Walking down Kirkstall Lane past all the students cafes, restaurants and the Headingley Taps pub towards Headingley, home of Yorkshire County Cricket club, and one of 8 or so county grounds used for England's Test Matches, it's a fun fare of fans. The Three Amigos in serapes, mustachios and sombreros, 4 guys dressed in make-up and black and white lycra as KISS, 4 Egyptian Pharoes, 4 circus clowns, 2 Elvis impersonators..... I am finally sitting behind a guy with a black T shirt and silver writing; 'Grazie Paulo Maldini'. It's a long way from the San Siro, but the sun is shining and its very warm.
Gangs of Aussies in striped black and white penal uniforms, T-shirted fans in green and gold with H.M. Prison Australia, The legions of Barmy Army, and guys in bowler hats, and visitors in floppy green Aussie cricket caps or straw hats with corks dangling from the brims.
It is eight years since Headingley hosted an Aussie AshesTest match and the much improved stadium is full. Its DAY THREE, Sunday and England are going to lose and day 4 and 5 are not going to be used- a fanancial disaster. It's the 4th Test of a series of 5 with two draws and 1 win for England, who were whitewashed 5-0 down-under in the last series. I am hardly a cricket fan; 'Life's too short to play cricket', and I have only been to 2 tests in the last 50 years, early 1950's at The Oval in South London v West Indies, and early '80s at MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), also used for the 1956 Olympic Games and for Aussie Rules Football, very popular in Victoria.
Outside I buy a £55.00 day ticket for £10.00 and enter through the wonderful Sir Len Hutton wrought iron gates at 11.00am with England facing disaster, 82-5 in their second innings. However, the lads in white give it a go and we are treated to a spirited 2 hours of batting by The Three Lions, in particular Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann. The fans are a far cry from those on the terraces of the EPL, much more relaxed, but enthusiastic. England were all out in the first innings by 2.00pm on the first day, Friday for 102 runs. That's like scoring 9 in a basketball game or getting the first answer wrong on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' with the question: add 1 + 1. !! They don't start playing until 11.00am daily, so it's pretty bad.
At 5.40am the England team, snug in their beds at the SAS Radisson hotel on City Square have to hurry down to the street in their pyjamas and slip flops in the rain, due to a fire alarm.. I am in the East Stand which is in the shade, and its a bit like my first bull fight in the shaded seats at Plaza Mexico, a while back in Mexico City. However, whereas the bulls are stabbed and their dead, blood-soaked bodies are dragged off by a team of horses, underperforming England players have to walk the walk, almost like a 'perp' walk, 100 yards back to the pavilion under their own steam, and are only 'killed' in the press.!!
I have access to The Long Room behind my seat with its displays and souvenirs of past glories. Fans are drinking and eating like there is no tomorrow, with tents, bars and a burger vans aplenty in this spacious stadium, about twice the area at least of a football stadium. Burgers, breakfasts, all you can eat lunch, ostrich burgers, bacon baps...Attached and behind the main stand is Headingley Carnegie rugby stadium where RFL champions Leeds Rhinos and Rugby Union Leeds Carnegie play. Drink Marsdon's 'The official beer of England'. Roar for England states billboard, hiding a new pavilion and media centre under construction. I think Marmite and Fosters brew for the Aussies is a much better diet: 'The breakfast of champions'!!
Yorkshire, and particulary the Yorkshire Dales, Moors and Coast is God's Country and at this international match you hear lots of 'foreign' accents-from London, Hampshire, Birmingham, Durham, Derbyshire and oh, Australian too!! At lunch I stretch my legs, get a pass-out at the East entrance and stroll up St. Michael's Lane to The Original Oak, a favourite pub with a beer garden with over 100 tressle tables and indoor and outdoor bars serving beer, burgers, Aussie burgers and packed full of fans of both teams. I think of returning, but 24 minutes after lunch and it's all over. Last man standing Graham Onions is bowled by Michael Johnson; A crushing defeat by an innings and 80 runs. The final test is at The Oval in 10 days time. Here's hoping that England wizz Freddie Flintoff is fit for the final and deciding test, when he has announced his retirement from Test cricket. England HAVE TO win, or Australia retain The Ashes.