I’d heard of Byron Bay quite a few times. I’m not really sure what struck it out to me as a “must stop at” location on my East Coast Road Trip, but it was a given. I even went so far as to make it a definite over night stop, and somewhere I wanted to watch the sunrise.
I had missed the chance to do that at Malacoota (popular pretty resort on the south east coast of Australia), due to my own timing so Byron Bay was to make up for that. And in fact it more than made up for it, this place oozed personality and left quite the impression.
Memories of Byron Bay include a disastrous and nightmarish drive up to it from Coffs Harbour in twilight. This featured dead kangarooneys, torrential rain and idiot Juggernaut drivers racing past me as I drove as the only car up the road in the rain.
Arrival at Byron Bay was sweet. A lonely dark curvy road without lamposts or catseyes greeted me, and I knew I was pretty close to the elusive Byron Bay.
I found a car park by a pub – it was by the Railway Friendly Hotel – odd title I thought and for an unknown reason, memories of days spent in Castlerock, Northern Ireland came reeling back. This was a total anti-contrast however. It was warm and vibrant. My memories of Castlerock were cold and slightly less lively.
Byron Bay was a party town – that was obvious after just a few minutes being parked there. Floods of noisy youngsters walked past in the rain, all dressed outrageously and heading along the main street.
I went onto my wireless internet and decided to head to Cheeky Monkeys pub to watch the World Cup Football live there. That was always the plan. I had heard only good things about the town of Byron Bay and the nightclub Cheeky Monkeys. Owen Millar had also recommended it as a stop off on the way up. It happened to be in the street opposite the Railway Friendly Hotel.
So I changed quickly into my Northern Ireland shirt, set my bed up in the car (I knew I would park and sleep there because I wanted a few beers that night) and decided to head to Cheeky Monkeys.
There were four matches on that night, two each at the same time, it was the end of some of the group stages. In Slovenia’s group, Algeria were due to play the USA and England were due to play for Slovenia. That match was at midnight and I got into the bar just before 11.30 pm I think.
It was very lively, a mega atmosphere in there and something I wasn’t ready for. This was definitely a party town. It wasn’t dissimilar to the Windsor Bar atmosphere in bangor from back in 1997, nor did it differ much from my first night life impressions of the holiday town of Bournemouth in the south of England. All three places began with B, had a beach and were popular seaside resorts. Byron Bay had the advantage of warm weather, and that casual easy Australian vibe which is severely lacking in the over-worked burn out zones of the United Kingdom.
On queueing for a beer at the bar in Byron Bay, a guy introduced himself to me. It was Dave, an English guy, must have been in his mid-30s. I could tell there was a mixed crowd and everyone talks to everyone in there. It’s one of them places. Parallels could also be drawn with the holiday resort and clubs such as Bananas, Boomerang and BCM in Magaluf, Majorca.
I got a schooner of Toohey’s New, 4.5% alcohol and priced at $4.50. I was used to drinking Toohey’s New at two different points in life. Once was in October 2003 when I used to go with my old housemate Steve Compton down to the Australian Bar in town, Walkabout in Bournemouth. They used to have the live football on in there. A vintage photo from those days appears left there….that ain’t Byron Bay – that’s Bournemouth. Dorset. England.
Once I had my beer in hand, I joined the lads in front of the big screen, so many England fans in there all watching Fabio Capello’s team. I told the guys I had to support Slovenia, mainly because I dislike the English arrogance and expectancy going into World Cups. But also because I’d seen Slovenia v Northern Ireland twice and they had knocked us out to qualify.
Standing during the first half I met an English guy called Dan. Mind you, he had lived in Australia for about 8 years and still sounded as English as the Queen, without the posh bit. He also told me he was a quarter Northern Irish. So he knew the distinct difference thanks to a grandparent.
He was with a few from his hostel, including a well travelled and intelligent Norwegian guy (from a mountain town), called Anders. Anders was dissapointed that Norway weren’t in the World Cup, but he compared Norway to Northern Ireland actually on football terms. I thought that was a bit kind on us, given the last 3 matches had been 10-1 on aggregate in favour of Norway. and all in front of my very own eyes at Windsor Park, Belfast.
Neither team played particularly well and I was surprised to see James Milner start the match for England. However he proved his worth, his cross setting up ex-AFC Bournemouth striker Jermain “10 in a row” Defoe to put England 1-0 up. A good finish and of course the English guys went wild. IF they could hold on they were through.
There was an e-postcard computer and photo screen in Cheeky Monkeys in Byron Bay. You simply go in front of it, pose, press the button and wait for the photo to be taken.
It then comes up on the screen and you can e-mail it for free, as an E-Postcard from Byron Bay. Nice idea that. I took one and sent it to my Mum, though I’m not sure if she got it. Which means actually it wasn’t working that night…
Second half began with England fans hoping they could hold on. They looked dire and rode their luck at times. Slovenia would also have gone through if the results had remained the same, as the USA v Algeria was still 0-0. Both teams would then have only 3 and 2 points respectively, yet the Slovenians would have 4 and progress, thanks to a 1-0 win over Algeria at the start.
So in the end England held on for their 1-0 win and guaranteed second round place. But whether it would be as group winners or as runners up we weren’t sure. I spoke to a guy from Torquay and his wife and they were just relieved they had got through.
Then standing at the bar I met a few Americans, who had assumed the USA v Algeria match would be on afterwards, at least in highlight form, but it wasn’t and none of us knew the score. (That blurred photo is the Americans). The English guys weren’t fussed but two of them came over and wanted the USA to go through as well. The last update we had was 0-0, which would have meant USA and Algeria both going out.
One of the US guys got onto his BlackBerry (as you do in this modern era) and screamed for joy finding out a 1-0 late goal had given them victory and therefore group winners. this meant England would play the winners of Group D, which could have been any one of Ghana, Serbia or Germany depending on goal difference. Australia could have beaten Serbia 6-0 and still not won the group, as they started the day with just 1 point, though they could have sneaked the runner up spot, if Ghana could beat Germany.
I wanted to stay in Cheeky Monkeys and watch the second match at 4.30 am. By now it was 2.30 am anyway. But Cheeky Monkeys closed at 3 am, and nowhere in town was braving the morning opening to show the match, even though it involved Australia.
Cheeky Monkeys – http://www.cheekymonkeys.com.au/index.php
AUSTRALIA 2-1 SERBIA (WORLD CUP 2010 – later that morning):