(This was an excursion from Yorkshire, where Marie was working in Leeds for a couple of weeks)
And to the big Match Day; our football/soccer team, Newcastle United, were playing Everton today!
We took a 9am something morning train, passing many a scenic, sheep filled (rainy) landscape and arrived at Newcastle Station, which was still familiar in our memory from 2012. Randomly, we headed on up a street straight ahead of the station, Grainger Street. It turned out to be full of great things, including a café we decided on: Supernatural Café. Quite unique, and friendly, I think some proceeds go to animal welfare. They have a menu for dogs and cats too! I ordered us a slice of a salted caramel gateau, and a large cappuccino. The cake was so good, we were astonished it was vegan! The place was so interesting and comfortable that we could have spent hours there, but there were exciting things ahead and most notably Newcastle United FC versus Everton at St. James at 3 o’clock!
We then came to an attractive, Victorian area of the city we didn’t even remember from before. Lots going on, some Victorian arcades, old law chambers, lots of shops and a column and statue (not sure of whom) which you can climb up to a lookout near the top. Windy and cold though, we were in no mind to do that now. We were really impressed with Newcastle, which seemed to have more open spaces than the narrower streets of Leeds.
Then we were up by the St. James Park stadium. This is a legendary, almost holy stadium to the fanatical fans of the club. It’s at the top of the city and a vital part of the city. It was still early right now so not too many fans around yet. We were there a) to pick up the tickets from the box office and b) we were looking for a proper lunch spot. But before that, we went to the club shop! Marie even bought a sweatshirt hoodie with the Toon badge, and myself a blue polo top and a beanie. Great sales on too.
I went to pick up our tickets from an upper tier office whilst Marie waited in a queue at the shop to get her sweatshirt. A kid of about 11 years-old served me! Marie appeared and one of us put the tickets away safely.
We found a very unlikely lunch place. We saw a sign for a café, which seemed to be above a luxury furniture shop next door to the stadium, Barker & Stonehouse. We asked in the store where the café was…I think the salesmen just wanted to make a furniture sale and one sighed and pointed upstairs. It was the shop’s own café in a tranquil corner with big windows overlooking the walk up street to the stadium. The table and chairs you ate at were for sale, and there was even a bit of (plastic) furniture in the gents toilets tagged for sale, near to the urinals!
Food was really good too: Welsh rarebit and avocado and bacon on crumpets. Marie always dismissed crumpets as being similar to (American) English muffins, but now she could taste the difference. In fact, not many English people eat muffins unless you’re in McDonalds.
The area around the whole of St. James is very elegant (Georgian buildings) and laid-back, which I don’t associate with football grounds. But of course it has all the buzz and euphoria of any.
I’m thinking of when we visited Upton Park in the East End of London many years ago, West Ham’s old ground in the 1980s, and it would be all jellied eels carts and rough-looking pubs. At St. James you’re just as likely to find an organic café next to the ground but you have traditional pubs (“boozers”) too like The Strawberry.
From the big windows of the café we watched fans arriving by the hundreds now…one chap was dressed head to toe in a black and white striped suit (Beetlejuice?)!
As crowds began to swell, we went into the Jackie Milburn Stand to take our seats not far from where we sat in 2012, but probably even better! Slightly lower down. Because going to a game is a rare treat, we’ve “pushed the boat out” on tickets both times. We got “platinum” tickets again (65 GBP each) and a perk is that the large lounge, bar and café is just behind you (and a choice of nice toilets). At half time we go to the bar.
Excitement mounted as the teams warmed up, and you can’t put into words how different it is to see a live game over a tv screening. The expanse of green pitch, the expectation and oneness of the crowd, heckling the opposition etc.
I wasn’t that optimistic over the result today (Everton are in around 8th place in the Premiership, us around 13th or 14th) but in the last month or two we’d played a lot better and looked a far better side than earlier in the season. Anyway, by half time we were losing 2-0. In the busy lounge, I took a while to find the right place to order up a Bovril drink. The second half had started as we tried to finish it (you can’t take food or drink to your seat) and we watched the start of the second half on one of the many tv’s for a couple of minutes before getting back.
We were playing better but Everton still looked dangerous, and going 3-0 down would have been fatal.
We missed a penalty! Ritchie. But finally after about 65 minutes Rondon scored an excellent goal to claw it back to 2-1. About ten minutes later new Paraguan boy from Atlanta, Almiron, thundered a long effort on goal, Everton keeper Pickford (who was booed from the start, as he used to play for fierce rivals Sunderland) parried it away and Perez scored from the rebound! 2-2! The buzz was exhilarating now, and the whole stadium erupted when Perez got another to take us 3-2 up! Marie and I were hugging and bouncing around, and everyone left in jubilant mood. A lot of fans hung around for a long time afterwards. Marie and I noticed some fans waiting in one section where the players and staff exit, to get a glimpse of the players when they came out but it turned out to be where the Everton team were to board their coach (or at least, we were told that by other fans).
What a game, and what an experience.
I honestly wondered if today we might have ended up stumbling upon grittier parts of the city, perhaps getting a kebab and pint and then our team would lose the football match and I’d feel guilty that we didn’t join Marie’s work colleagues in Paris or something. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as both the time in Newcastle and the match had been worth every sovereign of the expenditure.
They have modern, luxury apartment (flat) rentals within St. James Park, by the way! Quite reasonable too, we think, based on the price of a studio. Up to 4 and 5 bedrooms.
Imagine that, more or less living at the stadium of your favourite sports team! Out of curiousity, Marie wants to have a look online.
Before getting our 6.50pm train, we went back to Supernatural Cafe to get two more vegan cake slices: lemon and rainbow, one for the train, one for the hotel.