Lives: Football scores
In football-crazy Tyneside, the girls run their own fantasy league. Anne McElvoy reports
The behaviour shows all the restraint of a Dionysian frenzy which has got out of control, Around us, bodies entwine, messages are bellowed through the techno-din: "My friend Jackie says she fancies you." The young men are cock-a-hoop: "We never get this much attention when the footballers are in."
Saturday and Sunday - after the weekend fixtures - are the best nights out. Sharon explained. "Best for tapping." As in tap-dancing? "No-o-oo. Tapping lads. Footballers, you know." The real Geordie sport is not football after all, but the challenge of picking up a Newcastle United player for a brief fling. Newcastle girls no longer hunt autographs, they collect and compare snogs.
Inclement weather and the fact that most of the team are at least formally attached to wives or girlfriends mean that encounters are brief and carried on in public. The girls plot their advance minutely and without sentiment.
"We've got our own premier league," said Sharon. "You get five points for Ginola, four for Asprilla, three for Ferdinand, and after that it depends on their performance." On or off the field? "Well, the playing's important. I'd kiss Beardsley as a mark of respect." One of the footballers is famous for only allowing oral sex on such excursions - a gesture of deference to his wife. There are probably fans out there who think that Fellatio is the new Italian centre-forward.
Do they score with top scorer Shearer? He cost such a lot that you would expect him to be an all-round talent. "No chance," said Diane. "He's dead married, isn't he?"
"Married alive," agreed Sharon dolefully. Gazza is out of fashion for going to Rangers and beating his wife; it's not clear which they consider the worse dereliction.
The preferred targets are foreign. The Georgian and Dane set to join the squad next season don't know what they have got coming to them. Ginola's gypsy features, flowing locks and convivial habit will be much missed. "He's really good-looking," said a young man, "beautiful, like." "You a poof, or what?" teased his mate. But they both know that footballers are there to be admired, the official demigods of the godless urban age.
In Newcastle, the bond between club and supporters is so close that anguish is shared with the same intensity as triumph. "It's easy to love your team when it's always winning," said Sharon. But when they threw away the premiership last year I was inconsolable, wasn't I, Diane?" "Aye," said Diane. That night, hundreds turned out in the Bigg Market to comfort themselves and Kevin Keegan in a bizarre display of mock courtship rituals. Young men leapt from first-floor window ledges to grab hold of lamp-posts. Two women on a balcony stripped naked, hurling their clothes into the crowd. "You could say the town went a bit crackers," said a publican. "Well you've got to get these things off your chest haven't you?" The experience of being runners-up to Manchester United again this year is as bitter as Newcastle Brown.
Newcastle has never been shy of drink. Now there are a lot more drugs and sex in the mix. One of the Quayside nightclubs favoured by the footballers has a fire escape used solely for carnal and illicit purposes.
The Bigg Market, whose passeggiata is so colourful that it inspired one recent guidebook to rank it alongside Rio de Janeiro in the listings of the best places in the world, is as packed at 11.30 in the evening as the Brazilian capital's streets during carnival.
Outsiders attract attention among the uniform of neatly ironed, untucked shirts, light trousers and military haircuts slicked with gel. "There was a man here in a jacket last week and everyone was staring at him and pointing," said Paul, a regular reveller who had volunteered to help me read the cultural signifiers. "How, you, Posh Spice," a group of likely lads shouted at us. The "Toon" is a clannish place and they can spot an outsider at a hundred paces. "It's obvious you're not from here," said Paul. "You're wearing too many clothes and not enough make-up to be local." An undercover policewoman from the drugs squad told me that she made the same mistake, until one known dealer took pity and advised her to "get 'em out", if she really wanted to blend in.
Geordie womanhood is maliciously, but quite accurately, served by the local comic bible Viz, with its Fat Slags parody of girls on the town searching for a brief amitie amoureuse (as they don't say in the Bigg Market), followed by some chips. In real life, the girls are far prettier with lots of blonde hair and brilliant blue-turquoise eyes - testament to the appetites of Vikings on those Friday nights out of yore. The men divide them into posh lasses and slappers. A subset of the latter are the tribe of fat lasses. The north is very frank about obesity. My friend told me that he had just overheard a young man chatting up a girl with the line, "You don't sweat much for a fat lass."
Fashions are suggestively feminine: pastels all-year round, cleavages remain when the south is flattening its orbs under lycra corsetry, heels are always high and make a fierce clip-clop noise on the cobblestones. The gait is decisive, not seductive, arms clamped across the chest. It is the walk of women intent on settling a score or collecting a debt.
After the pubs close, the heels and the shirts head in herd-like motion towards Julie's nightclub on the riverside. The magnificent Tyne Bridge arches behind us. A large Day-Glo sign politely requests the clientele not to bring drugs or weapons inside and adds: "We apologise for any inconvenience caused."
Ginola has just told an interviewer that when he leaves Newcastle next season, Julie's is the thing he'll really miss. Stewie the bouncer is a wardrobe of a man in a fake Italian suit, greeted by regulars with "Wotcha, Godfather." He confirms that this is the playground of the team: "They've got their own corner and the lasses hang over the dance-floor railings and shout things at them. Malcolm MacDonald (Supermac) used to come here in the Seventies and get legless. In those days, the lads used to chase the lasses. Nowadays, it's the girls who are the predators."
Kenny Dalglish, the club's Calvinistic manager, is so wary of the temptations of Julie's that he has forbidden the players to indulge there before important matches. The club's determination to qualify for the European Cup might delight male fans but it has played havoc with the lasses' social lives. 5-0 against Nottingham Forest is small consolation.
This article first appeared in the Spectator
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