[Continued from yesterday’s reminiscences about my first trip to New York City]
My subject is memory. I can piece together details from every day of my first trip to New York City, 18 years ago this week. Sunday 16 May 1999 began with a football (“soccer”) game. Before leaving London we had done enough research to find a few bars that were showing live sport. This is what had led us to Rocky Sullivan’s on Lexington Avenue, the home of Celtic FC in New York. They didn’t screen Premiership games from England so we found another bar on Second or Third Avenue to watch the final games of that season unfold.
As a Leeds United fan my season was over. We were going to finish fourth whatever happened. Before our second-last game we were seven points behind Chelsea in third place and seven points ahead of fifth-placed Derby County. We couldn’t go up or down. Our final home game, the previous Tuesday (11 May), had seen us beat Arsenal 1-0. I was at that game, and feeling conflicted. As we couldn’t win the League I wanted Arsenal to win it instead of Man United, but it’s hard to urge on another team at your home ground. I celebrated Hasselbaink’s late winner with my friends even though it made no difference to our final position, and it scuppered Arsenal’s chances of winning the title. I had been working in Leeds for a month, finishing on Wednesday 12 May. I drove back to London that evening and heard Man United draw at Blackburn. That result relegated Blackburn, just four years after they had won the Premier League. I am typing these words nine days after Blackburn were relegated again, to the third tier of English football.
The permutations for the final games of the season were straightforward: if Man United won (at home to Tottenham), they would be champions, whatever happened to Arsenal. If they didn’t, and Arsenal beat Aston Villa in their final game, Arsenal would be champions.
We arrived at the pub on Second or Third Avenue a little after the 11am kick-off. I drank grapefruit juice until noon. However much I drink (and on this trip I drank rather a lot) I never start before the clock passes 12. (Different rules might apply at airports but once I’m on local time the first drink of the day is always PM rather than AM.) Spurs took the lead. We had hope. As the second half began I had my first Guinness of the day. By the end of the game (and my second pint) Man U had won 2-1 and were champions. Although none of us supported Arsenal we were all rather deflated by this.
The afternoon passed quietly, with a trip to Rocky Sullivan’s and my first ever trip to Starbuck’s. The brand was virtually unknown in the UK at this point. We spent an hour there. Our coffees were large, sweetened with syrup (caramel in my case). I dozed off in an armchair. The following day our friend James the barman advised us to support the local delis instead of Starbuck’s and for the rest of the trip we did.
That evening Stiff Little Fingers were playing at a place in Chelsea. Bruce Foxton (formerly of The Jam) was playing bass. Our drummer stayed behind but two of us took the unfamiliar trip down to 23rd Street and experienced the same kind of show we had been enjoying for over 20 years back in London, punk and post-punk bands in small clubs, standing up the whole evening, and drinking beer from plastic glasses. We made it back to Rocky Sullivan’s for a few more pints. The glasses were made of glass. We were there till 4am. Again.