Austria v Hungary, Tuesday 14th June 2016, 6pm

October 24, 2016


My trip to the European Championships didn’t start well. I flew in to Nice from Malaysia via Istanbul only to find that Turkish Airlines couldn’t get the hold of the plane open. That meant that they couldn’t offload my bag. Their somewhat less than imaginative solution to the problem was to fly the plane back to Turkey where I presume that they keep their special hold-opening spanner.

Paul landed at Nice shortly afterwards for our third  Euros on the trot. His luggage arrived ok, but as it invariably consists of nothing more than an assortment of twenty year old Ramones t-shirts I thought I’d better stop  off at a Decathlon to kit myself out with enough clobber to last for the three days until my bag was supposed to arrive.

We’d originally been intending to drive to Marseilles for the England game with Russia but experience had suggested that fixture might not be the carnival type atmosphere that you normally have in these tournaments and we’d changed our plans a few weeks before. Instead we headed for the hills for a three night stay in Moustiers Sainte Marie.


Picturesque doesn’t really do Moustiers justice. I’m sure it’s a well-known holiday destination, particularly among the French, but I’d never heard of the place. We did some hiking on a trail that I think formed part of one of the long distance routes and took a boat along a river that flowed through a deep canyon.

We also had a drive around the top of the canyon. It’s definitely another one of those places that I’d like to return to and see a bit more of.


Crucially for the football, our hotel had a telly set up in the bar, as did a place ten yards down the road. With three games a day in those early days of the tournament we were able to get into the swing of it with very little effort. Neither of us is particularly familiar with European international football these days and so it was useful for us to be able to ease our way into the teams, their personnel and the drinking options before the live action started.


Our first live game was in Bordeaux and as it’s a fair trek by car we drove back down to Nice and took a flight. We weren’t sure until we got to the airport that we’d actually be travelling. The Air France pilots strike was causing a bit of havoc, but as our flight was operated by the Air France budget division ‘Hop!’ we got away with it. To their credit, ‘Hop!’ had no trouble opening the hold upon landing.

The hotel in Bordeaux was only a short walk through a wasteland from the airport and after checking in we took a taxi to the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux for the Group F game between Austria and Hungary.

I was pleased that a new stadium had been built for the tournament as I’d already been to the old Bordeaux ground, fourteen or fifteen years earlier,  when my son Tom and I had watched Christophe Duggary run the show for Girondins de Bordeaux.


There were lots of fans milling around outside and even more arriving from the tram stop nearby. We went against the flow of people so that we could buy our train tickets back into town in advance. It was clear that the game wouldn’t be a success for the touts as there was still an hour or so to go to kick-off and already tickets were being given away for free.


We had a chat on the way in with a steward who had travelled from England. He revealed that he wasn’t paid for it but did it because he enjoyed being part of the tournament rather than a regular spectator. He mentioned that he’d got lucky and had managed to get into one of the stands towards the end of the previous game at this stadium and had been able to see the last ten minutes of the Wales v Slovakia match.


We did a lap of the concourse inside the stadium before finding our seats. Kebab and chips was a decent football food option but with the UEFA ban on alcohol meaning that the only beer on sale was a 0.5% strength Carlsberg, the drinks options were as poor as ever.


I often like to pick a side in these games and the sight of women wandering around in those low-cut traditional dirndl blouses, combined with spotting a bloke with Pogatetz’ name on the back of his shirt initially had me rooting for Austria.

However, the presence in the Hungarian goal of a forty-year old keeper who had turned up in a pair of baggy grey tracky bottoms was enough to have me switching my allegiance to Hungary. Perhaps there wasn’t time for his team bus to call in at a Decathlon on the way.


The first half was quite even, with both teams showing a willingness to press forward and with the defenders taking opportunities to go past attackers and run the ball out of defence.

Hungary opened the scoring on the hour and with Austria being reduced to ten men shortly afterwards it was always going to be difficult for them to get back into it. Hungary sealed the victory with a late breakaway goal just as we were about to get a march on the crowd.


The tram back to Gare St Jean came quickly enough and we were soon in the city centre. There were a couple of bars outside of the station showing the nine o’clock game and we settled in the less rough of the two to watch Portugal’s draw with Iceland.


There weren’t many transport options late in the evening. Taxis were difficult to come by and after a wait of an hour or so we finally managed to share one with someone going in the direction of our hotel. One game done, three to go.

Vietnam U21 v Singapore U21, Sunday 5th June 2016, 4.45pm

October 9, 2016


I have to work Saturdays in my new job, although I’ve plans to change that. One of the drawbacks is that it tends to prevent us from going away for the weekend, unless it’s to somewhere close by. Fortunately Melaka is only about an hour and twenty minutes drive away from where we live and so we decided to spend a Saturday night there.

It was dark by the time we arrived and so there wasn’t much to see until the next morning. After breakfast we had a walk along the side of a river from our hotel to the main tourist area at Jonker Street.

That part of Melaka is a picturesque enough place, with a lot of multi-coloured buildings dating back to when the Portuguese were running the show. Jonker Street was busy, mainly with coachloads of Chinese tourists who all seemed determined to eat in the same café. Whilst the main street was bustling, all you had to do for some peace and quiet was to make your way one street back and if it wasn’t for the noise in the background you wouldn’t know that there was anyone around.


It was a fair drive to the Hang Jebat Stadium on the outskirts of the city and as we had plenty of time in hand I called into a barbers. He did a decent job with the haircut before getting carried away with a head massage. I’m not sure heads ever need massaging and I’m certain that they don’t need the sort of massage that consists of violent slaps. As the barber had access to a cut-throat razor I just smiled politely as my brain rattled around in its cerebrospinal fluid.

We arrived at the Hang Jebat Stadium to find that it was as quiet as the areas off Jonker Street and it was apparent that the U21 Nations Cup hadn’t captured the public’s imagination. Cant see why, surely a double header featuring the youngsters from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore was just the way to spend a Sunday evening?

I suppose it’s possible that everyone was staying away until the later game featuring the host country, but as we waited outside until ten minutes before kick-off in the first match it looked as if the crowd for the first game of the day might not reach double figures.


We bought the posh twenty ringgit tickets that entitled us to a seat in the main stand and were quite a good deal at three quid, especially when you consider that we could have stayed for the second game too.

We also bought a yellow and black stripey Malaysia shirt for our grandson, Harry. It was less than a couple of quid, which is roughly the amount of change that you get from forty pounds when buying a Boro shirt  for a five-year old at the Riverside Stadium shop.

The ticket temporarily seemed less of a bargain when the stewards directed us into the section of open terracing behind the goal, but we eventually ended up in the upper tier of the main stand where we were able to find some shade.


As the game kicked-off the crowd had swelled to about thirty, with just a couple of other people sharing our section. As the stadium has a capacity of over forty thousand that left plenty of room for stretching out.

Vietnam were in red, with Singapore in blue. Not a lot happened for most of the first half and whilst I like to think that I can appreciate teams keeping possession, it was all a bit tippy-tappy.


Singapore took the lead just before half-time when a cross from the right was headed home from close range. There were some muted cheers from the section below us, suggesting that there might be some fans from Singapore in the ground. Although it’s probably more likely that it was one of the forty or so photographers and cameramen in attendance, grateful for something worth capturing.

When you added in the presence of the riot police, it did seem as if somebody, somewhere, had thought the Nations Cup to be an event that might just have been more popular than it turned out to be.


Singapore increased their lead five minutes into the second half when a bit of skullduggery in a crowded box led to a penalty. It was slammed into the roof of the net, prompting  some chants of “Singer-pore, Singer-pore” from what sounded like six-year-old kids in the tier below.

Vietnam had a player who didn’t look much older than those fans. Maybe their kitman should have scoured the stalls outside for a two quid knock-off kit in the right size.


A few minutes later we had a penalty at the other end and Vietnam pulled a goal back. This signaled the start of some impressive play-acting from Singapore to try to run down the clock. If ever there was an opportunity for the riot police to use their water cannon, then this was it.

It looked as though the time-wasting had been successful as Singapore were still in front as we started to make our way out on ninety minutes. I heard the shouts from the players and looked back to see Vietnam celebrating their equaliser.


I wasn’t sure if they would play extra time or go straight to penalties, but either way I needed to be making tracks up the road. It’s busy on a Sunday evening, with people returning to Kuala Lumpur. I checked later and it turned out that the game went straight to penalties, although I can’t remember who won. Nor I suspect will anyone else.

UKM FC v Melaka SAMB FC, Sunday 22nd May 2016, 4.45pm

September 4, 2016


After the previous week’s 9-a-side effort I was keen to see a proper game and what better than a third tier clash pitching the National University of Malaysia against the Melaka Water Corporation?

That morning we’d moved out of the hotel that we’d temporarily been staying in and into a house. A house that came complete with a permanently startled looking lizard.


The move didn’t take much doing as these days we’ve pared our travelling stuff down to a suitcase full each and so after lunch we drove north for an hour to the Stadium Mini UKM at Bandar Bari Bangu. It was free to get in and we took seats in the single stand that held around five hundred. Or at least it potentially held five hundred. The visit of the men from the Water Board hadn’t really brought the crowds out and the stand was almost empty.


Elsewhere in the ground we had a dozen or so travelling fans in a corner making plenty of noise with a couple of drums and another twenty spectators who had parked their cars on a hill on the opposite side of the pitch and were watching the game from there.


The teams came onto the pitch to the sound of the Champions League walk-out music. Very professional, although it did seem a little over the top. There was no time for the teams to settle as within the first twenty seconds the Uni goalie had brought a Water Board striker down in the box.

The penalty was successfully dispatched to put the visitors a goal up.


The lead didn’t last though and within ten minutes of going behind the students were level after someone poked the ball home during a goalmouth scramble.

I thought the standard was pretty decent, although I’ve no idea if the players really were all students or water board employees. Perhaps there were a few ringers on show. Regardless, the quality of play was a lot better than the Northern League games that I’d watched a couple of weeks earlier.


At half-time I bought a burger and a hot dog for a combined total of less than a quid. They were both quite good. They didn’t seem to sell many though and it seemed as if most of the crowd were content to wait and then eat the remaining stock cold when it was given away towards the end of the game.

In the second half the visitors took control and went ahead  with a header from a corner before doubling their lead on the hour when a quick break left the home defence all over the shop and the ball was knocked into an empty net.


The Water Board keeper made three good saves from chances where UKM should really have scored before letting a twenty-five yarder go through his hands and legs to reduce the deficit. That’s the way it finished.

Teluk Kemang FC v Bandar Sungala, Sunday 15th May 2016, 11am

September 3, 2016


The day after the promotion party and only twelve days after we’d left Australia, Jen and I went back around the globe to Malaysia for my new job. It’s a place that we’d visited before, during a Lunar New Year trip to Kuala Lumpur a few years ago.

This time though we are out in the sticks in the small town of Lukut. There’s just the one decent bar but it sells Tiger beer and lamb chops and I don’t need much more than that.

The drive to work takes me through some sparsely populated areas where monkeys sit under the palm trees and stray dogs loiter by the side of the road, causing my foot to hover over the brake. I saw a tortoise successfully cross the road the other day, albeit at a faster pace than I’ve seen one move before.

Not so lucky was a big lizard. A very big lizard. Big enough at three or four feet long to probably not be a lizard at all and to be something else entirely. Maybe his granny had got jiggy with  a crocodile. I imagine that this sort of road-kill will become commonplace before long but the first one was interesting enough for me to stop the car and take a photo. I suspect even the monkeys thought I was weird for doing that.


Port Dickson is the next town along and a little busier so for my first day off we decided to check it out. As luck would have it we stumbled across a football game at the Padang Merdeka stadium. Or rather, an entire tournament.

The stadium had a 3G pitch as I think they are known. Or maybe I’m getting mixed up with phones. Who knows? Anyway, it was artificial rather than grass. There was a big stand down one side and a smaller one down the other. Both were filled predominantly with players from the other teams.

The odd thing though was that it was only nine a side. It was a full-size pitch and each team had subs. Why on earth wouldn’t you just play proper football? The quirk in the rules meant that I couldn’t count it as a stadium that I’d visited under my own ‘groundhopping’ rules which require it to be a ‘proper’ game. I agonised for a while over whether watching a nine-a-side game was any different from watching an eleven-a–side match where both teams had suffered a double sending off.


In the end I concluded that it wasn’t a proper match and that it wouldn’t count. Although I suspect that my decision was heavily influenced by the thought that it would be easy enough to return in the near future and tick the ground off properly.

Teluk Kemang were in red whilst Bandar Sungala were in orange and blue. I only know the team names because I got a local lad to write them down for me. His act of kindness earned him a piss-taking from his mates due to him speaking English to me.


When we return for a proper game, he’ll no doubt think twice about getting involved. For what it’s worth, Bandar Sungala clinched the victory with a last-minute goal and I squashed no lizards either on the way there or on the way back.

Middlesbrough v Brighton and Hove Albion, Saturday 7th May 2016, 12:30pm

August 15, 2016


Well, what do you know? We only went and did it.

A year on from that non-performance at Wembley a draw at home to Brighton in the last game of the season was enough to secure our return to the Premier League seven years after it slipped away that afternoon at West Ham.


I’d bought tickets for the game as soon as I knew I was leaving Australia and long before the inevitable sell-out. Tom and I were in the South Stand, to the side of the goal nearest the Brighton fans.


I’ve never been to a Boro game, or any game for that matter, where the support was so intense and where the singing was non-stop despite the tension of the occasion. It wasn’t like Eindhoven where most of us peaked too early and failed to play our part, or Wembley on just about any visit you can think of when it was either more about just being there or an early setback knocked us back. Or both.

It wasn’t like Cardiff where the team did their bit early on and then left us to bite our fingernails for almost an entire match. This was so different to any of those times. It was a crowd playing their part and providing the background for the lads on the pitch to get us over the line.


If ever a lull in the noise threatened, a Red Faction-led chorus of “Follow, Follow, Follow” filled the potential void to the extent that the words were still resounding through my head days later. Even as the board was held up showing an additional eight minutes, the support never wavered.


As we entered the final seconds I felt a few tears in my eyes. Sometimes it means more than you realise. I tend not to get emotional when it goes badly; I was able to put last season’s play-off defeat behind me before the game had finished and within an hour or two was already looking ahead to this season rather than dwelling upon what might have been in different circumstances. This was another matter altogether.

The whistle blew and Tom and I hugged. My thoughts went back to our last promotion eighteen years earlier. Tom and I had been in the West Stand for that one, me in my thirties rather than my fifties and him just eight years old and in serious danger of having someone’s eye out with his flag.


I’ve enjoyed being in the Championship with trips to some of the so-called ‘less-fashionable’ grounds and in the last couple of years it was nice to win a few games.

But it’s good to be back. Back in the big time.

Point to Point at Witton Castle, Monday 2nd May 2016

August 14, 2016


Whilst driving back to Teesside from a Northern League game at Tow Law I spotted a sign advertising a point-to-point meeting a couple of days later. I like horse racing and, as is the case with football, it doesn’t have to be elite level.

Bank Holiday Monday rolled around and we had a drive out to Witton Castle. Entry was ten quid. That was for however many you had in your car and so whilst it was decent value for Jen and I, it would have been a real bargain with a car-full.


The meeting was organised by the Zetland Hunt. It must be at least ten years or so since hunting with dogs was outlawed but it doesn’t seem to me that a lot has changed. The packs still exist and I’m sure that when they go out for a run in the countryside they inadvertently stumble across quite a few foxes.

There was a lot of pro-hunting propaganda put out over the loud speakers, but I imagine that most of those present  didn’t need any reinforcement of their views. I’m fairly open-minded on the whole issue, although I suspect that could just as easily be translated as I couldn’t give a toss either way.


There were about five or six hundred people spread between the beer and food tents with others watching the racing from a grassy bank. A handful of bookmakers looked to be taking plenty of cash.


I’ve been to a few point to points before and a decent jockey tends to make a big difference. As I had no idea who could ride and who couldn’t, I wasn’t able to put that knowledge to good use and so we struggled for winners.


The side of the hill was a handy place to watch the racing. Any event that I can watch whilst lying on the grass gets my vote. Or at least it does when it’s dry.


The rain arrived after the first couple of races and whilst we were able to take shelter under the overhang of a nearby sponsor’s tent, it meant that lying on the grass wasn’t as an attractive proposition once the rain had stopped.


We had no winners from the first four races and with the wind getting up and the rain still in the air we left them all to it.







Stokesley Sports Club v Thornaby, Monday 2nd May 2016, 11am

August 13, 2016


The Bank Holiday games in the Northern League tend to start a bit earlier than the regular three o’clock kick-offs. It makes a lot of sense as it still leaves enough of the day to do other things afterwards.

A quick scan of fixtures revealed that Stokesley were at home to Thornaby and as Jen and I were staying just down the road in a cottage at Ingleby Greenhow it seemed an ideal choice.

We’ve stayed at Ingleby a couple of times now. It’s quiet, but close enough to Norton to make doing the family stuff easy enough. Being out in the countryside makes it interesting for the grandkids too and they revelled in talking to the sheep and horses, poking a dead pheasant and chasing rabbits down the long driveway.


It was also handy enough for Jen and I to do a bit more of the Cleveland Way and we hiked from Clay Bank to Osmotherley and back over a couple of days.

The weather was fine and whilst I tend to prefer the coastal sections of the trail, the mix of woodland and open moors, together with the views of Teesside made both days decent walks.

Mind you, we probably could have done with an earlier start on the second day as we ended up coming down off the moors in darkness.


The weather was less impressive for the game at Stokesley’s ground, with strong winds and the odd spot of rain. It was five quid to get in and the bloke on the gate apologised for being sold out of programmes. He generously offered to post one to me, but as I’m trying to give up accumulating stuff that will never see the light of day again I very politely fucked him off.


I made my way around to the far side of the ground just as the game began, passing a dog with a burst football in its mouth. I’m not sure that it’s particularly wise to bring to a dog with that sort of hobby to a match.

I’m not a fan of Banning Orders, mainly on the basis that we have sufficient proper laws to deal with football-related skullduggery, but I’d find it hard to oppose one for the owner if Fido decided to add to his popped Mitre Multiplex collection.


Thornaby were in blue shirts that were way too big for most of their players. The blustery conditions meant that the wind kept getting trapped inside of them. Part of me wanted the wind to pick up further on the off-chance that some of the lighter members of the visiting team might get literally carried away.


Spurred on by the presence of a bumper bank holiday crowd of forty-seven (and a dog), Stokesley took the lead on the half-hour. I was quite surprised as they hadn’t been doing at all well this year and weekly hammerings had left them well adrift at the foot of the table and long-since relegated.

In fact, in what I’d assumed to be a reasonable form guide, they’d suffered at nine-one defeat to Thornaby in the reverse fixture, just the previous week.


Normality was restored before the break with two Thornaby goals and with the rain getting heavier I took my eighty pence cup of coffee into the covered stand for the second half.

A few visiting fans with their blue and white scarves had made the trip from Thornaby and they were rewarded as the visitors extended their lead to an eventual four-two victory.

That was it for the for the season for those two teams. That was also it for the Northern League as far as Stokesley are concerned as they will start next season in the not quite so prestigious Wearside League. I doubt it will make much difference to the dog.

Tow Law Town v Crook Town, Saturday 30th April 2016, 3pm

July 31, 2016


A couple of days after arriving in the UK, Jen and I had a drive out to Tow Law for their derby with Crook Town in the second division of the Northern League. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Tow Law before and it was a lot more pleasing on the eye than I’d imagined it to be.

Whereas I’d been expecting somewhere run-down, with polystyrene take-away trays blowing down a deserted high street, it was actually a pleasant little town with plenty of countryside around it. More green than the grey that I’d anticipated.


The Ironworks Road ground dates back to 1893 although the ironworks that it is named after had actually closed a good ten years or so earlier than that. I’m not sure how much of the ground is original, although the fella that took our fivers to get in reckoned that the ‘step-on’ turnstile might very well have been.

There were plenty of options for viewing the game and we initially stood behind the goal at the end where we had come in. When the rain that had threatened for a while finally arrived we moved to the stand behind the dugouts.


A good proportion of the sixty or so crowd had the same idea, with a few kids seeking shelter at the far end in the standing enclosure with a small roof on it. A handful of older blokes braved the drizzle on the terracing opposite us, whilst one or two fans tucked in close to the walls of the changing rooms.


I was a bit disappointed with the standard of play, although I seem to think the same thing every time I go to a Northern League game. Surely the technical ability of the players should be so much higher these days with the academy system. Whilst I’ve no idea if any of the players were ex-pros, you’d think that most of them would have been in academies for some of their formative years. If so, it didn’t show.

Tow Law created plenty of the chances and the Crook goalie managed to somehow get out of the way of most of them. He had a signature move of quickly dropping to his arse whenever a shot was fired in, as if he was playing Musical Bumps.


If only the keeper been as successful at getting out of the way of the barber he might not have ended up with a curly perm on the top inch of his head with the remainder shaved to the bone.

At half time I got myself a coffee and some chips from the window near to the turnstiles and we had a chat with a bloke who had brought a wooden rattle. He was younger than us, so it wasn’t as if he’d had it since the nineteen fifties or whenever they were popular. I doubt you’d get into the Boro with a device like that these days.


We watched the second half from the terracing on the opposite side to the stand. It meant that we got to hear the linesman keeping the players straight as to what they were doing wrong. He’d quite happily point out to a whining centre-half that “you played him on” or that “the full-back didn’t step up”.

At one point he got into a shouty exchange with a coach over the hand signals that he had used to indicate that a player had returned from a previously offside position. I suspected that the most recent offside change that the other fella was aware of was when it changed from three defenders to two, back in the days when the Ironworks still had that lingering smell of fresh paint.

The officiating was all very impressive, but wasted on those players and coaches. I doubt I’d have had the inclination or the patience to explain my decisions. Nor, come to think of it, the stamina to run up and down the line.


It wasn’t much of a contest, with Tow Law being five goals up by early in the second half. They could probably have had more but a few of the home players looked happy to see the season out at a canter.

The excitement levels perked up towards the end when with all of the Crook Town subs used, or more likely, an incomplete bench to begin with, an injured outfield player had to swap positions with Mr. Musical Bumps. The change made little difference, apart perhaps from reducing the opportunities for the original goalie to have a bit of a sit down.

Tow Law rounded off the afternoon with a sixth goal before the end and brought their season to a close. It wouldn’t be overly harsh to suggest that for some of the Crook players, the season had finished long before kick-off.

Horse Racing at Alice Springs, Saturday 23rd April 2016

July 10, 2016


When I decided to take the job in Australia there was one trip that I wanted to do more than any other and that was to visit Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it’s more commonly known among English folks of my generation.

A little bit of research suggested that the best way to do it was by way of a road trip from Alice Springs and so that’s what we did, taking a flight there from Darwin to save fifteen hundred kilometres of driving each way and then making the journey from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock and back in a camper van over a five day period.

There’s not a great deal goes on at Alice Springs. If I mention that, horse racing aside, the highlights of our time there were visits to museums celebrating the School of the Air and the Postal Service respectively, you’d probably conclude and quite rightly in my opinion, that Alice Springs is fine for a night or two whilst on the way to somewhere else.

We picked up the camper van with the intention of driving the five hundred kilometres to Ayers Rock in one day. However, a later than planned start meant that I wasn’t sure that we’d be there before dark. With that in mind we called it a day at the Curtin Springs Campground, about an hour and a half short of our original plan.


It was a good decision. The campground had electric hook ups so that we could crank the air-conditioning up and an outdoor restaurant with a couple of small dogs that we could discreetly feed with sausages.

Best of all we had a view in the distance of the ‘fake Ayers Rock’, Mount Conner. To my untrained eye it didn’t look any different from its more famous rival. Perhaps it’s all about marketing.


Next morning we drove the remaining one hundred and forty kilometres to Ayers Rock, arriving at around 9am. It was already busy with coachloads of tourists listening to their guides telling them about rock art, whilst others were taking the path to the top.


The traditional owners, the Anangu people, don’t approve of visitors walking on the rock and request that visitors don’t do it. It looked quite steep to us and so we were happy to comply with their wishes, choosing instead to take the eleven kilometre trail that went around it.


A small part of the walk was in the shade but our late start meant that most of it was in the sun. It was ok, as rocks go, but if I’m honest a bit on the dull side. The flies were a nuisance too. We’d bought head nets but who wants to walk around with a net on your head?

Jen’s net came attached to her hat which she thought made it ideal for a wedding.

The next morning we called in at Ayers Rock to catch the sunrise, or at least we would have done if we’d managed to arrive three or four minutes earlier. We then drove on to Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as it was previously known.


This was a much more interesting place and we walked the Valley of the Winds trail. It was as windy at times as its name would suggest and there were more flies than at Ayers Rock but we had our nets so it wasn’t a big deal. The scenery though was fantastic, like nothing I’d seen anywhere else.


The Valley of the Winds is a circular, eight kilometre walk with a steepish descent, then a climb up to the sort of place that would have worked well for holding up Simba in the Lion King. Or at least it would have done if Australia had lions.


It was less busy than Ayers Rock and that’s another reason why I preferred it. The park authorities only let you walk if it’s below a certain temperature so it’s definitely worth setting off early.


The next day we drove to King’s Canyon. I suppose what we should have done was just set off once we’d finished our Olgas hike. There’s not a lot to do in these places once you’ve finished walking and if you are keen, like me, to be somewhere with air-conditioning then you might as well be driving rather than just sitting about in the camper van.

The campsite at King’s Canyon is notorious for dingoes and we were fortunate enough to spot some wandering around. We barbecued some sausages that evening in the hope of tempting them in but it didn’t happen. I reckon I could have trained them to sit up and beg if I’d had some of Blackwell’s finest.

Despite the scenery at the Olgas, King’s Canyon turned out to be the best walk of the trip. We did the route around the rim that has an initial steep ascent but then takes you around both sides of the canyon before making a gradual decent into the valley.


A lot of the rocks reminded me of those in Africa as we’d seen similar on the various farms that we’d stayed at in Gauteng or Mpumalanga, although not many of those places had as impressive a canyon.


The rim walk was about seven kilometres from start to finish and then we extended our hike by adding in a couple more kilometres along the less strenuous valley walk inside the canyon.


I’d learned my lesson the previous day and despite having a campsite booking for two nights we made better use of our time by driving back to Alice Springs that afternoon. It meant that we didn’t have to rush the next day to get the camper van back before the office shut and it also freed enough time to be able to go to the races.


I suspect the race meetings at Pioneer Park are the highlights of life in Alice Springs. After all, there’s only so many times that you can spend your weekends at the Postal Museum.

Everyone seemed much more dressed up than I’d have expected them to be, or at least they were much more dressed up than we were. Mind you, that’s not unusual, even in Darwin. Maybe Jen should have worn her fly-net hat.


A quick scan through the race card showed that most of the horses were trained in Alice Springs. That’s not surprising I suppose, as it’s a couple of days drive minimum to anywhere of note. It means that the same horses will run against each other throughout the season though.

As with a lot of country courses there was a decent backdrop. I like that. Hexham is probably my favourite UK racecourse and it’s as much for the scenery as anything else.


As in Darwin, there were proper bookmakers. I like that too. It’s always good to be able to shop around for the best price rather than having to take the tote return.

If I remember rightly we had one winner, although once we’d taken the ten dollar admission, the racecard, the pie and chips and ice creams into account we were probably down on the day.


That day at the races brought the Ayers Rock road trip to an end. It brought the Australian adventure to an end too. My job had finished a month or so earlier and after spending some time seeing the places that we hadn’t yet gotten around to it was time to fly back to the UK to catch the climax of the Boro’s promotion campaign.

There were some great places to visit in Australia; Sydney and Brisbane were good, whilst I’m pleased we made it to Litchfield, Kakadu and managed the outback trip. We’ve watched dingoes, koalas and kangaroos in the wild and seen enough spiders to fill a bath. The Darwin climate wasn’t for me though and I feel as if I spent most of the seven months that we were there in an air-conditioned bubble.

My next job is in Malaysia where it looks to be a few degrees cooler than Darwin. I’ll settle for that.

Casuarina v Litchfield, Saturday 9th April 2016, 12.30pm

July 7, 2016


All of the Darwin area local football leagues start up again in April and this game was the first in the Women’s League.

Despite the lunchtime start, Jen and I had plenty of time to pay a visit to the Crocodylus Park on the outskirts of Darwin, which as you might have suspected, is a park full of crocodiles. If you’ve ever been to Gatorland in Florida, it’s a bit like that, although you couldn’t feed the inmates with raw sausages at Crocodylus in the way that you can at its American counterpart. Possibly because sausages, or ‘snags’ as they call them over here are too highly regarded in Australia to be lobbed at reptiles.


We did watch a keeper feeding the crocs and we got to hold a small one with its mouth taped up, so it was a worthwhile morning. They had other stuff too, a few lions, some dingoes and a colony of meerkats. I could watch meerkats all day.


We had to pay ten dollars to watch the women’s match which is probably the first time that either of the teams had played in a game with an admission charge. It was because the game was taking place on the Larrakia pitch nr 2, which shared an entrance gate with the main pitch and which was hosting the final game in the East Timor Cup later that day.

One team was in red and the other in black and white squares. I should really have asked someone which team was which, but to be honest, I wasn’t interested. The black and white team were the stronger and in the first twenty minutes or so the ball was rarely in their half.


I counted eleven spectators, including a bloke who was videoing proceedings and so I suspect had some sort of connection to one of the teams. If not, he was a sucker for punishment as it was bad enough having to watch the game live, never mind the thought of watching it all again at home.


The Number 2 pitch backed onto the main stadium and whilst you could have watched the game from the rear of the big stand facing the other way, a small ‘bus shelter’ stand was provided. It probably held fifty, which was more than ample for today’s attendance.


The red keeper made a couple of decent saves before the black and whites went a goal up. I’d had enough before we even got to half-time as the standard was probably poorer than any game I’ve ever seen.

No shame in that though and it’s good to see people enjoying themselves. For half an hour so at least anyway.