Our mate Jon asked what we thought of Sydney and Wifey said we liked it but we didn’t love it. “You don’t have to love Sydney,” Jon replied, “Sydney is already in love with itself.” You can’t help but see what he means; it’s a vibrant, busy city with a “if you don’t like it, piss off” swagger. Which is either admirable or irritating depending on the depth of your hangover when confronted by residents being… er… Australian.
So how come we are here for a third time?
We made Sydney a hub for our time in New Zealand and South East Asia because our mate James lives here and we love James. He and I ran, promoted and DJed The Scarlet Weasel club night at Newcastle’s legendary Riverside. We won “Best Nightclub in Newcastle” in 199something as voted by the readers of Paint it Red magazine which entirely coincidentally, was a publication I was working for at the time.
It is better for all concerned that James and I live on opposite sides of the planet because much of our communal behaviour over the years has been reprehensible; kicking each other around football pitches, drinking too much and some other stuff we needn’t get into just now. Breakfast with James is as likely to involve a tequila shot as it is jumping into the Pacific Ocean. Days flash by in a haze of silliness, nights end abruptly when he falls asleep or don’t when he doesn’t.
I recently wouldn’t let James leave an Auckland gym until we had been there 3 hours and he retaliated by dragging me out of bed last Saturday morning to do an Australian “boot camp”. This last assault included so many “lunges” and “tiger crawls” that I lost the ability to climb stairs for 48 hours. Naturally James found this hilarious.
James has a season ticket for Sydney FC and he made Wifey and I go and see them play the Newcastle Jets at the weekend despite the fact that 3 months in New Zealand has qualified us as Wellington Phoenix fans. I say Phoenix fans, we only ever saw them play on TV and often couldn’t be bothered to do that. But they do have a very pretty kit (black and yellow stripes), unlike Sydney who play in sky blue and Newcastle who play in dark blue and red.
We checked the internet before venturing out and reports from the UK predicted plummeting temperatures and heavy snow. Our major concern was not sticking to a fellow passenger on the overcrowded bus into central Sydney such was the sweaty heat.
There are 10 teams in the A League who play each other 3 times each before the top 6 teams qualify for the playoffs. The play-off system is then so complicated that nobody I have spoken to quite knows what the hell is going on. The higher a team finishes the more games it gets at home, Phoenix are 2nd, but the game we were being marched towards was a crucial 6th v 7th encounter.
The stadium is splendid if a trifle sparse, a crowd of 14,000 leaving 30,000 seats empty; the Newcastle fans, numbering a couple of hundred, at the far end. Lots of replica kits are in attendance representing teams who are not. From our thankfully shaded vantage point I saw three Arsenal, a couple of Liverpool, a Barcelona and in our row a Newcastle United shirt, the owner of whom I didn’t speak to. I am now of an age where I don’t start conversations with young folk in case they think I am some sort of predatory pervert. Besides which I was still shocked at a red and white shirted bod plonking himself right in front of us.
(The internet session in the morning had also included a check of the English league table where we found evidence of sunderland looming up at us from their traditional home in the depths beneath obscure mediocrity. No doubt rising on a wave of hot air, after an exquisite display of beautiful football in the Potteries, our snaggle-toothed neighbours are standing too close to us in public. People may think us a couple and the thought distressed me.)
I was going to insist we move but it turned out the red and white shirt was a Stoke fan (mildly less loathsome). The next I saw was a Sheffield United shirt, then the next Brentford, by which point I was starting to agree with James’ belief that it is bad form to wear a replica kit to a game where that team isn’t actually playing.
Of course a Newcastle shirt is entirely forgivable especially today as Newcastle Jets away kit this season is black and white stripes. This is pretty cute of them, perhaps we should adopt this Newcastle as some kind of holiday home for recuperating or wayward squad members. Threatened deportation might have made Nile Ranger behave a bit better. Certainly the A League could do with importing more names the many ex-pats down here have heard of.
Francis Jeffers plays for Newcastle Jets.
Nothing else to add to that statement except he was replaced by Michael Bridges who has a squad number 9 on his back.
Newcastle were 0-3 up by halftime, Sydney woke up and clawed it back to 2-3 but Newcastle won 5-2 with neither Jeffers or Bridge scoring. James was unhappy about the scoreline, which at least meant I felt something. A vague amusement is not however enough to sustain a recovering football junkie. Sipping cold beer while watching a game played in sunshine is not something that is easy to get used to either. Perhaps I need more practice.