This year my birthday luckily fell on one of the two most significant dates in any Newcastle United or Sunderland Football Club fans calendar – Derby Day!
As a birthday treat, mon chéri and I decided to go into town for the day and catch the match in a pub, tickets for the game had long since sold out. Let me explain the word ‘treat’ in association with the words ‘go into town’, something a lot of people take for granted as a weekly or at least monthly staple. Lily can never be left on her own, EVER. Northern Inuits as a breed are pack dogs, and left alone they suffer from severe separation anxiety. People often comment on our situation ‘Oh it’s just like having a baby” – you can put a nappy on a baby! And unlike France, the Great British service industry does not welcome with open arms into their shops and restaurants, canines. So going out is a rare occasion and a well planned exercise in sorting out Lily care. We wouldn’t have our lives any other way though, we love Lily!
On a gloriously sunny February Saturday in Newcastle city centre, we walked the historic streets on the great pilgrimage to St James’ Park, sailing along on a sea of black and white shirts, literally in the honorable footsteps of Debuchy and Sissoko, obviously on their way to the home changing rooms.
There wasn’t a ‘Black Cat’ fan in sight. That’s because the rivalry between ‘Magpie’ fans and Sunderland fans is so fierce that they have to be escorted to the turnstiles by an army of police to prevent a mortal battle outside Newcastle United’s epic stadium. The Geordies ‘Mackem’ brethren only live some 13 miles down the coast from Geordieland but c’est la vie of football fans – rivalry is everything! Incidentally for all those who are not familiar with the term ‘Mackem’ it is a proud historic name given to a son or daughter of the City of Sunderland. The rivalry between Geordies and Mackems originates in the phrase ‘Mackem and Tackem’ (Make them and Take them), terminology from the 19th century and the North East’s famous ship building heritage. Wearside ship builders were said to ‘Mackem’ – ‘make the ships’ and Tyneside ship builders were said to ‘Tackem’, ‘take the ships’ hence the name ‘Mackem’. Rivalry aside, what is so wonderful about the football heritage of both Newcastle and Sunderland is that there is only one top league club in each city so pride is solely devoted to one club, leading to unrivalled camaraderie and ‘brothers in arms’, unlike the divided families of Manchester and Liverpool.
The police presence was monumental outside St James’ park as we headed to our classy port in a storm, Shark Club! Mounted police on majestic, horses wearing protective armour, stood in a row, a policewoman even smiled down from the back of her beautiful 17hands mount, as I took her photo, the excitement of the ‘Toon Army’ fans was infectious. Swallowed like sardines into the shark’s stomach of the bar, we drank and awaited with intrepid anticipation for the match to be televised on the hundreds of screens around the bar. Nowadays refreshingly, there are many more female fans at the match and in the bars enjoying the game. My best pal’s mum was probably at the match, training it down on the Flying Scotsman from Edinburgh for the day; she has been a die hard fan since a wee girl! Curiously though, you don’t see female fans joining in the war chants like ‘Shoot the Mackems, Shoot, Shoot the Mackem’s’ that raised the roofs of the bars en route to St James’ Park Stadium as the Sunderland fans walked past like captured soldiers on their way to a gulag! The bouncer eventually put a stop to the battle cries in our pub!
Newcastle fans were nervous as well they might be, Newcastle have never lost three times in a row to a post 1920s Sunderland team but the last two derby day fixtures have seen a Sunderland team in an around the relegation zone beat Newcastle twice! So tension was in the lager air around us. Dreamboat Cabaye, arguably Newcastle’s best player was sold earlier in the week so with their talisman and captain now in gay Paris, the team looked lost both in direction and effort. An illegal tackle in the penalty box by Anita on Sunderland’s Bardsley resulted in a penalty scored by Borini. A deflection off Sunderland’s Johnson saw a second goal in the first half and a third goal from Sunderland’s Colback after 80 minutes saw United fans leaving the stands in their droves before full time, furious at yet another poor result against their arch rivals. Drawing the curtains on the Transfer Window on Transfer Deadline Day on Friday, Newcastle made no permanent signings, their only business Luuk De Jong, signed on loan. Reportedly at the urinals, fans were calling for blood, sacking of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, banishment of Joe Kinnear from the club and top of the blood feud list owner Mike Ashley to be run out of town forever. Perhaps the closing down of his flagship shop ‘Sports Direct’ in Newcastle’s Eldon Square is a hopeful sign that he might be leaving the Toon after all? Pardew cut a lonely and forlorn figure as the fulltime whistle blew. Maybe he is as frustrated with the owner as the fans are? Oh god another depressing result and the doom and gloom of the forensic autopsy of the game, the manager and the players. I always tend on the side of optimism, but this seems to rub mon mari Toon fan up the wrong way!
Never mind there was still my birthday to celebrate?! The gorgeous Grainger Market shone through the gloom, a Victorian indoor market where the smallest branch of Marks and Spencer’s, a stall over 125 years since opened, resides. What could be better to comfort the soul of a bruised Toon fan than a slice of pizza from ‘Fresh Pizza by the Slice’, who make the best pizzas in town – delicious, thin, crispy base and gorgeous toppings – and for the die–hard fan’s wife and fellow Toon fan, a box of the most delicious deep-fried calamari complete with lemon slice and stottie quarter with real butter at the gorgeous ‘Simply Seafood Lindsay’s to Go’ stall.
I cannot recommend both of these stalls highly enough for any visitors coming to Newcastle – street food is in vogue and these stalls are on trend with excellent, reasonably priced street food. But Lindsay’s just tipped the scales for me on Derby Day. An experienced fishmonger shucks fresh oysters which are served with vodka, lemon, and Tabasco, whilst a talented chef cooks fresh spicy noodles with mixed seafood in a hot wok before your eyes and the result is the best box of noodles in town – and the calamari? The batter is the lightest, crispiest and tastiest I’ve ever had – give it a go!
All that was left to do after a late luncheon feast was to drink cocktails, a Violet Maritini for me in the popular Popolo’s Bar and a Sitting Bull in lovely Alvinos Bar amongst the excellent Street Art exhibited on Alvinos walls. Followed by a superb dining experience at the wonderful Dabbawal’s on High Bridge producing the best Indian street food in town and my birthday treat courtesy of my wonderful husband was complete, apart from a sleepy Metro journey home and a catch up with three episodes of Family Guy – another year older but who cares when you can celebrate it in style on Derby Day!
NB. A birthday greeting from a dear Geordie friend saw a ‘very’ satirical reflection of our day unless I really do look like Waynetta, dear friend?!
“Despite the seasonal chill, various celebs were spotted at St James’ Park today for the Newcastle – Sunderland Premier League match. International football shirt tycoon Rob Lee was there with his international artist wife, Jane. Jane was in a fetching cerise shell suit (more vintage, eh?), lemon Jimmy Choo sneakers (again, dare we say, probably a rip-off from top Primark designers), and a black fun-fur jacket. And talk about show-stoppers! Her trademark super-size hoop earrings kept catching the wind, and the noise was mistaken for the ref’s whistle, disrupting play no less than seven times. Some red faces there, we’ll bet! Rumour has it it’s her birthday! Good on ya, Rob, for knowing how to treat a girl!”