Redhill – Saturday September 13th 2014 (573)

September 15, 2014
'The car park warden was determined that the Smart Car driver wouldn't benefit from free parking any longer...'

‘Despite being blessed with a huge car park, the club’s parking warden was determined to reserve a space for his own moped…’

There comes a time in ever parent’s life that you have to give the kids a bit more leeway. Notwithstanding that I was cycling all over my home county from when I was about 10, I deemed the ‘right’ age for my kids to be about 16. They have now reached that milestone. Indeed, if we lived in Scotland, they could be voting! So it’s probably time to loosen the reins.

What it does mean, however, is that I no longer need to spend £41 per match to accompany my lad to Chelsea games. To be fair I have enjoyed the entertainment over the past seven or eight seasons, but always at the back of my mind I’d be thinking “I’m in London, I should be ticking off a new Isthmian League ground.” I’m sure you know the feeling.

So today is the day he will attend his first Dad-free match at Stamford Bridge, albeit with his mate Alex who has just moved down from Sheffield to Brighton and intends to be a regular at the ‘Bridge’. After driving from home and then getting the tube from Stanmore, Victoria station seems a good place to meet up.

After clucking about like Mother Hen and showing them which tube trains to catch to get to Fulham Broadway, making sure they have money for programmes, and giving them bottle tops to put on the drinks they buy at the ground (Chelsea being one of those places where you buy a bottle of pop, and they hand it to you sans-top – cue massive lakes of coke washing under the seats) I watch them disappear into the distance and realise I have a little more of my freedom back.

That liberty today is taking me on a short rail hop to Redhill, not far from Reigate and a relatively recent arrival to Step 4. Armed with my Tube Day-Travelcard, which will take me as far as Coulsdon South, I buy a Senior-Railcard-discounted ticket from there to Earlswood which costs me the princely sum of £3.05. As the ticket man at Victoria says, “Blimey, we’re almost paying you!”

There are two pubs quite close to Earlswood station, the nearest being the slightly down-at-heels-looking Chestnut Tree, and then the slightly-better-situated Joshua Tree. I don’t have time to call into either but CAMRA’s What Pub website reports both as selling cask beer. From the station it’s a 15-minute hard walk to Redhill’s Kiln Brow stadium, which sits alongside the busy A34. You can get to it down that road, or take a slightly more scenic route through a housing estate, and then a woodland path where squirrels, rabbits and even a Jay cross my path.

Access to the ground is via an ample car park which you suspect wouldn’t even bulge for a local derby against South Park, capacious as it is. I enter the stadium to the sound of a tannoy blasting out hard-core gangster rap music with industrial language well to the fore. The pitch-side signs warning against using bad language suddenly seem a bit ironic. The clubhouse bar appears well protected, behind a guarded gate, which probably explains why out of a crowd given as 100, only about ten of us are in there for a pre-match drink. In my case this is a refreshing pint of Robinson’s Trooper, which the bar lady fetches from elsewhere. I presume this to be direct from the cellar, rather than from Stockport, where ’tis brewed.

I decline the opportunity to buy  a raffle ticket when it is revealed over the tannoy that all prizes are in fact lumps of meat donated by a local butcher. Two of the eventual winners are standing near me, each congratulating the other on the quality of the dead flesh they have just won, the type of animal being probably undertermined. “It’s not horse meat,” says the tannoy reassuringly. That’s narrowed it down a bit, then.

I settle down to survey the stadium, which consists primarily of flat standing all round, with a small covered area in one corner, and a seated stand on the halfway line. The sun is shining, it’s FA Cup day, and Isthmian Division 1 rivals Carshalton Athletic are in town.

The game itself is interesting, possibly mildly entertaining, without ever reaching the heights. Both teams are evenly matched and have their chances, but it takes a close range prod home from Redhill’s fabulously-monikored Tyrone Pink on 55 minutes to settle the tie.

I arrive back at Victoria to get the low-down on Chelsea’s almost-demolition of second-placed Swansea, which sounds a bit more exciting than my game. But at £33 cheaper through the turnstiles, and a new tick to boot, I have to thank the kids for finally loosening my reins!

Programme: £2 on the turnstile. Glossy cover, but with adverts taking up 22 of the 40 pages, possibly not great value for money.

Floodlight pylons: 6

Birdlife: No parakeets in this part of Surrey, but there was a lone heron, not to forget the local Jay I mentioned earlier

Toilets: In the bar

Club shop: Yes, quite a sizeable cabin near the entrance.

Music the players run out to: Nothing noted

Kop choir: No

Away fans: A gaggle of Athletic fans with flags behind the appropriate goal, but not excessively vocal

What’s In a Name? When the visitors’ Kingsley Aikhionbare was substituted by Brendan Murphy-McVey, at 37 letters (including the hyphen), does that make it the biggest substitution ever? Better dig out that Guinness Book of Records!


Tividale – Saturday September 6th 2014 (572)

September 9, 2014
"The Black Country holidaymakers had a genuine grievance regarding the chalet's sleeping arrangements, whilst its location also left something to be desired..."

“The Black Country ‘Allocated On Arrival’ holidaymakers had  genuine misgivings about the chalet’s sleeping arrangements, whilst its location also left something to be desired…”

One of the most enjoyable periods of my working life was spent in the ‘Black Country.’ Admittedly it was only for seven months, but it was 30-odd weeks helping to set up an ambitious brewing/pub/wholesaling operation which was something I’d always wanted to do. Sadly it came to an end when the under-qualified managing director – appointed to that position by his brother, the owner – began to realise that the key operatives he’d recruited were highlighting his own inadequacies and undermining his role at the head of the business. So he got rid of us all in a night-of-the-long-knives, the company subsequently went bust, and the owner served time for some form of financial skullduggery. No surprise there.

But, as I said, highly enjoyable, in that I got to explore one of the most interesting beer drinking regions of the country – Bathams, Holdens, Simpkiss, Ma Pardoes and more – make a lot of lifelong friends (I’m still officially a member of a Wolves Supporters Club), and discovered the delights of the Black Country Balti. And I also kick-started my long-dormant passion for visiting new football grounds, ticking off all of the West Midlands and a lot further afield, following Wolves through the lower divisions.

For whatever reason, save when Forest play at Molineux, I don’t get back here that often now, so an aborted planned trip to Guernsey turns my attention to Tividale, newly promoted to Step 4, and the nearest ground of that stature I’ve yet to visit. So fully equipped with my new Senior Railcard, I set off to revisit Dudley, via a brief Wetherspoons Brekky break in Brum. Having landed at Dudley Port station, I foot-slog the mile and a half or so into Dudley town centre, my first port-of-call being the Foundry. When I worked in Dudley, this was about to re-open as the Queen Victoria, and I lodged upstairs in what was essentially a derelict pub for a couple of weeks. One evening, after a particularly enjoyable pub crawl, I arrived back to discover I’d lost the key. I braced myself for a night on a park bench, before deciding to summon up police support. We arrived at the pub door to find the key on the floor where I’d dropped it. Doh!

I don’t linger in the Foundry, which looks and feels essentially like a youngsters music venue, with just Castle Rock Harvest Pale on hand pump. My next pub, the local Wetherspoons, is very busy but the beer choice is uninspiring and I end up at the Court House, operated by Black Country Inns, and selling that brewery’s 4-strong range of ales with a further 8 guests. 12 beers in all, 8 of them either pale or golden; sadly a sign of the times. Pig On The Wall mild is reliably dark, although to me it’s more of a lightly-hopped ruby bitter.

From here I move towards the castle end of town and a Holden’s pub called the Fellows. It’s been tarted up to be heavy on the food, and I’m disappointed to find that, despite a pump clip seemingly showing the availability of Holden’s Mild, they only sell it in bottles. “The clip is on the pump to advertise the bottles,” explains the fully-briefed barmaid. “Yes, but essentially you are advertising a cask beer you don’t sell,” I counter. The boyfriend at the other end of the bar gives me the eye and so as not to ruffle too many feathers, I opt for a Holden’s Bitter, which is a pleasant enough drink. But it’s not a cask mild!

From here it’s around a 15-minute walk to Tividale’s ‘Beeches’ ground, which is out on the road towards the M5. The gate and bar staff don’t appear to be the happiest people in the world, declining to join in my banter on this, national Non-League Day. Maybe they just can’t understand what I’m saying. To its credit, the bar sports two hand pumps featuring beers from Marston’s, the locally (I’m guessing Banks’s)-brewed Sunbeam and a Ringwood beer. I go local, and sample a beer so citrussy you might as well drop some lemons into it to mellow it down a bit.

I’m drawn into conversation by an apprentice hopper, a young West Brom fan who also follows Rushall Olympic around a bit, and is keen to add to his collection of grounds. I regale him with some of my recent exploits, as a consequence emerging from the clubhouse too late to see the opening goal, scored by visitors Mickleover Sports, the Direbyshire (sic) team. Tividale’s ground essentially consists of a long thin part-seated stand running the length of one side, with some ‘smoking’ cover behind one goal. The playing surface is hardly billiard table, and the standard of football is poor. The highlights of the first half are a stunning second from the visitors, and the two ladies walking round selling the raffle tickets. “I do the money, she does the strip….” says one of them. “That’s the best line I’ve heard!” chuckles a punter.

The second half is a non-event, save for a goal apiece in the last 15-minutes, but hey, it’s Non-League Day, it’s £4 to get in, and a crowd of 177 includes many sporting West Bromwich Albion shirts. And I’m back in the Black Country again, and all that’s missing is a Balti! Hey, I can soon rectify that…!

Programme: Impressive-looking glossy effort, £2 from a seller inside the turnstile

Floodlight pylons: 4

Birdlife: Precious little

Toilets: Inside the clubhouse

Club shop: Quite a lot mentioned in the programme, but only telephone and email contacts, so presumably not available on match days.

Music the players run out to: No idea as I was still in the bar!

Kop choir: No

Away fans: a few


West Auckland – Saturday August 30th 2014 (571)

September 2, 2014
'Exactly why the Europeans were fearful of their British opponents is expertly recorded in this action sculpture of the game...'

‘Exactly why Johnny Foreigner was so respectful of his British opponent is expertly recorded in this action sculpture of the game…’

I’ve blogged more than once about my uncanny ability to be able to factor in a new ground visit whenever the family decides to take itself off on a vacation, but rarely does it work out quite as well as on this trip. Celebrating my own and my wife’s birthdays at our regular North Yorkshire bolt-hole, this time we rashly invite the kids to accompany us to the land of no-phone-signal and erratic wi-fi – any teenager’s nightmare!

Quite sensibly, I’d long been looking for a convenient ground tick somewhere in the region of the Moors, but saw one after the other fall victim to an unsympathetic F.A. Cup draw. Until, that is, the mighty Darlo – one of my pet teams – won the right to take on West Auckland, owner of a Northern League ground I’d yet to visit. I couldn’t have hoped for a better scenario.

So after persuading the wife and daughter that swinging downtown Darlington is THE place to go shopping, myself and former-ball-chasing son say our farewells, pay our respects at what remains of Feethams (diggers at work), and head off across the A1M and up to the former mining town of West Auckland. Eschewing the free car parking laid on for the occasion, we park in the middle of town, where with the help of an informative mural and iconic statue I explain to my son that Auckland were the Chelsea of their day, laying claim to the title of World Champions not once but twice.  He is doubtless well impressed, though you can never tell with teenagers.

A large crowd is expected, with the home side one of the better-supported Northern league teams, and Darlo invariably attracting a good away support, so we arrive at the ground early and scout out potential viewing points. The Seagraves Stadium benefits from a raised uncovered terrace running the length of one goal, plus a decent sized main stand on the half-way line. Between the two is an area of covered standing set back from the fence. Grass banking all around also adds some elevation. The clubhouse is a good size, although nothing respectable in the way of beer is available therein. There’s a catering hatch adjacent, plus a burger van on the opposite side of the pitch which attracts a sizeable queue prior to the game. Chips and curry is the order of the day here.

We have a female ref for the game, and she has a good match although it is slightly strange to hear such a high-pitched voice shouting at errant players. With both physios also being of the fairer sex, she must feel well at home.

Though Darlo are a division higher, the home team have the better of the opening stages, and go in front on 10 minutes after a smart turn and shot. It’s a bright sunny day but the strong wind affects the progress of the ball, particularly when it is airborne, and with the visitors having it at their backs, play starts to concentrate itself round the Auckland goal, which leads a charmed life at times. Ironically it’s not until 4 minutes after the break, kicking into the wind, that the Quakers equalise with a follow up after yet another woodwork strike.

Despite huffing and puffing by both sides, the game peters out all-square, with a replay due in a few days time. Sadly, we won’t be there, as our digs are only booked until Monday. Inexplicably, I hadn’t factored the extra match in. Remiss of me – must do better next time!

Programme: £1 from inside the turnstiles. Colourful if somewhat erratically printed and stapled. The typeface used throughout isn’t the easiest on the eye.

Floodlight pylons: 4

Birdlife: Nothing noticeable

Toilets: In the clubhouse and in a block adjacent to the main stand (in an area be-devilled with flies, which might just be a coincidence!)

Club Shop: In the clubhouse

Music the players run out to: Glad All Over by the Dave Clarke Five

Kop choir: Not really

Away support: Darlo fans outnumbering the locals by at least 2-1, but not too much chanting going off.

What’s in a Name: West Auckland’s Ashley ‘Instant’ Coffey


Holwell Sports – Monday August 25th 2014 (570)

August 28, 2014
'There's a general admiration for the artist that painted such life-like landscapes on the back wall of the main stand..."

‘There’s a general admiration for the artist that painted such life-like landscapes on the back wall of the main stand…”

In these days of global population movements, I must count pretty much as a ‘home bird’. Despite roaming the length and breadth of Britain in search of good pubs and interesting football stadia, my home address for the first 35 years of my life always had a Leicestershire postcode at the end of it. Admittedly I’d lived in several parts of that county – even Rutland – but never any further afield. But at least that did give me a good grounding in the region, and having been in charge of the team that put together the most recent (to my knowledge) Leicestershire Beer Guide – back in 1985 – also an encyclopaedic knowledge of the best real ale haunts.

So it’s a bit surprising in all my time watching my village team – Barrow Old Boys – in the early 1970s, I very rarely ever traveled ‘away’. It was the same when I moved to Melton Mowbray for a couple of years in the late 1970s and spent many a carefree Saturday afternoon watching Melton Town play on Egerton Park in the Leicestershire Senior League. I never saw them play anywhere else. As was usual in those days, it was a council-owned park pitch, convenient for the town centre, and often attracted a fair crowd. When the Senior League adopted strict criteria governing ownership of club grounds, and the ability to charge an entrance fee, clubs were often obliged to up sticks and move, to the detriment of their attendances. I suspect Melton Town may have fallen into that category.

My own adopted village team certainly did. The Old Boys often drew large three-figure audiences to their home fixtures on the centrally-located – and council-operated –  King George V Playing Fields in Barrow upon Soar. When they changed their name to Barrow Town and relocated to their newly-acquired Riverside Park ground (almost in Quorn), those hardy souls trudging the mile or so out of town numbered barely 40 or so, and that was on a good day.

There were, however, clubs within the Senior League structure that already had their own grounds, because they were essentially ‘works’ teams with company-sponsored facilities. I remember Brush Sports, Midland Woodworkers, Cottons and Bentleys as being prominent sides, and another was Holwell Works, who played just outside Melton in the village of Asfordby Hill. It was a ground I never got to visit during my years living just a couple of miles away. So time to make up for that now.

Just like Barrow Town, Holwell has undergone a name change, and risen through the pyramid to grace the East Midlands Counties League, a Step 6 league at the tenth level of English football. Unlike Barrow Town they are still at this level on merit, rather than benefiting from a reprieve. Barrow had suffered the all-too-common knock-on effect of a failed promotion bid in 2012/3. During the following close season the management team left for a better offer, taking most of the half-decent players with them, and leaving a threadbare squad to suffer the agonies of a 2013/4 campaign which cut them well adrift at the bottom of the table. They were a poor side. Following the reprieve a new manager arrived, freshened up the squad, and has started with three straight league wins – as many as last season in total!

It’s a day of almost interminable rain, which abates slightly as I arrive at the ground by car, and park right outside The Stute Social Club, which has nothing to do with the football club, but effectively serves as their clubhouse bar, given its proximity to Holwell’s Welby Lane ground. The club is smart and friendly and has a working hand pump, dispensing Greene King Abbot, although my pint looks better than it drinks, having that slightly sour taste common of a barrel that is either nearing its end, or its sell-by date.

The ground itself lies adjacent to the local bowls club, and there are convenient windows in the back of the 100-seater main stand to view the action next door. There is also more cover, consisting of a shelter affixed to the front of the changing room, and a narrow strip of covered flat standing behind and to the side of one goal. I position myself here as it is also very wind-proof. There’s a snack bar down by the halfway line, for those wanting a meaty pie. I have to settle for a KitKat Chunkie. I amuse myself watching the officials on their pre-match warm-up routine, the young referee and assistant enjoying the turn and sprints much more than the second assistant, a man of advancing years and even more advancing waist-line. View the relief on his face when the ref calls a halt!

Although recently cut, the playing surface is hardly billiard table, and with the rain lashing down for much of the match, close control is at a premium. There are spells of action in between long periods of a midfield muddle and stoppages for injuries. Both sides miss gilt-edged chances in the opening five minutes, and it’s a very even contest throughout, with the final score of 1-1 probably the fairest result.

These days I live just across the county line in an area of Dire-byshire (sic) which has the compensation of Nottingham postcodes, so I still haven’t traveled that far away from my Loughborough birthplace. And that Leicestershire Beer Guide I mentioned earlier will likely have suffered a lot of deletions in the 30 years since it was published. So if anybody ever decides to produce a follow-up, I’d be very happy to help with the product research. Provided it fits in with the Barrow Town away schedule, of course. Let’s make up for lost time!

Programme: £1 on the turnstile. Modest 16-page affair typical of Step 6

Floodlight Pylons: 8

Birdlife: Nice weather for ducks

Toilets: Not sure, didn’t need to find out!

Club Shop: No

Music the players run out to: rainfall on the stand roof

Kop choir: No, but a good turnout of around 90 or so

Away fans: There were a few familiar faces amongst the crowd

What’s in a name: Holwell’s Jamie ‘the Bean’ Heinzman


Newport County – Saturday August 23rd 2014 (569)

August 25, 2014
"The County players are under no illusions that the manager's demands for a running game should be adhered to at all times..."

“The County players are under no illusions that the manager’s demands for a running game should be adhered to at all times…”

There’s a well-known song – I think it was by Frank Sinatra, but it may have been Sid Vicious – that includes the line “Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…”

Well I’ve got three regrets I’d like to mention. Because much as it satisfies me to once again complete my ’92’, I can’t help but spare a thought for the ones that got away. By that I mean those classic Football League grounds that for one reason or another I never got to visit before they shut up shop and were consigned into history.

The first of the three was Scunthorpe United’s Old Showground. I was on my way there as long ago as 1976, and even got as far as the end of our street when my trusty old Mini suddenly turned untrustworthy and ground to a halt. There was something badly wrong with the engine, a problem that came back to haunt me on my way to London for a New Year’s Eve bash a couple of weeks later. So no Old Showground. The second was Bristol Rovers’ Eastville Stadium, which closed for football in 1986. During those years when I followed Forest far and wide, I can’t recall them ever playing at Eastville. I drove past the ground a fair few times in the early 1990s when it was gradually being eaten up by a voraciously hungry trading estate, and eventually just a token floodlight pylon was left standing. Even that has now disappeared.

The last of the three was Newport County’s Somerton Park. I had an offer of a lift there in April 1988 when Wolves were playing them in the old Fourth Division. I’d been working in the Black Country and had travelled to a fair few Wolves away fixtures, but for some reason on this occasion I declined the invitation. Less than a year later Newport County FC went belly-up and Somerton Park was to host no more footy. Doh!

Now that the club is reincarnated and playing back in Newport again, it’s taken me a while to catch up with their latest home, the Rodney Parade stadium primarily operated by the local rugby club. With my Senior Railcard still a couple of weeks away, what cheaper way to travel down to the Welsh city from my East Midlands base than by a supporters coach and as luck would have it, Burton Albion are playing there this very weekend. I’ve been on a few away-days with Burton Albion over the years, especially when they were in the Conference, so it’s like old times when I park up at the Pirelli Stadium and take my allocated seat on the coach. Unfortunately this is right next to the local ruffian whose general banter is liberally interspersed with the F word, and I see little point in trying to maintain a sensible dialogue. I AM impressed, though, when he tells me he is banned from his local pub’s away travel coach for fighting at Notts County a few seasons ago. Impressed in that I didn’t realise there was anybody to fight with at Notts County!

I keep him at arm’s length by feigning sleep for most of a tedious 3-hour journey, as we are beset by Bank Holiday weekend traffic problems and manage to arrive at Rodney Parade with barely 15 minutes to go until kick-off – so theres no chance to check out the local hostelries. The away turnstiles are behind the South End, an area of uncovered seating usually given to away fans, but today we are situated at one end of the impressive Bisley Stand, where apparently there is a bar at the top, although I don’t venture up there. Inside the turnstiles there is a good snack hut, which is selling cheese pies and cheese & onion crusty baguettes. I decide to sample both! Opposite the Bisley Stand is the older, two-tier Hazell Stand where the locals congregate, as they also do on the Town End terrace at the opposite end to the South End.

As we arrive a group of parachutists are doing their best to spook the police horses by swooping in low over the pitch in a demonstration of formation landing, and we also get a military marching band at half time. And that’s about as far as it goes in terms of entertainment as both teams serve up a dirge of a game where very little good football is played, although the home team do their best to liven things up by giving their right winger plenty of ammunition. True to form little comes of it. Newport’s first half strike is an own goal, while Albion’s equaliser comes after County fail to clear a corner. There’s a golden late chance for Burton to snatch an undeserved winner but the ball strikes the post.

So that’s my 92 up-to-date again, out of a current total of 569 football stadia, with not a roped-off park pitch amongst them (well, maybe Civil Service strollers, but they ARE a special case!) And regrets? Well, I’ve had a few, but then again, well worth mentioning…

Programme: Wow. More impressive than some Premier League efforts, and more expensive too, at £3.50. A glossy, weighty tome of some 100+ pages.  Well researched and presented.

Floodlight pylons: 5 on poles on the Hazell Stand side plus 4 on the roof of the Bisley Stand

Birdlife: All scared off by the Red Devils parachute team

Club shop: No time to check this out

Toilets: Underneath the Bisley stand

Music the Players Run out to: They were playing the theme from the Liquidator at the start of the second half, but as the home fans didn’t sing along with the music (unlike at Stamford Bridge) I’m guessing this was incidental

Kop Choir: a small vocal contingent in the standing area of the Hazell stand, complete with a drummer.

Away Support: Must have been around 250 Burton fans at the game, with a noisy group within

What’s in a name: Newport’s Kevin ‘Touchy’ Feely. Presumably County’s Christian Jolley is the joker of the bunch

 


East Fife – Saturday August 16th 2013 (568)

August 19, 2014
"having run out of clean glasses. it's reassuring that the club has a good stock of alternative drinking vessels...'

“Having run out of clean glasses. it’s reassuring  to see that the club has a good stock of alternative drinking vessels…’

I perceive there to be a big problem in society today with regard to the ‘service’ factor. Every company that I encounter claims to be ‘unbeatable’ when it comes to ‘service’, but are they? Do they make the effort and go the extra mile, or do they simply do the bare minimum and say, we’ve had your money, now push off.

In my home town we have two large competing supermarkets virtually opposite each other. I very rarely venture into one of them, mainly on the basis that the staff are clearly not enjoying themselves. No eye contact, no cracked faces, and everything said or done by the rule book. By contrast, at the other, chatty interaction with the checkout staff appears mandatory. Maybe they pay the better wages, or give them lots of holidays. I wouldn’t like to guess, but the sure thing is they know that to get the customer coming back, they need to make the effort. The ‘service’ factor is the key.

It was the ‘service’ factor that first got me hooked onto Berwick Rangers. I’d always been intrigued by this English outpost playing in the Scottish football league structure, but it wasn’t until visiting the town on holiday, and making a casual enquiry in a pub, that I became a regular customer. I wanted to buy a Berwick Rangers football shirt, the club wanted to sell me one, and it wasn’t too much trouble for Conrad, the marketing manager, to drive up to the ground with the keys – it being the close season – open up the club shop and sell me the shirt. He threw in a free tour of the ground for good measure. Now that’s what I call ‘service’!

That was back in 2001, and fourteen seasons later I am still wearing that same shirt as I type up this blog report on a Virgin Pendolino heading north of the border for yet another ‘Wee Gers’ game, this time an away fixture at East Fife.

It’ll be an overnighter in Kirkcaldy, as there’s no rail service to Methil, home of East Fife, so I can’t get back on a day trip. I’m also meeting my old pal, Fife Bobster (formerly Eagle Bobster) who now lives in Dundee, and gets out and about when his finances – and his recently acquired wife – allow him to. We meet up at Kirkcaldy rail station and have a bash at the town’s best ale houses, both before and after the match. There’s a Wetherspoons, natch, and I’m able to pursue my new passion for black IPAs. Other recommended haunts include the Exchequer, similar in operational style to a Lloyds bar (although it isn’t one) which has one cask ale on tap, a Scottish-brewed golden ale, the name of which escapes me, but it is well kept if predictably citrus; Betty Nicholls, small but trendy where I confirm my suspicion that beers from the Dunfermline-based Abbot House brewery, though the right colour, are sadly not to my tastes; the excellent Harbour Bar which stocks six cask ales, four of them from Scottish breweries; and the street-corner Feuars Arms, which is a little out of town in the direction of Leven, but is worth a visit for its classic interior, and live-wire barman who protests that he doesn’t sell cocktails when I enquire if any of his pies are of the macaroni variant. A nice pint of Black Wolf Red Ale is enjoyed while we dry off after getting caught in a sudden downpour.

The bus to Methil, the no8, takes about half an hour and drops off right outside the ground. Having consumed too much liquid I’m forced to dive into a local copse where in the process of easing my dilemma I manage to drop my glasses. Fortunately they are still there when I retrieve them after the match.

East Fife’s Bayview ground is an out-of-towner and consists of one large cantilever stand. As there’s no flat standing to be had on the other three sides, this is essentially an all-seater stadium. There’s a modestly-stocked club shop in a Portaksbin outside the ground. I did read reports of there being a bar at the stadium open to away fans, but a quick recce throws up no clues. Inside the ground, the fans of each side are segregated.

There a good turnout from Berwick including many of the usual faces, so we’re expecting the familiar barrage of choice language, although even I’m taken aback as a flush-faced Bobster comes out with a foul-mouthed tirade of his own as he doubts the parentage of the referee during an especially tetchy bout of the fouls and counter-fouls which litter the game, being played in the teeth of a howling gale. Berwick have the advantage of the wind in the first half and go two goals up whilst playing some lovely football which is then undone by some pub-team-defending which hands the second half initiative back to the home side. At 2-2 it’s anyone’s game but when a hopeful injury-time shot somehow ends up in the back of the East Fife net the visitors and their jubilant fans can rejoice .

I started this piece by pontificating about the service factor. And I’m on my soapbox once more! With home and away fans having different ends of the stand, someone has made the crass decision not to allocate any macaroni pies to the snack bar in the away end. The home fans have got them all. Surely a major footballing scandal, and hopefully questions will be asked in the Scottish Parliament!

Programme: Sellers outside the ground: A5 sized, £2. Glossy and shiny with quite a lot of reading matter therein.

Floodlight pylons: 4

Birdlife: Lots of gulls as you might imagine with this coastal location.

Club Shop: outside the ground

Toilets: Under the stand

Music the players run out to: Telstar by the Tornados

Kop choir: Not especially vocal

Away fans: 150 or so, a few chants but mainly preoccupied with cussing at the referee and any of the opponents who may have at some time scored a goal or committed a bad foul in a match against Berwick

 

 


West Didsbury & Chorlton – Saturday August 9th 2014 (567)

August 10, 2014
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“Despite the club’s hope that a few pairs of new Nikes might turn up in the bin, it looks pretty much like flip flops and a few tatty espadrilles are the order of the day….”

To wile away those long football-less days in between the back-end of last season and the start of this – occasionally interrupted by an interesting-looking World Cup match on TV – I decided I needed another hobby to help me through the ‘Cold Turkey’. And it was on a visit to Chesterfield heading for a beer festival in mid-May that I decided what that hobby would be – I’d dig out my old Punk/New Wave singles and, through the modern-day miracle of the internet, attempt to complete my collection.

Because when I was a weekend punk in 1977 I went out a bought every record I could find that fitted under that heading. For many years I thought I’d got virtually the lot, including a very rare (as in nearly a thousand quid’s worth of) Blackmail sleeve for the Strangler’s ‘Peaches’ single, and an original Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch. But on my trip to Chesterfield I spotted a Sham 69 sleeve I didn’t own, and since then I’ve rarely left ebay alone. In the process I have discovered the art of winning an online auction, and have considerably enhanced my collection, alas to the detriment of my wallet. All I need to do now is buy myself a record player!

I had the privilege of meeting The Buzzcocks once, at a gig in Nottingham when I was producing a ‘fanzine’, the trigger word that got me and my photographer pal Nick – yes, the same Nick that occasionally accompanies me on my footballing travels – through the dressing room door. As such, I have a mighty fine group picture to prove it. When I finally got to visit the centre of their home city for the first time – Old Trafford being as close as I’d previously ventured – it was five years later and I was kind of roadie-ing for a New Romantic band from Leicester who were gigging at Pips, the well-known music club. On the night, I left the romantics and the liggers to it and headed off down the road – Manchester Real Ale guide in hand – until I encountered the Hare & Hounds pub.

I remember all of this as I sit in the same Hare & Hounds today supping a pint of Holts Bitter – the best ‘brown’ beer in the north of England – in one of Manchester’s classic city centre ‘locals’. True, there are lots of great pubs and bars in this city, but I wouldn’t miss having a pint in the H&H for any of them. Having made my pilgrimage once again, I buy my Metrolink travel card (£5)  and clamber aboard at Shudehill (across the road) on the East Didsbury (purple) line before alighting at Chorlton.

I’m heading for the Brookburn Road ground of the snappily-titled West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC, plying their trade in the North West Counties Premier. But between Chorlton Metrolink station and the ground, about a mile away, there is a vibrant community of pubs and style bars, most of which are well up on the Locale cask and craft beer scene. The only disappointment to a traditionalist like me is that many of these venues stock up heavily on ‘yellow’ beers to the detriment of ‘brown’ and ‘black’ – surely a national scandal!

I’ve been having this conversation with landlords all over the country, but at least the chap in the Dulcimer on Wilbraham Road has the perfect riposte. His house beer – Blood on the Tracks (4.4%abv) brewed by Outstanding of Bury – is an excellent copper brew with a lovely hoppy aftertaste, mercifully with no hint of the dreaded citrus. The bar is on two levels, with open air windows to the street. Very cool.

From here I head off down to Chorlton Green, a bustling area of trendy bars, restaurants, shops and pubs, and I visit the Horse & Jockey, with its excellent beer garden overlooking the green. It’s the home of the Bootleg Brewing Company and I try their flagship beer, Contraband. It’s one of three of their own beers on tap today and all, at least according to the barman, are yellow beers, Contraband being a bit less yellow than the others. Well it’s nice to have the choice!

A couple of hundred yards from here is the road, in a quiet residential area, which leads down to the football ground. It’s a tranquil rural setting, but with its lack of turnstiles, and the fact that it’s fairly easy to watch the game without paying, I suspect that West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC might have found a level. Serious expenditure looks likely to follow any promotion. The stadium is dominated by the modern, brick, clubhouse complex behind one goal, in front of which are a few rows of seats, with 50 more in the kit stand adjacent. Aside from that, and a similarly sized covered terrace behind the other goal, it’s flat standing, with the added lure of the grassy bank on sunny days such as today. The clubhouse has pies but only meaty ones, although there is a tray of rolls on sale at the bar. A quick recce throws up no sign of draught beer, keg or otherwise, and the contents of the bottle fridge look less than enticing.

The home team, having won their first two games of the season, are wary of the visitors, Ashton Athletic, who were amongst the previous season’s pacesetters. But when WD & C are awarded a penalty on 13, it starts to look good for them. Sadly, it goes unconverted and stalemate resumes until early into the second half when Ashton score with a glancing header from a long range free kick. The home team huff and puff but can’t blow the house down, and an injury time second only rubs salt into the wounds.

As I reside in the stand watching the game, an attractive young girl sits behind me, talking to a friend about the antics of (presumably) her boyfriend, who I suspect is one of the home team players. They’d been out the previous evening, and she recounts matter-of-fact how he’d got so rat-arsed that he’d flaked out and soiled his pants in the process. “We had to walk home,” she says, “In his state no taxi would take us…”. There’s a short pause before – and this is classic Royle Family and should be appreciated as such – her friend says, “So did you have a good night then?” to which she replies – without even a hint of irony – “Yeah, it was a great night….”

I suspect they probably hadn’t been drinking Holts Bitter in the Hare & Hounds, but you never know….

Programme: A nice glossy little affair, long on content and short on advertising. £2 at the gate.

Floodlight pylons: 6

Birdlife: Unobtrusive

Club shop: A list of items available at the bar

Toilets: In the clubhouse

Music the players come out to: silence

Kop choir: No

Away fans: None evident


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