38. Queens Park Rangers FC, Shepherds Bush, & Newcastle United FC, Newcastle (UK)

26 March 2019

When Brian decided QPR would be the Q on his list and insisted it had always been his favourite English club, it was news to me. Admittedly I was pretty adept at tuning out whenever talk turned to football but I did know Sam was an Arsenal supporter and Ben Chelsea, and those were the teams their father also followed. He helped them each paint a feature wall in their bedrooms in their chosen club’s colour – terrifying shades of red and blue – and bought them merchandise and magazines, toured Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium with them in 2009, and he was always up for a late-night game on SBS. Through it all, never once did I hear a “C’mon you Rs” or see a Rangers beanie on his head.

So I was a little less than inspired by this ash drop… more so when we hit a wall and my very reasonable request to slip down to the turf and scatter “my late husband, bless him, a lifelong QPR fan” was dismissed at reception. Apparently only the Club Chaplain could do the deed and he wasn’t on site, so Mr Officious dialled his number and handed me the phone. It was not part of the plan to have some stranger in a collar messing about with my ashes odyssey so when the Rev said he couldn’t do it for at least another week, I wasn’t disappointed. I explained to reception guy that I was leaving London the next day, thinking that in the circumstances a little rule-bending might happen, but this was the hallowed QPR and there went my window. The merchandise store was the only accessible place on the premises but after scoping it out for potential alternatives, we gave up and sprinkled him in a tree across the road.

Four days after this non-event I’d joined my Hadrian’s walking buddies in Newcastle and we visited St James Park, home of the NU Football Club. Our to-do list for the area was exhausted and the next day we’d start our ambitious cross-country hike from Tyneside to the west coast so today was just mooching through the remains of the local tourist spots. At The Biscuit Factory art gallery – a Jane and Barb pick – the lads suppressed their schoolboy selves and didn’t break anything so when they decided to tour the NUFC stadium, we were happy to tag along. NU is another team I can’t remember Brian ever mentioning but I suspected an official tour would gift some prime ash-drop opportunities, undoubtedly illicit, that might just make up for the QPR rejection.

Permission was not sought this time – I could already hear NU’s no if I did, especially if they knew that sacred usually runs second to impulse with me. The tour was comprehensive and took us in and out of places Brian would never have got to otherwise, and our guide was brilliant. Entertaining and insightful, she herded us through each area with information and anecdotes and an eye on the clock. I hung back when I could and managed to give him a home in several choice spots: under the seat dedicated to the legendary Bobby Robson; under seat 217 in the stands… 21/7 being the date Brian had died in 2014; in the officials’ box on the sidelines; and in an Arsenal jersey that was hanging in the away teams’ dressing room. Predictably gravity did its thing and most of that one ended up on the floor underneath but as the guide admitted, the away team is provided with only the most basic of amenities (apparently a psychological tactic all clubs inflict on their visiting opposition) and their area only enjoys the minimum of attention. I’m hoping this lack of enthusiasm extends to the cleaning and they don’t break out the Dyson too often, so at least Brian gets to remain there through a few upcoming games.

NUFC might not have been Brian’s first option but at least it – unlike QPR – is in the Premier League.