The response to our publication of extracts from Tash Scott‘s evocative account of her first visit to the Stadium of Light, from her home a long way away (Cornwall, but she’s as Red and White as her father and grandfather), spoke for itself. If ever a story deserved to be told in full, this was it. Here, then, is Tash’s tale, written at 14* …
Mum had once again decided that the house looked like “a bomb had hit it”, and sent me and my brother upstairs to tidy our mess ridden rooms. I stood tentatively in the doorway looking into the abyss. The bright sun was shining through the translucent window, covered in a thousand finger prints. It shone gently across my unmade bed as though it was a blanket laid neatly across the mess.
I flopped down on my bed; it was warm where the blanket of sun was. The birds sang happily from the towering trees outside, and I could hear the wind sway softly passing by the window.
Sliding on to the floor the hard floor I picked up a few scattered T-shirts. Whilst putting them into a neat(-ish) pile I looked under my aching bed to see if I’d flung anything under there. The distinct smell of paper from the books I had read then left there climbed up my nostrils. There were no clothes in sight, but I spied some sweets, probably from Christmas. I swiftly grabbed one and put into my mouth.
Tasting the strawberry hard boiled sweet seemed to dampen my want to tidy; once again I sat on the warm bed. Looking slowly at the walls I realised, they weren’t quite white and they weren’t cream or even beige. They stood straight up, as you would presume walls did. Underneath the window the paint had been ravished by damp and the swirls of black looked purposeful against the undefined colour.
I leaned down to pick up a pair of blue jeans sprawled across the floor. There was a white piece of paper on the woven carpet where the jeans had previously been. It was nearly a square. One of the sides was ripped, but not roughly as though ripped angrily in half. It was a purposeful rip, like it was supposed to be ripped. Reaching down to pick it up, I wondered halfheartedly what it might be. As my fingers brushed its pale surface I knew it wasn’t paper, it was more like card; but not as thick. It was soft though, old. There were a few creases down it but now, I was pretty sure I recognised it; very sure I knew what was on the other side.
Holding between my first and second fingers, I pondered on whether to turn it over or whether the strange, somehow idyllic, moment would be ruined. I moved my fingers slowly across the soft paper like material. Closing my eyes, very, tightly I turned it over. I ran my thumb anxiously over where I presumed the text would be. There were no indents or any well to tell if it was what I thought. Several creases ran down the centre where it had obviously been folded in half.
I opened my inquisitive eyes slowly, one at a time. The strong red and white background that shone across the paper, had faded to an almost white shade of pink. The jet black text had turned into a sort of pencil grey. Sunderland’s club badge stood proudly in the top right hand corner- hardly faded at all – like a sun shining rays of red and white across the paper. The top of the ‘A’ of Arsenal had completely disappeared; it hadn’t have known what it was I would have wondered what ‘Hrsenal’ was.
I vividly remembered crossing the giant metal bridge that connected either side of the north eastern city over the angry river Wear. The air was cold and the wind blew heavily from the across the freezing North Sea, which made me glad my Dad had reminded me to take my warm coat. The rich smell of frying burgers and hotdogs drifted over from the busy fast food trailers that rested on the crowded road ahead.
The deep voices of men in dark coats in woven red and white scarves, who I’d probably never see again, surrounded me. I held Dad’s warm hand tightly as his face was one of few that was recognisable. I looked up at Grandpa as his old hand dug into his navy blue coat pocket and faintly heard the sound of rustling before he pulled out a handful of Worther’s originals.
Smiling sweetly as he gave them out, I hurriedly unwrapped mine and put it into my awaiting mouth. The taste was sweet as it melted slowly on my tongue. I smiled again. The overpowering deep voices around me had turned into a low excited drone, more like the buzzing of bees than thousands of single voices. As we carried on toward the stadium: Dad and Grandpa talked passionately about past matches they had attended. I realised Mum’s pale nose had turned red from the cold air that whistled through the city’s streets, and my brother’s old grass green and tomato red had now covered half of his small face. But their lips still turned up into an, anxious, smile.
The hard damp concrete road beneath my feet had morphed into a path as the mass of people surged towards the ground. It seemed like a massive beehive, all these people trying to get into the same place. They could all fit, I thought as I looked up to see the Stadium of Light towering graciously over me. A glossy red sign was stuck above a narrow entrance read Turnstile 36 in plain white capitals. We were about to go in.
There was a small queue in front of us made up mainly of men, with red and white shirts worn of their dark jumpers. They were all chatting excitedly about the event that would soon take place. I looked up at the stadium walls again and for a split second wondered, how many bricks would it have taken to make this, thousands, millions, billions. It was more than just bricks. Grandpa tapped me lightly on the shoulder and, smiling, leaned down to give me something.
Warily I put out my cold hand to receive it. It glistened as what little sunlight was left reflected off the glossy coating. The emblem in the corner was instantly recognisable. I probably would have recognised it from the day I was born. I slid my fingers across the smooth surface as I read the black text, I gradually realised what I was holding: my ticket. A ticket that would get me into the magnificent ground that stood over me. To see the team that Dad was always on about. That could change his mood for the rest of the week, or month. Suddenly I was excited.
I was going in, I was going to see it, I was going to be there, I wouldn’t have to wait till match of the day the next morning. Questions flooded my head, I asked them at a mile a minute. “Who’s playing?” “Where’s Arsenal in the league?” “D’you reckon we’ll win?” I felt my lips turn to an excited smile, and Dads eyes glistened as he watched our excitement.
The turnstile man smiled cheerfully at me, obviously amused by my enthusiasm. I wondered if he even supported Sunderland, and then though, how could he not. Pushing hard on the red horizontal metal barred turnstile gate the distinctive smell of beer swept up my nose. The fans red faces stood out against the elephant grey walls as I entered. Everyone was smiling. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. I could the cheerful voices of all that were crowded around. I was annoyed that Dad wanted to buy drinks, I wanted to be inside the stadium.
Our red plastic seats were slightly faded in the middle, from the fans who had sat there. Cold grey concrete lay flat beneath our feet. The smell of alcohol had gone, and the cold wind brought many others. I took a sip from my clear bottle of cool sprite. I felt the bubbles bursting in my mouth and despite the temperature I felt the liquid trickle down my throat. I breathed in deeply and looked up.
In front of me were thousands of excited heads and shoulders all steadily leaning in toward the green rectangle, bordered by snow white lines. The stadium was bigger than I’d ever thought. The red seats will filled with bodies and an ocean of red and white lay all around me. Inevitably Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights began, and everyone rose to their feet, as though it was an order. As the players emerged the adrenaline buzzed around the stadium as the clapping, chanting and whistling started. The sound was amazing. The sense of unity and passion was second to none.
There was a short hush as the crowd waited for the referee to start the game, the shrill sound of the whistle summoned the chants, and they never stopped. I barely knew the word but I tried to fit in with it. Despite being one amongst thousands, I felt as though I belonged. I was on the edge of my seat whenever the red and white shirted men approached the penalty area. My fists were clenched tightly with the nerves and excitement, and passion the echoed around the stadium. Though they were soon put over my ears as Dad shouted angrily at whoever had just missed and obviously golden opportunity that even his “grandma could’ve scored”.
Even as Sunderland were defending the noise was constant, pushing the team on, willing them to win. Different chants ran loops around my ears, Dad knew all of them as did Grandpa. The noise was so immense I was almost scared, almost terrified. As one chance whizzed narrowly wide I put my head in my hands in disbelief like everyone else around me.
My fingers were ice against my face; I’d forgotten how cold they were. I fumbled around in my pocket, scrambling for my gloves. The noise of the supporters suddenly increased, a few of the people in front of me began to stand, I looked up quickly. I couldn’t see, I tried to find a gap between a thousand heads. I stood up, as the ball rippled idly against the back of net. The ocean of red and white erupted. Everyone was on their feet, jumping up and down, screaming. Dad hugged me so tightly I could barely breathe. The noise was…unimaginable, ecstatic, amazing.
I jumped back, blinking as I tried to regain focus. My phone vibrated rhythmically in my pocket as I sighed remembering where I was: my room. My shoulders dropped lazily. Looking out the dusty window I tried half heartedly to work out where the nearest premier league club was. I gave up, as had my phone on trying to alert me of the message it had received. I concentrated on the sounds around me: birds, wind, cars.
None of them even came nearly close to the noise at the Stadium of Light. Smiling to myself I tried to replay the memory again. I looked at the floor, still carpeted in clothes, the smile faded again.
Clenching my jaw, annoyed, I rummaged around trying to sort out the mess. My mind wandered through the images of the match and they flashed around in my head. I wished so much that I could be there, be part of that amazing atmosphere again. Disappointment flooded my room, I was so annoyed that I couldn’t be there right now. That I couldn’t be there every other weekend. I was so annoyed I couldn’t witness every match in that atmosphere, every goal.
My phone vibrated angrily again, I flicked it open. It was from Dad: “1-0 to Sunderland.”
* Tash’s Dad, Derek on Tash: She really is a star – Pete selected extracts frrom the piece that I think originally started life as an assignment in January or February. She was practising using flashbacks – I had her email it to me because I was going to hold it up as an example for teaching flashbacks in Literacy to Year 6.
She was 14 when she wrote the piece and is 15 now, just coming to the end of Year 10 at Penair School in Truro (where curiously she will be presented with awards in Maths and Science on Prize Day, Jul 21, but not English!).