Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s the highlight of my Saturday – after the match itself of course – was the arrival of the ‘Sports Mercury’ at the local newsagents. We’d roll up just after Six to greet the van coming directly from the printing works and we’d proceed to devour the ‘Buff’ as it was known (due to the colour of its pages) for every piece of the day’s footy action, ranging from all the national results and league tables, blow-by-blow account of the Leicester City game, and even ‘stop press’ scores from the Leicestershire Senior League.
It was only when I got into the print industry a few years later that I began to realise the mammoth effort that must have been undertaken in those days to get the product to the customer less than 90 minutes after the final whistle. It would still be some achievement today, and we have the benefit of modern technology. Back then there were no mobile phones, desk top publishing computers, or slick offset printing presses to speed things on their way.
The Buff is long gone of course, as I suspect are most of the similar publications once produced in every major city in the UK in the days before social media and hand-held devices provided instant information at the push of a button. But I still kinda mourn its passing.
The subject of the football papers crops up during a conversation with a fellow hopper on the train back from Crewe after a day out in sunny Cheshire. My original plans to go East look fated when a weather front threatens to make life a tad dismal over the Fens, and it proves a wise move, save for getting stiff knee joints due to the inadequate legroom on the train from Derby to Crewe, a route on which East Midlands Trains habitually bestow the runt of its rolling stock litter. The compensation is that it’s one of the cheapest parts of the network, with the two-hour (with connections) journey from Long Eaton to Sandbach costing all of £7.20 to a Senior Railcarder like me. Network South-Easters eat your heart out!
Sandbach station is actually just over a mile from the centre, so I decide on a triangular route, taking in two ‘hostelries-of-interest’ I have identified on Camra’s What Pub website. The first of these, on Welles Street, is the Beer Emporium which started life several years ago as a bottle shop but has recently expanded by adding several hand pumps and a small amount of seating. I decide every town should have one! There’s a regular dark beer on draught, Dark Magic, a 4.8% ruby brew from the local Merlin Brewery which goes down a treat, and I follow it up with a chilled bottle of Hammerton Pentonville Oyster Stout at 5.3% which also hits the spot.
I know some people would eschew a ‘chilled’ British bottled ale and would insist on it being served at room temperature. I just don’t get that. UK-brewed beer should traditionally be served at cellar temperature – ideally 12 degrees Celsius – and although the 4 degrees Celsius of a typical bottle chiller is a lot less than that, the average room temperature of a pub – say around 20 degrees Celsius – is right up at the other end of the scale. I know which I prefer. Maybe there’s a gap in the market for somebody to plug! I’ll take out a patent…..
From here I walk down the Crewe Road to the Cricketers, a homely free house sadly empty on my visit save for myself and the chatty landlord who apologises for having no darks on draught but does talk me into a pint of a Cross Bay brew – Halo I recall – which although pale lacks those sickly citrus hops which can spoil many a good pint (IMHO!) Mine host directs me on the best route to get to the ‘Sandbach Community Football Centre’ and bemoans the club’s choice of the suffix ‘United’ for reasons unclear to me. 25 minutes later a power walk takes me to the ground, which enjoys copious parking space ably managed by young kids in tabards. Not that I need this facility today.
The ground itself, as I state in my Twitter feed, is ‘good work in progress’. As yet there are no floodlights (except perversely around the 3G pitch the other side of the sizeable clubhouse!) and little spectator accommodation, with no seated stand and just a couple of sheds behind one goal. But a look around the facilities and you just know these will all arrive in good time. As in most of the clubs I travel to these days, there’s nothing for the Pescatarian to eat, and little of interest on the beer front, so I do a circuit of the ground and kill time by watching one of the 2.00 kick-offs taking place on adjacent pitches. A desperation-ticker could have a field day here!
The home club have made a promising start to the season, and are up against Ashton Town, struggling near the foot of the table. It’s one of those games that should produce a hat-full of goals but which is kept into some kind of order by desperate defending, brave goalkeeping, and profligate finishing, and so it’s ironic that the opening goal on the half hour sees the 6ft 4inch visiting keeper surprisingly out-jumped for what is just a hopeful cross. A smartly taken 2nd on 42 adds some reality to the scoreline.
The predominantly one-way traffic continues into the second half with three further efforts breaching the stubborn rearguard, but the home custodian is suitably miffed as Town notch a late consolation as their forwards think ‘what the hell’ and belatedly go for it. 5-1 it finishes.
As I trudge back towards the station, the culmination of my 4-mile round-trek, my mind switches to the week ahead, and an overseas break with the wife – just the two of us for the first time in 19 years! – and a sun-kissed pool in Corfu. When abroad back in the 90s you could expect to get your English papers with those crucial footy scores at least a day late. Not so now, as technology has moved on and they’re printed locally. Having said that, I can always get all the info I need nowadays via WiFi and my tablet, and they do indeed come in some natty colours….although sadly I’ve not yet come across one in Buff.
Programme: Nicely produced if a little thin on content. £2 from a stall in the clubhouse
Birdlife: Also Zero
Toilets: In the clubhouse
Clubshop: Not as such
Music the players emerge to: I don’t recall!