A quick trip to Gateshead

Not just in my home country, but in my home region there are things I’ve not done and places I’ve not been. Today I took the opportunity to redress that with a quick trip up the road (I’m staying with the lovely Viv on Teeside) to watch Gateshead FC against Chester City.

Way back before I left the UK, I was a season ticket holder at Newcastle United. Gateshead didn’t even have a web page as far as I’m aware and unless you read the local newspapers, following their performance was next to impossible. Now, with the advent of the internet, I have no excuses. I even follow the even more “lowly” Whitley Bay FC via Twitter on a weekend. They’re all local teams as far as I’m concerned.

As far as I can remember, the last time I visited Gateshead International Stadium was almost 20 years ago. I was there to see Guns n’ Roses (with Faith No More opening for them). Being a youngster and skint, I didn’t have a ticket. Instead I climbed a tree along the east stand and sat up there to watch the performance over the wall. When a police officer asked me if I’d come down, I answered (politely) “sorry, no”. He then asked me to make sure I didn’t damage the tree on the way down after the gig and I was careful to make sure that I, indeed, did not.

The last time I was actually inside the stadium was when I finished the charity Sport Aid fun run. Actually, I think that was the only time I was inside.

For those going, there is free parking in three car parks around the stadium. The queue to get out isn’t too bad either. You can expect to get there at 14:50, park up, walk in and be sat down by kick-off.

Match tickets are currently £12 for adults, and programmes are £2.50 a shot and a good read. I even picked up a keyring for only £2. I was hoping to get a shirt as well, but the little shop upstairs (two ladies, a folding table and some lockers full of stuff!) didn’t take plastic. I’ll order online instead.

The game itself wasn’t as bad as I’d have expected given that it’s – I think – the lowest league match I’ve ever seen. The pitch was OK and despite being halfway up the stand I could clearly hear the players swearing at each other. And the ref. Which was cool.

Premier League clubs should also note that a crowd of supporters were stood up for the entire match having a great time and did not at any time case a fire, explosion, structural collapse or nuclear holocaust. Proof, if it were needed, that forcing people to sit for “health and safety reasons” and throwing them out if they don’t is an utterly pointless, futile and ridiculous practice.

There was an atmosphere despite the relatively small crowd. I’m used to something nearer 50,000 and I’d make a guess that The Heed pulled in around 500 for this Saturday’s game. The away fans were audible (especially when they scored and won the match), while the above-mentioned hard core support had a few good chants and songs.

A lack of seat number on the tickets also meant I could park my bum anywhere for a good view and fans who did want to stand could do so towards the back without obscuring anyone else’s view.

Other than the result (Gateshead 0 – 1 Chester City), it was a good kickabout and I’ll definitely pop by next time I’m in the area without a ticket for the Toon. Actually, I might make the effort to go and see Whitley Bay or Blyth Spartans for variety!

Support your real local team, folks – don’t forget that just because you have a Premier League (or… erm… Colaship) team nearby that there are others that could do with your presence, cash and voice.

Apologies for a lack of photos. I did take some and posted them on Twitter via Ping.fm which should then forward them on to Flickr. Only Ping.fm seems to be broken and hasn’t submitted the pictures to Flickr and I’ve deleted them from my phone. Grr.

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Footie shirt winner!

Front of shirt

Front of shirt

Raffle entries closed yesterday and a huge “thank you” to the entrants, of which there weren’t many but each was very generous indeed. Please, if you missed the competition do consider still making a donation. As happens annually, the east coast of Vietnam has taken a weather-related battering and Blue Dragon needs your funding to help them rebuild their homes, and eat in the meantime.

I snipped up a few bits of paper and dropped them into a hat (actually a Tesco carrier bag, but let’s not be picky). A quick rummage and the winner that came out was…

*drum roll*


Which is good for me as I think she’s the only UK-based entrant so it will keep the postage cost down. I actually met her a few days ago and I could have handed her the football shirt personally. Instead, I will trust it to our increasingly dodgy postal service. Keep an eye open for it in a week or so, Janice.

Again, thank you all for your entries and generosity!

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Exclusive football shirt raffle!

Front of shirt

Front of shirt

OK, folks. Here is a chance to own a very exclusive Real Betis Vietnam football shirt as worn by the amazing kids at the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. There were never many of these shirts and BDCF are looking for new sponsors so there simply will not be any more of this particular design.

Featuring the Real Betis badge and name, BDCF logo and Catholic Relief Services on the sleeve, the shirt has a large number 7 on the back along with the charity URL. It’s lightweight material with “breathable” fabric under the arms and down the sides. It is brand new – I’ve worn it once to check it for size and fit.

The size is “XL” and this is a western XL by my judgement, not a Vietnamese one. The V-collar means it hangs off me. I’m an average size for a 35 year-old white guy.

Back of shirt

Back of shirt

So here’s how it works. I will cover all costs involved in this little raffle including postage to wherever the lucky winner resides. Hopefully we’ll raise more than the overheads! “Tickets” are one Australian Dollar each and you “buy” them by making a donation to Blue Dragon via PayPal. When you donate, please leave a comment here and tell me how much you donated and therefore how many times your name will be popped into the hat.

The donation page is here

We’ll say the deadline is October 15th 2009 which gives you the thick end of a month to save up. I’ll pick the winner at random then and get in touch with them via email, so please include a valid mail address on your comment. Don’t worry – nobody can see your email address except me and I promise with hand on heart that I will only use said address to let you know if you’ve won and to get a mailing address from you.

So… what are you waiting for?

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Germany 3 – 2 Turkey

An interesting day to stay in Frankfurt with it’s large immigrant ex-Turk population, with the two countries facing each other in the Euro 2008 semi-final. A huge screen was erected in the town centre and no segregation of fans was made (or required), beer on sale all day and very nice weather.

I was actually awoken around 10am by my mother ringing me to tell me a credit card had arrived. No huge deal aside from the fact that I didn’t get to bed until after 6am. Grr. So I spent the day online, popping downstairs for a rather nice chicken and chips lunch.

Evening came around, and one of the lads in the hostel – from Mexico – volunteered to walk into town with me to watch the first half on the big screen. You’d have been hard pushed to miss coverage. Every food or drink establishment had at least one screen available, with chairs outside and waitress service so you didn’t miss a moment. Those that didn’t normally have a screen had borrowed or rented one and fitted it in somehow.

As I said, Frankfurt has a large Turkish ex-pat population as can be easily told by the number of kebab shops around the station area. Great places to eat, by the way – cheap and large portions. This mix resulted in a fantastic atmosphere around the large screen area. Flags, face paint, chants, singing, all variety of shirts, hooters, horns, whistles… Just great.

There was limited room in the area immediately in front of the screen which was enclosed. Entry seemed to be free, but we opted to stand outside on the street from where we could see more of the crowd as well as having a decent view of the screen.

Turkey scored first and half of the crowd went wild. The Germans tutted and looked at their feet, the Turks waved those flags and blew those horns, dancing and cheering. Early days though, as Germany equalised before the end of the half. This time the flags waving were of three colours and Teutonic voices were in song.

As the whistle blew to end the first 45 minutes, we walked back towards the hostel where the game was being shown in the communal area. On the way, I picked up a McD’s – and hopefully wouldn’t end up in the same condition from it as the guy who was slumped unconscious over one of the tables with his head in a burger box. Strange as he was actually still upright, being in a little booth thing. See the photo around here somewhere for an illustration.

Back at the hostel, the atmosphere was buzzing as Germany took the lead and were pegged back again by Turkey. Obviously the hostel owners were home supporters and going mad with each German attack.

Then, seconds from the end of normal time, Germany popped in what was to be the winner. Despite an injury-time free kick, Turkey just couldn’t pull back again and the Germans went through.

During the second half, the picture kept vanishing which caused a lot of frustration to the home fans. It turns out it was something to do with a huge thunderstorm over Vienna which was killing the signal. It certainly made things tense when you had no idea what was going on for a couple of minutes!

With the game over, I headed upstairs to bed. After virtually no sleep the night before, I had to get some shuteye. I’m glad I had earplugs as the winning fans were speeding around the city in their cars, horns blaring, until after 3am.

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Frankfurt again

Frankfurt was hot. Damn hot. So hot and muggy that sleep wasn’t easy. The snoozes I’d had on various coaches probably didn’t help either.

I woke around 9-ish as Hans had told me his flight from Darfur was landing at 7:30. I’d checked the buses from the airport and that would mean he’d get here at 9:30. Time for some breakfast before he got to the hostel. As I was spooning cereal into a bowl, I heard a familar voice call out “What the hell are you doing here?”

Hans’ flight landed at 6:30 – he’d given me the times based in Darfur – so he’d caught an earlier bus and already walked into town, realised that most people were still asleep and come back to the hostel. There’s not a whole lot to do in Frankfurt, so he was pretty glad to have someone to hang out with while he tried to stay awake after the long flight.

We chilled for a while and caught up before walking into town for the briefest of looks around. My sunglasses broke but as luck would have it, I was right by a street-seller selling cheapies at €4 a pop. Big, tight-fitting, passed the head-bang test and mirrored. Spot on. Hans picked out a film to watch later, we grabbed some food from one of the market stalls put out for the day (sausage and fried potato – really good and only €3) and walked back to the hostel.

There was a free football game being organised that afternoon and people were just gearing up to head off for it. I’d been pretty ill the last couple of days (nothing too bad, but let’s just say I was very careful as regards passing wind… as it wasn’t always wind), but felt up to a bit of exercise and counted myself in. Hans went off for a lie down while the staff organised drinking water and underground tickets for us (all paid for!).

I got chatting to a few people on the walk and during the game. As you’d expect from a cheap hostel near a major transport hub, the mix was quite impressive: Mexican, Australian, Kiwi, Brit, American, Canadian, German, Italian… The game was good, but hard work in the baking heat and humidity. After an hour or so, a bunch of locals asked if they could join in and we ended up with something approaching 15-a-side, though this varied as people dropped out periodically to top up on water.

One of the hostel staff video’d things occasionally and it should pop up on YouTube at some point. At time of writing, it’s not there yet, though the user account to check out is HostelFrankfurt.

Update: here ’tis…

When we got back, a cold crate of beer was placed on a table for the footballers – again, all free! There was enough for two bottles each and they were welcomed, believe me. Hans resurfaced and hadn’t gone to see a film after all. He’d misread the timetable and the film he wanted to catch wasn’t showing on a Tuesday. Instead, we walked out and picked up dinner from a Turkish take-out nearby. There are lots of these – Turkey seems to send all it’s emigrants to Frankfurt! Good for us as the food’s pretty cheap and filling.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting to a load of other residents, and a short wander round the city at night and through the red light district (always a laugh). Hans’ bus was booked for 5:30am so he went to bed and I stayed up with an American and two Aussies chewing the cud and drinking Wild Turkey and Coke.

My sleep pattern was obviously skewed badly as I was still chatting away when Hans woke up for his bus! I eventually had “breakfast” at 06:00 and went to bed. Then struggled to sleep in the heat.

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