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
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