Football: The doors slid open and I felt frozen in the path of a tidal wave

MIKE ROWBOTTOM Sees the Cup final in black and white terms
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The Independent Online
AS MY train stopped at and then pulled away from Farringdon Station's deserted platforms, I thought I must have missed the Cup final rush. There was less than an hour until kick-off and most of the Newcastle and Arsenal supporters, I reckoned, must already be sunning themselves in the Wembley concourses, supping their lager, waving their banners and shouting the odds.

Kings Cross-St Pancras. Confusion. Scarves. Noise. It seemed I had reckoned wrong.

There was a brief moment before the doors slid open when I felt like someone frozen in the path of a tidal wave. The awesome natural phenomenon of the Toon Army - supping lager, waving banners, shouting the odds - was just inches away, and in a few seconds the 1998 FA Cup final experience was about to engulf my quiet world.

The human explosion took place. Suddenly, Newcastle fans were all around me, interpreting the seating arrangements with a freedom and ingenuity I had never previously witnessed. By the time everyone had crammed in, the carriage looked as if it had black and white wallpaper.

"All right, son?" enquired a beaming, elderly man, ruffling up my hair. I gave my best impression of a laid-back grin before tugging my bag away from the unwitting trampling it was receiving from the figure who had taken on the role of choirmaster, or master of ceremonies, or chief shouter.

"Too Narmy! Too Narmy!" As the cry was taken up, the noise level rose to ear-buzzing, disco proportions. In front of me stood a young man holding two cans, an opened one stacked on top of an unopened reserve. He was smoking - not with LT rule-breaking bravado, but a detached appreciation which was only broken when a rumbustuous fellow-traveller cavorted into him. You could only speculate on what, if any, memories he would have of Newcastle's big match.

We were on to Blaydon Races now. I had never previously managed to get the hang of the words of this North-eastern anthem, and as it beamed around me I tried to make the most of my extended learning opportunity. I can now report that the song starts something like: "Oh, me lads, you should ha' seen us comin'," and includes the line, "Ta see the Blaydon Races". I think.

Baker Street. Amused tourists looked up from their tube maps as our train came to a raucous halt. A young girl moved along the platform taking pictures of the carriage inhabitants, who responded with a range of leers and gestures which would prove amusing, or perhaps appalling, upon inspection at the photo counter.

My hair-rustling friend was now hanging out of the window, bellowing his predictions into the darkness of the tunnel. I, meanwhile, was working hard on being the man with the black shoulder bag, blue polo shirt and strictly neutral expression. But my position became less easy when someone pulled down the windows of the connecting doors near my seat to reveal a group of Arsenal fans.

Instantly, the opening became the main focus of attention, and the cheerleader began to direct chanting at the uneasy faces in the next carriage, like an officer calling down artillery fire. "Boring, boring Arsenal," was by far the kindest opinion voiced.

Unwisely, one of the Arsenal fans took advantage of a lull in the proceedings to offer a reworking of the Righteous Brothers classic: "We've got that Dou-ble feeling, whoa-oh that Double feeling ..."

The response was vociferous - "You've lost that Dou-ble Feeling..." - and the fingers were being jabbed in the Arsenal direction with increasing venom as the train pulled into Finchley Road and the carriage doors, once again, slid open.

Many years ago, a researcher investigating animal psychology conducted an experiment in which two dogs regularly ran either side of a long fence, barking and snapping at each other through the stakes. One day, when this behaviour had become a firmly established pattern, a section of the fencing was removed. When the snarling would-be combatants discovered this unexpected opportunity to translate threats into deeds, they paused momentarily, then ran on, barking and snapping.

The chanting continued. Two platforms away, a huge, bare-chested man with a black and white bandanna stepped out of the train and then fell backwards, as if in slow motion, over a floral display. Laughter.

The train was pulling away now. Next stop - Wembley. The supporters began hammering on the walls and roof. And someone, somewhere found the words to bring the whole travelling party together.

"Stand up, if you hate Man U., Stand up, if you hate Man U., Stand up, if you hate Man U., Stand up, if you hate Man U".

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