I generally enjoy my trips to brewing towns, and so the prospect of a visit to Tadcaster fills me with anticipation. Whenever I see that Twix advert on TV – y’now, when right Twix and left Twix set up in adjacent factories – it always reminds me of the feuding Smith brothers in Tadcaster, opening breweries directly opposite each other in an otherwise nondescript Yorkshire town. In this case not so much right and left but more right and wrong, some might say!
Personally, I have some reasonably good memories of drinking cask John Smith’s Bitter back in the 1980s when that was the only real ale on sale in a good number of pubs in the south of Leicestershire. It was a palatable quaffing ale then and probably still is. Samuel Smith’s meanwhile only ever did one of their beers in cask – Old Brewery Bitter – and when on form it’s a cracking good beer, if a little too sweet for my tastes. One other thing Sam did do, though, was to tie up most of his home town’s pub trade to his beers, whilst John apparently went seeking mass sales further afield. So both have enjoyed a level of success. But how do you measure success and failure? It’s probably a whole lot easier in the world of football!
One of the reasons I’m heading up north today is the likelihood of some decent weather and a playable pitch. With the south of England under several feet of water – or so it seems whenever I turn on the News – I need to be able to set out in the morning with a fair likelihood of seeing a match. And with Tadcaster one of the only two grounds in the North East Counties Premier left on my ‘to do’ list, their active Twitter feed suggests the positive chance of the pitch being playable. I get confirmation of this whilst taking a beer break on my journey, at the Crowd of Favours in Leeds, which is operated by Leeds Brewery. It’s a large ‘style’ bar majoring on food, but does have some comfy chairs and several banks of handpumps featuring their own and guest microbrewery beers. I go for a Sonnet 43 Bourbon Milk Stout, a nice enough brew to start the day, if a little pricey at £3.40 for a 4.3% beer.
From the Leeds Bus Station I catch the 843 Coastliner which takes around 35 minutes to get to Tadcaster, a fairly compact town dominated primarily by the bulk of the John Smith’s Brewery, and the smaller Samuel Smith’s plant nestling alongside. Where better to try a brewer’s beers than in the ‘brewery tap’, in this case the splendidly traditional Angel & White Horse, where the Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter is in sparkling form at just £1.80 a pint. The collection of old local characters present must relish beer prices such as these.
There are a number of other Sam’s pubs in town but I eschew them to try the Coach & Horses, a self-proclaimed free house by the side of the bus station. On entry I am asked if I am ‘planning on eating here today, sir’. I reply that I’d just like a pint if that’s OK, although I could run to a bag of nuts. There are four cask ales on sale in this smart hostelry, three from Yorkshire and a guest. I decide to try the York Guzzler at 3.6% which is a little on the paler side than I usually prefer, but I stick with it.
Access to Tadcaster Albion’s 2inspire Park is down New Street, directly between the two breweries. Ahead of me I spot a chap walking along while carrying a toddler and as we arrive at the ground together, he spots my Darlington hat and engages me in ‘Groundhopper’ conversation. I’m a little disconcerted in that most fellow hoppers I meet tend to be carrying a rucksack or shoulder bag, but rarely a ‘babe-in-arms’! Ah well, there’s a first for everything.
The stadium is a fairly modest affair with a clubhouse complex on one side, the steps in front of which serve as the most popular vantage point for home fans during the game, and there is covered seating in two stands behind one goal. One of the stands is unusual in that it is particularly steep and comes mounted on the back of a wheeled vehicle. It proves very popular with a group of young boys watching the game, although more mature souls give it a wide berth. Sadly for a team based in a brewing town, the liquid fayre on offer in the clubhouse is very poor, with not a handpump or a decent bottled beer in sight. The snack bar does serve a decent plate of chips which when mixed with mushy peas can find the spot on a cold day.
Lying second in the Northern Counties East Premier table, and following a poor spell which included last week’s set-back at third-placed Basford, the home team must be relishing a game against second bottom Lincoln Moorlands Railway, who have conceded an average of 5 goals a game this season. But they make hard work of the opening 25 minutes, over-eager finishing and sterling work from the visiting keeper maintaining a blank scoreline until the deadlock is finally broken. Two more goals before halftime seem an early confirmation of the inevitable.
During the halftime interval I encounter my friend with the toddler – the latter now soundly asleep – and discover that not only do we have mutual footballing friends but we have indeed come across each other once before, on a train heading back from Berwick. It’s a small world!
The early part of the second half mirrors the first, in that Lincoln manage to hold their own without ever threatening a shot on goal. In fact they have a central ‘striker’ who gives me the impression of having been beamed down from another planet with no real idea as to why or what he is doing there, and with no tangible instructions as to how the game is played. He doesn’t even make up for those deficiencies by displaying any sign of effort. 15 minutes from the end Albion finally shake of their lethargy and start piling up the goals again, the sixth and last a speculative cross-shot that even the hard-working Lincoln keeper can’t keep out.
So success for the home team in arresting their recent mini-slump, and failure in another defeat for Lincoln. Having said that, there’s failure for Albion in failing to make their total domination yield a veritable glut of goals, and success to the away team for keeping the score to single figures. Fine lines indeed!
Programme: £1 at the turnstile. A newly-launched design, smaller than your standard A5 with a thicker card cover. Very professional looking though content is modest. Unusual feature is a supporter profile. 6/10
Floodlight pylons: 6
Birdlife: only aerial activity appeared to be some dashing young pilot in a microlite
Toilets: In the clubhouse
Club shop: Didn’t see one
Music the players run out to: Dave Clark Five’s ‘Glad All Over’ greets every home goal
Kop Choir: No
Away fans: Heard one solitary voice urging on Moorlands