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British soccer fans are paying their respects to the queen in Premier League stadiums

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Queen Elizabeth II's funeral is tomorrow at Westminster Abbey in London, a somber ritual. Britons are also mourning their monarch in other very different ways. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Newcastle upon Tyne in England's Northeast.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This is a moment Martin Bailey has been looking forward to all week. He's on his way to pick up a ticket to watch his soccer team, in a city where soccer - or football, as the British call it - is about far more than sport.

MARTIN BAILEY: It's in your DNA. You live, breathe, sleep Newcastle United. Your enjoyment, your passion in life is dictated by what's happening sort of, you know, day to day, week to week by Newcastle United.

REEVES: Bailey's a teacher and a hardcore Newcastle United fan. He goes to almost all home games. This one is particularly special. Since the queen's death, Bailey's been glued to his TV, watching the pageantry and rituals. Now he'll get to pay his respects his way - according to the traditions of football.

BAILEY: It's that being sense of a community, being sense of a crowd, you know, having a shared feeling at that moment in time.

REEVES: We're walking to Newcastle United's giant stadium, St. James' Park. Today, even the venue takes on a different meaning.

BAILEY: There is those links with religion, that sort - it does feel like a place of worship that we go along to.

NICK BARNES: Football stadiums are their churches.

BAILEY: Broadcaster and commentator Nick Barnes has covered football in northeastern England for decades.

BARNES: It is something over and beyond the normal. And going to the game, going to a match is almost religious. It's tribal. It is a worshipping exercise.

REEVES: Outside the stadium, fans clad in Newcastle's black and white shirt begin to gather. A lot of them are white, working-class men. They've seen this port city go through hard times during the queen's 70-year reign. The area's coal mines and shipyards shut down, replaced by service industries and tourism. That painful history helped make Newcastle a stronghold of opposition to Britain's ruling Conservative Party. Yet support for the monarchy holds strong. Bailey thinks the queen had something that politicians lack.

BAILEY: It was a calmness. It was a sense of security, of, you know, being there. The queen was that person for us, who just made you feel that everything would be OK, that whatever's going on in the world sort of - we'll come to a better place again.

REEVES: A lot of fans here and around Britain wanted to pay their tribute to the queen last weekend, a couple of days after she died. But the football authorities cancelled all games out of respect. There was an outcry from supporters angry that other sports, like cricket, were allowed to go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The longest-serving monarch, she was an inspiration to all.

REEVES: St. James' Park Stadium is filling up. This is a Premier League game against Bournemouth from southern England. Just before kickoff, the tribute to Queen Elizabeth begins.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: We recognize her immense contribution to the nation and around the world during her remarkable service.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

REEVES: Fifty-two thousand notoriously boisterous fans stand in absolute silence for a full minute. Then they honor their new monarch, King Charles III, with this.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Send him victorious...

REEVES: Even in this sea of black and white, there are shades of gray. There are fans here who say they oppose the monarchy or resent the money being lavished on ceremonies mourning the queen amid a looming cost-of-living crisis. Yet in this highly charged atmosphere, dissenting fans keep their views to themselves. The other day, a radio pundit highlighted Britain's racism in a tweet, questioning why Black and brown people should mourn the queen. He was suspended. The game ends with a 1-1 draw. The fans head home. The football was forgettable but not the minute's silence, says Stew Taylor, a factory worker and lifelong Newcastle fan.

STEW TAYLOR: It was like football's way of saying, we are upset, too.

REEVES: A message of sorrow and respect, then, from Britain's grassroots, delivered in a way that Taylor thinks this city will never see again.

TAYLOR: Don't think it would happen for anybody else, not this good for one person. Unbelievable.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Newcastle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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