It all reached a very very surreal peak when I led the troops of the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club all the way to the Isle of Wight in the first year of my chairmanship of the club. It may just sound like we fancied a party on the island, but the story of the trip will forever live long in the memory of those privileged enough to attend that weekend. We thought, at the time it would be a “peak” for the club in only its 11th month in official status, but little did we know of the perils in Oxford, Weston Super Mare and Gillingham to follow the next year. So why the fuck did the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club hold a meeting on the Isle of Wight in November 2006??
WE cast our minds back to a busy Southampton airport and my pint of Carling in December 2005. As a south of England based resident I often enjoy trips back to Northern Ireland to visit family and friends. On this particular morning I was with my good mate Jody Casey for a very early flight, where I would show my mates Jody, Neil Macey and James Condron my home patch of Bangor and Belfast in Northern Ireland. The trip was pre-booked but an extra twist was added in when Northern Ireland LEGEND George Best died the week before, by complete coincidence I would be in Belfast the day of his funeral!! And there like a gift of fate from the heavens was an Alex Higgins…No not the snooker player Alex Higgins, but a man with a beard and a George Best T-Shirt who was in front of me as I went to the departure lounge to board the flight from Southampton to Belfast City airport (now ironically and beautifully named “The George Best Airport.”). Alex was queueing for the flight as well, but who was this man?
On speaking to him, it became obvious he was a massive George Best fan. Doing a fellow human a favour was always something I enjoyed, and this morning I thought – I’ll tell Alex where George Best grew up, as my Granny still lived round the corner for Dickie Best’s house in Burren Way in the Cregagh Estate in East Belfast. My Granny lives at Drumragh End, only a school and a square to play football on separates my Granny from the place George Best grew up. Alex said that he had NEVER been to Northern Ireland and was simply going to pay his respects to his LEGEND IDOL and HERO. I was enthused and impressed and popped him my mobile number and e-mail address, saying “I’m the chairman of the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club. Come along anytime, and join us for a drink. The boys would love it.” I also asked where he was from and what his link to Northern Ireland was. It turned out he was from the Isle of Wight, and dated a lady from Helen’s Bay (one of Northern Ireland’s posher haunts). A story was building itself here, a chance meeting at an airport and fate had leant my life and others a bonus hand. If that chance meeting hadn’t happenned, neither would the meeting on the Isle of Wight, or indeed this post.
Before I launch into the whole Isle of Wight meeting, there was also the sublime moment in an East Belfast pub the day I met Alex Higgins. At the airport in Southampton after we swapped numbers I invited him to the Crown Bar in Belfast for a pint, as me and my mates were going there and there he was – he turned up! Then in the East Belfast pub (of which I bizarrely forget the name) later we happenned to glance at Sky Sports News and there was Alex Higgins who we had met that very morning, being interviewed on his thoughts on George Best, directly from the Cregagh Estate and George Best’s house. Even I had influenced the media on that occassion, and if you can’t work out why, read again!
So Alex then joined the club, bought a Northern Ireland shirt and turned up at every meeting, including playing for the South of England NISC in their first ever public football appearance (a Mainland NISCs 5 a sides in Manchester), until the thought and possibility came up…why don’t we have a meeting on the Isle of Wight? The answer was a straight yes and I took pride in making the first steps in what became a historic day for the club. Suddenly we had members wishing to attend the most random of meetings on the Isle of Wight. Availability for committee members was checked and we finally agreed on the date: Saturday 4th November 2006. I was working in PR at the time and saw the opportunity to gain some publicity for the club. It would be along the lines of changing the name of the island for the day. No longer was this the Isle of Wight, we were nutcases and we were changing it to the Isle of Green. The publicity on this stretched from simple comments of the Our Wee Country Northern Ireland fans forum to a preview article on The Isle of Wight Beacon (“All that’s good on the island”) to the Ireland’s Saturday Night (The Pink, The Ulster). The scene was set, the meeting place of The Painters Arms in Cowes was announced and suddenly we were on the brink of madness, hardly for the first time in my life.
The weekend began for me on the Friday night. I finshed work in Bite Communications after a busy week and Owen Millar (club secretary) got a bus/train down to visit me from his new abode in Manchester. I arrived at the Shakespeare Pub in Victoria, where a cultured Owen Millar bought me a pint as we wasted shit loads of money on “the millionaire machine.” We drank quite a lot and later on the train home to my place in Dartford, Owen played Live Forever on a guitar owned by the fit lead singer of a band called “The Veez.” I love spontaneity in life and this was to be one. The next morning we would be up early and head for a train, then a tube, then a train in order to get to Southsea, by Portsmouth, where we would get a “Party Hovercraft” to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. My housemate John joined us for the trip, as he is nuts and has actually now been to THREE SOENISC meetings!
The train on the way from Waterloo – Southsea (Portsmouth Harbour) was where we met Scotland fan Ed Broussard, who was one of Tim Beattie’s mates (Tim being club treasurer of the SOENISC) and was joining us for the day for the craic! It was sure to be a mad one. I opened a tin of beer on the train and we had begun the drinking fest already. We’re Northern Irish. We drink beer. That’s what we do. I also opened my party bag which contained many and numerous green items which would assist in our changing of the colour of the island from Wight to Green for the day. OK, it’s not Wight as in colour white, but the jokes is lost on you if you don’t pretend it isn;t as funny as it is. These random items included a green sieve, a green and white “Santa Stop Here” sign (one month too early), green sunglasses, green feather dusters, green wigs and hats and many other things which you wouldn’t believe a supporters club chairman would bring to a meeting. For something to be unbelieveable, you have to make people believe it. Really. No really.
After some random chat and beer on the Waterloo – Southsea train, we alighted and headed in search of the Hovercraft Terminal. The walk turned out to be longer than we thought, but soon we had paid about £14 each for a return on the Hovercraft, getting the obligatory photo of our supporters club fleg by the method of transport, and then cranking open another tin of beer as we cruised the waves cleverly on route to the island. I had never been to the Isle of Wight before and we enjoyed the views as we neared Ryde. On exiting at Ryde, the place was shrouded in November sunshine, and we were destined for Cowes. There is only one train system on the Isle of Wight and I think this covers the Ryde – Shanklin route, therefore not even passing through Cowes, or indeed the capital of the Island, which is Newport. So there was Owen, me, Ed and John with beer on the Isle of Green and we were looking to get to Cowes. A taxi is normally my last ever means of transport, but divided between 4 it was a gift at less than £15, so we got a photo by the railway track and bridge, and boarded a taxi (my fifth different mode of transport for the day). The taxi left us at the picturesque East Cowes, where a narrow river met the land in what looked like scenery out of a filim, or even somewhere like a down market Venice. The taxi driver said you can get a chain ferry to West Cowes, which is where the Painters Arms pub was. Soon we were boarded a lovely party chain ferry on route to Cross Street. It was all very surreal and there was us four dressed in green, attracting attention.
On the chain ferry we met some Cowes residents who actually get the (free) chain ferry every day going to work. What an interesting lifestyle. We also got in touch with some of the fellow SOE NISC members to see how they were getting on (we all took different routes, some via Southampton, Lymington and Portsmouth) and whether the meeting time of 11.58 am would be made. We dandered through the quiet Cowes street until at the bottom of a hill the black signage of “The Painters Arms” brushed up at us in our green taps. We were the first four people to arrive. The pub had just opened and we perched ourselves down on seats and started putting flegs up and turning the pub green, I remember saying to the bar lady, Mez Blackwell, “Did anyone tell you that there were a load of Northern Irish lads coming to the pub today?” She knew about it, not just through Alex Higgins, but the full swing publicity campaign had alerted the locals of our presence. Soon Richboy (Richard Ingram) had arrived in usual green attire and me and the Rich started the kitty for the drinks, which would actually last us almost all say in the end. It was going to be a long one, and I remember pacing myself a wee bit at the start.
Within 30 minutes we had been joined by special guest and author, Shaun Schofield (who wrote the book “There’s Always One” on following Northern Ireland). I had invited Shaun to the meeting, and was really impressed and surprised that he made it, I mean holding a Northern Ireland Supporters Club meeting on the largest island in England was hardly sensible was it? Also on Shaun’s Red Funnel ferry was Scott Gordon (Club Charity President), journalist Marshall Gillespie and his son Calum. What a fantastic turnout already. Scott had arrived via a sign reading TOKOGAWA where a mandatory photo was taken, as GAWA in our case stands for Green and White Army. Just as it looked like the pub couldn’t get any greener in walked the host himself Mr. Alex “Isle of Wight Army” Higgins with his girlfriend Beverley, and then in came Tim Beattie with his English mate Leggo (sporting a 1997 vintage Norn Iron tap for the day). That wasn’t the full turnout however as there was Nat and another lad (2 of Owen’s mates), plus Carlo Bell (an English/Italian wannabe Northern Ireland fan!) so the turnout was incredible for a club who hadn’t even been in existence for a year. We all got our beers and chilled out for a bit before starting the official meeting, with members participation.
Random items of the day had been provided mainly by myself and Scott, who had constructed his own a4 pages with the words “Isle of Green” and “Our Wee Island” on them, including photos of the Isle of Wight. Richboy and me attached these to the door of the pub and on the nearby street to alert any locals and we would have happily welcomed anyone to our meeting. The craic was fantastic and soon I began to chair the meeting, standing up wearing a Viking Helmet (not sure where it came from!) and letting Alex introduce the island and Shaun give a riveting heart warming speech about his book, of which he sold many copies that day, and all to a good cause.
The speeches and the meeting all ran as smoothly and with as much comedy as ever and some group photos were then taken while Richboy and I continued to put posters up everywhere, including on two pillars outside the pub. The Painters Arms pub itself was tiny, dingy and dark. Just the perfect place really for our wee meeting. Soon the locals were flocking into the pub, and strangely none of them complained one bit!! We were the talk of the town. I also asked Mez the barmaid if it was OK to put our CD on, which was a special NI compilation. This was great for the banter and we ordered more and more beer while the first live football match of the day came on. Mez even provided us with a raffle (where I won some brown candles…!) and free hotdogs. Where would you get this sort of welcome? We had started singing already, and even did a song of tribute to Mez, “Stand up if you all love Mez”, the memories of this chant came back only recently when I heard of her unfortunate death from cancer. A sad sad world we live in, and a brilliant lady who made us feel so welcome, as eejitiotic as we were.
Owen was mad keen to watch the Man United match at 3 pm and as The Painters Arms didn’t show it, and we were in danger of spending the entire day in one pub, we decided to move on from The Painters Arms, but promised to pop back later, before the night of clubbing. Tim Beattie at this point, pointed out that there were actual Painters in the Painters Arms, which inspired a new chant of “There’s Painters in the Painters arms, Painters Arms, Painters Arms” to the tune of that song about Klingon’s on the starboard bow. In a boating town, in a pub named after artists, we were certainly keeping things afloat and making an impression. AS we dandered down the high street we found a pub whose name I forget and was stationed on the cobble stoned high street on a corner near The Fountain Hotel (where some of us would stay that night). The day had started with some comparison contests, including everytime we saw someone with a beard, we would line them up beside Alex Higgins (our member with a beard) and then I would ask the entire club to vote on who has a better beard. To add to the lunacy of this, the vote was always fixed, Alex’s beard was always voted the worst, much to the delight of Howard (pronounced Hard) in the pub, who we sang “Howard has a better beard…” to. Soon the song changed to “We’ve drunk them out of Fosters!” as Tim Beattie announced the keg change required to maintain our club’s alcohol requirements. There were about 12 of us, though by mid-afternoon some had left the island due to other commitments. Shaun Schofield, Marshall and Calum were away after having contributed to what was already becoming an incredible day out. In that pub, where we drank them out of Foster’s Richboy and I noticed a group of girls wearing green so we sang “stand up if you’re wearing green!” at them until they stood up and gasped in disbelief at our range of singing poems. Soon though a group of England “fans” in the pub thought they would wind us up…
Following an impressive SOENISC chant of “We’re Not Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland”, these England fans all stood up to attention and started singing “God Save Our Queen.” They were obviously completely unaware that this song was ALSO our national anthem, maybe they were unaware of the two countries and the divide on the island of Ireland? Whatever inspired them to sing that, we’ll never know, but as soon as they started singing it, all of us stood up and joined in as loudly as we could, making them look totally bewildered, confused and tongue-sunk. Once we had finished the anthem they started we all launched into a “Same National Anthem, we’ve got the same National Anthem” tune, which was the funniest period of chanting I’ve ever heard. Ask anyone who was there in that wee pub that day. WE had amused the entire pub, and got English people on the patriotic Isle of Wight confused over their identity and in awe of a bunch of drunk Northern Irish guys. “Thanks for having us in for a pint, we are the South of England NISC” I said to one of them as we exited the pub and dandered for a quick look at the harbour, where a sun glanced over yachts none of us could afford.
The next pub I remember, was The Waterside and it had great views. We drank and ate in there, getting a window seat and table and putting our fleg up over the harbour. By this point Beverley Perrett (Alex’s girlfriend) had joined us and we were chilling out away from the madness of the previous two pubs. At this point some of us checked into our accomodation for the night and in mine, John’s, Owen’s and Richboy’s case we booked ours, with The Fountain Hotel being chosen. I almost forgot a genius moment however,,,before all of this and before we left the Painters Arms pub for the first time, a man looking like Colin Murray (Belfast Radio One DJ and self confessed Northern Irish lunatic) walked in. The chants at this point somewhat took him aback, unaware of the party nature of the SOE NISC, we sang “One Colin Murray”, “Colin Murray; On the Isle of Wight”, “Colin give us a song” and “Are you Colin Murray in disguise?” His name was Ed and he ended up joining in with us the rest of the day. A top man, any person could have taken offence to the singing if they were shallower minded, but he loved it!
About an hour later and everyone was quite refreshed and ready for what Tim Beattie refers to as “second wind.” I understand what he means, but not why he uses that term. Then a bunch of sailor types walked in and the girls swarmed around me and Richboy. I tried to chat one of them up, and she was Nicki from Kent. “I live in Kent too” said I as she asked to borrow my hats and scarves for photos which her mates took, including one where she squeezed my genitalia, probably an unknown story to the others that were in the pub at the time. “Did you like that?” She said nonchalantly “I always wanted to squeeze and Irish willy”, I was quite startled, and also actually pleased, it was a chat up line (and squeeze) and I don’t get many of those. She disappeared into the night with her mates soon after, one of which was a posh spoilt schoolboy, who stole my “Santa Stop Here” sign and whose retort to “We’re Not Ireland, We’re Northern Ireland” was “we own you.” I often wondered what inspired Nicky to do that to me, and indeed why it all happened in the blink of an eye and indeed why our paths crossed for two minutes and we’ll never meet again. Noel Gallagher hit the nail on the pint of beer when he said “you don’t get; you won’t get; what you need; life is a strange thing.”
Tim and Leggo had begun a wee conversation over by the window and I could see a cheeky school kid grin on Beattie’s face, as he walked over to me and said “wait till ye hear this.” It had to be something goo or I wouldn’t have listened, he goes “see that couple on that table over there having a romantic meal?” “Aye I said”, Tim continued “let’s sing then a song…” Getting my digital camera on video mode and forming a line, the members of the SOE NISC were informed of the chant due to begin, and soon I started filiming (video below) as we walked round and round their table (a young couple enjoying a romantic meal by the harbour) singing “Propose in a minute, he’s gonna propose in a minute…” It was true comedy and the embarrasment on the lad’s face was met by a teasing smile from his other half as we left our empty pint glasses and departed our third pub of the day. It was all going very fast…
Another walk by the harbour and Scott found a more traditional wee pub called The Union Inn. We popped in there and got our own wee table at the back, where’s there were some adverts for Irish Whiskey and some friendly locals. At this point we were all chilling though a few more chants were started in there, as my housemate John started going a bit mental and chatting away to my supporters club mates. This wee pub hit the spot. “What’s the occasion?” asked the landlord to me as I sipped on my lager. “Life” was my abrupt and obvious reply.
At this point Owen’s islander mate Nat had arrived and was wearing a green Halifax Town shirt. For the entire day the Isle of Wight was blatantly the Isle of Green. Everyone was actually a bit tired and weary so we decided it was essential to liven up spirits and those regulars in The Painters Arms by walking back into the pub where it all began. The pub was packed at this point and my CD stole the jukebox show. We didn’t even care that we had to pay to put OUR OWN SONGS on. It was worth it as Tim Beattie stood by the Dukebox, we sang “You’re paying for your own music!” at him. Soon the laughs were on me as my self recorded songs such as “Northern Ireland South of England Army” blurted out on a Saturday night in a local pub in Cowes. Bemused locals looked so confused as Richboy stated “that’s Jonny singing on the toilet.” I didn’t actually sing them on the toilet for the record.
More and more comedy continued in here including the first ever Isle of Wight SOE NISC Gay Disco. We all tok our tops off and danced around the pub like maniacs. The flegs were up again and some locals chatted to us as we explained all about ourselves and drank yet more local brew, or indeed Fosters. I did sample one local ale that day, the rest was your usual lager shite. More songs continued on the dukebox, ans some strange chants had developed during the day. One lad in a previous pub had said “do you want to see my testicles?” and we hit back with a “we don’t want to see your testicles”, so as Alex Higgins and Beverley got cosy on the seats we sang this to Alex, a recording of which survives on a video below. A video of us singing our new-ish song “Swing Low Sweet Northern Ireland” also appears on video. Earlier that day Shaun Schofield, while doing his speech on his book, said “I have been to many Northern Ireland matches and supporters club meetings, but this supporters club are by far the craziest Northern Ireland Supporters Club I’ve ever seen.” Great words from a great man, and we were living up to this expectation.
Alex Higgins had prepared a night club for us, across the way, which would stay open till 2 am, and he had booked the upstairs and a DJ, and karaoke and everything. In fact I don’t think we have ever thanked Alex enough for his organisation of the day. From meeting in the Painters Arms to the karaoke, everything was as good as it could have been. So we spent a bit more time in the Painters Arms before heading to the Club. Before we left the Painters Arms we said our thankyous and goodbyes to everyone in there, and even laughed at Scott Gordon who had ordered a HALF pint of Lager “What the fucking hell is that?” we sang at him!!
The club was £2 entry or something and we had the whole upstairs to entertain ourselves in. The bar was downstairs but we could take all the drink upstairs, and there was karaoke ready to go, a DJ to play any requests, a pool table and plenty of space for the flegs to go up. We soon filled the dancefloor and Owen Millar and myself made a total hash and shambles of some UK chart classics. “I butchered Lucky Man” revealed Owen after his poor attempt to sing like Richard Ashcroft for four minutes in a Cowes nightclub. “I only sing Common People cos I want to be one” said Jonny Blair after a woeful performance of the Pulp classic in the club. And this was the club chairman and secretary!! TO add to the comedy, both videos were recorded and are now on display below for your un amusement. Just check out the laughs we both get from the lively Cowes audience. That’s why we’re not pop stars.
As we continued to dominate proceedings in the wee club, we filled the dancefloor with green and the DJ played whatever hits we wanted, it even culminated with me joining Tim Beattie for an embarrassing duet of Take That’s “Back For Good.” Despite my closeness to Tim, I hope never to have his lipstick marks still on my coffee cup. Before this we had Owen’s mate Carlo on vocals singing “Don’t You Want Me Baby?” We all agreed that Carlo’s performance was indeed the best of the night, at least he could sing a bit. A few songs later and we were doing a “gay disco” in the club. If you check the photos on this blog post, you will notice how many NON – SOENISC members actually got their kit off for the “Gay Disco.” A shocking amount of testosterone was on view for those Cowes ladies lurking nearby. Even Ed “Colin Murray” Gladdis got his top off. I think this was probably the beginning of the end for the “gay disco” within SOENISC, it really isn’t healthy or cool any more. Soon we noticed that the host himself Alex IOW Army Higgins had called it a night as he had overdosed on the old booze like the resty us.
At this point, Owen, Richboy and I headed back to the Fountain Hotel up and down hilly back streets, at one point Tim will recall me streaking down a hill for no reason whatsoever other than drunken idiocy. Me and Richboy had pre-ordered a beer but it was all locked up and we had lost our final chance of alcohol before sleep allowed our weary eyes and heads to recover once again. It took a while…
At breakfast the next morning we all had a fry and a lovely cup of tea. Key quote came from Owen Millar, who when looking at my photies said “that picture is a total disgrace!!” It was a photy of the “gay disco” and as Owen remarked “only about 3 people in that are actually SOENISC members. If we needed proof that we had turned the island green for the day, that was probably it. The day will never ever be forgotten, we appeared in the ISN and on the IOW Beacon the following week, and had made some impression on the locals. Recently Mez Blackwell the barmaid, lost her fight with cancer and Ed “Colin Murray” Gladdis fittingly placed a Northern Ireland scarf by the pub with the tribute to a wonderful lady. These are just the memories, and those who were there will remember the day that the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club re-named the island “THE ISLE OF GREEN.” I don’t even remember (or need to remember) the journey home…
The Isle of Wight Beacon Article read like this:
Northern Irish fans paint the town green
The Isle of Wight was dubbed “The Isle of Green” and turned into “Our Wee Island” by a travelling contingent of Northern Irish football fans on Saturday 4th November 2006. Starting off in The Painter’s Arms at 10.44 am, the green and white army enjoyed banter with the locals, a fun day out and enjoyed drinking long into the night. A collection was made by Club Charity President Scott Gordon, which will be donated to a charity of choice on the Isle of Wight by The South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club. The final donation amount and chosen charity have still to be clarified.
The event on Saturday was hosted by Alex Higgins, an Isle of Wight resident and committee member of the South of England club. Club chairman Jonny Blair made the following comments about the club’s trip to the island:
“We absolutely loved it. The island itself was beautiful, the people most welcoming and the beer most certainly met our taste specifications. Although at times we experienced “lager confusion” due to the excessive quantity consumed. We are proud to add the Isle of Wight to our list of meeting locations and this event will be remembered for a long time.”
The South of England NISC would like to thank the entire island for making this a fantastic day out.
SOME YOU TUBE VIDEOS:
EAST – WEST COWES CHAIN FERRY introduced by Scott Gordon:
SWING LOW SWEET NORTHERN IRELAND live in the Painters Arms pub:
WE DON’T WANT TO SEE YOUR TESTICLES live in the Painters Arms pub:
PROPOSE IN A MINUTE, aimed at a couple enjoying a quiet romantic meal in the Waterside Bar:
THE ISLE OF WIGHT IS THE ISLE OF GREEN live in The Fountain Inn by a hungover Jonny Scott Blair:
CLUB SECRETARY OWEN MILLAR BUTCHERS “LUCKY MAN” BY THE VERVE:
CLUB CHAIRMAN JONNY BLAIR DOES A POOR MAN’S JARVIS COCKER:
SOENISC DANCING WOEFULLY TO TAINTED LOVE:
The South of England NISC would like to thank the entire island for making this a fantastic day out.
THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MEZ BLACKWELL, A MOST WELCOMING BARMAID FROM THE PAINTER’S ARMS IN COWES, ISLE OF WIGHT. MEZ RECENTLY DIED OF CANCER AND OUR HEARTS GO OUT TO HER FAMILY AND HER FRIENDS. MEZ LOOKED AFTER OUR WEE CROWD OF EEJITS THAT DAY AND WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED WITHIN THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND NORTHERN IRELAND SUPPORTERS CLUB. THERE IS A TRIBUTE TO MEZ HERE:
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