Magazine article The Spectator

Howay the Lasses!

Magazine article The Spectator

Howay the Lasses!

Article excerpt

SHARON and Diane were wearing sleeveless halter-neck tops and skirts of a brevity which prompted a pensioner in an Alan Bennett script to remark, `It's no wonder the mills closed down.' It is a chilly Friday night up north, with a steel wind cutting down the Tyne. This does not stop the lads and lasses dressing as if it were an unseasonably hot August evening in the Mediterranean.

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 technodin: `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 advances minutely and without sentiment.

`We've got our own super-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 current team is famous for only allowing oral sex on such excursions - a gesture of deference to his wife. There are probably some 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 habits will be much missed. `He's really goodlooking,' 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 demi-gods 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 lampposts. 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. …

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