The superfan has been up to Newcastle.
Saturday’s unusual match for the superfan was Dunston UTS v Gretna in a pre-season friendly. I was staying in a Gateshead hotel, after a three-hour train journey up to Newcastle, and spent a chunk of the weekend with niece Becci and partner Jonathan who live in nearby Wylam.
Dunston, of course, are The FA Vase holders and their two-goal Wembley hero, Andrew Bulford, scored another brace in Saturday’s 5-1 win. Both were penalties. Visitors Gretna, Scottish Cup Finalists only six years ago, now play in the East of Scotland League and we saw a sprinkling of their followers amongst a crowd of 100-plus at the UTS Stadium. Admission was £4 and there was a team-sheet.
A few minutes into the match we were being lashed by the rain as we sat near the front of the stand. “Welcome to the north-east”, said Jonathan. We moved back a couple of rows but the sun quickly came out and the Gretna lads behind the goal decided to take their shirts off. At half-time I asked the man in the tea-hut what ‘UTS’ stood for, something which had puzzled me last season.
“Utility Technical Services”, he said. “There’s not many people that know that.”
Sunday’s treat was an Olympic double-header at Newcastle United’s famous St James’ Park, featuring Japan v Morocco at 5pm and Spain v Honduras at 7.45pm. My last Olympic match had been Poland against East Germany in Nuremberg 40 years ago.
Our seats seemed to be in a Japanese section, for the first match anyway, and there were impossibly lovely Japanese girls all around, some of them with sparkly blue hair and little Japanese flags painted onto their faces. When they sang along to their ethereal and haunting national anthem, ‘Kimi Ga Yo Wa’, I felt myself transported to the slopes of Mount Fuji.
Normally that only happens at Bedfont Sports.
The crowd was surprisingly large – something like 27,000 – and they saw ‘Nippon’ secure their place in Saturday’s quarter-finals with a classy goal in the 84th minute. Their No.11, Kensuke Nagai, chased a high ball down the left wing and managed to lob in a right-footer as the Moroccan ‘keeper rushed up to him. He was a long way out but judged his shot so perfectly that the ball bounced slowly on and into the unguarded net.
If the first match was good, the second was truly memorable. Honduras grabbed the unlikeliest result of the tournament by beating Spain, the World and European Champions, with Jerry Bengtson’s Shearer-like header after just seven minutes. It was an incredible match, the Spanish attacking with increasing desperation and missing chance after chance. The goalie made flying leaps everywhere; several efforts thudded against the woodwork; penalty shouts were turned down.
We were laughing at the craziness of it all.
Two other matches, Hanwell Town v QPR XI (0-0) and Fisher v Hendon (1-0), have taken me up to 6,303. I have an Olympic quarter-final at Wembley on Saturday.