Wifey and I emerged blinking into the bright New Zealand sunshine like we had just stumbled out of the Wardrobe that is the gateway to Narnia in The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. We checked the time; 11 o’clock on Thursday morning. Did all that just happen? Newcastle just beat Premier League Champions Manchester United 3-0 but that wasn’t even the oddest bit.
We were lying in bed at 7 a.m. and it was raining and dark. We’re still not entirely used to being 13 hours ahead of UK time but I figured it was about time our match crew back in Newcastle would be gathering so I texted Frankie. “Been out with Tony since 3. The rest writes itself,” he replied and indeed it does, they will be quite drunk by now and here I am still groping for the box of Weet-Bix.
A surprising amount of time in Auckland has been spent dressed in shorts and rain mac, it is warm but it is wet. We wander up to the 24 hour pub still sleep bedraggled and wondering about the wisdom of ordering a pint before 9am. In the doorway of the pub is a small gentleman. A very small gentleman, like Mr Tumnus from The Lion The Witch & the Wardrobe. Well, like Mr Tumnus if he really let himself go; drunk, troubled eyes, stubble, he’s hotboxing a cigarette and as he smiles, surprised that we want to be in, he reveals tombstone, snaggled teeth. The bar, his home as far as we can tell, also has a feel of faded debauchery.
It’s now 9 o’clock in the morning so obviously the bar is busy. A group of Russian sounding people have pitchers of lager on their table and the comfy chairs in front of the TV screen are taken up by three possibly Korean gentlemen. “Man U fans obviously,” we both think, unfairly as it turns out. Some Maori work men are in, after a nightshift? Before a dayshift? Hard to tell, no one is nursing soft drinks or looking at the pictures of St James’ on the large TVs. Everybody is on the drink. The barman is a broad shouldered old bruiser, a little bent with time and violence, who clearly ran out of warm welcoming smiles some years ago.
“Who are you here to watch?” growls Mr Tumnus in a thick Kiwi accent, his head popping up in front of the high table we are perched at. I resist the urge to scream in horror and throw my drink at him. “Newcastle. We are here to see us lose.”
“Fucking typical,” he says before muttering drunkenly about Liverpool fans being in with flags the day before, then he cackles at their misfortune (they lost 3-0) before returning to the bar where he gulps his pint two-handed. A couple join the Korean gentlemen in front of our chosen TV while I think. “What’s typical exactly? This is most untypical.” Then I keep one eye on the door to check our escape route is clear and to see if any of the Newcastle fans we have met in Auckland are going to join us. As the game kicks off we are clearly doing this alone. Fair enough, as the Salford mob swarm at us during the first 15 minutes, I am doubting the wisdom of this endeavour myself.
The Russians are not watching the game and the Korean trio depart, our assumption of the global default towards the Old Trafford marketing machine is mistaken. Jonas and Tiote keep giving the ball away. Manchester United are playing with two wingers down our vulnerable left, the girl from the couple stumbles over to us. “What the f*** do you want?” we think. In fairness we both think that when anybody, friend or stranger, talks to us when the match is on. The girl is “Narnurd” as our friend Terri from the Lucha Lounge describes very drunk. (As in Banana rather than Nana meaning Grandmother – unless Terri’s granny is a monumental pisshead.) The gist, as I understand it, is she wants us to watch their drinks for them while they go outside but then she stays, swaying, trying to focus on the football and muttering, “this is it” like she can foretell some future event. She wobbles out. Wifey and I look at each other and roll our eyes. The ball is launched from back to front, Shola nods on and Ba clips the ball into the Leazes End net with a long dextrous leg. “Yesssss!” we hiss almost under our breath. Nobody else in the bar reacts at all.
The girl wanders back in alone and sits down. Mr Tumnus is asking her if she is OK while we think “hold on for 5 minutes”. The 5 minutes pass and our new mission, to make it to half time, is easier because Manchester United are not closing us down as quickly any more. Coloccini is immaculate, Cabaye is apparently fearless. Mr Tumnus has turned into the eighth dwarf, Gropey, and is taking the opportunity, while comforting Narnurd, of copping a feel of her tits.
By the time I have returned from a ludicrous expedition to find the toilets, Gropey has sat Narnurd with the Russians, who have begun shouting boisterously. The old barmen shushes them, they shush each other and giggle. I half expected Man United to have equalised during halftime.
The second half kicks off, Mandy by Barry Manilow in on the juke box. Yohan Cabaye smacks the ball over the wall at a free kick, whoever that is in the Man U goal gets a hand on it, the ball hits the bar and bounces down. The cameraman is confused and the picture is darting about. Wifey and I have time to look at each other in confusion before the screen shows Cabaye sliding in celebration. Good God, it’s 2-0!
Gropey delivers Narnurd to our table, she is now between us and the wall mounted screen. She explains of the Russians, “they are not even watching the match.” Gropey checks out the score and shouts, “Bring it on!” at us with tiny clenched fists. We will do no such thing, thank you very much, there’s a bag full of Red Devil goals waiting to be unleashed at the first hint of gloating. A break in concentration will bring disaster, Coloccini is doing a brilliant job of marshalling his troops but he hasn’t got to cope with Gropey and Narnurd cuddling and swapping phone numbers with her repeatedly asking us, “Where are you guys from then?” every time Gropey wanders off to collect empty glasses. “Are you out late or early?” I ask her. I may as well have asked her for the Stock Market figures baked onto a lovely sponge cake. “Where are you guys from then?” she squeaks, I go to the toilet and see Gropey frantically copying her scribbled phone number into his mobile.
The ball is kicked into touch and Narnurd cheers. Alan Pardew throws his hands up in frustration and she joins in, thinking he is starting a Mexican wave. “High five!” she demands of Wifey who politely explains there will be no high fives until the game is finished. “Where are you guys from?”
“Newcastle,” we say for the umpteenth time and we must be making some progress because she gives us a raised middle finger from each wobbling hand. Time has slowed to an immovable crawl while we wait for the inevitable Salford fight back. Danny Simpson appears out of nowhere to boot a Rooney shot off the line and instead of celebrating we clutch at our hearts and look at the ceiling. Which is better than looking at Narnurd and Gropey who nuzzle, kiss, have their first squabble, then cuddle some more in our eye-line.
Alex Ferguson seems to be throwing more and more strikers at us from his superstar bench, Gropey is explaining to Narnurd that he is off home soon and she ought to come with him. Both acts are predating on the vulnerable and make us uncomfortable. In both cases we feel quite helpless. One of the Russians is singing, “Oh Mandy, you came and you gave without taking,” loud and off key.
The on screen clock seems to have run out of energy and is wheezing pathetically through the remaining minutes, Narnurd is hitting Gropey on the arm, then poking his little nose. The Russian meanwhile wails, “And I sent you away, ohhhhhhh MANDY!” I don’t think I can stand anymore of this and I’ve had beer, Wifey is through two pints of Cola and is caffeinated beyond help.
The crowd within St James’ is roaring its heroes home, we can hear it over the cacophony and the chaos.
The jukebox, the shouting Russians, the predatory midget and the hopelessly drunk girl all fade away into irrelevance as Jones bundles the ball hilariously into his own net for 3-0 and finally we jump up laughing. Narnurd and Gropey look at us like we committed some terrible faux pas. Like we give a f*** what anyone in the world thinks right now.
We bid a polite farewell to Dark Narnia as St James’ dances with black and white delight. This earns Wifey a sloppy hug from Narnurd and me a punch in the stomach from Gropey. Fortunately he was considerably weaker than he looked.
We are in our Auckland home now. It is 1.15 am in the UK, the middle of the night. Here I’m still confused by the dream. What does it mean and when can we expect to wake up?