Tales From The Terrace is back in anticipation for Newcastle Away this week. Forum member Simon returns to recount another big away trip that lingers in the minds of the fans who went.
Newcastle wasn’t a place I ever thought about visiting before late 2008, and I’ve rarely entertained the possibility of heading back since. That is one of the beauties of following a football team – you’re taken to places you otherwise wouldn’t consider.
A group of us had the idea of an away day somewhere different from the usual Sydney or Adelaide. A “boutique” away trip, as someone described it, away from the masses and an increasing police shadow. So I a booked budget Jetstar flight departing Tullamarine for Newcastle on Friday, December 19, 2008.
Going to Newcastle was, for me, the second part of a 48-hour bender. Stage one, my first ever work Christmas party on the Thursday, turned into an all-day and all-night event which remains the loosest work function I’ve experienced. The celebration was unnecessarily extravagant, featuring a big breakfast, morning Canadian Club cans, lunch at the Melbourne Aquarium and a bar crawl around Melbourne well into the night. Most of the company called in sick the next day. No function was ever held on a Thursday again. I caught one of the first trains home, running from the station through the 6am rain, with annual leave booked and knowing I’d wake in three hours, and be off to Newcastle on a high.
I was 19 at the time and there is a golden, short-lived period around that age where you can run amok weekend after weekend with minimal sleep and without drugs. Oblivious to a hangover and sleep deprivation, I arrived in Newcastle and hit the ground running.
Myself and Murph, the mate I flew with, met up with three others and after a long and fruitless search for a decent pub meal in this foreign, sleepy, post-industrial city, we resorted to Subway in a shopping centre reminiscent of Highpoint.
As a group of travelling fans we’d done what was, for our standards, substantial planning, and decided on a pub to meet up at, the Sunnyside Tavern. For whatever reason – because we were teenagers short on money most likely – we decided against catching a cab or public transport and embarked on a forty minute walk from the town centre instead.
At the pub were a few familiar Victory faces, men and women we knew from back home, people you only saw at the football but instantly connected with when you did. The Sunnyside beer garden had a bizarre backyard vibe – complete with a grassy area, shed and veranda.
By late afternoon we’d taken over the place. The full Terrace songbook got a run as we knocked back drink after drink. Joints were passed around. Some locals became irritated at our taking of liberties, including a company rep from Skins or some similar athletic compression gear company, who was repeatedly interrupted by the commotion.
Night had fallen when we walked to the ground along a dimly lit stormwater canal, stopping because one of us had to take a leak approximately every 80 metres. In spite of our dishevelled state we all made it into the ground.
With only two wins from their first 15 games, Newcastle’s title defence in 2008/09 was proving even more miserable than ours the season before. The big crowds the Jets attracted in the early years of the A-League had deserted them, with only 6,268 turning up on the night we were there. Victory, meanwhile, were coming off two straight defeats – the latest slump in a wildly inconsistent season.
After 15 minutes Matt Thompson scored a header for Newcastle against the run of play and on 45 he doubled their lead, set up for the second time by Marko Jesic. At the break, we were 2-0 down against the bottom side and playing abysmally.
Thompson completed his hat trick shortly after half time before Jin-Hyung Song made it 4-0. Game over. After going unbeaten in my first seven Victory interstate games, I accepted defeat was imminent. To a bottom-placed Newcastle in front of just over 6000 fans.
Looking back on some of the names in that Newcastle team – Ante Covic, Jade North, Joel Griffiths, Mark Milligan, Tarek Elrich, et al – it is a wonder they claimed the wooden spoon that season.
Danny Allsopp scored a consolation, with the aid of his hand unspotted by the referee, and in the corner a couple of dozen of us celebrated like we’d won the Champions League, falling over seats and letting off flares which lit up the night sky. Ney Fabiano got on the end of a late Kevin Muscat free kick to make the full time score a more respectable 4-2.
As we filed out of the bay a fat Novocastrian from above gave the big’uns; we responded to his taunts with “well come on, then!” gestures, inviting him down below.
A couple of lads went to collect two bags full of flares which were hidden in an obscure corner of the car park outside the ground. When the rest of us noticed that police were watching what they were doing, we called out to the lads and they legged it; the police followed in hot pursuit. Civilians were bowled over during the chase. Our men got away unscathed.
A small group of us ended up at the infamous nightclub Fannys later that night. After three hours sleep in almost two days, and consuming gallons of alcohol across two states and cities, I was going on raw adrenaline. The match result drifted into insignificance. Eventually, we’d had enough at the club and found ourselves in a McDonald’s which seemed to have the best part of 4000 people inside, the vast majority drunk. This was a different side of Newcastle to the ghost town without pub grub we’d arrived at early in the afternoon.
Back at the apartment, where a few of the guys were still awake, we walked into a room littered with dozens of empty beer bottles, the smell of dope, coffee grains strewn across the floor. We talked a lot of shit, made some prank calls, did the usual teenage things.
With fourteen flares and two fireworks unused from the match, we went for a walk to the railway tracks and created an almighty sound and light show, just for kicks. On cue, a train rollicked past. It was 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning.
We were all sleepy at the café the next morning. The glorious sunshine somehow made my recovery from the Thursday and Friday easier. We had nothing much to do and not much money, and buses to the airport were infrequent, so we sat around for three or four hours recounting the night before. We were tired and hungover but in happy spirits, a combination which I find makes you slightly delirious.
We came across the Daily Telegraph classifieds (classifieds! How long ago this was) and found someone looking to buy, or sell, Wrestlemania DVDs. We called and left him with a phone number which appeared nearby in the Classifieds, then left the Wrestlemania bloke’s number with someone else, and so on. You just had to be there…
We let off a surplus flare and two fireworks in a city park, before roughly eleven of us boarded the bus to Newcastle airport.
The two or so hours at the airport were passed with more pranks; photo bombing; ghosting people we didn’t know as they went about their business; lobbing ice cubes at one another. Nothing too harmful, just being a general nuisance as we waited and waited in the departure lounge. We saw a sign, ‘Newcastle Airport – Regional Airport of the Year’. Taking the piss, we took it upon ourselves to approach and warmly welcome incoming passengers to the ‘Regional Airport of the Year’.
Victory lost on the night but, whenever I think of it, Newcastle Away in 2008 makes me smile – something perhaps made easier because our team turned their form around post-Christmas to win eight of the last nine games on the road to the championship.