You may recall I mentioned in my Tividale post of a couple of months back about my affection for the Black Country. During my time working there in the 1980s I heartily embraced the local culture which, as it generally involved playing a lot of snooker and drinking copious quantities of ‘bostin’ real ale, was just up my street. It was during that time that I was first introduced to the delights of the ‘balti’ – asian home cooking on the High Street – which quickly because part of my staple diet. We travelled throughout the area visiting some of the finest balti establishments, with the ones that stick in the mind being Azim’s on the Lozells Road in Birmingham (rumour has it that it was the only business not ransacked during the Handsworth riots of 1985, the miscreants not daft enough to torch the place where they’d be eating later!). The other great place for a Balti was Lye.
When I subsequently met the lady who eventually became my wife, we thought nothing of driving from our East Midlands home to Lye (pronounced Loy in Black Country speak) on a Friday night to enjoy a cracking balti, which would cost us just a couple of quid each. Even accounting for the petrol costs, it was cheaper for us to do than eat locally in a regular Indian restaurant in town. And the food was a lot better too!
So as today I have a rare day when I’m not heading off on a pre-booked trip to London, I’m looking westwards to one of the two Midland League Premier Division grounds I have yet to visit. Lye Town won promotion to this level last season, and have made a solid start to life at Step 5. From my Long Eaton home it’s relatively easy to get to the Black Country by rail, only necessitating a 5-minute walk from Birmingham New Street to either Moor Street or Snow Hill stations, and a 25-minute hop on the Stourbridge Junction Line, alighting at Lye. One of the good things about this Black Country town is its very compactness, with the station close to the High Street where the good balti houses are, plus a couple of decent pubs and just 400 yards or so from the Stourbridge Road ground of Lye Town.
After a quick recce of the restaurants for later, I head to the middle of town and the Windsor Castle pub, the ‘tap house’ of the brewery next to which it stands, Sadler’s Ales. It’s a smart refurbishment of a multi-room hostelry, the only downside being that many of the tables are laid out for food, with drinkers effectively corralled into an area around the bar, with a decided lack of comfortable seats. The beer choice can’t be faulted – maybe a little top-heavy on the pale/golden stuff, but like everywhere I guess – and I have time for a couple of pints, a 4.6% black IPA called Peaky Blinder, and the 5.5% Blood City Stout, both extremely palatable dark and powerful brews.
A couple of hundred yards up the road, away from the town centre, is the Shovel. When I last came here probably 25 years ago it was a slightly down-at-heel, earthy free house selling one of the best choices in the area. Today it’s still free, but with less choice, and it’s been smartened up to appeal to the lager-swilling, armchair football viewing brigade. I sample an excellent pint of locally-brewed Enville Ale which, although as golden as you can get, is not too heavy on the citrus.
Literally five minutes from the Shovel is the Sports Ground home of Lye Town, with my route to the main entrance effected round the back of the splendidly rusted barrel-roofed cover that resides behind the goal. Apparently it’s not as old as it looks, which is surprising because it looks Victorian! If there was once a stepped terrace there, it has eroded over the years, but the roof still provides some respite from inclement weather. Along most of one side is a seated stand constructed primarily of corrugated iron and scaffolding, not especially aesthetic but functional enough. There’s a grass bank behind the other goal, and down one side just a barrier which separates the pitch from the adjacent cricket square. I marvel at the efficiency of the young volunteer patrolling this area, as he keeps up a steady supply of replacement match balls as others regularly fly off towards the sight screen.
As there’s no toilet inside the ground, it’s necessary to go back out through the turnstile (“Ive a good memory for faces,” assures the gate-man) and into the comfortable clubhouse, which sadly doesn’t reflect the Black Country trait for a decent beer. Back inside the ground I check out the snack bar which is doing a roaring trade in chips but has nothing else to attract the football veggie.
Lye Town’s opponents today are from the town of my birth, although I suspect the players of Loughborough University FC hail from far and wide. The students aren’t having a particularly good season, and it shows in their body language as they go two down by half time, and despite coming out after the break with a bit more fire, shipping a third on 55 signals the end of the game as a contest. Man for man they aren’t on the same level as their hosts, and although they do pull one back midway through the half, Lye add a fourth and complete a comfortable victory.
And so now for a balti. Although I can’t identify the place we used to favour back in the 1980s – probably long gone – I check out Kamrans on the High Street. Although it’s early doors, a few customers arrive soon after I do and it looks like the place is popular. Why? Well, my Vegetable Sagwala is the best Asian dish I’ve had for many a year. It’s served in a balti, with a garlic naan, poppadom and pickle tray. Total cost? Just £7.45. It’s like I’ve never been away!
Programme: £1 on the turnstile. An attractive cover but the plaudits stop there. 24 pages of which 14 are adverts and one is completely blank! No info on the opponents whatsoever, including no visiting players names. I hate to be critical of lower league clubs but I’ve seen others make more effort.
Floodlight pylons; 5
Birdlife: Not much about at all, not even in the trees behind the stand.
Toilets: In the clubhouse, outside the ground
Club shop: No
Music the players run out to: None
Kop choir: Not really, just a gang of seven youngsters in matching tracksuits, looking like ballboys but not undertaking that task very often. For some odd reason happy to stand behind the goal that Lye were defending, both halves.
Away fans: I would go out on a limb and say none
What’s in a name? If the programme is anything to go by, the University players are all nameless. Lye Town have a Steve Bull – can it really be he? Hold on (check Wikipedia) No, he’s 49 now, possibly retired (and I didn’t realise he was also an MBE!)