I’ve been working in Australia for the last three weeks. I haven’t got a visa to work and it’s awful tough to get one when you’re my age so I could be concerned that Julia Gillard, the nice Welsh ginger lady who runs the country, might want to tell me off. Fortunately for me she has got more important things to worry about; what with plummeting popularity and even her own supporters commenting that she has got a big bottom. (In the interests of sexual equality and political balance could I just point out that David Cameron has got a fat arse as well – oh hang on, that’s his face). Also I have cunningly avoided extradition by skipping the country and am now in Kaikoura in New Zealand.
And when I say “working” I mean working on this old drivel which has involved me travelling around South Eastern Australia interviewing Newcastle fans. And when I say “interviewing” I mean “drinking beer with”. At last I have found a job at which I am naturally gifted and when I say “gifted” I obviously mean “addicted to”. “Play to your strengths old boy,” as my grandfather would undoubtedly say if he wasn’t so very dead.
The first problem with football in Australia is that you often have to say “soccer” (I’m going to wear these bastard speech marks out at this rate) or folk will think you are talking about Aussie Rules Football which more people pay to watch live here than our own round ball game. My DJing mate from The Riverside (*) in Newcastle should be thanked at this point for being our cultural guide.
James now lives in Sydney and he has been our cultural guide and mobile diplomatic ambassador for the last three weeks. He also got us a dog sitting gig which meant we couldn’t get down to meet the Melbourne Mags but we did spend a week living in a mansion catering for a terrier named Doogie who let us use his swimming pool. James took his appointment as Cultural Ambassador very seriously; he bought a case of Blue Tongue lager within half an hour of picking us up from the airport and made us watch the Aussie Rules Grand Final between The Geelong Cats and Collingwood. Geelong were disappointing in that they didn’t turn out to be actual cats or in any way feline and we were instructed to support Collingwood anyway because they play in black and white stripes. Unfortunately our support meant Collingwood lost. Apparently. I didn’t have a bloody clue what we were looking at to be perfectly honest; random violence perpetuated by homo-erotic boys in tight vests grappling with each other on a converted cricket pitch obviously has an appeal here but interestingly soccer recently overtook fishing as the sport most Aussies actually participate in.
The Aussie rules ran seamlessly into England v Scotland in the Rugby World Cup. “Seamlessly” in that my level of disinterest and bewilderment continued despite the temptation to jibe defeated and mouthy Scotsmen. Thanks to the time difference there was 10 hours drinking time between first pint and Wolves v Newcastle. We were back in Doogie’s mansion in good time and we thought the Merseyside derby would keep us all awake. “Pissed it,” I announced to Wifey and James in the morning, who had both failed to survive the trials of the day, as had Doogie. They all looked at me suspiciously when reading the match report on nufc.com but I was unmoved; “I distinctly remember being unconcerned,” I said, my memory of a lucky penalty decision and Wolves having a late goal disallowed being considerably less distinct.
My other advisers/contacts in Oz have been Steven in Sydney (a native of the Newcastle in Australia which has a Wallsend and a Morpeth near it), Marty in Brisbane (“A piece of my soul dies every time somebody says soccer”) and Andrew in Noosa (who has a “Toon Room” in his house and an NUFC 1 number plate on his car). All were up to speed with squad, injuries, form, fixtures and gossip. Interesting that Yohan Cabaye should be a favourite across the planet so soon, testament to the qualities of 21st Century communication and of the player himself.
As to domestic soccer: the profile took a leap forward with the recent arrival of Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell at Sydney and Melbourne respectively. As chance would have it the two faced each other on the opening weekend of the season in early October. Emerton had a penalty saved and Kewell a header blocked in a 0-0 draw. James’ season ticket at Sydney is about £120 and the standard is described by Steven as “mostly non-league with a few Championship players”. There is one New Zealand team in the League, from Wellington, and goalkeeper Tony Warner who warmed benches at Liverpool and Celtic made his debut for them at the weekend. It made the T.V. news in Kaikoura.
Talking of news, also interesting was that England playing a qualifying match and Rooney (the pampered, stroppy child who has been indulged to his country’s detriment) being sent off didn’t enter any of my conversations with Mags in Australia until James and I saw a replay 3 days later on the World Soccer highlights show. The highlights show seems to be the only free to air chance ex-pats have got of seeing football without Fox Sports. The highlights are weird with lots of interviews and little action, like they are allowed just enough highlights to underline how inadequate they are but the presenters present like they are battling for football in a hostile environment so you’ve got to love them.
Andrew up in Noosa (a thousand km drive from Sydney and worth the trip because it is stunning) underlined the main down side of being a Newcastle fan in Australia; “the first game after I moved here they had a crowd shot from St James’ and they showed my seat and the people I used to sit with and I nearly burst into tears.” Andrew, as well as being keen that I passed on his best wishes to all involved at The Mag and nufc.com, asked for special mention of Wendy Taylor’s efforts for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation which can be found at www.justgiving.com/wendynufc – which I think I have just done.
So The Furious World Tour has arrived in New Zealand where the Spurs and Wigan games kick off at 4 & 3am respectively. If you are or know anybody who might be awake at that time give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or billyfurious1st on Twitter or next month’s article will be “I Saw Some Dolphins and Drank a Gallon of Montieth’s Radler.”
(*) Speaking of the Riverside, Hazel Plater and Carl Taylor have just released a book and a labour of love through Tonto Books: -Riverside: Newcastle’s Legendary Alternative Music Venue. When bands said “this is the best gig on the tour so far” this book explains why, when they were in Newcastle, they f***ing meant it.