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Football free zone

Normally, during rush hour, this four-lane section of Newcastle’s Great North Road would be chockablock. As I walked home yesterday evening, it was eerily quiet. The England-Denmark Euro 2024 men’s football match clearly caused a major deviation from people’s usual travel habits—something I wouldn’t have predicted. I know consciously that football is extremely popular, but my own lack of interest blinkers me from casually anticipating these kinds of effects.

This post was filed under: Photos, , .

Sunderland 0 – 3 Newcastle

I’ve a sneaking suspicion that most people don’t visit my blog for incisive football analysis, even though I have even been to a match at St James’ Park. But that’s not going to stop me.

Yesterday, in the FA Cup, Newcastle beat Sunderland. The match was held at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, and earlier this week, the plans for the day resulted in a controversy which caught my eye.

Some corporate guests who supported Newcastle United were to be hosted in a bar at the Stadium of Light, with the seats selling for £600. The bar—as one might expect—is usually decked out in Sunderland-supporting slogans and whatnot. Given the plan to use the space for rival supporters, these were temporarily covered with Newcastle-supporting alternatives.

This is exactly the decision I would have made in the drastically unlikely situation of being in charge of the decor for a football stadium bar on derby day. If I were flogging tickets for £600, I’d take it as read that the bar should be decorated for the supporters who are expected to be in it. It just seems polite: as a host, I’d want my guests to be relaxed. And, frankly, I’d expect severe complaints if I hosted a party in a space decorated for the rivals. Seriously, I don’t think I’d have given this a second thought.

It turns out, though, that I would be in mega-trouble. It’s the kind of thing that leads to a corporate statement referencing ‘a serious error of judgement’ and the board of directors requesting that ‘an immediate review is undertaken to determine how this process unfolded.’

Blimey. I know nothing about football, but the error and the scale of the controversy here make me feel like I’ve beamed down from a different planet.

Cultural and societal norms are tricky things. I’ve lived in the North East for decades but could have felt like a social pariah for making an error in basic sporting etiquette. It’s easy to forget how much of this stuff imbues our everyday lives. It must be near-impossible for those who live and work in places with entirely different cultures to feel comfortable, confident and accepted in their new homes. Trip wires lurk in the most unlikely places.

It’s a reminder that we should all be a little more patient, understanding and helpful when people get the basics wrong. There’s a line in Philippa Perry’s recent book:

Often we can fall into the trap of interpreting behaviour by what it would mean if we did whatever the other person is doing. Someone else’s behaviour has a different meaning from what it would mean if you did it.

A little understanding can go a long way.

The pictures in this post are from my own visit to the Stadium of Light in 2019. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

This post was filed under: News and Comment, .

A game designed for men

I know nothing about sport, but even I’m aware that England faces Spain in the World Cup Final this morning.

I enjoyed reading the Economist’s Simply Science newsletter on the subject, written by Abby Bertics. I had no idea, for example, that “women still overwhelmingly wear football boots designed for small men, not women.”

But the most interesting part of the article concerned some research by Arve Vorland Pedersen, who proposed several modifications to the game to scale it to the physiological attributes of women, rather than those of men. Women are shorter, for example, so the pitch and goals ought to be smaller. Women should not have to live in a world designed for men.

And yet the kicker, so to speak, came at the end. The average physiological attributes of men at the time the sport’s rules were codified have more in common with the average physiological attributes of today’s women than today’s men. So really, the challenge ought not to be to scale things down for women, but up for men.

In today’s world, football is a women’s game.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, , , , , .

The Carabao Cup Final

In the great, over-stuffed pantheon of things I know nothing about, football looms large. It’s a subject on which I’m not even casually conversant, I’m less well-informed than your average six-year-old. It’s only two years since I was stunned to learn that Aston Villa wasn’t a London team.

And yet, I know that the Carabao Cup Final is this afternoon.

I couldn’t explain what the Carabao Cup is, nor pick it out of a line-up, nor explain why it’s named after a buffalo, but there’s still no fooling me: a big match is happening today.

I know this because I live in Newcastle, and I know of no other city where the football club and the city are so closely enmeshed. It’s partly to do with the location of the stadium right in the city centre, which means that the cheers after a goal resonate through the streets. But it’s also something that’s deep within the psyche of the city.

And so, I know it’s the Carabao Cup Final because the city is festooned with black-and-white bunting. The team’s flag has replaced the city flag outside the Civic Centre. Estate agents have turfed every property out of their window to dedicate their entire displays to supporting the club. Even a local care home has decorated their garden with black-and-white ribbons and balloons.

The talk in my office—where, incidentally, roughly 90% of the staff are female—has not been about whether anyone is making the trip to Wembley, but about who is making the trip. Jokes about silverware and absent goalkeepers are ten a penny.

Most shops and businesses in the city are closing early today to release staff to watch the match, as my friendly Caffe Nero barista had the foresight to tell me last Sunday. It’s a citywide bank holiday in all but statute.

And so: I might not be able to name a single Newcastle player and I couldn’t even tell you with certainty who the opposing team is, but I know it’s the Carabao Cup Final today. I hope Newcastle does well.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Post-a-day 2023, , .

Photo-a-day 217: Olympic football


Wendy and I, plus 42,000 of our closest friends, went today to support Brazil and Honduras in the Olympic men’s football quarter final at St James Park. It was only the third professional football match I’ve ever been to, and Wendy’s first. It was also the first time either of us had been to St James Park for sporting reasons, though we’ve both visited for work reasons in the past!

We were both slightly surprised (perhaps because we’re a little naive) at the level of security – everyone was patted down on entering, and police were peering down from the roofs of surrounding buildings at the crowd around the ground. We also balked slightly at the cost of drinks inside, especially since we couldn’t take liquids in.

But, all-in-all, we had a great time, and it’s brilliant to feel a little bit involved in London 2012!

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , .

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