Newcastle v Sunderland: A Mackem's Guide To Geordieland
You get on at Park Lane, Sunderland Central, St. Peter's. Ticket prices are reasonable. Eyes are kind and welcoming. People are happy to sit next to each other. The air does not hang heavy with the threat of knife crime. The Metro is sort of like the Tube, you think. Only not s***.
Stadium of Light, Seaburn, East Boldon. Perfectly pleasant. Inhabitants convivial and handsome. The sun shines through the windows, warming your face on a crisp winter's day, as you roll through the imposing North East countryside.
Brockley Whins, Fellgate, Pelaw. Strange names. Peculiar places. The sky bruises and cracks into a thunderstorm. Your fellow passengers fidget in their seats. An old man folds his paper and begins biting his nails. A small girl buries her face in her father's chest. A guide dog plunges its tail between its legs and whimpers. “Max,” its owner says, “what's wrong, boy?”
Felling, Gateshead Stadium, Gateshead. More passengers board. Ambling, hunched figures that make no eye contact. They stay close to the doors, hiding their faces under caps and hoods, behind upturned collars and black-and-white striped scarfs. An odour stings your nostrils – both faecal and fishy, with a potent aftershock of bad breath.
You hastily get off at the next stop. Bolting for the exit, you almost trample a busker. Sitting cross-legged, a hobgoblin with long hair and pocked skin, he's belting out an unhinged and guttural cover of I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles). You jump for the escalator, covering your nose as the stink from the Metro intensifies, and sprint passed shadowy figures to the top.
An odour stings your nostrils – both faecal and fishy, with a potent aftershock of bad breath
Central Station. A cavernous and dilapidated building that would undoubtedly raze to the ground were it not for an endless procession of bakeries acting as supporting walls.
Great lumbering figures pass you, some weighing as much 40 stone, their facial features drowning in blubber, dragging limbs behind them as they go. Each beast bloated to point of indeterminable sex. Their grunts and wheezes are punctuated by the most hideous brogue you've ever heard – vowels sound painful, as if pronounced with a snooker ball made of broken glass lodged in their throat. Their eyes sit impossibly close together and dart from side-to-side. The whole picture, you think, looks like some deleted scene from Dawn of the Dead, deemed too horrifying to ever see the light of day.
Welcome to Newcastle.
Maybe you came for the nightlife. You walk down to the quayside where swarms of hen nights fill the streets, carrying their shoes in one had and a kebab in the other, singing Girls Just Want To Have fun through floods of tears, mascara and garlic sauce smeared across their cheeks. Morbidly obese beer-boys flock around them, like clans of spotted hyenas flanking prey, singing songs about Alan Shearer to deter other predators.
You move up to “the Diamond Strip”. Lads wear a uniform of scoop-neck All Saints T-shirts, drop-crotch chinos and shoes made of cloth and cardboard. Pouting girls, all big hair and bad make-up, are out for a roasting from the footballers of their dreams. Everyone has a suntan, even in February. Chin-swings, pincered hands and white rings around nostrils are the norm. It's great night out, Newcastle. Like an episode of Booze Britain that never ends.
Pouting girls, all big hair and bad make-up, are out for a roasting from the footballers of their dreams
Friendly people, though, Newcastle folk. Although there is a fine line between cordiality and educational subnormality. Geordie Shore is real, you mutter to yourself. More than that, those halfwits represent the intellectual cream of the city. A walk along Northumberland Street proves this beyond all doubt.
Parents push babies in prams, wrapped in blankets of pastry crumbs from their sausage roll breakfast. The Toon's breed of chav is quite unlike any creature you have ever seen – thoroughbreds from the Jeremy Kyle gene pool. Shambling, gouching, toothless characters, the male walking several meters ahead of the female with an open can of Fosters in his hand, occasionally stopping to turn and hurl unintelligible abuse at his elegiac other half: “Wah-wah wor hinny nar yea sl*g, dint naw gan the morra, doon ook divn't my bairn.”
You hear Newcastle is enjoying a cultural renaissance. So you visit the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art – which recently housed the Turner Prize exhibition – and discover innovative new works, admire the view of the Tyne, have something to eat and hear a cacophony of locals shrieking, “What's that supposed to be, like.” You stop off at the Centre for Life to see science exhibitions, theatre shows and listen the clamour of locals screeching, “I divn't get that, like.” You take in a film at the Tyneside Cinema – the “last surviving newsreel theatre still operating as a cinema full-time in the UK” – and hear vexed locals whispering, “Why are they all speaking foreign. And what's them words at the bottom for, like?”
Then, of course, there is the crucible for capricious football fans that is the romantically named Sports Direct Arena. Where any success, however fleeting and trophyless, is marred by a recalcitrant jealousy of their neighbours down the road.
You catch the first train back out of Central Station. Deeply perturbed by the atrocities you've witnessed, you phone a friend for comfort. “How was it?” they ask. “Newcastle?,” you say. “It's not the end of the world; but you can see it from here.”
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