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NUFC in Japan etc Part II
In his second exclusive story for, We are Nippon author Simon Moran recalls analogue travels by Magpie Movers.

Not just what have I let myself in for
but how on earth did I get here?

1992 was an easy year to leave England. Major was re-elected with a record win,
interest rates were 9%, unemployment 10% and rising, cars were getting twoced left
and right and Black Wednesday cost billions.

None of that really concerned me, though. My band had split up and I had an awful job
as a data entry clerk on an industrial estate near Shiremoor. I'd started it to raise the
air fare to join the guitarist in Dubai so we could "work on some material." 

Bored, I managed to hack into the mainframe, and the company offered me a full-time job in the IT section at head office in Kent. On the train home after the interview (four lunchtime pints in the pub), I was so terrified of a normal, suburban, salaried life, by the time I got back to Central Station I had already mentally emigrated.

I wasn’t the only one to leave. UK net migration in 1992 was -13,000 (ONS).

When I arrived in Bangkok, we were top of the league, with a 100% record. I was
running away from town but could never run away from The Toon.

Asking a Bangkok local directions to my new home, he pointed me in the right

"...and then it's on your right. Where are you from?"
"Where in England?"
"Oh yes, Newcastle. Kevin Keegan. Newcastle number one!"

I fell ill and didn't leave my Khaosan Road bed for two days, though recovered in time
to call my sister from a pay-by-the minute phone booth. She said I should take lots of
liquids and salts as I would be dehydrated by my diarrhoea, and that we had beaten
Middlesborough, then one league above us in the Premier League, 3-1 away in the
League Cup.

Travelling further, I kept in touch via the Bangkok Post. Premier League games were on
TV. Coverage in the papers was good; it was both easy and joyful to track progress. 

On the train south, sat on hard wooden benches in a crammed carriage with dozens of white shirts laid out to dry in the sun along the tracks, we marvelled at the world around us and I strained my neck to read the back of a Thai sports paper. The back page showed Rob Lee. I couldn’t read a word, but still felt a slight wonder as to why I'd left.

I arrive in Sydney and my flat has neither a washing machine nor a telly, but the Sydney
Morning Herald has match reports, and highlights are on TV. I watch other teams on the
Premier league highlights show on my shifts while working in a budget hotel.

At Christmas, a stocking arrives from home with a Newcastle Brown Ale t-shirt, a black
and white Santa hat and Billy Fane's Geordie Party on cassette.

WBOB, missing the mark

Life shifts nicely into work, beach and the pubs and clubs of Sydney. We march on,
staying top of the league. A friend visits from England, bringing Asics shirts and a
video of the 7-1 thrashing of Leicester. We win Football League Division One at a
canter and are back in the top flight. The Test Match doesn't quite hit the mark.

Video footage of Lee Clark in his Terry Mac wig on an open top bus under thick grey
skies helps diminish the homesickness and feelings of missing out.

West End Boys

By the time our inaugural Premier League season kicks off against Spurs, I'm in
Brisbane, living in a pink Queenslander with some wannabe anarchists. We're on the
highlights show. We lose. Keegan says he hopes we learn our lessons quick.

I go up the coast as we climb the table. In the Whitsundays I dive among coral and we
beat Liverpool 3-0. I come all the way back down again by bus, back through Sydney,
through burning bush fires while Cole and Beardsley are on fire elsewhere; on to
Victoria then the ferry to Tasmania, and fruit picking in the Huon Valley.

Weeks without a sniff of a result

There are no newspapers, radio or TV here, living in a tent under a willow tree, picking
apricots. I go weeks without so much as a sniff of a result.

A night in a hostel; a newspaper and TV. We're third after victories over Ipswich and

We dodge an overstay penalty by leaving Australia from Hobart airport on a Sunday,
hoping the full complement of immigration services wouldn't be working. We're in
luck, they're not and we escape a ban.

A woman on the plane tells us New Zealand has no mammals, but some nice birds. We
get sprayed with disinfectant as we land.

I head north to Northland, following the sun as autumn approaches in late March. In all
this next will be the fifth winter I've dodged.

We finish third.

I learn to farm, feed and move the cows, milk the goat, calving comes and goes and my
football team, Bay Cosmos, wins our league. I net 14 in 17 games.

We enter our second Premier League season and we're back in Europe.

The radio tells me Rob Lee nets a hat trick against Antwerp and I jump up and down on
the bed I'm sleeping in, next to the persimmon packing warehouse.

I pull a hand-written card from my wallet. The Japanese homestay guests are fascinated. I ask them to guess what it is.

"Um. Place names? Is it a train timetable?"

It's the fixture list.

Toot, toot! Black and White Army

It serves me well as we drive around New Zealand in an ex-Cola Cola works van, a
Morris Marina that has travelled as far around the world as we have. In most places we
could find a paper, TV or radio, and as we watched the whales and pursued the penguins
we're a solid, top-three team.

We sell the car in Auckland at a profit, arrive in Hong Kong and find a room in the
infamous Chung King Mansions.

Surrounded by neon, itinerant concrete pourers and fellow suburban-escapees, I can get
an outdoor escalator up a hill, a ferry around the bay and results, reports and TV are
easy to come by in this still-British territory.

At this point, I have not yet been on the Internet in my life. Only about 11 million have.

The first online purchase has just been made and the World Wide Web is yet to be truly

A relationship ends. Airport farewells are always bad but are awful when they're
permanent. But I'm not done; I have further still to travel. Japan, and a new era beckons.

Next Week: Osaka: Satellite TV, the Internet, an Arsenal fan and FA Cup final arrive.

Simon Moran caught the 308 from Whitley Bay in 1992 and settled in Japan in 1995, first Osaka, now Kyoto. Entrepreneur, publisher, former associate editor of the Kansai Time Out, and occasional freelance journalist, his byline has appeared in the Japan Times, Four Four Two, the Guardian, and Scootering. 

Simon's blog is here: 

Simon's book "We Are Nippon" is available for GBP 8.99 with free P&P (UK and Japan) and GBP 1.50 donations each to the Newcastle West End Foodbank and Wor Flags. Also available worldwide. Order here:



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