SOENISC Weekend in Brighton, England

I had never been to Brighton. It is very well known – a popular beach resort in Sussex on England’s South Coast which is famed for being very vibrant in the summer. It also has a gay district, but let’s not go into that. The South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club made a habit of getting together to watch the FA Cup Final together somewhere different each year. We all agreed Brighton should be done as a meeting, and that it should be in summer time. Therefore when planning the early 2008 meetings, I proposed Brighton as our FA Cup Final Hotspot. Nobody disagreed and the date was set. Saturday 24th May, I booked the Saturday off work (had to do the Friday night, and back in for a Joe Satriani concert on the Sunday night) and set about planning the weekend. It was a totally new place for me to visit, the first time SOENISC would go there, and these steps into the unknown in life often get me buzzing. I googled for a few places to meet in Brighton and planned the timings etc.
We also learned that the FA Cup Final that year would be contested by two so called “smaller teams”, Portsmouth and Cardiff City. Mind you Cardiff at the time had Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and were easily the best team in Wales. And Portsmouth were managed by Harry Redknapp, and their players included Pedro Mendes, Nwanko Kanu, Jermain Defoe and Glenn Johnson. There was still quality there, and it made a change from seeing the boring Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelseas in the final. I was excited about that. There was also a Northern Ireland international, Tony Capaldi playing for Cardiff City. He snubbed us for photos and autographs at our previous meeting in Colchester, but that was OK, all would be forgiven as the plans began to be set for watching the FA Cup Final in Brighton.
Because of the location we were hard pressed to get a good turnout. Still, with at least 4 confirmed we set about booking one of the rooms at the Australian Walkabout Backpackers, initially for me, Gemma, Simon and Scott. Then Alan Scott also confirmed as did my lunatic mate John Johnson. I used to live with John back in 2006 – 2007 and met him through Neil Macey. John is a crazy man, despite his current age of 34, he’s a nut. This meeting meant John would get the train down from London and meet us there. It would be the first time I seen him since the day I moved out of his Dartford house back in June 2007. Almost a year. Anyhow John and Alan decided to book into a room at a nearby hotel. Then the rest of the crew who wanted to attend would be daytrippers, such as John from Portsmouth and Tim and Charley. That meant at least 9 of us there. I also invited a few mates, and as usual I raised a high level of publicity for the day out.
I put posts up on the Our Wee Country forum, the SOENISC forum, as well as promoting it through the Bangor NISC website and numerous e-mails to club members. Over 200 people would have been aware of the day out. It was almost the epitomy of a SOENISC day out – by the seaside, bit of sunshine, bit of football, visit to a pier, visit to a beach and a visit to a bar. Random items were also meant to be brung along. In the lead up to the day out, I also thought it would be a bit of a laugh to get some local English football fans to have a football match with us on the beach. I put a few posts up on a few different Brighton and Hove Albion fans forum internet websites. These were North Stand Chat and Brighton Fans Dot Com. I had hoped to organise something, but I got a few replies and in the end not enough support from the Brighton fans to organise anything, not even a pool competition or table footy in the bar. Some of the Brighton fans also joked that beach football wouldn’t be possible on the pebble beach. Well, Brighton was shingle/pebble and I was used to Bournemouth beach, which was all sand. In the end nothing materialised and there was to be no random beach football match taking place. It was literally just some eejits heading to the coast…for a piss up by the seaside.
Other research pre-event included finding a bar to meet in, checking what accomodation was available, where the train station was and a decent bar to watch the FA Cup Final in. For a bar to meet in, it was obvious that we should meet in “the nearest bar to Brighton Pier”, a quick google search revealed a few hotel bars, but the name which struck out at me was “bar rogue”, and so that was it – we would meet at bar rogue at 11.37 am. Accomodation as mentioned was Walkabout, but when they got full there were plenty of hotels nearby. The train station was apparently at the top of a hill and a brave dander from the coast, where the pier and hotel was. But that was good – gave us a wee chance to get lost and see Brighton city centre on route. I got the trains booked early for cheap as well, from Bournemouth to Brighton. And the pub we chose to watch the FA Cup Final in, was Walkabout. We had done that before in Southampton back in 2006 (Liverpool v. West Ham), and it was always full for the big games with a great atmosphere. Everything was sorted, all we needed to do now was turn up and enjoy Brighton.
Gemma, Simon and me all got the same train from Bournemouth on the Saturday morning. Gemma actually picked me up earlier though and we went to my favourite Bournemouth Caff for breakfast – Al’s Diner on the Holdenhurst Road. In there I had a full breakfast and a lime milkshake before we met Simon at the station with my iPod ready and some radnom green items. I also had bought a The Sun newspaper to get the team news for the FA Cup Final. The train departed fairly early and we would have one change, at Portsmouth I think, before heading on to Brighton. The train was busy and I was surprised to see a station called “Southbourne” somewhere along the line. This was also a district of Bournemouth where I once lived. iPod songs that morning featured heavily on Oasis, and “Champagne Supernova”, of which I had written a new version to be unveiled that day to the club at the meeting. I changed the lyrics to fit with Northern Irish football history and belief…
Soon we were alighting in Brighton and there was my old housemate John Johnson waiting! He had hurt his hand severely in a bad car accident a few months previously and was understandably still recovering and also off the alcohol at the time. We exited the station to find ourselves at the top of a hill on a very busy road. Brighton looked good! The sun was out as we headed down what looked like the main street and to the beach. This walk took less than 15 minutes and also saw us pass by the Walkabout where we would later stay and watch that there FA Cup Final in.
Soon we saw the excellent beach, by now fading sunshine was replaced by rainclouds as we had a short downpour. I got the call from Alan Scott that he was nearby and was trying to get parked. Then we found “Bar Rogue” right opposite road works at Brighton Pier. A lovely wee bar with an unexpected balcony overlooking the road with the pier in the background. WE set our stall out – fleg draped over the balcony we got the best seats on the balcony by the bar entrance and looking straight at the pier. It was Fosters on tap for £2 a pint so we ordered those in, by way of a kitty. Then Pompey John and Alan Scott showed up, and we received calls from Scott Gordon and Tim Beattie to say they were on their way. We waited for Tim and his girlfriend Charley at least before we started the official meeting part of the day out. I was already impressed by Brighton.
I read out the lyrics to my new Norn Iron version of Oasis “Champagne Supernova” and got everyone a copy and so that we should sing it. It goes:

How many goals will Healy score?
How many times will Windsor roar?
Where were you for Wembley 85?

Walking past the City Hall
Faster than a Whiteside ball
Where were you for Chile 89?

Someday you will find me
Back in our wee country
With a Northern Ireland accent till I die
Then before we knew it Tim Beattie and Charley had arrived on their train and that made a nice wee group of 7 of us, with a couple of hours to spare before the FA Cup Final. We ran through a quick meeting, deciding that our next meetings should be:
1. June 2009 to watch Spain v. Sweden in Euro 2008 at Poole/Greensea Island (Simon, me and Gemma agreed to attend)
2. May 2009 unofficial meeting up in Salisbury to meet Norman Whiteside (Me and John confirmed)
3. First meeting of 2008 – 2009 season would be Yeovil
We had also decided to hold a vote for which youth team we should sponsor in the following season. This was an idea from Squid and Jono in the club, and we concocted a list of 4 youth teams based in the south of England, then we put it to vote by e-mail and at the meeting, with the final outcome being:
1. Bude Town, Cornwall – 3 votes
2. Beech United, Essex – 3 votes
3. Cheltenham Saracens – 4 votes
4. Warsash Wasps – 1 vote
and that meant that I would then contact Cheltenham Saracens and let them know they had won the vote, and we would proceed to hopefully sponsor them in some way during the next season.
Very soon after that we were tucking into more Fosters when I noticed some TV cameras and reporters walking past the promenade. Not one to miss out on publicity and mayhem, I quickly jaunted down to them and asked for a chat and what they were doing. I had a green and white wig on, a green snake round my neck. It turned out they were from MTV (Music Television) and were doing a music documentary in Brighton, as part of a rock festival weekend. They interviewed me about random music and life stuff. The interview was very short, maybe 2 minutes and then they told me it would be aired in June 2008, and they asked me to sign a form to say I agreed my interview could be shown! I have a photo on here of me signing the form, though I never ever saw the interview and indeed dont have MTV. If you saw it, send me a link, or let me know what I said. I’d be keen to know!
Soon after this it started to rain and we decided the time was right to move to Walkabout. It was only about a 6 minute walk, off a corner by the main street. By this stage Tim’s girlfriend Charley brought two mates, one of whom was a lesbian and the other who had large breasts. One of them was called Sarah. We also heard word from club secretary Scott Gordon who by now was almost in Brighton with his guitar and made it into the pub just before kick off. We got our wee area of the Walkabout and topped up the kitty, adding more money from the new turn ups. Dave King and his fiance Vicky had also turned up now and there was a total of 11 in our group by now. We also did an FA Cup Final sweepstake just before the kick off. We put the names of every player and sub on the two teams, Cardiff and Portsmouth onto a sheet and drew them from a hat, with £1 per person entry. Of course there were only 11 in our group, so we got a whole load of English guys on a stag night and they all paid a £1 each as well for the sweepstake. I cannot even remember which player I got.
The match had began and to be honest it was all a blur. Apart from the odd cheering every time Tony Capaldi touched the ball, the match was slow paced and not exciting. Actually I don’t remember anything at all, except Kanu’s winning goal for Portsmouth who went nuts at the final whistle, and totally deserved the win. It was a final to forget, but at least we were all together in the Walkabout as the SOENISC and enjoying it. After the final whistle we went to leave our bags upstairs and check into the hostel for the night. The drinking continued as did using some random punchbag thing in the walkabout bar to see who was the strongest. I think I probably had the weakest punch, and didn’t particularly want to participate anyway. Why hit somebody? I thought!
The search for a cash point after this was a long one, but I got to see the streets (un-cared) of Brighton, where I saw a lot of lovely wee traditional shops, cafes and bars. A very nice town and totally different to what I expected. Soon though the plan had been to leave Walkabout and head back to the beach for more drinks and a sing song and kickabout. Plus our obligatory SOENISC club fleg photos with Brighton pier and beach in the background. Scott had his guitar out and I set up nets on the pebbled beach as we began some kind of random penalty competition. The problem was the rain. It didn’t bother me, but most of the crowd wanted to stay under the umbrellas and by the bar. The bar we found was called “the fortune of war.”
It was Pear Cider time announced Tim Beattie as the next use of the kitty money was for the pear ciders all round at that bar. We sat down, had a wee bit more of a kickabout and a guitar singalong as the clouds and rain faded the sky out on us all. A lampost come on, and some of the crowd said their goodbyes. The night was still young. Tim Beattie, Charley, Dave King, Vicky and Pompey John all headed off. The rest of us split into two groups looking for a bar. Alan Scott, Gemma, John and I all got refused entry in football tops to the bar called “The Varsity”, me and Alan did a “take your photo of the SOENISC fleg outside the bar we were banned from” protest. The bouncer and the landlord can girn all they want, but they lost our money that night! We went back into Bar Rogue for a wee pint, but Alan and John went to check into their hotel room I think. We actually ended up moving on to the hotel private bar, which was part of the Royal Albion Hotel. It overlooked the pier and I was a bit drunk in there, even telling a porter I was staying in Room 106! It all got a wee bit hazy, but the other guys had gotten themselves into the more lively bar “St Christophers Inn” just down the road a bit, and also on the seafront, so we headed in there and got ourselves a table. I drank some gin and tonics in there and chilled out, but I was clearly wrecked so ended up heading back to the hostel early-ish. Gemma and Simon stayed out much later in the Walkabout till it closed at 3 am. By then I was comatose…
I awoke without hangover the next morning, and got showered. I also walked around nude in the hostel in front of some English girls for a laugh. They assumed I was hungover or still drunk. My response was that I couldn’t find my underpants. The choice of the next drink was crucial….COFFEE! We had coffee and croissant in the Brighton sunshine by the pier in a wee belgian coffee shop. There was me, Simon, Gemma, Alan and John. I also found a postcard which I posted to kid brother and I bought Millwall Neil some Millwall rock in one of the souvenir shops. After this it wasn’t time to go just yet! Simon headed home on an early train and Scott was still around, so we met at the forefront of the pier. I was enjoying the lively atmosphere there. It was great. There was Morris dancers, the pier was packed and was also free, so we walked right to the end. I bought 5 doughnuts, I think me and Gemma had ice cream as well and then we decided to go on the ghost train at the end of the pier. I hadn’t been on a ghost train since the 1980s at Barrys Amusements Arcade in Portrush so that was great craic. John and Alan also enjoyed the random ness of the pier amusements. Gemma also played at Dolphin Derby, a game where Dolphins raced, and she did the loop the loop thing I think. It was all good banter by the seaside, showing another side of me in those days – the fun side away from football and alcohol. Soon though our time was running out for the train back home.
Alan Scott and Scott Gordon headed off first, before me, Gemma and john walked up hilly roads back towards the train station. John got his train to London Bridge, while we got ours back to Bournemouth via Portsmouth. I had a bottle of Corona on the train, and we talked to a lot of Portsmouth football fans who were still celebrating, it seemed the whole city had shut down because of their FA Cup win! And also before we left Brighton we took some photos of the side streets, the pier and beach and the lovely Pavilion Theatre. At the time I worked in Bournemouth Pavilion and was shocked by how bad it was in comparison to the beautiful building with domed roofs in Brighton. Within a few hours I was back in Bournemouth Pavilion working on a Joe Satriani concert and the SOENISC trip to Brighton was over and done in a flash. Great two days out. Lovely seaside town!

What was it? – SOENISC FA Cup Final Meeting 2008

Where was it? – Brighton, Sussex

When was it? – Sardi 17th May 2008

Who went? – Jonny Blair, Simon McCully, Gemma Mornin, John Hewitt, Alan Scott, John Johnson, Tim Beattie, Charley Holyhead, Dave King and Vicky, Scott Gordon.

Bars visited – Bar Rogue (twice), Walkabout, The Fortune of War (on the beach), St. Christopher’s Inn, Royal Albion Hotel Bar.

FA Cup Final Score – Portsmouth 1-0 Cardiff City

Media appearances – Brighton FC fans forum, Bangor NISC website, North Stand Chat, The Argus Local Online Newspaper, Interview with chairman Jonny Blair by MTV by Brighton Pier/Bar Rogue as part of a Music Festival Documentary.

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