What Are You Going To Do About It?

I’m all for national public outrage and the public have been given plenty to be outraged about in recent years. Executives at banks awarding themselves fat bonuses, elements of the government and the police colluding with the press to cover up stuff (e.g.Hillsbough/phone hacking) , institutions such as the BBC and the Catholic Church, at best, turning a blind eye to child abuse, greedy football clubs over charging away supporters and vast multi-national companies avoiding paying millions of pounds of UK tax.

better coffee and they pay their taxes

But it is what happens after the outrage that is more interesting and more important. As splendid American comic Doug Stanhope says on the subject, “What, you just notice? That’s good enough for you? I want someone dead.”
So splendid work, Hacked Off for keeping the heat turned up on the obnoxious bullies in the press after David Cameron’s decision to ignore the central and entirely sensible conclusion of the Leveson Inquiry. (Link to Hacked Off’s very interesting website; http://goo.gl/r1qjC )
But here’s a thing: the “well, the government should do something about it” line isn’t enough because it abdicates personal responsibility. People have to be called to account for banking with Barclays, patronising Starbucks, signing up with Vodaphone and buying overpriced tickets for football matches. For example, how anybody who calls themselves a decent human being can hand over their own money for a copy of The Daily Express or The Daily Star after owner Richard Desmond’s reptilian performance at Leveson is beyond my understanding.
We, the general public, have it in our power not only to call these people to account but to destroy them. We don’t need government intervention we just need to say no to these bastards in sufficient numbers to bring them to their knees.
Some banks don’t pay executives massive bonuses and the coffee at Costa and Café Nero is nicer than at Starbucks anyway, so you have no business being in there at all unless it is to abuse their free Wi-fi for three hours. And no Starbucks throwing £20 million at HMRC like they were a disgruntled stripper won’t do, it won’t do at all.
Some newspapers are not owned and run by ruthless scum-bags: The Independent for example didn’t get hauled over the coals at Leveson and it was The Guardian who uncovered the phone hacking cover-up scandal. Although the latter’s treatment of Newcastle United means I still won’t buy it I do read it online.
I’m letting Amazon off by the way because they seem to pass a lot of the benefit of their off-shore tax avoidance on to their customers by keeping their prices low. CDs are half the price they were ten years ago and you will have to prise my Kindle out of my cold dead fingers.
Now for the hard bit: As you may or may not know, I am currently living and working in Norwich. Somebody on Twitter asked me why and my reply was so long that I didn’t bother giving it. The shortened answer is: “Because they have great pubs here and I just do. OK”. But I should add that the recent census results report Norwich as the most Godless city in the UK (43% stating ‘no religion’), which is something to be chuffed about, given that it is also the most civil city I have ever visited. I nearly collided with a pedestrian while cycling last week and we argued over who was at fault, both claiming to be in the wrong. If God had got involved one of us would doubtless have ended up throwing a petrol bomb at a police car.

...or should I go?

Anyway Newcastle play at Carrow Road in January and I could walk there in half an hour from this very keyboard. However the tickets are going to be £45 each which means I will be spending the fat end of a hundred pounds to see a game I can watch for considerably less in a pub. Wifey and I stopped going to Newcastle away games years ago. A regular away traveller took myself and (another former Mag writer) Chris Tait to task over this absence from the away end and we both laughed in his face. Because going away in The Premier League is a mug’s game, we Newcastle fans are overcharged, not because our team is a big draw for the home fans but because we will pay. I love away games, even those in Middlesbrough, but I was sick of being treated like a sucker. You can argue that I have a duty to support my team but the away end at Norwich will doubtless sell out and the support will be formidable with or without me.
So what am I going to do about it? I have taken my money out of Barclays, replaced my Vodafone, not been in a Starbucks for months and will glare at anyone holding a copy of the Daily Express. Do I try and get tickets for Norwich?
Am I even allowed to go to Norwich? So many people pointed out how well Newcastle did in our absence last season that I vowed to stay away until our form nosedived so as not to get the blame for any slump. It looks to me like we are riding on the crest of a slump right now, so I reckon it’s safe to sneak back.

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One Rule For Them

Interesting, I thought, that Manchester United’s Robin van Persie escaped punishment for clobbering Yohan Cabaye in the face the same week as the Conservative Party conference. Once again we witness those who feel entitled to special privilege pretending they are playing by the same rules as the rest of us. The fact that RVP getting off annoyed me as much as knock-kneed ding-bat George Osborne announcing ten billion pound in benefit cuts speaks volumes for my own lack of perspective but there we have it. I’m annoyed so I must vent but I’m lazy so I have to get both subjects off my chest in one go.

Nasty man

Nasty man

Obviously Manchester United players know they are entitled to go around smacking opposition players in the head after that test case in Wigan. Wherein Wayne Rooney escaped any kind of punishment, at the time or in the face of seemingly damning video evidence, for what looked to be a spiteful assault on James McCarthy. So it’s no shock that van Persie escaped being set on fire and thrown down a well (as I believed he deserved) because, let’s face it, he has been getting away with stuff for years and so have his new team. What continues to be galling is that Ferguson expects special treatment for his team and that he gets it. That he can get time added to games when Man U are losing is a well laboured joke that was never actually funny. However, one of the things that struck me about the game at SJP on Sunday (apart from the fact that Newcastle didn’t get out of bed until they were 0-2 down) was that, after three bookings for bad tackles by Man Utd players, Ferguson had an extended and seemingly pointless rant at the 4th official. Turns out not to have been pointless at all; the next two bookings were for Newcastle players. I can’t actually see what rule Tiote broke to earn his card – “being a bit of a drama queen” isn’t an offence. The officials went on to miss not only Van Persie have a sneaky look before striking Cabaye but to be oblivious to Cisse’s shirt being a yard off his body owing to the fact that Patrice Evra was swinging on it, in the penalty area, at the time.
The comparison between Man Utd’s expectation of privilege and George Osborne’s financial thinking (that the way to escape recession, is not to harvest due taxes from the wealthy but to demonise and punish those on benefit) is that I can no longer believe either Manchester United or the Tory party think the rest of us don’t notice. They just think we can’t do anything about it so we should suck it up and get on with it.
Apparently the main thing we learned from the Olympics is that if the peasantry are all prepared to smilingly work for nothing then the country will be OK.
Obviously nobody is happy to have people, who have no intention of working another day in their lives, short of emitting another generation of parasites, living off the state but we should at least wait for darling Wills and Kate to get pregnant before we start complaining I suppose.
Who thinks the government can magic up £10 billion from benefit cuts anyway? But assuming for a second that there actually are women squelching out dozens of filthy rat-like thieves behind every council house door in the country for the benefit it earns them, no one ever asks where that money goes. They don’t send it to an off-shore account, they don’t buy villas on Caribbean islands, they don’t use it to set up factories that sell arms to the Mujahideen in return for competitive rates on wholesale heroin. Even if we assume they instead spend their benefit on pies, blue pop, nappies and cushty trainers for their 1 year old it is still money being injected and circulated into the poorest areas in our society. Cut benefit and watch the crime rate rocket, call the Police and hope they can afford to put petrol in the patrol car after the latest round of cuts. Force people to work? There are more people desperate for proper work than there are jobs and, assuming you are lucky enough to get one of these mythical jobs, chances are the pay won’t cover your expenses anyway which brings us neatly back to Newcastle United. Wonga have made millions of pounds out of lending people money at interest rates you only used to gravitate towards if the lenders were sadistic and violent gangsters.
Consequently some good hearted souls have got a problem with Newcastle United having Wonga on their shirts.
Would I buy a Newcastle United shirt with Wonga on the front? No, but then I wouldn’t buy any of our shirts this season because they are all shoddy, poorly designed and awful – which is a shame because the players wearing them on the pitch are the most exciting bunch we have seen in years.
Wonga are putting a reported £24 million into the club. This means that Mike Ashley has now taken money off a Government owned bank (Northern Rock), a southern millionaire (Branson) and some unscrupulous toe-rags who prey on the vulnerable (Wonga) – never mind “evil genius”; Mike Ashley is redistributing like he is Robin bloody Hood.

Nice man

I’d rather it was someone nicer, with a better logo taking up our shirt space but otherwise I’m fine with it for the same reason I didn’t care about people telling us St James’ Park wasn’t called St James’ Park anymore. Anyone seriously calling St James’ Park anything other than St James’ Park was a f***ing idiot (me calling it “Uncle Mike’s Toybox” wasn’t entirely serious) and anyone borrowing money off Wonga is a f****in’ idiot. As long as we all know that and treat Wonga with the contempt they deserve, who gives a rat’s ass? Now can we please get on with throwing George Osborne and Robin van Persie down that well?

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A Pause for Reflection. What Already?

The new Premiership season fair bounced out of bed all excitable and full of hope like a child (or me) on its (my) birthday. It seemed nobody was really ready for it to do so, what with the country still giddy from the pints of pure joy the Olympics had served up. I even got the impression that I was distinctly not alone in being wary of the prospect of witnessing stroppy, spoiled millionaires having a pissy-knickered hissy fit because their team didn’t get a throw in.
Whether we were ready or not didn’t matter because the marketing machines of The Premier League, Sky, The Champions League and the media are rapacious and jealous masters. They demand our attention so as to overcharge multi-corporate monsters for the opportunity to try and sell us shit we don’t need. You could almost hear the grinding of the gears as it all had to stop for two weeks for an international break that, essentially, sent us all back to bed.
Pondering the season so far from my temporary Norfolk home I am struck most of all by the rotten standard of refereeing. (Newcastle United’s start of two wins, two draws and one loss will obviously require more time and context from most of us before we side with the fearful cowards or the ludicrous optimists in their annual civil war). The officiating has been weak, bong-eyed and horribly inconsistent; Match of the Day (apart from the tedious gas-bagging of the golf buddies re-showing you things you have just looked at) is an hour and a half of gasps of exasperation for the viewer as referees and linesman make fools of themselves. They seem to either not know the rules or are wilfully re-interpreting them and they are so obviously open to influence that players and fans are in danger of starting to behave worse than ever. The three most annoying things in football are: 1. Players beseeching for or demanding decisions they know would be incorrect; 2. Alex Ferguson pointing at his big watch; and 3. Cockneys shouting “’andball!” every time the ball hits an opposing defender. (*) Present refereeing standards are encouraging all those things and I don’t even make this point from a position of bitter injustice in the face the harsh treatment of Newcastle United. After all we have had three opposing players booked for diving in games against us already this season. Which is absurd when you consider how rarely you see such a thing normally, never mind the fact that they were all actually fouls by Newcastle players.
It seems referees and their assistants are too afraid to play by the rules: for example handball has to be obviously deliberate, on offside the benefit of the doubt must go to the striker and players running into defenders’ legs on purpose isn’t a foul. Playing these rules with brutal, cold eyed, unblinking determination would go some way to stopping a whole bunch of unseemly lying and crying. Carrying on like we have seen so far is only going to generate more of both.
Even Mark Clattenburg, so long a hero of sneering indifference in the face of mewling cry-babies, has weakened. And because he is a black and white son of the North East I have had to face criticism on his behalf from some of my new friends in Norwich. The encroachment on the penalty rebound that QPR scored against Norwich was so ridiculous as to render laughable any suggestion that Clatters didn’t notice it. Mark, the massive thing between you and the ball on the spot as the kick was taken was Bobby Zamora, you know, the guy who kicked the ball in the goal. He shouldn’t have been there mate.

Traditionally when the standard of reffing is criticised we hear a call for ex-players being fast-tracked into the trade, so it was with some interest that I noted the guy in charge of England v Moldova was an ex pro. Three minutes in and a shot was blasted at some poor defender’s arm and he gives a penalty. All the years we had to suffer people regurgitating that same old argument, blown out the water in three minutes. Then we had to suffer players squeaking for more while the England fans shouted “’andball!” every time a cross hit a Moldovan defender, for the rest of the game. Tiresome. After all it’s hard enough getting players to behave as it is what with so many of them being so damn thick. Witness dear Stevie G, in the Ukraine game; already on a yellow card, delivered by a strict ref who may as well not have bothered putting it back in his pocket so fond of the sight of it was he, the England captain decided it would be a good idea to dive in from behind on a player. Then he looked shocked when he got sent off.
Referees’ communal weakness has set us up for yet another season of lying and cheating and those not joining in will be putting their team at a disadvantage. The “Olympic Legacy” will be dead and hanging from a wall, with crows pecking out its eyes, within a fortnight unless our officials toughen up.

(*)point of order – these are not the three most annoying things in football but for the sake of the strength of this argument let us say they are for now. We’ll get onto Martin O’Neill, Lee Cattermole, the unwashed and Stoke later in the season undoubtedly.

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Olympic Legacy 14.8.12

The (mostly) able bodied Olympics has ended and been pronounced a wonderful success, a statement, here in the heady Limpix after glow, there is no need to argue with just yet. Amidst the media trying to ring the last drops of feel-good factor out of the thing there has been much talk of legacy. Obviously it will take a little while for West Ham’s crowd to be swallowed up within the main arena and thistles to grow through the cracks in the wall of the Velodrome. It will presumably take less time for Londoners to go back to being less welcoming and helpful to foreigners and the last of the volunteers to have their benefit stopped for not being available for work but what else?

No caption needed

I sat down before the opening ceremony, connected via Twitter, to some World Class cynics waiting for the scoffathon to start, expecting it to be my favourite event. Having mocked the diamond jubilee for the irredeemable boring farce that it was and having kept a moribund and predictable European Championships interesting by making snippy comments about the awful furniture in the ITV studio and the pathetic unsuitability of Robbie Savage, I was expecting much from our cynics.
“It goes on until nearly one in the morning,” Wifey told me as I snapped open a couple of cans of lager for us. I gaped at her before beginning to bluster, “What? Who the f… hang on, that’s Frank Turner.” And it was Frank Turner and I was instantly reminded of the vital information I had reckoned without. “Danny Boyle and a great big f*** off budget.” By one o’clock we had cried and clapped so often that I lost the urge to count, as Danny and his cast of thousands battered the world with British mentalness and brilliant music; Prodigy, Sex Pistols, Stones, Arctic Monkeys, Underworld, one of the great joys was the idea of Simon Cowell and Gary bloody Barlow watching it and thinking “I’ve been airbrushed out of history.” Not until Macca turned up squawking through an abominable version of Hey Jude did the pace slacken and by then it was way past our bed time anyway. If the opening ceremony was for “us” then the closing ceremony was for “them” which was fine because, as a whole, it was also beautifully inclusive.
The worry of the ‘Limpix turning into a great big corporate whorefest was sorted by the BBC swallowing it all up and spitting it out at us advert free and the idea that Boris Johnson would try and steal all the credit for his Tory mates was undone by the silly sod getting stuck on that zip wire like the World’s Most Suitable Piñata.

World’s Most Suitable Piñata.

All the other highlights have already been montaged to death but I must say the Russian 8 in the synchronised swimming was astonishing. No really. I know synchronised swimming has been shorthand for “Stupid Bloody Waste of Time and not Even a Proper Sport” for years but youtube it if you didn’t see it. They made synchronised swimming brilliant and scary and brilliant and brilliant. Now the shorthand has to read, “Stupid Bloody Waste of Time and not Even a Proper Sport except for the Russians who are brilliant.”
I was briefly concerned that my Limpix fever had crushed my love of football, which would have been an awful legacy, because I couldn’t be bothered to watch Man City v Chelsea in the Community Shield. Then I remembered that Chelsea and Man City have always bored the crap out me and went back to hoping Cabaye, Coloccini, Tiote and Ben Arfa will all be available (for NUFC) at the start of the new season – so not much change there then.
No, the real legacy is twofold – first the success of the Limpix, by being exactly the opposite of what the Tories have been telling us the country needs, has made this whole austerity nonsense look as absurd and ill-thought out as it is. (Austerity doesn’t work if everybody does it at the same time, that’s why nearly all the shops in central Newcastle are shut) and secondly I shall be taking the claim that the Olympics was under budget to my own beer budget because it looks like fun. Basically every time you approach the budget limit– increase that budget limit enormously, spend some more and still claim to be under budget. Nice one team GB – cheers.

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“The Last Refuge of the Scoundrel” (23.5.12)

Last year I found out my maternal Grandmother, a gentle woman who made her own lemon curd, who went to church and lived in Darlington all the years I knew her, was born in Bombay. This makes me part Indian, how exotic I’ve suddenly become; I could have played for the Indian football team and should have had a part in Slumdog Millionaire by rights. Now when we fill in forms that include questions of ethnicity I ask Wifey if I should write “English/Asian” which makes her scowl and say “stop trying to make yourself sound interesting.” I then tell her off for being racist, which is funny because she isn’t. How I laugh. How I sleep on the sofa.
When we considered staying in New Zealand I wondered if I would be expected to start supporting their cricket team instead of the English. The answer was an instant “bollocks to that, all those years watching England lose and now we’re good I have to support someone else? I don’t bloody think so.” Also I found I was surprisingly uncomfortable at the prospect of not describing myself as English. “I’m a Kiwi,” says our mate Christian in Auckland, with some pride and an Austrian accent. Good for him, less good for me it seems. I like being English and am something of a patriot despite the bloody minefield you walk into when saying so.
Watching the motorcycle racing on Eurosport I want Danny Kent to do well in MotoGP 3 – why, when I don’t even know what he looks like? Because he has got a little Union flag next to his name. Any English people in sport, even in sports I hate like Formula 1, I want the English bloke/team to win.
Because England is a complicated, mental little rock in the North Sea patriotism can take many forms but the National Anthem is no use to those of us who are anti-royalty and are not speaking to (or not convinced by the existence of) God. Our history is littered with shameful episodes but that’s how empires work and our mental little rock in the North Sea was bossing about half the world because we are a bit handy in a bundle. We have a proud history of drinking, fighting and civil disobedience which doesn’t tally with Royal tea parties and mythic dragon slayers. Any halfwit study of history will tell you we are a mongrel nation, that Lord Nelson was brilliant and so were The Clash. BBC Radio 6 wouldn’t exist in any other country in the world and we get to listen to it, advert free, for nothing.
Everybody’s patriotism can been different but when the flag-wavers start trying to get us all involved in their version things get sticky. Diamond Jubilee celebrations? The Olympics in London? The English pound? How much are we supposed to care compared with how much we actually do? Sup to you mate. But be warned; one of the reasons I came back to this country was to bring the government down and I consider the task to be an act of extreme patriotism.
The National football team. Ah now here’s a juicy topic. Most football fans would rather see their own team win the League Cup than England win The World Cup. A fact that is more prevalent and obvious over recent years as the English National team has been stuffed to the doors with pampered babies, unrepentant shit-houses and grasping, selfish despicable **nts dizzy on their own sense of entitlement. We resent International breaks in the football season for being a boring nuisance, the national stadium is an overpriced vanity project that we are all being forced to pay for. And did I say that our “Golden Generation” of superstars are a bunch of **nts?
I did? Good. Not that you or anyone else needs telling.
When the camera pans along the England team at the National Anthem from one face to another who doesn’t tick the players off something like ; “I hate him. And him. And him, he’s alright, over-rated but alright, oh I really hate him, he can f**k off, oh James Milner I like him, I hate him, cheat, liar, bastard?”
None of this is especially new of course. But come an International tournament we have traditionally put aside our club loyalties to support our National team and get annoyed because the manager has picked the wrong players for the squad. (To really soak up the feel for the tournament we will also pick several other teams to follow so we can maintain an interest when England are not playing and when they have gone home in shame and ignominy.) But the problem at the minute is that so many England players are so repulsive to us that swallowing down our prejudices has become almost intolerable. And it’s not as if they are so brilliant that we should indulge them their moral weakness and unrepentant shithouseary. Remember how badly the Germans beat our Golden Generation at the last World Cup and wonder why we should have to turn a blind eye to John f***ing Terry being in the squad.
“Because we have got no one better,” claim Terry’s friends in the media. But we’re not going to win this Championship anyway so why should we have to suffer his presence, his face and his dishonesty anymore. Gerrard has let England down too many times and Rooney can’t be trusted when Sir Alex hasn’t personally vetted the refs for him. Ashley Young looks like evil Marlow Stansfield from The Wire and dives, Gareth Barry tried to get a Newcastle player sent off recently, Glenn Johnson called James Perch “a joke” after he went down after getting butted in the face during our game against Liverpool and … and … and… All of which prompted me to ask this question via Twitter last week; that if when England come up against France in their first game in Poland/Ukraine Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye are playing for France who are we Newcastle fans expected to want to win? The team with the remnants of the tainted Golden Generation or the team with two of our favourite players in the world in it?
Don’t ask me, I shall be supporting India.
India’s not in Europe? So I can’t duck the question? OK if Ben Arfa and Cabaye are both on the pitch I will want a draw and both teams to qualify (despite the fact that I’m sure it was French backpackers who nicked our food out of the communal fridge when Wifey and I were in that hostel in Costa Rica). From then on I shall want England to win every game, safe in the knowledge that they will not do so. I also reserve the right to laugh at them and call them names when they eventually let us down.
Which they undoubtedly will. The useless bastards.
C’mon England! And Allez les Bleus.
Follow the ill thought odd Furious European Championship blog at billyfurious.com

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Repenting at Leisure

Our rented place in Nowrich

Giving up work, home and car in the middle of a recession and spending my redundancy money on travelling the world with Wifey was always an entirely daft thing to do. It has been described as “brilliant” and “brave” by friends and colleagues when the word they were trying not to use was “daft”. Nearly a year later I have little income, strangers are living in our house in Newcastle and my only form of transport needs new tyres so I can’t even make like Norman Tebbit’s dad and get on my bike.
It would be entirely understandable at this point to rue the error of our ways and regret the whole affair. Especially in the light of having missed, first hand at least, the best Newcastle United season in years (as well as gigs in Newcastle by Rise Against, Mariachi El Bronx and Doug Stanhope). But where is the point in that? The decision was made, there can be no going back and we would do it again anyway because it was brilliant. More regret could be found in our not stopping longer or for good in places along the way that offered the opportunity for a warmer way of life than merry olde Albion. Emails from or pictures of Auckland offer a sharp stab to the heart on this latter point but in truth we couldn’t stay. The untimely death of our lovely mate Barry asked the question, “should we fly back for his funeral and if not his, then for whom?” but you think that stuff through and you would sooner see all your friends when they are alive rather than their sad families when they’re gone. So when people dear to us ask why we came back we answer “because you might die” which usually stops them asking.
So, in short, we were always going to return to England and the homeless, jobless, wet and crap bits were inevitable. Should we have taken the easier, normal path towards life’s end? I should hope the f*ck not. I don’t want to repent at leisure anymore than darling Joey Barton seems to be doing after his extraordinary behaviour at Manchester City.
(If you will allow me a brief digression: as usual too many people are keen to start battering Joey with their moral outrage. For example Mr Shearer on Match of the Day seems to forget his own European ban for elbowing an Inter Milan player was for a much harder blow than Barton struck on Tevez. And as ever many of Barton’s judges miss the point; which was that Barton at Man City was really, really funny and would have been funnier still if Barton had slapped De Jong, punched Gareth Barry in the nuts and booted David Platt up the arse on his way off the pitch. Barton’s behaviour doesn’t affect Newcastle United anymore so we Newcastle fans are all free to enjoy the comedic majesty of it. I know I was plumping up a cushion and rubbing my hands with glee as the moment approached on the Sunday evening.)

Besiktas of an evening

So having missed out on a frankly ill-deserved place in the Champions League, thanks to the 13 goals we conceded at Norwich, Fulham and Wigan, Newcastle United have to contend with the Europa League and all the woe that will beget us.
Games on a Thursday night, strain on the small squad, too much time travelling (that’s time spent travelling not travelling through time – suffice to say if I come across such an opportunity I will be delivering a young Peter Beardsley to Uncle Mike’s Toybox lickety-split). Losing games to crap teams on a Sunday lunchtime because we played in the Ukraine on a Thursday night might, for example, include losing to sunderland. There is very little financial gain and it would be much better to get out of the competition as soon as possible to concentrate on matters at home.
Say what now?
In response to this kind of thinking I will bark “Balls!” like Withnail. Being in Europe is f***ing brilliant. To consider qualification as the mark of a successful season then moan about it is perverse and craven. We must leap into the unknown and the devil take the hindmost.
The peak of Sam Allardyce’s achievements at Bolton was to sneak them into Europe the season before he came to enlighten Tyneside as to his genius. His replacement, Sammy Lee saw them make progress abroad if not at home so he was replaced by Gary Megson. Megson in an act of rank cowardice chose to rest most of his first choice players for a UEFA game to save them for a relegation 6 pointer the following weekend. Many Bolton fans, enjoying being in Europe for the reward and opportunity that it is, were understandably livid. They lost both games, Megson later got sacked and now two years later Bolton have been relegated anyway. They earned themselves the chance to do something special and they didn’t take it – now that is something you would regret at leisure.
Yes the modern Europa League lacks glamour for the neutral: how many of us took any interest in the campaigns of Fulham, Stoke and Birmingham this season beyond being: a) nicely surprised at how easily we beat Fulham at SJP after they had an away trip, b) laughing at Tony Pulis having his tactical pants pulled down and, c) forgetting Birmingham were even in it. The Manchesters both treated the competition like it was a drab party they were happy to be asked to leave and Arsenal fans, awful snobs that they are, looked about to need someone to pass the vapours at the very idea of being in the second tier of European football. Managers and teams get little or no credit for winning games at this level; when Newcastle won in Palermo under Glen Roeder the Sicilians were top of Serie A and even some Newcastle fans didn’t notice how brilliantly we had done.
But, like giving up your job and travelling the world, being in Europe isn’t about other people’s perceptions of you – it really is all about you. You don’t do it for other people, you do it for you and if you can live with the consequences, get on and enjoy the experience. Let other people live their lives as they will and let them sneer if they want.

The National Stadium in Slovakia

Newcastle fans will have to live with the fact that we won’t do as well in the League next season, like I have to live with the fact that I might have to take a job sweeping the car park at Aldi to see any of it. But the important part of that sentence is “To Live.”
Living, not merely existing until you don’t, is surely the central most important part of what life is all about. Finding yourself or your football team in Slovakia or Istanbul on a wet Thursday night looks more like living than staying at home and damn those who think otherwise.

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What Did You Learn? (11th May2012)

So the Furious tour crash landed back in the UK just in time for the coldest, wettest miserablist Spring since the last mammoth gave up living as an option. Charmed I’m sure but having spent the fat end of a year travelling the world – what did we learn?
Well, if you drive across North America on a diet which consists mostly of carrots and beer, the weight just falls off you. Carrots are loaded with vitamins but American beer is all rubbish. Costa Rican beer is magnificent and if you go (which you should) you have got a better chance of finding some than you have of finding the scarlet macaw that adorns most the guidebooks. By which I don’t mean a specific scarlet macaw (which presumably has a brilliant agent) I mean any macaw at all. There were no toucans either, but plenty of monkeys, f*cking each other in the tree tops. Yep we learned that, anything else?

Speak to my agent

Well you know how we English get all precious about the Argentineans invading the Falklands – did you know England tried to invade Argentina in 1806 and 1807? Argentina is massive, we sent two warships to conquer all of it, and we say their invasion was ill advised. So we actually started it and your actual Belgrano, the General they named the doomed battle ship after, he designed the modern flag of blue and white. During the country’s civil war both sides were fighting under the same colours and the good General was apparently the only person who recognised this was a problem. He died of Dropsy and was fair riddled with the clap.
I understand that I need to at least mention football by the third paragraph or half my readership will wander off; from our own anecdotal evidence the press in every country we visited expects its national football team to win the World Cup and gets annoyed when it doesn’t. People think this is a strangely English problem, it’s not. Every country, including New Zealand (who actually did win the last World Cup in so far as they were the only undefeated team in it) and Vietnam (where their National team is Manchester United) demand victory or the stories will spread that the coach is a fool and the players spend too much time in discos demanding blowjobs.
Many of the actual people in most countries along our route hate politicians and bankers as much as we do. I’m not sure if that is encouraging or depressing. The centre of Santiago in Chile smells often of tear gas because the young folk are perpetually cross about not being able to afford to go to school. Strange that the riots in London last year were perpetuated by people who having been offered free education demanded sports gear and electrical stuff out of Curry’s window instead. Kind of on the subject,; last year in Holland customers of the ING bank were so disgusted that chief executive Jan Hommen was awarding himself a £1 million bonus that they threatened to take all their money out of his bank if he did so. Nobody got arrested, nothing got set on fire but Mr Hommen and other Dutch bankers had to refuse their bonuses because of it. Meanwhile in this country according to the Observer, “Stephen Hester, head of state-controlled RBS in the UK, is in line for up to £7.7m, Bob Diamond of Barclays is to collect as much as £6.5m, and some senior bankers at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are looking at windfalls of about £40m each.” – why aren’t we told about what happened in Holland, it is such a feel-good inspirational story? I have already taken the £78.12 I had in my Barclays account and spent it – in your face Bob Diamond, how do you like them apples? Smash the System! I don't know what I'm doing
Oh I can sense some of you wandering off again…….. come back you’ll like this bit; something else I learnt is that sunderland’s club motto is apparently “Consectatio Excellentiae” which might sound like a spell from a deleted scene from a Harry Potter movie where Ron Weasley learns to make Hermione’s clothes fly off with a wave of his wand but in fact means “in pursuit of excellence”. I don’t know if this has always been their motto or if it is something they have awarded themselves recently in yet another act of failed and pathetic grandiosity but what a great motto for them. “In pursuit of excellence.” Not aspiring to excellence or wishing to be excellent but chasing it about like Elmer J Fudd pursues Bugs Bunny i.e. pulling a silly enraged face while being outsmarted at every turn. What, we all wonder, do they intend to do with this excellence should they ever catch us…. I mean it? Kick it obviously, experience has taught us that, but then what? “Consectatio Canis” again I suppose which means “In pursuit of the dog.” What the Latin for “with your trousers round your ankles” is, I can’t be bothered to look up and I doubt it would fit on their badge anyway. Another thing I learned is that the number of Aston Villa season ticket holders dropped each of the four years Martin O’Neil was in charge there. Do with that information as you see fit, I choose to find it reassuring.
Reassurance I have learnt is what we crave most as a species. Americans don’t want people with exploding underpants flying into their country and want reassurance that they can be stopped. New Zealanders want to be reassured that all their volcanoes won’t go off at once, Australians that the Chinese aren’t going to evict them when they have succeeded in buying the whole country, and millions of people elsewhere want to be reassured that next week, or next month or next year they will be able to feed themselves and their families.
Newcastle fans want to be reassured that the club won’t sell all our good players like the press keep threatening. It’s going to be a long and boring summer if we all get our knickers twisted every time that subject comes up and there is nowt we can do about it anyway. So what I’m still trying to learn is to not worry about it.
One thing that I would like you dear reader to tell me the answer to is this – if when England play France next month Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye are playing against Stevie G, J.T. and Ashley Cole – who are we supposed to want to win?

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Turning Sacred Cows into Sausages

Standing at Victoria Coach Station somewhat dishevelled, clutching a bottle of Irn Bru like a Glaswegian vagrant one couldn’t help but think that some of the glamour of this World Tour malarkey was starting to wear a tad thin. Wifey and I left Newcastle in June 2011 in order to charge recklessly around the planet before humanity’s idiot greed makes the whole place uninhabitable. This has involved a lot of waking up in the morning and saying, “I can’t believe we are doing this”, in entirely different tones of voice depending on our circumstances; from incredulous to privileged we have regretted little and met some incredible people in astonishing situations.

I gave up this view to come back?

Newcastle fans from all over the globe have helped; ranging from advice on Twitter, helpful emails and contacts – to people showing more kindness and generosity than we ever would have asked for or expected. The rest of the page should be filled with names and deeds but I don’t trust myself not to forget somebody vital and I have tried to thank people as we have gone along. On the last leg Chris and Ilse in Thalang (Thailand) rescued us; picking us up after a 21 hour bus trip (it should have been 12) and dropping us in their pool with a freezing cold beer or ten before feeding us and providing a bed for the night. The fact that they didn’t know us from a hole in the ground before they did so is incredible. Jon who met us back in London on the other hand has known us for years but still allowed us into his home. I should say that not all our new friends have been Newcastle fans but it has been a genuinely humbling experience. So thanks to you all, even the odd word of encouragement or “I was there in 2005, it was brilliant” online has been appreciated.

Chris & Ilse in Diamonds in Thailand

We’ve now been back two weeks and a few things have come to my attention; 82p for a packet of crisps, what the bloody hell is going on with that? How is this coven of lizards of a Government still running the country (when I left specific instructions) and why are they all pretending to shop at Greggs? “Pray for Muamba” – I hope he gets better but I’m not about to adopt religion on the back of it. “I didn’t used to believe in God but that hashtag was a theological epiphany for me” – really? Kevin Keegan on ESPN talking about Manchester City’s tactical deficiencies – what does bloody Keegan know about tactics? Or anything else for that matter, didn’t he say Ashley wouldn’t spend any of the Carroll money on players? Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Ba, Santon, Cisse –shall I go on or will we agree not to ask Mr Keegan about Newcastle anymore? After all if he had got the £25 million he was suing the club for we might not be where we are now. And before some of you start; don’t talk to me about breaking rank on keeping the pressure up on Mike Ashley when the club shops and Sports Direct in Newcastle are completely sold out of black away kits.
People are clearly excited about the team that has been put together and the way they are playing under Alan Pardew. However many seem wary of expressing that excitement for fear of being accused of being some quisling collaborator by what seems to be an increasingly rabid minority. We could all quite rightly worry that the club will cash in on some of our better players in the close season but where would be the fun in that? Even from some of the more inaccessible places I have found myself in the last ten months it has become increasingly obvious that the initial naivety that afflicted the Ashley regime has been replaced with a cold eyed ruthless streak. So any players we lose (and every team in the country could lose anybody if the right team comes calling) probably won’t be allowed to leave cheaply. Even after a season of being in the top six the journalists on Sky’s Sunday Supplement still can’t discuss Newcastle without a wry smile like the next crisis is just around the corner. In fairness to them, it probably is but again, where’s the fun in that for us fans? And, we sometimes need to remind ourselves, we are allowed to enjoy football without fretting about what might happen later.
We know the media can’t be doing with happy Newcastle fans but all they have to fall back on as evidence of our ongoing terminal misery at present is the ground re-naming. Why don’t we all agree to call St James’ Park “Uncle Mike’s Toy Box” so we can’t be beaten with that stick anymore and leave the displays of simpering sentimentality to the Scousers, who do it so much better than us. (Note: Liverpool and Everton would both happily tear their traditional homes down and we’re supposed to be worried about a name change that is easily ignored?)

Uncle Mike's Toy Box

Speaking of Liverpool, how does LFC fan Alan Parry always get the commentator gig for our fixture against them on Sky? Also, on the well reported condemnation from Liverpool fans and players regarding James Perch for falling over when Reina butted him in the face; how many of this Liverpool team would have stayed on their feet if the situation was reversed? And in the first half of the same game Steven Gerrard deliberately kicked the ball against Cisse, who had his back turned, at a free kick to get our player booked. It wasn’t mentioned on the commentary, on Match of the Day 2, or in any of the match reports I have seen. He wasn’t trying to take the kick quickly, it was a deliberate cynical act of premeditated gamesmanship from a player who thinks he is entitled to captain his country. Proof, if it were required, that he is not. The ****.
Finally a special thanks to all of you who have pointed out how well Newcastle United have been doing since Wifey and I left the country. In our defence NUFC stopped winning major trophies long before we started attending Uncle Mike’s Toy Box in the first place and we have had better seasons than this while in 100% attendance – so we doubt the validity of the claim. However, I’m damned I’m taking the blame for any subsequent disaster so we’ll be staying out of town until the season is over. To which end – the tour continues.
In return for this selfless act could those of you who haven’t already done so buy a copy of Spitting in the Wind – only I fancy a packet of crisps

Above is the new book “Spitting In The Wind” which is out now!

£11.99 With Free UK Delivery

£16.99 Delivered anywhere in Europe

£19.99 Anywhere else on The Planet

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Alreet Vietnam (11th March 2012)

The days in South East Asia have rushed past like a hunting wolf pack; magnificent, with the flashing of savage smiles, hearts beating hard with excitement and a smell in the air of pure living. In reflection it is hard to pick out individuals; there was a day on a 3rd class train carriage that had no glass in the windows, sat on wooden benches breathing fumes and spitting ashes from the field fires. With no idea how long we had been travelling or how far it was to our destination, the dark green countryside flickering strobe-like. Hat brim low, sunglasses as goggles and I-pod on shuffle – it was wonderful. Cambodia I think it was, now we are in Vietnam where “hello” has switched from “su-i-ci dai” to “sin jao” and the preferred beer brands have changed as we travelled north.

Jim (middle) with some blokes

We met Jim from Newcastle in Ho Chi Min City (which he, like many of the residents, calls Saigon) and Jim rides a scooter. It is impossible for a camera or a paragraph to begin to capture the number of scooters in HCMC, they swarm in their millions, intertwining, mounting the already crowded pavements, three or four people perched on one machine, people transporting goods, livestock, a car windscreen, a four foot wreath. 12 thousand people a year are killed on the roads in Vietnam, traffic lights are purely for decoration, you cross from one side of the road to the other by walking slowly and allowing the deafening tide of engines and horns to swirl around you. Reaching the other side you feel an exhilaration and relief equal to having passed your driving test, which few people here have actually done it seems.
Jim’s scooter stands out from the millions because it has black and white stripes, he drinks in a bar called Phatty’s and it was parked outside when we arrived. We didn’t know Jim before we walked in the door but the conversation rattled along from the off as is so often the case when Newcastle fans meet. The tribe has a shared history and a communal experience that means a lot is understood without the need for explanation. It’s been magical where so ever we have encountered it and especially so with Jim who is a funny, generous and gentle fellow. Like all of us he turns feral when actually watching a game so it would have been good to have seen the derby match with him but our schedule dragged us away.
The day before the game against sunderland Wifey and I were in Nha Trang which is a seaside resort with silver sand that burns a bare foot after mid day and a surf line that demands you cavort in it. The waves rise and crash with a peculiar beach side force that means a swimmer can be propelled from chest deep to ankle deep like a penguin fleeing a sea lion. Children from 7 to 47 laugh and spit sea water and dive back for more.
Later we raise a glass to our daft, irascible, beautiful, restless spirited mate Jamie who, we heard this day, took his own life. Dammit Jamie.
We thought we were due on a overnight train to Da Nang when the filthy troop of idiot baboons would be taking their overly generous away allocation on Level 7 so, short of checking our squad for fresh injuries from pointless international matches, we tried to put the whole affair out of our minds. Then we did the maths.

Hanging with Uncle Ho

The seven hour time difference meant the noon kick-off at SJP would actually mean a 9pm-ish final whistle in Nha Trang. Which was pretty much when we would be leaving our hotel for the train station. Not only that but we had watched Arsenal win at Liverpool in our room the night before so we probably had the required channel.
We could see it.
At which point the agitation galloped up at us. The excitement, the anxiety, scanning recent results for clues to form, should we allow Ben Arfa onto the same grass as that odious f***ing sack of shit Lee Cattermole? And what does it say about modern football that we ask the question at all? In the long term Martin O’Neil will come up short at sunderland because players who have a choice won’t want to live there and he will strop off as soon as the cheques for new players dry up but in the short term? His “everybody run around a lot, leave your foot in, get the ball up to the big fella, run around until exhausted, hope the game ends before the good players on the other side realise,” tactic will be effective. All this and more is spinning round my brain as we rickshaw race with some companions to a local restaurant. (I was second out of 15 by the way and was still complaining “rickshaw racing was ruined the day they outlawed the use of the whip” as I tackled my first drink).
Wifey checks her watch (mine is in a bin somewhere in New Zealand); it is five minutes to kick off. None of our party shares our desperation to know what is happening in Newcastle so our urgency for the bill and a taxi the second the last plate is cleared is unechoed. It is a hot and humid night in Nha Trang, T-shirts stuck to our backs, trying to work out if our skin is prickling from excitement or from the strength of our insect repellent. We crash into our hotel room to turn on the TV. 68 channels and nothing. That can’t be right. We roll round again. “Next” – reads a preview page “Live English Premiership football” and the programme only lasts half an hour. Which is about how long the game has left. We are the only Premiership game happening “live” in the world – this has to be it. The logo comes up, three guys in the studio put their hands together and bow…
…then the screen turns black. Jim warned us about this, we search some more somehow hoping that if we sneak up on the blocked channel it might let us in. It doesn’t. We grab our bags and rush to the lobby for an internet connection. The BBC is often “unavailable” in Vietnam so we go to Twitter in time for Ba to miss his penalty. 0-1, oh for phucsake. Bags are being loaded onto a bus, we have to go. We are submitting slowly to despair when Lee Ryder from the Chronicle tweets “SHOLAAAAAAA!” and our cheers echo round the busy lobby. Our tour guide is clapping his hands and shouting “chop chop” as the final whistle is reported. We bundle onto the bus last, giddy with joy, imagining the stupid twisted faces of our enemy.
We saw highlights on the internet in enchanting Hoi An and enough of the re-run of the whole game in Hué. Even knowing the score it doesn’t look like we were going to equalise – credit to Pardew and our team’s spirit that they didn’t stop believing, just a shame the chance to win it fell to Williamson and not Cabaye.
Now we are in Hanoi where the sky is as grey as the buildings. We haven’t been cold for months and we are trying to tell ourselves that 17 degrees isn’t excuse for two coats. Tomorrow we fly back to Bangkok where we hope to complain about the heat again, before heading to Phuket.
Like I said the days are running like wolves and sometimes you have no choice but to run with them.

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Winter Break (25th Feb)

The Furious World Tour was in Melbourne when Tottenham beat Newcastle United thanks to a goal and four assists from a player who should, by any definition of fairness, have been ineligible. Firstly, Premiership teams have no business doing other teams in the same division favours.

Cambodia yesterday

More importantly, how can it be against regulations to play a deliberately weakened team when a fit and available player (Adebayor) can play against one team (Newcastle) but can’t play against another (Manchester City)? The loan system is being abused; Manchester City have bought enough advantage without being able to plant “ringers” in to other teams and our chance of winning the League this season has been ruined entirely because of it. (A brief pause follows while I try to maintain an expression of serious and angry incredulity.)
The team and supporters of Newcastle United then enjoyed one of those mid-winter breaks that folk have been rattling on about for years. How was that for you?
Enough about you, we were in Melbourne to hook up with Andrew from the Aussie Mags. Andrew was such excellent company that we hooked up with him again the next day by which point he was presumably regretting being quite so excellent. Melbourne looks to be a cracking city with loads going on but the price of the drinks was enough to send us scuttling out of town, never mind the fact that the trams there seem to be actively trying to kill visiting drivers. We drove back to Sydney along the coast which took the fat end of four days. On the map this journey looks to be about three inches but Australia becomes mind-bendingly huge when you start trying to move around it.

Chucky Whorehair

Australia’s cricket team were playing a three way One Day International series with India and Sri Lanka so we went to the SCG to see a match. We lost two hours because of rain but Sri Lanka still won easily, Ricky Ponting was out for 2 but the highlight was getting to see Malinga’s bonkers bowling action. We have been calling him Chucky Whorehair for years but had to keep our voices down because we were sitting amongst some of the hundreds of enthusiastic Sri Lanka fans. Four English pounds for half a pint of draught witch’s piss by the way. For the same price you can buy four large bottles of delicious 5% Singha beer just off the Khao San Road in Bangkok. So despite the noise, the crowds and the pollution we were delighted to get to Thailand.
The first Thai person we spoke to at the airport asked where we were from, when we answered he said, “Newcastle. Tynesiders. Toon Army. Our Prime Minister before last supported Newcastle,” then he showed us his Manchester United key ring. The people are astonishingly friendly, inquisitive and helpful in Bangkok, even the people who are not trying to sell you something. They point insistently towards tourist attractions even if you have just been there and they always ask where you are from. One guy tapped his heart and simply said “Gary Speed” when we told him.
If you have read The Beach or seen the annoying film (with Leonardo DiCaprio) of the same story you will be aware of The Khao San Road; if not, you should know it is the backpacker capital of this planet. Dreadlocks, tattoos, tatty clothes and piercings abound amongst tourists of all ages from all over the world. It’s a place that buzzes with life 24 hours a day, people will knock you up a banquet from a wheeled cart, that you can garnish with fried grasshoppers, worms or scorpions from another. But there is also a KFC and a Subway and amongst the stalls selling handmade crafts are impressive looking copies of Dr Dre’s Beats headphones in very convincing boxes. Nearly all the bars have TVs and nearly all the TVs are showing football. The locals fall over themselves to tell you they love football, with Man U, Chelsea and Liverpool depressingly and predictably prominent. We did see a couple of Man City shirts but the only Newcastle shirt was on the young son of a French family visiting the stunning Wat Pho Buddhist temple. However, for all the brutal bulldozing of Premiership marketing one of the important things we have learnt from this trip is that Barcelona are the people’s team right now. Red and blue shirts, usually with Messi on the back, swarm where so ever football beats in the hearts of the people. Basically what I’m saying here is that all Newcastle need to do to be the biggest team on the planet is to behave and play better than Barcelona. It really is that simple.
We have since moved on from Bangkok; we took the train to Cambodia and are currently holed up in Siem Reap which is where you stay when you want to see the temples. Oh and you do want to see the temples – you might not know it – but you do. The picture at the top of the page is of the sun rising over Angkor Wat and that wasn’t even the highlight of our day yesterday.

Very Tomb Raider

I’ll spare you the details because there is no way I can bend them to include Newcastle United. Truth be told I forgot all about Newcastle United which was a rare and wonderful feeling I can tell you. And you can’t touch me for it because I was on a Winter Break.

Above is the new book “Spitting In The Wind” which is out now!

£11.99 With Free UK Delivery

£16.99 Delivered anywhere in Europe

£19.99 Anywhere else on The Planet

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