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NUFC in Japan Part VI
 
In his sixth exclusive story for NUFC.com, We are Nippon author Simon Moran cheers on the greatest comeback.

Things never quite travel full circle. Much is similar, but changes imperceptibly and
permanently while youíre away and unaware. I can return, but I canít go back. Things are not better or worse, but different; not quite right, and thereís no going back. Thereís never any going back.

20th March, 1976


Ford Zephyr Six Mk III, just off the old Coast Road

My dad, then 38, drives us up the old Coast Road in our old Ford Zephyr Six Mk III. A six-
cylinder, 2553cc monster, it is a beautiful, if somewhat unreliable old car. Shining gold, its tail fins whisk through the air as we sit unbelted on the vinyl bench seat.

We arrive in town, park off Claremont Road, and are met by a pimply youth.

ďMistaa. Aaíll look after ya car for two bob.Ē

My dad counts coppers from the pocket of his light blue denim jacket, nattily-cut with centre vent, wide lapels and red stitching.

ďIíve only got 5p in change. Will you be here when I get back?Ē

ďAye.Ē

ďIíll give you the rest then.Ē

We walk down Richardson Road, across Leazes Park and into the ground via the car park
behind the old, roofed Leazes Stand. People lean over the wall at the back, dropping things into the car park and onto the cars below.

We buy my child ticket (Iím 8) from the office backing onto Barrack Road and queue to get into the East Wing Paddock. My dad has chosen here after consulting friends at work. Having stood on all sides of the ground as a lad and young man, as a sensible 1970s father, heís worried about violence. Todayís opponents, Manchester United, have a feared following.


Keeganís dogs outside the Strawberry, 1970s

The ground is packed. I have never seen so many people in one place, nor heard such a noise. I have no idea what the strange smells are. I am seated on a concrete crash barrier, my Gallowgate gantry for the next few years.

Weíre two-down, 3-2 up then contrive to lose 3-4, scoring two own goals. Our car sentry has gone, but Iím bitten. Iíve seen my heroes, and Malcolm MacDonald in particular.

Early 2000s, Osaka

No matter how much you have, no matter how good things are, there is always something that could make it better. I have a growing business, a nice flat, am happily married, becoming bilingual, am a published author, a freelance journalist and while not rich, certainly comfortable. Itís all light (well, about 12) years away from stuffing all my possessions into two bags and checking in with KLM at Newcastle Airport.


Dig the breed of sakka anaunsa-

Despite not having a Japanese player or being in the top four, I can see Newcastle games
regularly on some version of Sky. While for the duration of the actual match, the broadcast switches to the international coverage, complete with English commentary from well-known commentators, the half-time and post-match summaries are done locally, by local Japanese journalists in Japanese, right after the whistle.

So, after being fully immersed, almost able to smell Keeganís hotdogs and burgers, then
celebrating a result and wishing to soak up the atmosphere in the stadium, get the on-field and in-tunnel game-of-two-halves banter, Whoosh! Weíre back in the studio and Iím firmly back in Osaka. Wham! Itís a jarring, unnerving experience. Zoom! We unplug from the matrix.

And all of a sudden, somehow, without prior warning, life has become very much like this.
Live broadcasts, the Internet, Google news searches, Newcastle-related webpages; gossip, news. I donít miss a trick. I get more news and gossip and see more games broadcast now than Iíve ever done in my life, despite being almost 6,000 miles away.

But itís still not enough.

I can watch highlights of every Newcastle game on Match of the Day, I can see pretty much anything I want, even if I have to wait a while and download it. But what I canít see, what Iíve never seen in my life, is every single game, home and away, for a whole season.

I havenít been to a home game for over 10 years. Iíve stood on the Gallowgate end in the rain, wearing a red Harrington, when it was so sparsely populated, I could easily pick myself out on Shoot! the next day. Now, the ground has been sold out for years and tickets are very hard to come by.

In 2003-2004 Iím back home, learning to drive. I marvel at how green it all is, up and down the Northumbrian coast and into the villages.

A hitherto unmet online friend who runs a website says he can sort me out with a ticket.

Iíve been away so long, people tell me, that Iíve started to dress, even to look Japanese. I donít, of course, but I do buy all my clothes and have my hair cut there. My hairdresser is Japanese.

I step into a pub on Westgate Road. I havenít been in a pub in this part of town for about 15 years. Stepping inside Iím a little intimidated. Itís packed. It smells of beer and big, bald blokes.

I donít recognise any of the beers, so order something called Workie Ticket.

My unmet friend has told me heíll be wearing a 1970s away shirt, is tall and of course he has a skinhead. I find a space to stand.

I try not to stare at anybody, but everyone looks strange; big, white, fair. Not what Iím used to at all.

I also seem to be attracting quite a bit of attention myself.

I realise, not only am I the only man in the bar wearing orange shoes, with dyed orange hair, wearing a short Mac, with what Iím told is a manbag slung over one shoulder, but Iím standing right outside the menís toilets.

A burly, large skinhead looms closer. He points at me.

ďSimon?Ē

And then I have it. A ticket to the game. I walk inside St. Jamesí Park for the first time in 12 years; almost 30 years since the very first. There is a roof all the way around and itís huge.

We win, or lose or draw. Itís a brilliant game, or complete rubbish. I really donít recall.

We have beers before, during and after the match and I get a kebab on the way home. 

All that is missing from a 198Os Viz night out five-star rating is a fight in a taxi queue and a swing at a copper.

December, 2010

I have tuned into radios, seen fuzzy television pictures, logged onto websites and received satellite broadcasts to check results from places as prosaic as a dripping tent in the Cheviots to the Himalayan wonders of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

But itís coming home, Newcastle, glad Iíve been away, that seems the most difficult.

Iíve cancelled a winter holiday to Egypt. My dad has leukaemia and is in the Freeman,
having chemotherapy. We smuggle wine in for Christmas.

After a couple of losses, two wins perk him and his white blood cell count back up and heís quite soon back home, skinny but recuperating. I fly back to Japan to take care of a few things, planning to be back mid-February to help with the final round of chemotherapy, to be administered at home.

I check in daily by phone. Heís doing well and annoyed at the Carroll sale and Manchester
City finagling investments. His voice crackles down the phone:

ďWhatís all that about?Ē

ďI know. I'll see you soon.Ē

February 5th, 2011

Kyoto, at home. Arsenal at home. The peaceful coexistence of the seemingly contradictory. I have a full broadcast, with both English commentary and punditry. All is well.

0-4 down at half-time, I check on my good lady, already sensibly in bed, who asks the score.

ďDo you really think you can win?Ē

Iíve had a few beers. Maybe even something stronger.

ďIím a Geordie. Iíll always believe.Ē

As Tioteís equaliser goes in, I yell celebration then apology at equal volume.

Back in Whitley Bay, thereís a turn for the worse, but encouragement to watch the highlights to the end. Thereís a later tumble, a worried call from my mother on Sunday, a bedside call from my sister on Monday, and on Tuesday I book a flight home.

The Northumbrian piper plays Waters of Tyne and Local Hero. I give the eulogy and recall
us (me dad, aged 41, me, aged 12) changing our minds on the 308 on December 15th , 1979. We leave my mum and sisters to go and see the Nutcracker at the Theatre Royal while we go to the match. (QPR, 4-2 win from 1-2 down at half-time, Peter Withe tackles a dog.)

Weíve witnessed the greatest comebacks, my dad and me (72; 43) but Iíve come back to permanent change. There is no going back from here.

Simon's blog is here: www.moranactually.com 

Simon's book "We Are Nippon"
a great guide to visiting Japan, drinking beer and watching
football,
is available for £8.99 with free P&P (UK and Japan) and £1.50 donations each to the Newcastle West End Foodbank and Wor Flags. Also available worldwide. 

Order here: https://tinyurl.com/wearenippon

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

 

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