I can’t recall precisely when the change happened, but the arrival of the New Year is taken far more sedately by yours truly than it once was.
Back in the early 1970s one particularly raucous New Year’s Eve event saw me nursing a black eye at work the following day (no Bank Holiday in those days) which inspired me to pack up smoking, and for most of that decade I would be part of a gang of village lads who headed down to the bright lights of London for some drinking, whooping, hollering and diabolical liberty-taking with female strangers (to a point you understand!).
Fast forward 35 years and my ideal welcome to the New Year would now be a fireside one, watching Jools Holland until TV fireworks time, maybe a couple of bottles of McEwan’s Champion and a bar of Whole Nut chocolate to keep me – and the missus – company. So why I agreed to go to a party this year I just don’t know.
Suffice to say the thought of some New Year’s Day footy kept me going!
Having already bought train tickets to Ely, I’m already well on the way before Twitter assures me the game at Royston Town is definitely ON. That comes as a great relief as I’m not feeling too well, the result of picking up some bug or other as opposed to a hangover, and I’d have been gutted to have vacated my nice warm bed on some wild goose chase. On arrival in Ely, where I’m hoping to check out three pubs, I fall foul of amended Bank Holiday opening hours, and have to kill time with a bag of chips until midday. Even then, the Townhouse fails to open up, the curtains still drawn, so I eschew that and the other one and head straight for the Prince Albert, a Greene King house reputed to be selling the rare XX mild.
The good news is it’s still a popular beer in these parts, the downside being that the locals drank the New Year in with all of it, and so my choice is now from the three guests – two of which are from Nottingham, where I’ve just come from – plus another from Suffolk, or Greene King Abbot or IPA. I reason that, as I am in a GK tied house, I should drink the house bitter, the much-maligned IPA. Leaving aside the CAMRA politics, I don’t think it’s a bad beer. For a start it’s the right colour, has a smack of English hops, and isn’t too strong. Sure, it crops up everywhere, but is that the fault of the beer?
Back on the train, and a short hop to the other side of Cambridge to the Hertfordshire town of Royston. I have time for a quick look around, but my chosen pub, the Green Man, looks strangely closed at 2.00pm on New Year’s Day, so I head up to the Garden Walk ground of Royston Town, where the comfortable clubhouse is showing the live game and can offer me another pint of Greene King IPA, pulled via that metallic beer engine the brewery employs. A more traditional black handpull sits unused nearby. For whatever reason I fail to check out what veggie food – if any – is on offer. Maybe I’m just not hungry.
This tidy ground features a wooden covered raised terrace on one side where there is room for several wheelchairs. Straddling the halfway line opposite is a seated stand where numerous uprights restrict the view. Nevertheless I decide to sit here, as I’m not convinced I have the strength to stand up for 90 minutes or more. This man flu is surely worse than the Plague and Black Death combined!
Having been promoted to the Southern League Division One Central at the end of last season, the home team are going great guns this year and are pushing for the top. Visitors Barton Rovers are mid-table but still in the frame, and although losing out on first half possession, still have the best chances of the opening 45 minutes. After the break Town begin to show their mettle, and finally go ahead with a thumping header on 65, adding a second 5 minutes later. There’s a late flurry from Rovers to survive before Royston break away and seal it with a 90th minute penalty.
The best possible New Year’s start for the players of Royston Town. Doubtless they were all safely at home the previous night, watching Jools Holland. I wish I had been!
Programme: A weighty tome at £1. A lot of statistics, biographies, and adverts. From the turnstile.
Parakeets: The club’s nickname is the Crows, although pigeons are more in evidence locally.
Floodlight pylons: 8
Club shop: I didn’t see one
Toilets: Attached to clubhouse, but also accessed from outside
Music the players run out to: none
Kop choir: a bunch of grumpy old men loudly disputing most decisions awarded against Royston
Away fans: Quite a few around the ground.
What’s In A Name? The big question is, can Royston Town striker Matt Standen deliver? and under pressure, can Barton Rovers defender Ash Grinham bear it? I think we should be told…..