With the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, September 8th, 2022, the footballing governing bodies throughout the UK decided to cancel all fixtures. Not just Premier League, nor even the top leagues, but every league right down to grassroots and children’s football.
While we may all have differing opinions on the rights and wrongs of this decision, it seems a really poor decision to cancel kids’ football. How do you explain to a young child that you have to be sad for someone you likely never met, or ever would? Lots of them wouldn’t have any idea who she even was, in reality.
Anyway, I voiced my opinion about it in a separate #Opinionated article, so I won’t go into further detail about my thoughts here. Suffice to say, we had to forget our trip to Arbroath for their game against Raith Rovers and lose out on the advance train tickets we had purchased.
So now, while football had cancelled all fixtures, other sports were doing things correctly and going ahead with the fixtures while holding a minute’s silence as a mark of respect to Her Majesty (who was a big fan of sports, I should add).
Having looked at what was on, we decided to make the relatively short trip to watch our first ever game of Rugby Union between Newcastle Falcons and Harlequins at Kingston Park Stadium, Newcastle.
I have to confess, when it comes to rugby, be it the union or league version, I am relatively clueless. My knowledge of the game can be written on the back of a postage stamp. Mrs Hopper meanwhile, has never even seen a game of rugby on TV (she is American).
So, armed with this wealth of knowledge we set off to catch a bus to Gateshead Interchange. It would be remiss of me to not mention the wonderful drunk on our 10:39 am bus. Already off his face when we got on, he drank three more cans and smoked four cigarettes before we got to Gateshead.
What a fine specimen!
Once there, we switched to the local underground (Metro) and this train took us all the way to Kingston Park station. Despite the name, the station is still a ten-minute walk away. A combination of Google Maps and following the crowd brought us to Kingston Park, home of the Newcastle Falcons rugby union team.
Newcastle Falcons – The Stadium
As a benchmark for rugby stadiums, I have passed Murrayfield on the train, been to Twickenham to watch an Iron Maiden concert and The Principality Stadium in Cardiff to watch my team win a playoff game while Wembley was being rebuilt. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting this one to live up to those lofty international stadium standards.
As a comparison to football grounds, I would say this was most similar to somewhere like Exeter City or Forest Green Rovers stadiums. For the Scottish reader, think along the lines of Hamilton Academical’s ground but with a low terrace instead of trees at that end.
There is a club shop housed in the rear of the East Stand. Once we realised that there were no programmes for sale (digital only) we came out and entered the ground.
We entered the stadium via the East Terrace in the northeast corner, showing the security staff our tickets which we had purchased online the night before. The first thing we noticed to our left, was an old London double-decker bus which had been converted into an open-top bar. Different! Further along was the East Stand, which covers about one-third of the pitches length and houses the player’s and officials’ dressing rooms. Beyond that, was another small standing area with no terrace.
To our right was the North Terrace, a low bank of open terracing behind the posts. Running along the length of the pitch on the opposite side, was the all-seated West Stand. This was the most impressive-looking part of the stadium and was where more club merchandise was available to buy in the concourse, along with multiple bars and food outlets. Finally, opposite the North Terrace was another terrace at the southern end of the stadium but this one was covered and had the same design as the West Stand.
Newcastle Falcons – Stadium Gallery
Newcastle Falcons – Pre-Game Videos of Kingston Park
We decided to get a beer and some food before the game started because we hadn’t had anything to eat so far on the day. It’s comforting to know that it isn’t just football fans who get ripped off at sporting events! Two pints cost an eye-watering £13.50 and two cheeseburgers with a few fries each cost a further £19.00!
Needless to say, I told Mrs hopper to sip her drink slowly…
We then came to the moment that football had dreaded… the minute’s silence and national anthem.
I’m not sure if it would have worked the same way at certain football grounds as it did at West Ham the other night, but certainly here, today, the silence was impeccably observed and God Save the King was sung by most of the crowd present.
God Save the King, how weird do those words still sound?
Everyone then burst into applause and the players took their places to begin the match.
Newcastle Falcons – The Game
Now, as I’ve said, rugby is something I know very little about. A sport I’ve been known to call egg-wrestling in the past (forgive me). My knowledge amounts to the names of some very famous ex-players like Will Carling, Gavin Hastings and Gareth Edwards, England winning the World Cup some years ago with a last-minute dropkick goal by Johnny Wilkinson and very little else.
Therefore, I once again ask for forgiveness for my terrible match report.
The game started with Harlequins on the front foot and applied the early pressure. However, it was the Falcons who actually took the lead and gave me my first extra knowledge. A try is worth five points! The conversion kick was missed from out wide and the kicker could hardly be blamed for it, from that angle.
Quins hit back quickly with a try of their own and converted the kick too. I learned that a conversion is worth two points, so Quins now led 5-7. This quickly became 5-14 after another converted try by Harlequins.
The Falcons struck back with another try but again failed with the conversion from out wide. Four potentially costly points dropped at this point. As the half drew to a close, the Falcons got their third try after a loose ball in their own defensive quarter was picked up and run most of the length of the pitch. I would love to tell you who the speedster was, but I haven’t a clue!
This time the conversion was successful and the half ended with that kick, leaving the score at the interval 17-14 to the Falcons.
The Second Half
Embarrassingly, I seem to have completely missed a try and a conversion. Maybe I was taking notes or something but somehow when Harlequins got what I thought was their third try, it turns out they had now scored twice in the second period.
Anyway, the score was now 17-26 to Quins and to my untrained eye, they did look the better side for the majority of the game. The conversion was made for another two points to make it 17-28. A further try for the away side was ruled out for a penalty but it seemed like they were going to run away with it from here on in.
Hold on though, here come the Falcons again. Following a line-out near the Harlequin’s twenty-two-yard line (see, I’m picking up all the phrases now!), the Falcons managed to sneak the ball over the line via a large Samoan chap by the name of Logo Mulipola. The conversion was good and the score is now 24-28 to Harlequins.
With fourteen minutes left on the clock, the Falcons re-took the lead via the one thing they had been consistently better at all game than their opposition. Strength.
With sheer brute strength they pushed the pack over the line and with a good conversion in the bag, they now led 31-28. This led to another rousing cry from the fans of “Falcons, Falcons, Falcons!” That was as good as it got for the home team though.
Harlequins now came into their own for the last ten minutes of the game and despite some great resistance from the Falcons backline, they eventually broke and conceded two tries in quick succession The second of which came after it looked like the Falcons had regained possession and could break away. A wayward pass however gifted the try to Quins and ended with the London team as victors by a 31-40 margin.
If you want a proper match report, I am leaving a link here from the Evening Standard newspaper.
Full-time – Newcastle Falcons 31 Harlequins 40
Attendance – 5,025
Entrance Fee – £22.00
Programme – N/A (Digital only)
Newcastle Falcons – Match Highlights
Newcastle Falcons – After the Game
After the game was over, we filed out of Kingston Park and followed the steady stream of people making their way back to the Metro station.
A short wait for the train (which runs past every twelve minutes during the day) and we were on our way back to Gateshead. From here we waited less than five minutes before our bus appeared and we were home by six-thirty.
A much easier journey than most we will be making this season!
Overall, my first experience of rugby union, indeed any rugby, was an enjoyable one. I feel this game may have actually been wasted on a novice like me because something tells me this was a much better game than the average, run-of-the-mill ones. It had the feel of an exciting game and I’m grateful that it was.
Will I be back?
Maybe, but not if there are football matches available. Will there be any matches on next week, or will we be forced to miss another weekend of entertainment? I don’t know but what I can say is this: if there are no football matches on, don’t give up, look around and find another sporting event. You never know, you may just experience something new and enjoy it. We did!
Onto the next!