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Auckland’s stadiums are like Stuff commenters – there are too many of them, and they’ve all got something wrong with them.
This week’s Auckland venue development strategy, handily summarised at sportsfreak.co.nz, confirmed that as ever, the sticking points are Eden Park, Mount Smart and Albany Stadium. There’s an argument for knocking at least two out of three over and starting again.
A waterfront rugby / league/ football / concerts stadium must happen, with a retractable roof and meaningful connection with the CBD. To help push things along, behold the Sport Review Auckland stadium power rankings:
#5 – Eden Park What’s it good for? Rugby, and history. It was fantastic for RWC 2011, but that relied on temporary seating being put in. The number two ground is lovely for second tier cricket, with the old stand and the service station over Sandringham Road to aim at. What’s wrong with it: It’s basically the world’s largest Back Yard Cricket venue, and no-one turns up for Test matches despite best efforts to put on a show. It’s too far out of town and your transport options are highly variable. Residents permanently terrified of Otago students vomiting on the Q7. No concerts allowed. Personal high point: Cricket World Cup 2015 v Australia and the semi final, Waikato winning the Ranfurly Shield in 1993.
#4 equal – Albany Stadium What’s it good for? Has potential but needs lots of work. Why not embrace the Shore’s culture and make it Stadium South Africa, home base for visiting Super Rugby teams, with Braai? What’s wrong with it: Frustratingly far away from the bus station. Could be an ideal NZ Football venue and high performance set up but needs to get a pro team of its own, which is a can of worms bigger than Dune. Personal high point: I saw the Kingz there once.
#4 equal – Mount Smart What’s it good for? Spiritual home of the Warriors, in spite of itself. Close-ish to public transport if you’re up for a bit of a walk or are into industrial areas. What’s wrong with it: Tired, needs a lot of fixing up. Despite having roots in South Auckland, the owners are keen as beans to move into town. Where Carlaw Park was. Ahem. Personal high point: Paul McCartney last year, Big Day Out ’94.
#3 – America’s Cup village What’s it good for? Drinking beer beside the Waitemata water while watching yachts. Simple pleasures. It’s right beside the Viaduct where it all started, and takes advantage of all the development since. What’s wrong with it? Nothing so far – there’s a lot to do, but it’s going to be in Auckland, not Italy, which is a great start. Personal high point: When we retain it.
#2 – Vector Area What’s it good for? It’s downtown, still pretty modern and great for netball, basketball and concerts. What’s wrong with it? The trains go straight past it, meaning an awkward walk back from Britomart. Would be the ideal location for a waterfront stadium. Personal high point: Luckily, courtside for the Breakers one time, Pixies Dolittle tour in ’10.
#1 – Western Springs, cricket venue What’s it good for? The boutique ground to rule them all. OK, it doesn’t technically exist, but if we can build a venue that can handle 5 or 45k fans just as easily, with lights, green top pitch, craft beer and some kind of artisan meat snacks that can still handle big summer concerts, it’s going to be an absolute winner. Victoria Park would be even better but it’s hard to see this flying. What’s wrong with it: Residents permanently terrified of Guns n Roses showing up in speedway cars to poo on their begonias. Personal high point: U2’s Love Comes To Town show in 1989, it was ace.
‘It’s great these lights are *finally* up,’ said Neil Craig, NZC board member and a driving force behind developing Bay Oval, while being interviewed on the big screen mid way through England’s innings.
The ‘finally’ indicates the ambition for this ground. Competition is getting fierce among the new breed of boutique grounds that includes University Oval, Hagley Park and Saxton Oval (not to mention Queenstown, Whangarei, New Plymouth and arguably the Basin, now it’s been opened up to white ball cricket). But the Bay’s oval has moved fastest to get those all-important lights, and was rewarded with the popular holiday period T20s, along with Napier’s only scheduled international game thrown in.
It’s not hard to see more ODIs against the big guns coming here after 8000 or so punters packed in on a Wednesday night, and day / night Tests were mentioned more than once in conversations on the grass banks. It’s an easy ground for punters to get around and find a spot that suits on the banks, and the food on offer is top class, including sportreview.net.nz-endorsed Tag Burger. The Mount looks bloody fantastic on SKY’s drone shots too.
I’m certain the building won’t stop there either, this ground has built up a serious head of steam. A new stand next?
As for the cricket, it was pretty enjoyable. For England. They fielded like the Kray Twins chasing down a debt, and their batsmen did to us what Ross Taylor and Tom Latham did to them in Hamilton, finding gaps and play it risk-free. It was classy stuff, and this series looks like a tough assignment for both teams, and an intriguing one for the fans.
This is an intriguing point of the tour – the Lions sent to a tough venue to play a tough team a week out from the first Test. Which will be tough. You get the idea.
The misty, niggly rain that turned up a few hours from kick off, which had the Lions’ big pack licking their lips like they were being offered vinegar on their fish and chips and hurt the Māori ABs’ backline chances for razzle or dazzle.
Frankly, the home team were flat when the occasion called for a bit more. The bright spots of a stirring haka and home town hero Liam Messam’s try came early but there was little else to cheer about, despite some big hits going in late.
The Lions had all the control and their big strong runners and big long kickers won the territory battle comfortably. Their first job is making sure they’re tough to beat and it’ll be the same next week. Can’t wait.
Off-field it was fantastic grass roots stuff, Rotorua’s big banks were often more entertaining than the game, with several punters forced to regret their choice of non-grip footwear. I bet we had more fun than all those Lions fans in the end-on segregated seating.
The boutique grounds just keep coming. There was near as dammit a full house at Bay Oval, and it was brilliant. Despite looking a little low toward the end, the pitch yielded almost 600 runs and the pace bowlers were still able to get wickets – that’s pretty good these days innit? The setting is magnificent and the boundaries are a decent size. For a new international ground, the logistics were pretty good, a lack of EFTPOS terminals at the bar to start aside.
The big crowd stayed ’til the end before wandering off to the bach or the beach happy and full of sun. BOP cricket have built it and the people came. It’ll be chocka for the T20.
Martin Guptill was in fine touch without really cutting loose, and there were great hands from Kane Williamson and encouragingly, Ross Taylor and Luke Ronchi. The pitch took turn, with Ish Sodhi in particular getting a couple to go very sideways. Sri Lanka possibly missed out by not bringing in an extra specialist spinner.
The speed gun at the ground didn’t seem to be working second innings, but Trent Boult looked fast and dangerous to me, while Matt Henry well deserved his five wickets – he has a knack for getting batsmen to chop on, doesn’t he?
The BLACKCAPS are very, very committed in the field, with full length dives on the boundary, great leaps in the infield and superb catching, Williamson, Sodhi, Henry Nicholls and Adam Milne all took theirs very well in a swirling sea breeze late in the day. This was lead by Williamson, with his busy, focused style of captaincy – he played his hand and his bowling changes very well.
A bouquet – the NZ boundary fielders make every effort to get all the youngsters’ (and the occasional adult’s) signature bats signed between balls. It’s heartwarming stuff, those kids will be back.
A brickbat – much work goes into the game presentation, but of your five senses, your ears are entirely hostage to the ground DJ these days. Fans are either having their ears pinned back by music or in a state of stunned silence, with precious little room for chanting or banter inbetween. Seated directly in front of a speaker, as most people seem to be, I tried to conduct a logistics phone conversation with home during the last drinks break with this shit in one ear for the duration – difficult and annoying.
It’s rare to see people engaging with the music at ground in its current format – if we must have music can we have less, at a lower volume please?
If you’re on the town in the Mount tonight, remember Sonny Shaw is out there somewhere #danger#caution
This post has been has been in my drafts folder for an embarrassingly long period of time. So here goes, this will probably be the world’s last Cricket World Cup roundup published, a record sportreview.net.nz is ‘pretty comfortable’ with.
You don’t need me to tell you the tournament was more feel-good than the kids from Stand By Me taking on Alien and taking the big ugly down. I was working as Digital Manager for New Zealand Cricket during the cup and got to to to the opener in Christchurch, some of the pool play matches and the three knockout matches. Here’s how it went for me:
Christchurch was all nerves. Could we carry on the form from home series when it really counted? Would Malinga come back and mess us up? No, as it turns out. It was comprehensive stuff on a feckin freezing day, in front of a boisterous crowd, who took the ‘best streakers’ trophy at a canter from the outset.
Later in the tournament when the talk was of us not batting first and setting a total, I was thinking of this match, when we did just that – just the casual 330 odd.
Even though this was us v Sri Lanka at Hagley, it felt very different to the previous matches, with the ICC roadshow underway – the coverage was different, as were the advertising hoardings and extremely sponsor heavy entertainment. The big show had arrived.
The match had been sold out for months, and people turned out in droves for the opening ceremony on a magnificent Thursday summer’s evening. I know it’s easy for me to say, breezing in and out for a few days, but I thought Christchurch was lovely, the gaping holes in the middle of town aside. Everyone I met was very excited about the tournament and what it meant for their city. Marvelous.
Uncharitably, on tournament eve I had the pleasure of watching the Crusaders losing their opener to the Rebels in a suburban bar and watching three quarters of the people walk out on the final whistle, but you’ll remember I am not a very nice person.
I wasn’t there, but holy crap. After England’s pretty reasonable start, Tim Southee just broke them and pretty much ended their tournament. Those inswingers that threaten to collect stumps he bowls every match, did. Again and again. Then Brendon McCullum laid down a marker for the rest of the tournament, seemingly intent on re-modelling the Cake Tin with the ball. It was absolute carnage and it was over in a flash, apart from the world’s most awkward tea break. Brilliant.
Serious press pack for the Aussie match.
This was a Big Week. All the Aussie media you’d been reading for years were suddenly alongside you watching the net sessions. The big guys had come to town, and my god Eden Park was up for it. If you’ve ever been to a rugby match there, imagine that only heaps, heaps louder. Tim, then Dan, then Trent took them down big time, and a new generation of Australian cricketers were warmly welcomed into New Zealand’s comedy villain hall of fame alongside Greg Chappell, Greg Matthews, various Waughs, various Shanes, etc.
Those guys leaning over the barrier did their national duty by giving Mitch Johnson comprehensive verbal arseholes.
Then we batted, and there were a few lows. The first was McCullum getting whacked in the arm, halting his steady dismantling of their attack. The second was when we started losing wickets. The third was when we kept losing wickets. My view in the stand* was directly behind Starc’s arm and I can tell you he was swinging it shitloads, to use the technical term, in the warm-ups, god only knows how he was to face in the match. Anyway, Boult and Williamson’s pep talk when Trent got out there has been well documented and you know how the match ended. Seriously, I could hardly type, my fingers were shaking that much.
No I’m not a major fan of music at the cricket, but between the winning roar and the presentations, they played Boston’s More Than A Feeling, one of my favourite ever songs, as the sky started to turn a deep red out to the west. Haven’t felt a sport-related warm glow like that in a while.
And – this was my partner’s first game of live cricket. Imagine that!
This was the first time I’d worked at a BLACKCAPS match from Seddon Park in my NZC role, somehow I’d managed to not get just down the road yet. It’s a fantastic venue, still my favourite in New Zealand, the hipster boutique ground who got there before everyone else.
Seddon Park. Lovely.
This match will be remembered for Guptill’s hard-fought ton, Southee smacking the winning runs high onto the bank, those fecking flying death bugs, but probably most of all, Brendon’s hail mary dive into the fence to try and save four. It racked up 300K odd views by the time the match had ended and is still the second most viewed video on the CWC15 site. Just FYI those video screens are covered in little light covers that are actually reasonably sharp, that would have really hurt, team.
The Alternative Commentary Collective‘s call this day was one of their finest, off the back of the killjoy ban from the ground. I forget whether they were on the mushies or the buckies this day, but whatever it was, it worked.
West Indies The team described this as the toughest match, mentally, one we were expected to win against a fairly unpredictable opposition. We needn’t have worried – Guptill’s 237 is the most destructive thing I’ve seen since Keith Robinson.
It’s funny looking back how on the edge we were, midway through the first innings people were questioning the scoring rate and saying we had to hit out, or we’d miss out. That turned out to be bollocks. Guptill’s innings, and our total, were colossal and despite some West Indian flurries, we did it comfortably. See you in Auckland, then.
There’s some fair competition of moment of the tournament, but Dan’s catch is pretty up there for me. When you think about what he’d done to get himself back, the phenomenal shape he was in that allowed him to leap like that, and land like that, you have to hand it to him. Watch the clip again, see how delighted his team mates are for him.
This is the chap sent up on the stadium roof to retrieve Martin Guptill’s six.
The last time I saw us play South Africa at Eden Park was back in 1992, when Greatbach smacked one onto the old grandstand’s roof. The chaps from that campaign went from one end of the country to the other repeatedly to promote this tournament, but now we were here, it was all about going one better, really. Personally, I was shitting myself we were going to get Pakistan and that I Wouldn’t Be Able To Handle It, but South Africa it was, complete with de Villiers, Amla and Steyn. Ahem.
The match started in one of the weirdest atmospheres I’d experienced. Not only was the packed-in crowd slightly subdued (it’s harder to sledge the South Africans than the Aussies, especially when they were dominating us), and the weather appeared to be hosing down literally everywhere in Auckland but Eden Park, teasing us relentlessly before it finally arrived.
After McCullum’s assault, where he knocked Steyn out of the attack, it settled into the tense run chase to end all run chases. I was watching Twitter and seeing folks talk about their hearts beating fast – mine wasn’t I just felt a bit circumspect. When you’re working during the match you’re kind of concentrating on doing your job, with a little bit of work-wise ‘what if we win / what if we lose’ in the background. Your inner fan kind of gets pushed right down, suppressed deep inside. Well, that inner fan came back at me big time with two overs to go, when the pit of my stomach fell out completely. My hands were shaking and my heart was going like an elephant that’d slipped its chain. I’d never felt anything like it.
The form in a press box is that you don’t celebrate, you’re there to do your bloody job and be neutral. I restricted myself to a few quiet fist pumps as Elliott was dropped, then Dan hit the four to start the last over. All that went right out the window when Elliott hit THAT six, I was up, screaming, thrashing the air with both fists. As was everyone else there. Then I got to type my favourite tweet ever for the @BLACKCAPS:
I would have tweeted more at the time, but I was busy with hugs. Apologies to press box traditionalists, I’m sure things will return to normal after this summer.
These guys were out playing and taking photos on the Eden Park pitch about an hour after the Semi Final ended. They got in trouble.
Nerdy trophy photo op.
I got to go to the final. I was there to do some filming for our website, and was lucky enough to be with the squad for the last couple of day’s build up. As always, I was impressed with the way the BLACKCAPS go about things. It was training for the World Cup Final at the world’s second greatest cricket stadium, but you could have just as easily been at the Basin or in Hamilton, going by the team’s attitude.
My impression is the hard work’s been done already and we’re just here for finishing touches. Put that down to the hard and meticulous work the coaching team do in the weeks, months and years beforehand. Everyone’s (seemingly) relaxed, everyone’s carrying on as per normal. There was a pretty epic McCullum v McCullum battle in the nets the day before the match, this is a team that even puts on a show for the people who come to watch them train.
Baz and MC chat while Bangladeshi photog Shamsul expertly wanders through, ruining everyone else’s shot.
As for the final – we all know what happened hey. The MCG itself really is awe-inspiring, there’s simply a wall of people everywhere you look. I have to say, the three balls that Starc bowled McCullum were three of the most electrifying I’ve ever seen, everyone knew this was our big gun taking on theirs and they were both going for it straight away.
There were moments of hope, before the opposition got control – they played bloody well, in fairness. As for us, it turns out our team are as gracious in defeat as they are in attack – listen to Brendon’s press conference post-match, to me it’s virtuoso stuff.
Back in January when we beat Sri Lanka at the Basin in the Kane Williamson double ton / record partnership with BJ Watling Test, someone said to me isn’t it so fantastic we’re excited about Test cricket with the World Cup around the corner? That was true, but I’m hoping there’ll be a lot more people getting excited about all things New Zealand Cricket after this tournament. The team and management set out to change the way they played and the way they were perceived after the ’45’ innings against South Africa back in 2012, and on the back of this summer, I think they got it just right. And there’s so much more to come.
This tournament was amazing because of the BLACKCAPS, their play, the way they carried themselves and the way we all got around them on the way to the final, the bloody final. Fair play to all involved in the planning and playing of this campaign, winning the final against a very hard-nosed outfit in their backyard aside, which would have been the fairy tale to end all fairy tales, we did fantastic. I hope you’ve got it all kept on your MySKY, this summer is worth a few replays.
This is the most successful ODI team NZ has ever had. In so many ways.
My view for the final.
Cool ’92 display deep in the bowels of the ‘G.
Some dork in the MCG. Photo credit: T Boult.
*The Eden Park outdoor press box was the most magnificent press box I’d ever sat in in all my time in cricket. Up in the gods you’ve got the whole ground laid out in front of you from almost directly behind the bowler’s arm. I took in two of the most amazing games I’ve ever seen, in any sport, from up there. It was a bloody privilege to be there.
I’m not a regular Phoenix watcher, and I mainly use West Ham for ‘feeder club’ jokes with the inexplicably large contingent of NZ Irons fans on Twitter. But top flight English teams visiting New Zealand happens about as often as we win Rugby World Cups, generally, so I got my credit card out for this one as soon as I was able.
Fair play to the Welnix group – the odd BAU Gareth Morgan brain explosion aside, they’re showing measured ambition and are Trying Things to get their team and football growing sustainably. The official crowd figure was 19,100 odd, which seems a pass mark in Auckland on a freezing cold Wednesday, where people generally won’t go to Eden Park unless it’s the Blues v Crusaders in the Super Rugby final with a ‘three free hot dogs’ promo on.
Auckland gets few chances to get out to support top class football, and the atmosphere was extremely convivial, with a HUGE amount of West Ham kit on display, among other clubs. There was a noisy West Ham contingent on the old terraces that stood for the duration, and a token Yellow Fever congregation at the other end of the ground (enforced separation?). I took my son for his first trip to Eden Park, and it seemed like many dads and lads were doing the same.
As for the match, from where I was sitting West Ham seemed a foot taller and a metre faster than the home team, they simply looked a level of professional athlete up. For the first ten minutes I thought the Phoenix would go down four or five nil, but after a while the locals decided to play football, which they did admirably. West Ham obviously missed Andy Carroll – they had good chances, but the Phoenix’s superior finishing was the difference, with a couple of tremendous goals. Winston Reid looked Rio Ferdinand-like to me with his anticipation and time on the ball, he’s the real deal, no doubt. The first half was more entertaining than the second, and any feeling of pre-season low-key-ness was off set by some tasty tackles. It was most entertaining.
Only grumbles – seeing tickets at half the price I’d paid appear on Grab One the day before the match. I understand they needed to reach a number, but discounting like this leaves a sour taste in the mouth for the premium-paying earlybirds. And because it was pay per view there’s no way to go back and watch a replay, save for nefarious internet means. Could this be worked out in the future?
This week marks the ten year anniversary of this blog making the internet worse. Cue a series of unprecedented navel gazing posts – thanks for reading, team. Ten years: Banners / NEWSDESK / Cartoons / Links on Friday
Thanks for bearing with the ten year posts team, I know it’s been a hard slog. And thanks again for reading. It’s always a thrill to know that a few people enjoy reading the site and get a laugh out of it. As always, the aim of the site is:
I love sport, and I love New Zealand. We Kiwis support our sports people admirably, but take it all a bit seriously. I just want to inject a little humour. Relax, it won’t hurt a bit.
Also thanks to the other sports bloggers, who are a little thinner on the ground now as say five or six years ago (Twitter has a lot to answer for here). The likes of Graeme , JRod, the Beige Brigade (one of the finest fan-lead organisations in the world)’s Paul Ford, Hadyn (the Dropkicks!), Duncan Grieve‘s lamented DeadBall and all the others I’ve missed. It was a lot of fun being part of a group of (mostly) guys who gave a lot of fucks about sport, on the field, but also about the issues around it, the creep of commercialisation and where where the sporting organisations were taking their sports.
The site has evolved over the years from a pretty straight links-blog-with-a-little-comment to the cartoons, to the links on Friday, to the satire, to the ‘analytical‘ stuff to what it is now. Yes, I know the site is not updated as frequently as its heyday, and that pragmatically, with my job, I’m not as actively annoying. Hopefully that’s balanced out a little, where possible, with some behind-the-scences stuff from the BLACKCAPS. Here’s when I went to Bangladesh and, um, here’s that other time I went to Bangladesh. Ahem.
If you’re having a look through the site, start with the Greatest Hits.
I think that’s about it. I think the site can be summed up best by ‘caring about sport’ and ‘having fun’, and I trust that if you’ve found your way here you do one, or the other, or both. Good on you, sport needs more like you. Righto.
A couple of photos from my first month on the job. You can click them to make them bigger.
There’s no doubt the Basin Reserve is one of NZ’s loveliest sports grounds of any code. I was only there for day one of the test, but it was full and it was fantastic. Thoroughly enjoyed finally meeting Paul from the Beige Brigade and catching up with Graeme and friends. Looking forward to coming back.
This was my view from the media box. For a cricket / sports writing geek, it was quite a thrill to be in there with guys I’d been reading for years from here and the UK and seeing how it all worked.
The main reason I took this photo was so I test my ‘boundary’ accreditation. Ahem.
There were definitely moments when I was turning up to go to work at Eden Park when I was all “I can’t believe I’m turning up to work at Eden Park!?!?!”
My view of the end of day five. It was *quite* a day.
There’s a little more about the new thing on the NBR.
This was the 1999 world cup of John Hart, new jersies and All Black front-row painted jumbo jets, not to mention hubris, over-confidence and pride before a fall. I was living in London at the time and had the ‘pool pack’ of tickets for NZ v Tonga in Bristol, the match versus England at Twickenham and NZ v Italy up at Huddersfield. We were a group of five chaps, mostly from Hamilton, all fans of rugby, travelling, drinking and average behavior. The match against Italy was a jumping off point for a couple of days away in northern cities.
Our bus from London took us along some of the most boring, scenery-free motorways known to man to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. Alfred McAlpine Stadium is a charming stadium, situated in the middle of a charming business park – you sit nice and close to the action, and we cheered and carried on as the All Blacks racked up 101 points to poor old Italy’s 3. Cullen, Lomu and Osborne ran riot – even Dylan Mika got on the scoresheet. It was arguably the peak of the All Blacks’ 1999 campaign – next up was a lackluster quarter final against Scotland and THAT match versus the French. Anyway. Rugby is not really the point of *this* story.
Our little group moved straight out of the stadium to the business park tavern to watch Wales v Samoa on the telly. This was the accumulation period, in cricket terms, where a solid base of fizzy lager pints was laid down, while cheering the Samoans on to their second win world cup win against the Welsh. We weren’t feeling much pain at full time, and it was just a quick stagger to the bus to the train station, stopping only for a quick photo-op with a passing Glen Osborne.
The blogger with Glen Osborne. Companion’s identify concealed to protect the drunk.
I soon found myself wandering alone around a Huddersfield train platform, having lost my companions for a while – they were in the station McDonalds loading up before the night ahead, they told me much later (Cheers! You bastards). Having regrouped, we boarded a train bound for Leeds. This being the UK, it was dark when we got there, and we were soon slipping down Leedside streets fruitlessly looking for a pub – on the way we spotted a huge, flash-looking bus outside a flash hotel. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if that was the All Blacks’ team bus?”someone said. Cue Twilight Zone theme.
We ended up in the Leeds equivalent of a Lone Star, thoughtfully offering a two-for-one happy hour, where more accumulation ensued. From there it was on to a dodgy nightclub, an upstairs, no-windowed affair. Our group was busy being loud witty in a fashion you can only be after 16 pints of lager, when we noticed a group of improbably wide-shouldered guys in matching polo shirts and pleated pants making their way in – it was only the bloody All Blacks! Imagine their surprise, having carefully chosen accommodation away from Huddersfield and getting out to a wee nightclub to unwind away from the glare of a rugby mad public, to see us in our All Black gears with a slurry welcome.
We bowled over to the group of seven or eight players, seemingly lead by Josh Kronfeld and Jeff Wilson, to say g’day. Kronfeld was the friendliest, happy to pose for photos and accept any drinks on offer. Wilson was happy to talk, but seemed to have trouble relaxing, weirdly answering any questions as talking to a post match interviewer. I made a great faux pas, asking Greg Feek, who towered over me by about seven feet, who he was. “Greg Feek,” he said helpfully but sternly, before stalking away.
I was pretty impressed with some of the All Blacks players’ own accumulation, considering this was the middle of the world cup. If you remember, John Hart took the team away to the south of France (the next day, as it turns out) for ‘frolicking in the surf’ photo ops before heading to Scotland for the quarter final. I can’t remember if we left first, or them, but we were soon on our way – I remember thinking “Won’t it be great when we get home to New Zealand, we can say we were on the piss with the All Blacks when they won the 1999 world cup!” Ahem.
From there, we were back to Leeds station, to get the last train to Manchester, where we were staying. Just to add to the surreality of it all, we found ourselves sharing the lift up to our hotel rooms with Begbie himself, Robert Carlisle, and two lady-friends. “You’re Robert Carlisle!” I said. “No I’m not,” he said. It bloody was, you know.
This was the first of a three-day tour up north – from Manchester we went to Newcastle (“Hey, we’re over here from New Zealand, do you know our long lost cousin – his name is Alan Shearer?”) then Edinburgh (“I know, let’s spend the day in this ancient city having a head-to-head drinking championship of the world!”). It was a lot of fun. More fun than the rugby.