Saturday, 4 December 2010

Whitley Bay P - AFC Liverpool P

Unsurprisingly, though still requiring a formal pitch inspection on Friday, today's FA Vase 3rd round tie between Whitley Bay and AFC Liverpool was postponed. Succumbing to the week of heavy snow suffered in the north east, the postponement wasn't difficult to predict at an early stage. The damage was done last weekend with several inches falling and despite early signs of a possible thaw, a wave of fresh snow on Thursday finished off any hope of the fixture going ahead as scheduled.

Whilst the main roads were clear, the final approach to Hillheads was hazardous with packed snow causing problems for both cars and those heading for the Seahorse bar on foot. Inside the ground, there was just lots and lots and lots and lots of snow.

The tie has been re-arranged for Saturday December 11th with a 2pm kick off. Newcastle United are playing the Anfield based Liverpool FC at 5:30pm later in the day so it's definitely an opportunity for Tyneside and travelling Liverpool based fans alike to take in both games.

For sat navvies; Hillheads Park is at NE25 8HR whilst St James Park is at NE1 4ST.

Friday, 26 November 2010

I was a teenage HMHB fan : Half Man Half Biscuit live in Durham

In the dimly lit booth, a devilishly good looking, dark haired young man waits patiently to be addressed. It was very quiet, the young man convincing himself that he could, in fact, hear the air. Sitting on his hands in the space, really big enough for only one, the young man begins to tap his feet nervously. It's not long before there's a sharp, cool breeze within the booth, and a voice. A voice, on the other side of the wooden grille. The young man was in the confessional of his mind, and it was now or never.

"Yes? What is it? I am quite busy", rasped the gravelly voice.

The young man clears his throat. "Erm, yes. I, er."

"Spit it out for goodness sake.", interrupted the increasingly impatient voice.

"Okay, well. Thing is, I've never, well, that is to say, I haven't been able...". The young man's voice tailed off.

"Take a breath son.", growled the voice.

The young man took a breath, looked upward and sighed. Under his breath, the young man whispered, "I've never actually seen Half Man Half Biscuit live before. I mean, I love the songs and I've really wanted to, maybe I haven't made that much effort but..."

"It's allowed.", interrupted the voice. There was a brief pause as the voice lowered, "they don't play round your way very often but they're playing in Durham tonight. If you go now you'll just about make it."

And with that, the young man leapt excitedly from the wooden bench and bolted for the exit. Stopping to call back, the young man shouted, "oh and thank you. But who are you?"

There was a pause. A bearded man, wearing a yellow shirt with maroon sleeves, dissolved into view. "Davey, I'm John Peel, and I'll see you there."

And so, Half Man Half Biscuit. Live in Durham. And, through the November ice and snow, I was there. A casual fan of HMHB for many years, excitement in Davey towers was brimming when the news broke that Birkenhead's finest would be heading to the North East for a rare gig. Champions of the late, great John Peel and veterans of his eponymous 'Peel sessions' it's fair to say most music lovers have a certain place in their hearts for HMHB.

Cult band extraordinaire, and once described as a minor British institution, HMHB are probably as well known for their sardonic take on popular culture as they are for their raw style of music. A strange mix of garage, punk and indie, they've had a colourful history, and they're also football fans - once turning down an appearance on The Tube because Tranmere Rovers were at home. But as much as the music and lyrics continue to resonate, I'm also captivated by the band's sense of minimalism. Almost like four mates turning up at a pub to rattle out some of their favourite numbers, there's no glitz, no unnecessary showmanship, and front man Nigel Blackwell's razor-sharp witted banter with the crowd was unbounded. Nigel even seemed embarrassed by the venue's big screens which were magnifying the performance on either side of the stage.

Playing to a busy and excited Live Lounge, it was clear the band still have legs and still enjoy playing. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, barring the odd recording drought and a break-up, they were on stage for almost two hours, and they still possess the energy, passion and inter-song wit you'd associate with the band. All the charm of the vinyl recordings neatly transpose to the live setting without sounding contrived and even some topical, impromptu lyric re-writes added flavour - the line, "I quite like a bit of snow, so stick to the facts" finding its way in to "A Country Practice".

Shameless pic to illustrate something
I did feel a tinge of disappointment that some of my personal favourites didn't make the set list; "The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman", "£24.99 from Argos", "Paintball's Coming Home" and "Tour Jacket with Detachable Sleeves" to name but a few were all left behind in the rehearsal room. The long version of "24 Hour Garage People", however, more than made up for any selfish chagrin and there was always "Joy Division Oven Gloves" to hang my coat on at the close. Towards the end, Nigel briefly swapped his trusty Fender Telecaster for his Epiphone with the caravan shaped body, HMHB's frontman admitting, "it's only good for one song, then the novelty wears off".

"Curse my soul if I don't want petrol"
With the crowd baying for more, I left the venue to find my car. Travelling home, I stopped at an all night garage and was about to make an enquiry as to what sandwiches they sold when I spotted the handwritten note sellotaped to the windows of the kiosk. Seems they're on to us. Curiously there was no tuna/sweetcorn but I did pick up a blues CD on the Hallmark label. That's sure to be good.

Half Man Half Biscuit are: Nigel Blackwell, Neil Crossley, Ken Hancock and Carl Henry.

Last night's set list:

99% of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd
Yipps (My Baby Got The)
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Petty Sessions
If I had possession over Pancake Day
Bob Wilson, Anchorman
A Lilac Harry Quinn
Bad Losers on Yahoo! Chess
Look Dad No Tunes
Lock up your Mountain Bikes
Running Order Squabblefest
We Built This Village On A Trad.Arr. Tune
All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit
Left Lyrics in the Practice Room
Vatican Broadside
National Shite Day
24 Hour Garage People
Everything’s AOR
Secret Gig
For What is Chatteris
1966 and all that
Tommy Walsh’s Eco House
Trumpton Riots
A Country Practice
Evening of Swing (Has Been Cancelled)

I’m a Boy
Joy Division Oven Gloves

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A brief visiting fans' guide to Whitley Bay

Situated on the north east coast of England just north of the Tyne, Whitley Bay (pop: 36,500) is a small seaside town with something of an identity crisis. Once the destination of choice for summer holiday makers in the north east of England, and Scotland, affordable package holidays abroad in the 1960s catalysed Whitley Bay's decline. The beautiful beaches and brilliant white lighthouse stand as a monument to the days of yore, although Whitley Bay's best days are now mostly resigned to the "Remember When?" columns in the local press. Whilst town planning committees strive to revive the town, Whitley Bay has gained notoriety as a unsavoury drinking resort. A popular destination for stag & hen parties, the South Parade area of Whitley Bay is either the place to be or the place to avoid, depending on your idea of a ‘good night out’.

That said, the town has always been proud of its football club. Plying their trade in the skilltrainingltd Northern League Division 1 in the 9th tier of English football and nicknamed the Seahorses, Whitley Bay FC have enjoyed a wealth of cup success of late. In 1989/90 Bay beat league opposition on their way to an unlikely appearance in the FA Cup 3rd round proper, eventually bowing out to Rochdale at Spotland by a single goal to nil. But it's the FA Vase that Bay fans like to call their own - three FA Vase triumphs in the last eight years has not only raised the profile and spirits of the club but raised vital funds for the club too.

A former stationery shop front put to good use on Whitley Road.
A safe distance from the cauldron of iniquity on South Parade, Hillheads Park is situated about a mile from the town centre; hemmed in by allotments, a car dealership and the ice rink. With a capacity of 4,500, Hillheads is a tidy ground which generates a good atmosphere amongst the friendly supporters, and at the time of writing, Bay's home attendances this season have averaged around 450. Entering through the turnstiles off Hillheads Road, the initial approach to the terraces leads you to the rear of the main stand, past a refreshment hut on the left and past the ‘half time entrance’ to the club bar, The Seahorse. The main stand has uncovered terraced areas to each side which reach around behind both goals to provide ample standing room. On the opposite side of the ground, a similar uncovered, terraced area is currently undergoing preparatory work for a new roof structure which will provide shelter to spectators who favour the south side of the ground.

Hillheads Park main stand
Pre & post match, there are two bars close to the ground aside from the adjoining Seahorse pub. About three hundred yards down Hillheads Road towards the town centre, Last Orders, is a popular watering hole for Bay fans pre and post match, meanwhile, a ten minute walk in the other direction, The Foxhunters is a child friendly pub which also serves food. In the town centre, and within 10-15 minutes of the ground on foot, there are a plethora of pubs on Whitley Road. The Townhouse (on the corner of Park Avenue and Whitley Road) and The Fax Ox come particularly recommended for those looking for a more dignified pre-match pint, meanwhile, The Firestation - a Wetherspoons pub – and the Victoria pub provide the visiting supporter with further pre-match choices. For the benefit of those who wish to make a weekend of it, a night out in nearby Tynemouth provides a welcome change of scene and Newcastle city centre is only a 25 minute journey on the Metro.

Whilst Whitley Bay the town may be considered a poor man’s Blackpool, for the visiting football fan an away day at Hillheads is definitely one to mark in the diary.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Oh! Carroll

Newcastle fans are famous for lots of things - drinking, supporting the club through thin and thin and terrific away support, but one of the underrated talents we possess is the ability to churn out some real hit terrace songs. We have the old standards of course; the "Blaydon Races" (seldom sung with the correct lyrics), "Untitled" (it goes, "An N and an E and a wubbleyoo C...") along with "Geordie Boot Boys" and "Drunk & disorderly" which are amongst my personal favourites, despite the somewhat passé references to hooligan tendencies. Whilst these are to name but a few, Newcastle fans are definitely there or thereabouts when it comes to getting new terrace songs into the domain. Indeed it was Supermac who described our song writing as "clever" and "inventive" when, on his United debut, the chorus of Superstar (from "Jesus Christ Superstar") rang out around St James' Park as he completed his hat-trick. Only it wasn't Jesus who was the superstar on this occasion.

Up and down the land countless nursery rhymes, advertisement jingles, pop songs and even hymns have been adopted and adapted for maximum terrace effect, whether it's to support the team or mock the opposition. "Hark now here" is almost a perennial terrace Christmas carol, though the modified refrain, "because of New Year's Day", points at the New Year's Day home derby wins of both 1980 and 1985 rather than anything traditionally festive. Fast forward to these days and "Oh Coloccini" - a re-writing of the chorus of Frankie Valli's 1967 hit, "Can't take my eyes off you" - illustrates not only the invention of whoever it was who thought of it, but also the desire to reach beyond the safety of tried and tested melodies. But, we always need a distinctive song for our number 9. Undeterred by the extra syllable, the Andy Cole song (when he gets the ball he scores a goal) is now bestowed on Andy Carroll and that's great. Originally a hit for Boney M, although actually an adaptation of an old ditty first published in 1880 called "Polly Wolly Doodle", it does however seem a little lazy. Recycling's great, but Andy Carroll deserves something different.

So, here's my submission for a fresh Andy Carroll song, based on Neil Sedaka's 1958 hit, "Oh! Carol":-

"Oh Carroll! Nolan, Timmy Krul;
Shola I love you, you're better than Raul;
Oh Carroll! You made the mackems cry;
but if you leave me, I will surely die.

Carroll will you go and score another!

Nolan, Timmy Krul;
Shola I love you, you're better than Raul;
Oh Carroll! You made the mackems cry;
but if you leave me, I will surely die.

Repeat to fade, as they say in the business...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Newcastle 5 - 5under1and 1

Truly one of the most memorable Newcastle games of recent times and, surpassing the Beardsley hat-trick game of New Year's Day 1985, probably the best derby game I've witnessed at St James' Park. T'was the perfect day: to a man, Newcastle were incredible. Sunderland, meanwhile, were worse than appalling. Since Sunday, the press and social media has been awash with an abundance of superb accounts, superlatives, testimonials and lampoonery, and celebrations are set to continue long into November. If only we had a scoreboard to symbolise the occasion - here's one I made earlier...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Doctor Who pumpkin for Halloween 2010

Happy Halloween!

Just finished this year's effort - Doctor Who firing his sonic screwdriver, and an exploding Tardis...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Recipe: NewcastleDavey's spicy pumpkin soup

If, like me, you enjoy carving pumpkins at Halloween, why not make good use of the flesh you have to scoop out and double your pleasure.

I've been making this for the last few years and it's difficult to get wrong. So, wash your hands & warm yourself up this Halloween with this delicious and spicy pumpkin soup :-

Cooking time: 45 mins

Serves: 5

What you'll need:

  • The flesh of two medium pumpkins (take the seeds and 'hair' out first)
  • Two medium onions
  • Four chicken stock cubes
  • One pint of boiling water
  • Four red chillies (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
  • Two medium red peppers
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • A couple of pinches of ground black pepper

And of course...

  • A big cooking pot or pan
  • Measuring jug
  • Knives
  • Chopping board
  • Wooden spoon
  • Electric stick blender

What to do:

  1. Scoop out the flesh from your pumpkins.
  2. Chop the chilli, onions, garlic and peppers fairly coarsely.
  3. Heat a good splash of olive oil in your pan and add the above chilli, onion, garlic & peppers.
  4. Boil the kettle and dissolve your stock cubes in a pint of boiling water.
  5. Stir the contents of your pan a bit until the onion starts to go soft.
  6. Pour and stir in the stock water from step 3.
  7. Bring to the boil and add the pepper & fold in your pumpkin flesh.
  8. Cover the pan and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft enough to mash, then blend.

Top tips: Why not carve a face or some such image into the pumpkin shells whilst the soup's simmering. Place a lit tea light inside the pumkin and dim the lights for full effect. Don't forget you've got a pan of bubbling, hot soup on the cooker...


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

New adventures in trainspotting: goal nets

I know I'm not alone in enjoying a good goal at a match, and I'm also sure I'm not alone in feeling that a large part of the excitement of a goal being scored is how the goal and net interact with the ball is it passes over the line. Regardless of the approach play involved, balls that go in off the post or bar, strike some support structure within the goal and either nestle sweetly or bounce back out somehow seem better goals than those which merely cross the line or disappear within a billowing net bag. Alas, the times they are a-changing. Or to be more accurate, they already have changed.

The football goal, is functional yet beautiful and iconic. Oft nicknamed the "onion bag", the football goal is the focal point of either end of a football pitch and without them, the game wouldn't be the same - for that matter, neither would Aberdeen FC's club crest which depicts the side profile of a traditional goal post with a ball in the centre to form an "A". They deserve to be considered stylish and recognised for the part they play in the game, indeed, how they can define a football ground. But, they've never been the same since the mid-80s when the advent of the "box profile net" began to take hold - the 1986 World Cup in Mexico heralding the future of goal nets, although they did make an appearance at the games in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany.

Boxy McBox
With no inner support structures and with cord stretching from the top of each post to a support pole a few yards behind to support the netting, they're another example of how stale the game has become these days. The box net (left) basically provides four faces of a rectangular cuboid of goal net. Exciting at first - something new - but almost too functional to be cool and they don't make for the spectacular finishes described earlier. Fast forward thirty or so years and you now find them at almost every league ground - even some non-league grounds - reacting like a large string vest flouncing around on a washing line on receipt of a thirty yard screamer. And this is the trouble I have, with both the style of net, and the fact they're everywhere. Box nets do of course have their advantages - crisp in appearance and no stanchions to confuse referees - less chance of balls bouncing back out of the goal as if they may have hit the post - but at the same time I feel they're just a bit too clinical.

Wembley's classic long arm, in 1987
The classic styles from yesteryear appear to be long gone. Wembley along with others replaced their long standing 'long arm' stanchion goals for Euro '96 and the elbow loops of countless goals eventually succumbed. Before long, the characterful, shallow and tight backed goal nets of QPR, Southampton, Luton and Liverpool were no more. Slowly but surely, tens of league grounds' goalposts across the country relinquished their charm. In addition, stadia across the land lost part of their charm too.

Varying forms of traditional stanchion can lay claim to being, in some part, responsible for some of the most spectacular goals ever scored. In 1981, loop stanchions gave us Trevor Brooking's memorable England goal, his left footed strike wedging itself in the loop stanchion almost giving the goalkeeper a walk of shame to pluck the ball from the top of the goal. Two years earlier, Glenn Hoddle's screamer at White Hart Lane took full advantage of what I'd call, "a proper goal net".

St James' Park's loops in the '80s
Between the 1960s and mid 1990s, the goals at St James' Park hadn't changed much, elbow loop stanchions with white netting the design of choice on Tyneside. They weren't the most exciting goal post in the world but they contributed to some memorable and spectacular finishes. In 1988, Paul Gascoigne scored a screamer at the Gallowgate end against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup - the ball clipping the underside of the bar and bobbling in the loop. In fact, he pretty much repeated the feat in the next round at home to Swindon with a sublime, placed shot into the top corner (30 seconds in), and of course, we must mention Malcolm MacDonald's debut goal -the first of his debut hat-trick - at home to Liverpool in '71 which was placed right in the top corner. Beautiful.

"'s a goal, it's a lovely goal..."
Reach further back in history, and abroad, for a weird and wonderful world of outlandish goal nets. In 1969, Newcastle United's visit to Hungary for the second leg of the Fairs Cup final is a fond memory for any Newcastle fan - for me, the stripey goal posts were as incredible as the result. Ben Arentoft's 50th minute equaliser reacted well with the fairly taught net and back poles as he reeled away, and as Newcastle grasped European success.

The Azteca Stadium hints at the future in 1970 
Check out World Cup highlights from the 70s and you'll find more examples of the unusual yet wonderful goal designs, and how they contributed to the aesthetic of some spectacular and memorable goals. The 1970 final hinted at what was to come although they still had the decency to retain horizontal support poles above the net.

There are many more examples and I'm sure you'll all have your favourites but if I had one, somewhat superficial, wish for the future of football, it would be that the design of goals in grounds can once again be more freehand. That they can reform their own expressions and augment the aesthetic of the 'spectacular finish'. That thirty yards screamers can rediscover the benefit of "hitting the top corner" and more importantly, that stadia up and down the country can once again be recognised by the shape of their onion bags.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The discourse community of football

"Football's just a branch of science", so sang the theme tune of 'Jossy's Giants', but in a broad sense it could also lend a hand to the study of humanities.

Brian Moore's head
For some time, it has occurred to me that school pupils should be actively encouraged to study football as part of their English lessons. Football's rich lexicon has a lot to offer in terms of boosting an impressionable child's vocabulary. Indeed I recall being able to understand almost all of what Brian Moore and Barry Davies used to tell me whilst still at primary school - everything but the latter's evident dislike for my team. I understood that St James' Park's East Stand was designed with a cantilever roof, and I knew what that meant. European football coverage delivered the concept of aggregate scores as well as away goals, although I never did understand why commentators would insist that away goals counted double (they don't).

Clive Allen complaining
My introduction to watching football live, in a football ground was in the very early '80s. The concept of separating opposing fans inside the ground had been introduced and quickly I gained an understanding of the word segregation, meanwhile even the technical term for the humble goal net support structure also entered my vocabulary. Whilst playing for Crystal Palace in 1980, Clive Allen's sublime free-kick rebounded out of the goal and back into play. The referee, thinking the ball had struck the post, waved play on and during the protests, Clive can be clearly be seen screaming about the ball hitting the stanchion.

The scope for encouraging learning through football isn't restricted to just the development of English language skills but I think it's an example of how football can be used in education by leveraging a child's enthusiasm for something exciting, fun and not traditionally associated with learning. By bringing the world of football to the classroom, just think, subconsciously a child of eight or nine can begin to gain a healthy exposure to other words such as:

association, substitute, infringement, equalise, advantage, misconduct, caution, ricochet, erratic, disciplinary, suspension, abandoned, concession

As 'Half Man Half Biscuit' once said, "Apart from on commentary, where else on earth can you hear the word aplomb being used?"

Monday, 18 October 2010

Match tweets: Newcastle United v Wigan Athletic

  1. 2-2 recovery doesn't paper over the cracks in this appalling #NUFCdisplay. #Wigan can count themselves unlucky if a little careless.
  2. My tweets today have been somewhat after the event... Bloody crap signal inside SJP meant I had to keep retrying.
  3. Late 2-2!!!! Coloccini :-) #NUFC #match
  4. New escape hatch in the Gallowgate? #NUFC
  5. Shola transforms SJP from a cauldron of moaners and suddenly we have an exciting last 15 #NUFC #match
  6. Out of the blue, shola on his Segway pulls one back with a header following a great Jonas cross #NUFC #match
  7. Tiote a class apart again trying to drive a poor #NUFC side. Like Lewis Hamilton driving a Vauxhall Viva... #match
  8. Incredibly, Zog rifles a 2nd past Krul & makes it two to Wigan. Whooda though it'd be Perch's mark who has damaged us...#NUFC #match
  9. Poor marking and as if scripted, Zog the frog loops a header beyond the reach of Krul - 1-0 to Wigan #NUFC #match
  10. v. Wigan (@ St James' Park w/ 9 others)