Let’s see if the “little bit of quality” arrives in January. At the moment I don’t know if I can arsed to attend the Fulham game!

  7. Stephen Foster says:

    1,2,3: yes, but as there are many more miserable old PHWs like you about you can still get them anyway once all those priority schemes have passed away.

    I reckon Arsenal on the final day will be the only remaining fixture where it might be hard to get in the way end now that the main glory-hunting venues have been visited.

  8. guernseydave says:

    Old Stokie you arse licker. It only encourages him ! 🙂


  9. calvininjax says:

    The scene sounds redolent of one of those black and white British war films, starring Jack Hawkins, Gordon Jackson, Richard Attenborough and the ubiquitous Sam Kydd.

    British pluck and Potteries pride at its best.

  10. OS says:

    GD…I’m the best arselicker in town. But, on this occasion, I think I was right. 😉

    I’ve been trying to stir the natives on the board but they seem to be immune to my ramblings. Like you, I’m becoming ‘surplus to requirements’. *Snigger. Only Momo excites me these days, the faggot. I picked up a piece of cheese in Tescos the other day. I think people thought I was a nutter when I couldn’t stop laughing. And then I understood why we are becoming ‘surplus to requirements’. It said on this packet…”Allergy advice – this product contains milk.” 🙂

    I’ve got the flu. I’m going to lie down. It’s strange, I can’t lift my arms up and my head keeps falling over. It reminds me of when I threw a ‘whitey’ when I overdid it with the strong stuff. 😦


  11. calvininjax says:

    We are not surplus to requirements, OS. We are the last vestiges of common sense.

    In the supermarkets over here, the cashier frequently asks whether we found everything all right.

    My reply is, “Yes, it was all there stacked on the shelves.”

    Hope you feel better soon.

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