I’m sitting in a Sheffield Wetherspoons looking out of the window at the massed ranks of police officers guarding the Town Hall Square from some old bloke with a megaphone and a motley bunch of students. Nick Clegg is in town and thousands of disaffected university types are expected to be giving him grief over his stance on tuition fees. If this level of policing was replicated throughout the land, I muse, crime would be wiped out in an instant. Sadly not, as they’d probably all be manning speed guns trying to squeeze another penny or two out of the embattled motorist.
My gaze switches to the television screen and the images coming out of Japan. If the quake and the tsunami didn’t get them, then the radiation might. Suddenly everything on these shores pales into insignificance. I’d guess tuition fees would be the last thing on THEIR minds right now. We don’t know we’re alive.
Sheffield is one of those places that smacks of gloom and despair to me. That’s not because its a desperate city. Far from it. Indeed, there’s some cracking pubs, a water feature to die for (Nottingham take note) and a very efficient public transport system. But it also brings back haunting memories of a play-off defeat for Forest in 2003, when the Blunt’s fans were really taking the piss. Then of course there was Hillsborough, after which I swore I would never return to that blighted stadium.
Today I’m in town because I’m at a loose end. I have several target matches, but with one eye on weather forecasts and another on my wallet, I decide to visit the ‘Oldest Football Ground In The World’ as well as take in the new pub at Sheffield station. To be honest, after all the rave reviews I’ve been hearing, I’m a little disappointed in the Sheffield Tap. Packed to the gunnels, bouncers on the door (“Take your hat off, mate”) and a beer choice restricted to Thornbridge and one other brewery, it’s not quite what I expect.
With Nick Clegg in town, the bus routes are a little obscure but I do eventually locate the stop for the 51 bus and within 20 minutes I’m in Crosspool, a suburb around four miles west of the city centre. The two pubs in the centre of the village are a bit foody, although the beer choice in the Sportsman is better than the Crosspool Tavern. I walk the half mile or so to Hallam FC and the pub across the road – the Plough – where I am heartened to see five handpumps although sadly the two hosting Sheffield Brewery beers are signed as ‘Still Conditioning’. I attempt to engage the landlord in conversation about this brewery, but he’s not the talkative type so I stick my head into my current book – Kenny Burns autobiography, ‘No Ifs or Butts’ – and savour a couple of pints of Thornbridge Kipling, one of their few non-golden beers.
The Sandygate Road ground of Hallam FC is just across the road, where it has been for the last 150 years, by all accounts. The wickedly sloping pitch also forms part of the adjacent cricket ground, in the balmier months. There’s a main stand straddling the halfway line, and a short piece of covered terracing set between the goal and the corner flag. Otherwise flat standing. The bar is small and devoid of anything worth drinking, but the snackbar has a pleasant surprise for me as I enjoy Cheese & Onion Pie, Chips and Mushy Peas.
The home side, Hallam, are bottom of the table, albeit with games in hand, and having secured a new manager, and three midweek points, there is optimism that the new blood in the side will pull them clear of the mess. You can’t fault them for endeavour, or a willingness to play the ball on the ground, but unless they get their act together at front and back, the trapdoor is surely looming. For most of the game they are a match for the visitors, mid-table Nostell Miners Welfare, but failure in front of goal – whilst the Miners are clinical at the other end – costs them dear and Hallam are 1-3 down at the break in an entertaining first half.
The bloke-next-to-me turns out to be a fellow ‘stadium enthusiast’ who’s driven up from Wiltshire for the ‘tick’ and we swap a bit of banter which helps to smooth the flow of an uninspiring second half in which Nostell add a fourth. And so its back on the 51 into Sheffield and then a train full of placardy students spending the money-they’ve-not-got to get back to some middle-class town or other. “I wonder why some people have got it in for us students,” says one plummy cretin as he kicks the back of my seat for the umpteenth time. “There’s a place for us in society…”
I could make a suggestion….
Programme: £1.50 on the turnstile. Advert-free and big on statistics
Floodlight pylons: 4
Parakeets: Saw some magpies
Toilets: Near the turnstile although ladies were being directed to the (cleaner) ones in the bar
Club shop: No
Tannoy music: Very obscure 1970s rock
Players with the quirkiest names: Hallam’s Joe ‘Shyboy’ Coy and Ben ‘Spill The Beans’ Kistell