Back at Berwick – Saturday April 25th 2015

It’s maybe a tad ironic that after a hiatus of almost 4 months in which I’ve added around 30 new grounds to my tick list, I’m blogging again on the occasion of a revisit! But it’s not just any revisit – it’s my annual trip to a club that showed me and my family some kindness around 15 years ago and I vowed therefore to return at least once every season.

Recently I’ve coincided that with their last league game of the season, the club in question being Berwick Rangers, the only English football club in the Scottish League. No different today as the club attempt to secure a play-off slot with a late run. As usual I’m wearing the Berwick shirt I bought back in 2001, and I’m starting to type this as I enjoy a second pint of Broughton Dark n’ Cloudy in the town’s Wetherspoons – the Leaping Salmon – for the princely sum of £1.19 per pint, aided and abetted by my Camra vouchers. Well at that price it would be rude not to!

During the run of weeks where I’ve not posted a blog, I’ve debated with myself where 300 Grounds & Counting should go after more than 6 years of uninterrupted reporting. Like any blogger, I look at the visits stats, and with it having reached some kind of peak but then flattened out over the past couple of seasons, I’ve considered giving it up. Maybe Sunday mornings are better spent with a good lie-in catching up on Saturdays goals on TV.

I think that the existing formula – me reporting on the availability of decent beer and veggie food in and around football grounds, interspersed with publishable bits of my life experiences – is still worth pursuing, but maybe not on the ‘every match’ basis that I’ve previously adhered to. In short, if there’s not a lot to say, maybe I shouldn’t be trying to say it.

So – and things can change over the course of a close season – that’s maybe the way I’ll go forward with the blog.

Curiously enough, over the last few months, I’ve started to enjoy the hopping experience a lot more, having made several new ‘buddies’ each suffering the same affliction as me, that insatiable drive to add more grounds to the ‘been there’ list. Everybody seems to have a different plan as to how we do it. Mine has been to work my way down through the pyramid, picking off occasional lower league grounds as they crop up along the way. And although I’ve been on one or two of the organised ‘hops’ I’m not a massive fan of what I generously refer to as ‘cowpat meadow’ events in what some other hoppers might consider to be ‘stadiums’; as for Sunday morning public parks where desperate fellows can add a dozen new pitches at a time, count me out!

On my numerous visits to Berwick it tends to have been the same old pubs, dependable as they usually are. So surprise surprise, I find there’s a new kid in town, the Curfew micropub which sits right opposite one of my favourite Indian restaurants. A newly discovered B&B almost adjacent sets my mind racing regarding future visits (until I check their prices online that is!).

The Curfew boasts 4 handpumps and although one is dispensing a porter, it’s from East London and I want to try something local. Fortunately there’s two fridges full of bottles and I’m pointed in the direction of Brunette, a 5.5% dark brown bottle conditioned beer from Bear Claw, the local Berwick brewery. It’s quite lively on the throat, with coffee chocolate notes on the aftertaste. With a further opportunity to try the local brew, I next go for the 5% Saison which is also bottle conditioned; it’s slightly hazy but spicy and very enjoyable which for me, very much not a gold beer fan, says everything. Reminds me a lot of Lachouffe. The owner of the Curfew duly arrives and I recognise him as one of Berwick Rangers die-hard supporters, and not one to mince his words! Small world.

By the time I depart the Curfew, it’s full of Midlands based English guys, some of whom I have met before, usually for the last game of the season. We swop a bit of banter about the rapidly burgeoning beer scene – cask and otherwise – in Nottingham before I adjourn to Barrels, the ever dependable real ale establishment just down the road. There’s five beers on hand pull but sadly the only dark brew is from well south of the border – from Adnams, in fact. But that’s the mood I’m in so that’s the one I go for.

My seat in the corner is rapidly hemmed in by a bevy of mature ladies out on the lash, and there’s a bit of cheery banter to be had, before I depart across the bridge in the direction of Shielfield, with Robert Smith’s chippy en route. Beforehand there’s just time to reaffirm that the Angel in Tweedmouth is still an ex-real ale pub, and I also call into the Queens Head on the main road, which has a banner outside advertising cask beer, but a quick look inside affirms that the only hand pump on view has it’s clip turned round. I don’t dally, the curry & chips are a-calling!

It’s my 15th visit for a match at Shielfield Park and I still get a bit of a buzz as I approach one of my favourite stadiums. In fact it’s a shame I hadn’t booked an overnighter, as after the game in the Black & Gold Bar is the ‘Player of the Year’ event which all fans are invited to. Nothing much changes at Shielfield, although for the first time I decide to do a complete walk around the ground, even behind the lower goal which is normally off-limits.

Any thoughts that Berwick can gatecrash the play-off party come tumbling down around our ears as the home team put in an uninspired performance and look decidedly second-best to an East Fife outfit they had beaten 4-1 away only a month or so ago. Having a man sent off doesn’t help matters, although the theatrics of the visiting player deemed to have been wronged seem to make the ref’s mind up for him. It finishes 0-3.

And that’s it – my first post for almost 4 months. Not quite the usual format, but a close season of some thought will decide if 300 Grounds & Counting comes out of the traps for 2015/6, or retires gracefully to the old dog’s home.

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