Despite what most professional players might think, the most important component in football is of course the supporter. It goes without saying. If the players don’t turn up, WE can kick a ball around. If the supporters don’t turn up, the game dies, no matter how much money is pumped into the armchair variant. Today’s the first day of the football season in England, and I don’t even get as far as climbing aboard the train at Long Eaton before a chap walks past sporting a black and white Queens Park scalf. He’s heading to Annan, a heck of a round trip, but that’s what we do – him, me and hundreds of thousands like us.
My pilgrimage today is taking me to leafy Worcestershire, to a ground I’ve never been to before (surprise surprise) and am never likely to go to again. More of that later. First and foremost I must renew my acquaintance with a couple of Brummie pubs, not quite side-by-side but as near as dammit. The Briar Rose is a Wetherspoons on Bennetts Hill, about three minutes from New Street station. It’s usually busy and the service isn’t always the quickest, but it’s handy for a brekky and a first pint of the day (Salopian) before continuing my ascent further up the street to the Wellington. Essentially a Beer Tickers pub, it’s developing into a must-visit for incoming football fans, and there’s quite a few of the more mature type in today. Sadly my love affair with the Welly takes a bit of a knock this morning, as of the 15 beers on sale, 12 have the dreaded letter ‘A’ next to them. For the uninitiated this means they are either golden or extremely golden and from my experiences judging at regional beer festivals are all likely to taste very similar, ie citrussy and very hoppy.
Now I know golden ales are flavour-of-the-month, and that there are probably some very fine examples (as is evidenced by the multitude of awards they win) and I don’t begrudge anybody swilling them down, but I rather hoped that a beer drinker’s pub like this might strive to cater for all tastes, not just reformed lager drinkers. Maybe half-a-dozen golds (I’m being conciliatory), a couple of ambers, two or three brown beers and a porter or two. My choice today is either a mild (Black Country Pig-on-the-Wall which has a strange taste), two strong (5.6%+) dark beers and twelve bloody golden ales. I suffer the mild and a pint of Purity Mad Goose (classed as an A/B on the board but still citrussy) and bury my head in my latest read (about Gerry Adams, if you must know – I like to hear all sides of an argument).
A thirty minute train ride to Alvechurch dumps me at the village’s small station, which is adjacent to a marina. This looks quote modern and smart, but an old pub seems to have been tacked on. The Weighbridge has the appearance of a converted cottage, and features several cosy small rooms fed by a central servery. An old boy is struggling to keep pace with demand while his missus (presumably) is fetching and carrying food orders. Four or five handpumps sport pumpclips from microbrewers and I debate whether to go for a Weatheroak or a Kinver. I plump for the former and receive – yes you guessed it – another lovely golden ale. In the interest of fair play I decide to put my beer judges hat on and so can best describe it as ‘golden, citrussy and hoppy… oh and a bit smoky’. I must state at this point that when they invite me to judge at beer festivals, they now know better than to allocate me to one of the bitter classes. I’m usually expected to be less of a nuisance testing the milds, stouts and porters. Suits me.
From the Weighbridge it’s a 20-minute walk through leafy lanes, past expensive housing, and down the Redditch Road to Lye Meadow, home to Midland Football Alliance side Alvechurch. Set amidst rolling hills, Lye Meadow has the misfortune to have been built on one, with the top corner of the pitch a good few metres higher than the one diagonally opposite. It’s not exactly a billiard-table-flat playing surface either, and the fact that the groundsman seems to have forgotten to let the sheep loose on it – some of the grass clumps have skylarks nesting in them – should make for an unpredictable bounce. Actually, it isn’t strictly true about the skylarks, although it wouldn’t have surprised me.
I opened this post today talking about supporters. A few observations. Before the game some words were spoken about a patron of the club who had been at the heart of its survival for 50 years or so, but had recently died. He and a lot of others like him are the lifeblood of local football. I like to think I do my bit by paying my entrance money and buying a programme wherever I go, although I do tend to spread it around the country a bit. There’s only about 60 odd here today, including members of the former patron’s family. Sadly, I don’t think visitors Loughborough University have brought many. This impacts on the clubhouse bar where the lone handpump stands unemployed. I’m told it sees action at bigger games. In this division I’m presuming that’s not very often. The burger van drips fat and offers nothing appetising, for me anyway. Other patrons seem to like the fat.
The game kicks off and we have a goal in the very first minute, and quite funny it is too. A speculative 25-yard angled drive from a University player appears to have the home keeper unruffled. That is until he turns round to see it nestling in the corner of his net. “Oh Shit!” he says. You don’t say. His team mates do their best to salvage the situation but they can’t really muster a shot in anger during a first half where even the visitors play like they don’t know each other. Maybe as students they don’t! They get it sorted in the second and, further aided by the generosity of the Alvechurch custodian who’s having a mare, notch three more goals past the hapless home side. We started the game with a laugh and we end with one as the mouthy home number four, who had been quick to point out the earlier shortcomings of some of his colleagues, shepherds a loose ball back towards his own dead-ball line before inexplicably tackling himself, ending up in a heap as the ball trickles for a corner.
“Just about sums the game up” says the bloke next to me as we all chuckle towards the exit. We’ve seen four goals and we’ve had a laugh. Be honest, where else would you rather be of a Saturday afternoon? OK, not necessarily Alvechurch, but you know what I mean….
Programme: Nominally £1 but they take the initiative at the turnstile by asking you for £6 and giving you the prog for free (It says £5 entry if you look closely enough)
Floodlight pylons: 4
Parakeets: Did someone mention skylarks…?
Toilets: In the smaller of the two bars. The shabby hut outside is a decoy
Club Shop: Nope
Tannoy Music: Had the Sky TV Live Game commentary blaring out prior to the match
What’s In A Name: With an Emmerson in the Loughborough ranks and a Palmer (Carl in fact) playing for Alvechurch, we only needed a ref called Lake! Mr S. Lane so very nearly fitted the bill…