Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Ugly Face of the Beautiful Game

Take a walk through Newcastle city centre on a match day and you will be met with the most dedicated and passionate bunch of footy fans in the world. They wend their way from Central Station through the Toon, tracing the soft curve of Grey Street like a swarm of anaemic wasps. From all sides they converge on St James’ Park (recently renamed SportsDirect Arena, but always and forever St James’ Park), filtering in to chaotic renditions of Blaydon Races. When Newcastle score, an atavistic bellow swells up resonating through the Toon and beyond.
“Fanaticism” really does sum up what the Toon Army is all about. They have been known to hoist a replica Alan Shearer shirt onto the Angel of the North in tribute to the great man. James Charnock, a Geordie ex-pat in Qatar, has had his own traditional robe made in Newcastle strip. You can get NUFC blinds to adorn your house. And I’ve seen house exteriors in Newcastle’s West End painted black and white. Time and time again, Newcastle fans top tables for the amount they spend and the distance they travel to get to away games. Take the example of Mitsuo Manobe, who in the glory days of Alan Shearer would regularly fly the 11,500 miles from his home in Japan to St James’ Park to see his hero play.
But just as famous as their dedication is the fierce rivalry with other north-east teams. The animosity between Newcastle and Sunderland fans is well-documented. In what is perhaps the most vicious example, a mutually-arranged fight in March 2000 saw a clash between 70 rival fans, rendering one man permanently brain-damaged. And both teams’ fans are near the top of leagues for football-related disorder—126 arrests for third-placed Sunderland fans in 2010/11, and 123 for the Toon Army, following closely behind in fourth place.
Of course, the rivalry goes far deeper than football. Back in the early seventeenth century Charles I granted coal trade rights to merchants from Newcastle, making those from Sunderland redundant. Understandably, Newcastle sided with the Crown come the Civil War in 1642, and Sunderland with the Parliamentarians. Then, during the Jacobite rebellions (1688-1746), Newcastle lent its support to the Hanoverians, while Sunderland took the side of the Stuarts. Fast forward to the nineteenth century, and Geordie shipbuilders began to refer to their Sunderland counterparts as “mackems” referencing the fact they while the Wearsiders would make the ships (‘mack ’em’) they would then be fitted out (considered by the Geordies to be a superior skill) in Newcastle—the Geordies would ‘take them’. And so the enmity is mirrored in football…
Ships: source of conflict in the north east

Middlesbrough fares not much better: the Toon Army wear gasmasks to away matches at the Riverside as a reference to pollution from the town’s chemical plants (something I believe initiated by the Mackems). The practice was banned during the Iraq War in 2003, only to complaints from the “smoggies” (Boro fans) that it actually improved the appearance of the Geordies and Mackems…
And elsewhere in the north-east, fans of Darlington FC (whose future hangs in the balance as I type) refer to their rivals from Hartlepool as “monkey hangers” (or “chimp chokers”). The tale goes that during the Napoleonic Wars a French ship was wrecked off the coast of Hartlepool, the only surviving member of the crew being a monkey, for some reason dressed up in uniform. Locals who came across the unfortunate primate took it to be a French spy, and duly sentenced it to hanging from the mast of a fishing boat.

Although I would never describe myself as a sports fan, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the cultural, social and historical aspects of football here in the north east—quite simply, there’s so much more to football than meets the “why-eye”.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Box of Delights

You know, I’ve got the best job in the world. Each submission that hits my inbox makes me feel like a queen—or an empress, even—presented with a Box of Delights, which, unwrapped, yields a cache of previously-unknown facts or phrases. I uncovered these little gems thanks to the writers of the winter edition of Vintage Script (on sale now!):
The Race
Janis Pegrum-Smith

Fen ice skating was a nice little earner back in the nineteenth century. ‘If you were a good skater you could win enough food and money to see your family through the cold spells, a time when there was no work to be had on the farms,’ says Janis. The sport is still alive today when the weather conditions align to produce vast areas of ice on open or flooded fields.
Fen skating

Shedding Light on the Cathedral’s People
Lynda Kempsey

Lynda recounts a delightful anecdote about a sudden fog protecting Durham Cathedral in a bombing raid in May 1942. She tells how, on a crystal clear night, Gwen Wilkinson stepped out of her house to see a sudden thick fog rise up from the Wear and envelope the cathedral, concealing it from the bombers. The bombs hit empty fields and the mist vanished as soon as the Germans had gone.

A Disappointed Man

Jess Sully

There really was an “East Hill Hermit” who lived in a cave in Hastings in the early part of the twentieth century, and Jess imaginatively tells us his story here. Incredibly, John Hancox made the cave his home for 18 years. His contentment with the simple life is touching.

Hidden History
Monica Mukherji

Hidden History is a glimpse into the private world of Monica’s grandmother via her Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Scraps from newspapers and magazines marked the pages, giving us a fascinating insight not only into Lizzie’s life, but that of women of the time.

The Stone Floor
Michelle Sweeney

Would you imagine that in the mid-eighteenth century a man could survive a milling accident in which he loses his arm, and that the medical know-how existed even then to tuck the arteries and nerves back, close the wound up and thus save the patient? Michelle’s story was inspired by a real-life case quoted in The Anatomy of the Human Body by William Cheselden, a leading surgeon and anatomist of the time.

There’s Something About Audrey
Kim Charleston

Did you  know that the word “tawdry” is a corruption of “Awdrey”—St Audrey of Ely (636-679) whose fascinating story is revealed to us by Kim. Lace mementoes would be sold at an annual fair held in Ely in St Audrey’s honour. Over the years, the quality of these goods deteriorated, and they were eventually seen as cheap and tacky. Lace knick-knackery aside, this influential woman played a major role in developing the Christian church in early medieval England, founded a powerful female network who helped shape the political and religious landscape for years to come, and was one of the first “celebrity” saints.

St Audrey of Ely

The Life and Times of Samuel Pepys, 1633-1703
Rosemary Morris

We all know Samuel for his diary, but did you know that he had a huge influence on reforming the navy and had a hand in laying the foundations of the civil service? He was also suspected of treason around the Popish plot and imprisoned in the Tower of London. With his diary stretching to a million and a quarter words, no doubt there are many, many more treasures to discover.
The Fights Return to Newmarket
Edward Clark

A beautifully written piece about the history of boxing in Newmarket. It has brought to my attention a marvellous word: "tatterdemalion", meaning a person wearing tattered or ragged clothing, a ragamuffin.

The Painter and the Girl in the Red Dress
Susan Johnson

‘You had to hold down the sneck a certain way to get that quietness.’ What is a sneck? A sneck is a latch or catch of a door or gate in Scots and Northern English dialect. Well, I never knew that!
Fisherwomen, Cullercoats by Winslow Homer (who provided inspiration for Susan's story)

The Invitation
Katy Darby

‘She looked no older. She was wearing a coquettish navy blue hat with a cream feather, and a suit to match, blue serge with white piping. She wore dark glasses with white frames and did not take them off to kiss him. He held on to her white-gloved hands and spread her arms wide, the better to look at her. She accepted his scrutiny, smiling. She didn’t used to wear such brilliant red lipstick, he thought. ’ A beautiful description of a dazzling woman on meeting her ex-husband after some time had elapsed. The red lipstick, and his reaction to it, says it all.  
Everything a Woman Ought to Know—1911 Style
Mary Grey

Mary tells us how this handbook for women not only contains all manner of advice on domestic management and dress, but also commentary on women’s increasing role in business and political life. But my favourite pearl of wisdom has to be, ‘A stout woman should never wear light colours’.
The winter edition of Vintage Script magazine is on sale now.