My only gripe is the Virgin rolling stock - rather claustrophobic, too much like an airplane fuselage and useless for luggage any bigger than a briefcase. And the fact that they have a shop instead of a buffet and trolley service. And no at-seat service for we posh-types in first class - I mean, really!
The train pulled into Stoke at about 10:30am and after a short wait, I took the Crewe train to Longport station, just five minutes along the line. From here it's then a good 20-odd minute walk into Burslem - just enough to build up a thirst.
Since the Bulls Head would not be open until 11:30am, I decided to try one of the other pubs first.
(left) The Leopard - no swearing and no hats indoors please!It was going to be the Post Office Vaults but it had a big sign saying "Home Fans Only". I probably would have been OK for a drink there since it was just after 11am and I wasn't wearing anything Darlescent.
However I decided to wander a bit further back along the street and try the Leopard instead.
This a very pleasant Enterpise Inns pub - a listed building no less - with an excellent choice of beers on tap: Tom Woods Shropshire Lass, Northern Valiant Knight, Coach House Toffee Bitter, Wincle Undertaker,
Wentworth Stout and Lymestone Foundation Stone.
That's a pretty fine list and of those that I tried - the Shropshire Lass and the Valiant Knight - both were in excellent condition.
Despite the Titanic website saying the Bulls Head opened at noon, it tends to open 11:30am on matchdays and today was no exception. They even had a barbecue on for us. How darn friendly is that?
I got myself a pint of Anchor and went to find the landlord, Bob Crumpton, to let him know that the Bulls Head was the winner of the DAFTS Pub of the Year award for last season. Thankfully he didn't go all Gwenneth Paltrow on me and we arranged to present it when a few more DAFTS had turned up.
(right) Landlord Bob accepts award from Colin - Jim and Steve look on
Colin and Lance were next to arrive - followed shortly by Steve and Fred Iceton. The pub started to get a bit busier so we got the presentation over with - Colin doing the honours as he was the only one in a Darlo shirt.
The Bulls Head had been up against some stiff opposition for the award but apart from the superb range of beers on offer - in addition to the Titanic range they carry several guest beers from various independents such as Bollington Vale - Bob is very proactive in attracting away fans to the pub, often advertising in opposition fans pubs in the lead-up to games - we could do with more landlords like Bob.
We were joined by those other good pub hunters - John and Richie - as well as Loidlanders Chris (comeondarlo) and Simon (bolshy) who'd wisely followed their Uncle Ted's advice on finding a pub.
(left) Blue Bros - John, Richie and Fred
Colin was in full nerd-mode today - not only did his bag contain the GBG 2009, he'd brought along the Definitive Darlington and a copy of a Farewell to Feethams. Lance then told us that he'd been to our first ever Division 4 game in 1958 when we drew 0-0.
Colin checked Frank Tweddle's tome which suggested our first Division 4 game was two years earlier in 1956.
Not one to have his little grey cells maligned, Lance pointed out that there were no southern teams in the fixture list until 1958. Looks like Frank got this one wrong.
We bumped into Andy McCormack, editor of the local fanzine, Derek I'm Gutted, who was selling the latest issue in the pub. It's always good to see a traditional hold-in-the-hand fanzine still being produced and as ever they're a labour of love. It's a good read too.
It's an oft-muttered maxim that in the life of DAFTS, a great lunchtime session is followed by a crap match - and today was a real example of that.
We never looked to be in this game at all - new signing Porritt was a huge disappointment whereas poor old Windass looked like a pensioner out there ,playing too deep to be useful and too slow to be up front. But they were not alone - there were few acceptable performances out there.
We rarely put any pressure on the Vale defence and we were probably lucky to be only a goal down. What made it worse was that Vale were clearly a poor team and any sort of cohesive display from us would have put them on the back foot.
And then we're offered a chance of salvation as Dowson was caught in the box. Deja penalty!
Unlike many others sat near me, I did think it was a penalty. It was clear from the replay on Saturday night that the defender's leg had caught Dowson - not deliberate but still clumsy - and that's good enough for a penalty.
What was not good enough was Gary Smith's spot kick attempt which was more akin to launching Sputnik into orbit - very reminiscent of Big Bad Baldie Bazza Conlon's effort against Peterborough several seasons ago where his effort ended up in the South Park. Quite spookily Bazza scored a two-yard tap in (what else?) for Grimsby today to leave us stranded at the bottom of the division.
Thankfully the new found timeliness meant Virgin got us back to Euston for 7:30pm. I was met by Brian Elsey who preferred the Ashes Test to a visit to the Potteries. We had a few pints in the Head of Steam (Landlord and Pale Rider) and then home for the lowlights...