Friday, 31 December 2010

When Winter (Comes Howling In)

Even though I'd been told that the game at Gateshead was extremely unlikely to go ahead, the decision to hold an inspection at 9:30am on match day instead of calling it off earlier meant that Martin and I felt we had to set off - just in case - and so we left London on the 7am train.

The first text indicating the game was off came as we passed through Northallerton and it was more or less confirmed as we arrived in Darlo. There we were joined by Tony and Brian and a swift decision, already formed in our heads, was made to carry on and have a day out in Geordieland.

Thankfully Central Station still has a left luggage service and once I'd dropped off my camera bag, we went for a wander around town.

We dropped into the Newcastle United club shop, filled with a wide array of NUFC tat - I'd hoped they'd have a plain black and white scarf but it seems that everything has to have the club logo on it these days.

(left) DAFTS lads at the entrance to Chinatown

Next stop was the Back Page - a shop which has loads of football books, videos and memorabilia with a healthy bias towards the north-east clubs.

Unfortunately the only Darlo representation in the shop was two copies of George's opus, Cracked It!

Our first port of call was just over the road from here - the Newcastle Arms - and this normally opens at 11am but wasn't opening until noon today. Even worse, my backup pub, the Bodega, was closed for the day. Damn you, festive season!

We were a bit peckish after all the walking so we decided to fill in time and find somewhere to eat - the Stateside Diner on Pink Lane was one of the few places open and it did a mean bacon and egg sarnie too.

We got into the Newcastle Arms just after opening time and they had their usual choice of interesting beers - their own Winter IPA brewed by local brewer Big Lamp plus Falstaff Brewery's Yeti, Thornbridge Hopton, Marston Moor Porter, Deuchars IPA and Durham Apollo. All went down well with the Yeti finding special favour with Martin who stuck to it.

After a few bevvies we decided to pop down to the Crown Posada - a must for those who've never been supping around Newcastle - but when we got there we found it was shut!

After a bit of wandering round we popped into the Duke of Wellington on High Bridge - a few handpumps here with Hadrian-Border Tyneside Blonde and Taylor's Landlord the ones I remember.

When I was a student in Newcastle in the early 80s, this pub was one of a small number owned by CAMRA.

These days it is now a normal pub although there was a live TV feed from Greece of the Spurs -v- Newcastle game. Not surprisingly the place was full of their fans getting irate every time a decision went against their boys.
(right) Bacchus Boys

This soon got extremely tedious so after we'd finished our beers we popped a bit further along the road to the Bacchus. This has been the local CAMRA pub of the year for 2009 and 2010.

It struck me as being a larger version of Darlo's Number Twenty-2 - similar vibe and clientele and some good beers too including Jarrow Rivet Catcher and Yorkshire Dales Bacchus Ice Crystal plus some London Stout and Wheat from the Meantime Brewery.

By the time we'd had a few more beers and discussed to death the regime at DFC, it was time for Martin and I to wend our way back to Central station and the train back to London - asleep for most of it you'll not be surprised to hear.

I'd like to think I'll be back up for the game when it is finally rescheduled but it will all depend when that that is - hopefully when the weather is a bit more clement.

I've named this piece after this excellent song by Lindisfarne about the true meaning of Christmas, more or less a solo by Alan Hull, long gone but still missed.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Arsène Around?

One of the most encouraging things to happen at Darlington this season has been the form of the Youth team, managed by Craig Liddle and Neil Maddison.

There had been worries about whether they could afford to continue once we'd dropped out of the Football League with the subsequent drop in funding that this brought.

To this end Tony Waters and Geoff Thompson have been busy encouraging ordinary fans to raise money - hopefully £1000 - to help them out.

(left) I bet Arsène didn't see this tackle

So far the response has been excellent and Tony was able to present Lidds with £500 towards the cost of travel and accomodation for FA Youth Cup 3rd round fixture against Arsenal.

This fixture caught the attention of a lot of fans as this would be the first time these clubs had met - certainly to my knowledge - and this would be a true test of the youngsters' abilities.

The original fixture fell victim to the first bout of wintry weather but it finally took place at Underhill a week or so later.

Before the game I had a quick pint of Taylors Landlord in the Olde Mitre with Geoff Luke - the beer seems to be a bit better in here these days - but there was not time for much more as the kick-off was at 7pm - presumably these youngsters need to be wrapped up in bed at a reasonable hour.

The main stand was open for fans for the princely sum of £3 but I was to be pitchside tonight to capture the action.

As the teams came out and shook hands before kick-off, it was clear to see that the Arsenal team were an impressive bunch, some much bigger than our boys.
(right) Lidds keep a keen eye on his charges

The game started and both teams found their feet and knocked the ball around well with Darlo looking far from poor relations.

However Arsenal opened the scoring after 10 mins with a tap-in on the line after some slick passing.

They continued to make chances but Darlo went on to equalise after about 20 mins through a tap-in from Rob Ramshaw.

Parity was short-lived though and Arsenal took the lead after a couple of minutes and dominated the remainder of the half with the Darlo boys always a pace or two behind and more lightweight in the tackle.

The main tormentor was Chuks Aneke who won several headers in front of the Darlo goal, scoring once and going close on other occasions.

Benik Afobe scored his second to make it 4-1 at the break - he is currently on-loan at Huddersfield but had been brought back for this game so clearly Arsenal were taking this game seriously.

The second half saw the Quakers under a lot of pressure again and it was amazing that they only conceded two more goals - Aneke getting his hat-trick in the process.

Sloppy finishing by Arsenal was to blame but great credit must be given to keeper Nick Thompson for pulling off several great saves.

There was even a shout of "Sign him up Arsène!" from the Arsenal contingent.

(left) Chuks Eneke makes it 3-1 as he scores from a corner

As the end of the game approached, the temperature dropped sharply and my feet were like blocks of ice. Three pairs of socks for me next time.

During the onslaught the Darlo lads rarely resorted to hoofing the ball upfield and generally tried to play the ball forward. The Arsenal defence though were too quick and too strong and most forays were snuffed out.

A harsh lesson for the Darlo team and a disappointing result for the handful of Darlo fans in the corwd. It is clear though that Arsenal have many talented youngsters who will do well at the higher levels of the game and the experience of playing them will not be lost on the Darlo players.

As I headed back home on the tube with fellow fan Steve Wilkinson, news came though from the Arena that the FA Trophy tie with Tamworth was level at 1-1. Thankfully by the time I got home Darlo had won 3-2 - their reward a home tie with Bath City in the next round.

For more details on the game, see the Arsenal report here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Hergé We Go, Hergé We Go, Hergé We Go

This weekend saw a few DAFTS opt for the bright lights of Brussels rather than the FA Trophy tie with Tamworth as a way to celebrate Lesley's 50th birthday.

Originally Tony and Lesley had arranged to go to Bruges with Neil and Mari before changing it to Brussels which is when yours truly opted to join them.

(left) last chance for a decent breakfast for a few days

After a hearty breakfast at Da Vinci's, we gathered at St Pancras International for the 11:04am service to Brussels Midi which turned out to be a very smooth journey getting us there just after 2pm.

As we exited the international part of the station, there was a driver on the concourse waiting for a passenger. "Bianca Jagger" read his sign. "Wishful thinking!" we told him.

We caught a local train to take us the couple of stops to Brussels North and our hotel which was located in the modern business district - very much like a small version of Canary Wharf but with much less atmosphere.

After a quick beer and a bite to eat in the hotel bar, we wandered off into town - taking taxis as the hotel is about a mile from the main centre - ending up near the Belgian stock exchange (or Bourse).

As Friday night is usually a curry night in DAFTS circles, we'd eyed up a couple of possible restaurants - one was an Indian with the highly odd name of the Shamrock and the Fanny Thai which does thai food (what else?) - on Rue Jules van Praet which seems to be a mini-Chinatown.

We went into a nearby bar - Les Roi Des Belges - which turned out to be full of young, trendy folk and not the sort of place DAFTS are normally seen in but we were thirsty and once we'd got a table we were well settled.

Tony and Neil tried various beers from the beer menu whilst I was a little too adventurous in trying (and sticking to) 75cl bottles of the N'Ice Chouffe.

This is a 10% winter beer which despite the strength was quite easy drinking - too easy as I ended up having another two bottles.

By the time we ate at a nearby thai restaurant I was a little befuddled but at least I still remember that the food was very good (even if I disagreed with the waiter over what a spring roll is - don't ask).

Not surprisingly I was a bit fuzzy-headed the next morning but that was soon cleared as Tony and I set off early for a walk back towards Brussels Midi. Our destination was the Cantillon Brewery which was top of my "must do" list (just above "get nice chocolates for Liz").

We arrived just after 10am and after being given a talk on the brewery and the process of spontaneous fermentation - which uses natural yeasts found in the building itself - we were free to wander around the brewery.

The beers that Cantillon produce can probably be described as an acquired taste - lambic beers are sour, even after fruit has been added - but I developed a taste for them several years ago and this brewery is one of just a few which still follows the traditional process.

(right) Tony tries the Cantillon kriek

At the end of the tour we ended up at the bar where we bought a few samples - the basic Geueze and then two beers which had added fruit - the Kriek and the Rosé de Gambrinus. Tony found the latter to be most to his taste and took a bottle back for Xmas day.

The afternoon was spent trawling around a few shops - Neil and Mari had gone off to do some serious shopping but Tony, Lesley and I couldn't muster the enthusiasm and we wandered around the city centre and visited a few bars.

We later met up with Neil and Mari in a small brewpub just off La Grande Place - Les Brasseurs de Grand Place - where we tried their artisinal beers. Given the prime location, it was not surprising to see them charge 4.5 euros for these beers which weren't exceptional by any means.

From here we went in search of a nice juicy steak - we'd seen a restaurant called Steak Frit earlier in the day and although it was initially busy when we went, Tony worked his charm and we finally got a table.

The place was packed and the service from our waitress was rather haphazard but even so we were quite surprised to later see her chucking in her apron and storming out after a heated discussion with the maitre d'.

The steak though was beautiful, charred on the outside and bloody in the middle - served with excellent frites and what could only be described as a token effort of a salad. Clearly the Belgians have no time for such things.

And that was my lot - just the most fleeting of visits but I'd probably come back at a quieter time of year and try out some of the bars I didn't get a chance to visit.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Darlington & Stockton Times

Despite the Kidderminster game being called off well in advance - not a huge surprise to anyone living in the north-east as the Arctic conditions , both John W and I were in the north and decided to have our pre-match session. It was either that or shopping.

I was a bit worried about getting through there from Northallerton - many trains had been cancelled - but Trans-Pennine trains were running a severely reduced service which only went to Bank Top.

The town centre was extremely quiet when I arrived with not may shoppers braving the conditions and I popped into Alfie's above the covered market for a very good value breakfast - the best I've had in Darlo.

The Quaker was open on time and so I started making my way through the card - quite a few Christmas beers but thankfully some were not the Xmas pudding-style that some brewers seem to thing we want.

(left) Brian Bond - no socks? In this weather?

John and then Tony arrived and it was quite noticeable that there were quite a few unfamiliar faces in the pub today - we wondered whether they were refugees from the Tap & Spile which appears to have closed it's doors, at least for now?

Tony was not in good drinking form though he joined us for a short while at Number Twenty-2 before decided to call it a day. John and I persevered and had a few more before we both headed back south, he to London and me to Northallerton.

Later that evening I went to the Georgian Theatre at Stockton with my sister and niece to see Punishment of Luxury.

The event was being put on by the Rock Garden Revisited team - including our very own Steve Harland - who are dedicated to celebrating the history of that iconic music venue as well as bringing some of the bands back to the area for gigs.

Thankfully the roads were clear and it was a nice easy run for us up the A19. It was probably over thirty years since my last visit to Stockton - delivering an injured heron to a bird sanctuary - and it was quite dead.

It was nice and lively (and warm) when we got to the theatre - Steve on the door to welcome us as we arrived - and we headed for the bar. No real ale but they had some bottles of Keltek King which made up for it.

Two local bands were on the support roster - openers British Lichen Society had similarities to Joy Division whilst Russell & The Wolves had overtones of garage rock and rockabilly - they reminded me of the Batfish Boys, a grebo-band from Leicester that I used to see back in the mid-eighties.
They were quite a number of old punks in the crowd - they don't age well though some of them admired my niece's pink hair - very punk.

As usual, Punilux came on to Puppet Life - their 'hit' single - which got the crowd jumping around and then they went through their usual set taken from the Laughing Academy album and early singles.
(right) Jimi and Neville rock out to Brainbomb

The highlights for me were Obssession, Fracture - a number that has been developing over the past year or so - and closing the gig, Brainbomb. Fantastic.

If you want to see some of the live action, you'll find it on Youtube - you may even see me "dancing" (shuffling side to side arrythmically is probably a closer description) but don't check it out too closely.

Many thanks to Steve H and his compadres for putting this gig on and good luck with their future shows, bringing back those bands that time almost forgot...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pilgrims Progress

No football for me today because quite frankly the idea of visiting Wrexham just doesn’t excite me one iota. I’ve been there once a few seasons ago – a defeat - and that will do me just fine. As most readers know there is more to a Saturday then the ninety-odd minutes on the pitch and I’m afraid Wrexham just doesn’t cut it when it comes to pubs.

So an alternate plan was hatched a few months ago when I suggested to some of the boozier London Millers that we should have a day out drinking in Sheffield. The Millers would be playing in Crewe but they were happy to miss that and have a whole day boozing instead.

Why Sheffield? Well it has probably the best concentration of good pubs in the whole of the country and is a mecca for tickers and ‘normal’ drinkers alike.

In fact it is known as the Holy City to many devotees. Most of the pubs we were going to be visiting were covered in the recent documentary file, Tickers.

(left) Chris and John on the tram - no beer drunk at this stage hence glum faces

Trev, Brian and I tried a few of these pubs a couple of seasons ago before Darlo played the Millers at the Don Valley stadium and were impressed so it was time that I had another visit, especially since the chance of an FA Cup replay at the DVS had been denied us earlier in the week (when York knocked Rotherham out).

Unfortunately two of the London Millers had to pull out leaving just Chris Turner and me. However it was a case of DAFTS to the rescue when John W was given the nod by Bev to join us – likewise Tony by Lesley – and then local boy Brian made it a quintet.

Chris, John and I met in the Station Sandwich Bar near King’s Cross – a new cafe for us which was recommended by Tony – and very good it was too. I’ll be back for more.

We took the East Coast line to Doncaster and changed for the local service to Sheffield, complete with masses of shoppers on their way to Meadowhall. On the way we also passed Millmoor, former home of Rotherham, and I was duty bound to flick Vs at former chairman Booth’s scrap yard in solidarity with the Millers.

From Sheffield station it was a short tram ride to the first pub, the Hillsborough Hotel. Tony had arrived earlier and gone breakfasting with Brian but this place did not open until noon so they’d gone on elsewhere.

The Hillsborough is a nice, clean pub with a great selection of beers, mainly from its own Crown Brewery, so we gave most of them a try.

All were very good especially the Hillsborough Pale Ale and the Benny Goodman. They also had Cascade IPA from the fairly new Hardknott brewery which was excellent and in brilliant condition, almost sparkling.

As it name suggests this place is a hotel and it strikes me as a great place to stay. Andy, who was supposed to be with us, stayed there recently and highly recommends it (especially the chips - so sophisticated is our Andy!).

From here we moved on to the Gardeners Rest which was a ten minute walk away via the glamorous Neepsend Road where Brian and Tony were waiting for us.

A lot of the house beers on offer were from the Sheffield Brewery such as Crucible Best, Five Rise, Sheffield Porter and an IPA. We tried a few of these but I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with any of them, seeming to have a home-brew type taste.

Good snacks available though – bombay mix for most of us whilst Tony reverted to his childhood days and had a Tunnocks snowball instead. The pub seems to be quite the community pub with one wall taken up with entries to their annual photographic competition.

Unfortunately Brian had been hogging the conversation whilst we were here – nothing new so far - so much so that he still had a pint when the rest of us were ready to move on. With all the respect due to the elderly we left him behind and headed to the Harlequin walking past the Riverside which is supposed to be a good pub but we had to move on.

The Harlequin is a real tickers pub though it seemed fairly quiet when we got there – we only stayed for a pint (or a couple of halves) before moving on to the Wellington (Bottom Wellie in local parlance) as this is nice and close to the Shalesmoor tram stop.

Tony had been getting tweets from Craig Stoddart for the past hour or more so we were well aware of the Darlo line-up at Wrexham – this saw Main replacing Jefferson Louis and Senior dropped to the bench with starts for new boys Gillespie and Varna.

It didn’t fill me with confidence and we were soon behind. However spirits were raised in the second half when we heard that Hatch had equalised.

Brian had beaten us to the Wellie having bypassed the Harlequin – I was pleased to see they had a Steel City Brewing beer on as I certainly like the attitude of the two brewers behind it – they like hops and like to use them in their beers and whilst they give a nod to the US hoppy beers, they’re less extreme which makes them more drinkable. Their beer today was the Červený Bez which was a variant of one I had at the Nottingham beer festival a few weeks ago.

It was whilst drinking this that the news came through that Darlo were up to their old tricks and had conceded a goal in added time and had lost the game. Doubly glad I didn’t go now.

We then caught the tram down to the station so we could try out the Sheffield Tap. This is a the big brother of the recently opened Euston Tap and which is situated next to the station. Just had a couple of halves here – both in excellent condition. I also bumped into one of my Macclesfield CAMRA chums, Rob, who was making a passing visit to the Tap himself.

But it was soon time to get the train back to Donny – standing room all the way as it was packed with returning shoppers – and then get the train to KX.

I slept most of the way and was nice and refreshed (well nearly) by the time we got back to London. However neither John or Chris fancied a trip to the Euston Tap, probably a wise decision, and I traipsed off home via the curry house.

A great day out with a lot of excellent pubs and beers - there were plenty more pubs in Sheffield that we could have tried but just didn't have the time. You really need a weekend to do them all justice so maybe that is a plan to develop for next year...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Creepy Crawley (and Evil Evans)

Today was one of those rare days when we were joined by Howard - only his second home game of the season and worryingly he has yet to see a Darlo win.

After a nice breakfast at Da Vinci, we had a decent journey north - Howard and I chatting as Martin trawls through his pile of papers to work out his pool selections (but as ever, no winners today. As ever.).

After leaving Martin at Bank Top, we wander to the Quaker to find Waters pere et fils are already in attendance. And both are well dressed by normal match-day standards as Tony has a box for today's game against table-topping Crawley.

Both of us paid £20 at the start of the season to enter the season ticket holders draw to win a box for a game and during last week’s game against Tamworth, Tony was announced as the latest winner. A pretty good idea by the club and fingers crossed I'll also be a winner before the end of the season.

(left) You've got to hand it to Tony and Howard...

On the bar today in the Quaker we have Hambleton Stud, RCH Steam Carnival, Saltaire Cheeky Kriek, Banks & Taylor Dragon Slayer, Hadrian & Border Newcastle Pioneer, Jarrow Caulker, North Yorkshire Crystal Tips, Mordue Newcastle Porter and Titanic Lifeboat.

I manage to try all of them - halves of course - except for the Stud and Dragon Slayer and for me the Newcastle Porter and Cheeky Kriek were excellent. The latter especially had a nice sour edge as well as some sweetness and was not as sugary as I'd suspected it would be.

John W, John B, Brian and Trevor joined us to make up the numbers before Howard, having had his regulation couple of pints, departed to pop into Taylors for pies.

We popped up to N22 for a few beers and then taxi-ed a little earlier than usual down to the ground so everyone could spend a bit of quality time in the box before kick-off. Not for me though as it was pitchside duties as usual.

Today's opponents Crawley Town have hogged most of the non-league headlines this season as their Project Promotion has seen them spending big bucks in order to sign some of the big name players at this level.

As if that wasn't enough reason to dislike them instantly, they're also managed by that nasty piece of work, Steve Evans, who narrowly avoided a jail sentence after helping Boston United cheat the taxman out of £250,000.
(left) Brian, Trevor and John riding the heskeylater to Heaven

Cheats do prosper though and this was enough to see Boston promoted much to the disgust of promotion rivals Dagenham & Redbridge - not to mention most right-minded followers of the game.

The fact that he was never banned from football management is worrying but not surprising as the football authorities never seem to grasp the nettle when firm action is needed and examples need to be set.

From the kick-off it was difficult to see which team were the big-spenders as Darlo more than matched Crawley and went at them with a positive attitude.

This approach was rewarded after 21 mins when Bridge-Wilkinson hit a half-volley in the box and the ball beat keeper Kuipers. This soon got Steve Evans off his backside and shouting at his players (not that he ever seems to need an excuse).

Crawley then had a goal disallowed as striker Brodie was off-side but it wasn't long after that until they equalised - Hatch had an odd-lapse allowing Brodie to shot. Russell saved but could only parry it to Neilson who couldn't miss with a simple tap-in.

As half-time approached Brodie and Darlo defender Brown chased a loose ball when they both collided and Brodie went sprawling. It wasn't a surprise to see the red card as the referee had been making dodgy decisions all day.

(left) The ref refuses to listen to Hone's protests following the sending off

From my view it looked as if Brodie was looking to be clipped as far too many strikers do - I also thought he had a bloody cheek to hound Brown as he traipsed off. Truly playing in the spirit of his manager.

The decision certainly got the home crowd riled and when the ref wasn't on the end of their venom, Evans was. A true pantomime villain but sadly not funny.

Not surprisingly the second half was more about preserving the lead - Gray and Main replaced Senior and Louis with a view to holding the ball up front but it never worked. Main rarely won a header or kept possession and balls hoofed up front by Russell were soon returned. This meant the defence were under pressure for virtually the entire half but they held firm and Crawley rarely went close to scoring a winner.

There were loud calls for a pull on Josh Gray but it was the wrong side of the penalty box for me to get a clear view. Predictably the referee was unmoved.

There was a huge cheer when the final whistle blew and quite rightly – the team did very well to play the entire half with ten men against supposedly the best side in the division. Evans was clearly not happy and went off to a chorus of abuse but I’m sure that the norm for him.
(left) Dryden suspects two fingers are enough for Evans

Under the circumstances it was a very pleasing result and it was a happy bunch of Capital Quakers that made their way south. On the way I received a text from Steve to say he was unexpectedly in north London with time on his hands.

And so it was on our return, I made my way to the Euston Tap where Steve was waiting to buy me a drink. Liz and Jenny then joined us after getting back from their home game.

My chum Paul, photographer at Wycombe, popped in a little later as we’ve been meaning to meet up this season but this was the first chance we’ve had. It was good to see him and find out what’s happening there these days.

The Tap was a little busier than last weekend so obviously word is getting round...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Life's A Gas

Whilst it is great to have a home tie for the second round of the FA Cup, the ticket prices for those travelling up by train are quite steep - £65 return in our case - and normally I don't think I would have bothered.

However as we'd been drawn against League One opponents in the form of Bristol Rovers this meant we'd have a chance to meet up with our old chum Stedders - who was responsible for the short-lived Football and Real Ale guides - and so I decided to travel north.

Stedders himself had gone up early to Darlo on Friday to settle in and judging from his tweets that night, he was having a good old time familiarising himself with Darlo's beer haunts (all in the aid of research of course).

(left) Stedders and the gang outside N22

As I arrived at the Quaker just after opening time on Saturday, he was already there - well, outside having a fag actually. Nice to see he is still ignoring what his doctor says.

The selection on offer at the bar was leaning heavily to the dark persuasion with five porter-stouts on offer. In all there was Hawkshead Brodie's Prime, Hammerpot White Wing, Wychwood Bountiful, Salopian Darwin's Origin, Jarrow Irish Stout, North Yorkshire Yorkshire Porter, Saltaire Cascadian Black and Marston Moor Wildboar Stout.

A newly clean-shaven Tony wasn't far behind me sporting a new set of specs which make him look like a cross between Wilfred Bramble and an elderly Kray Brother (though I didn't mention that at the time). Next up was John W - who'd kindly got some pies for Martin and I - and then Brian also rolled up to complete today's DAFTS contingent.

Later on in Number Twenty-2 we met some of Stedder's fellow Gasheads - not quite as many as when they last played us but then most had come north just a week or so earlier for their recent game at Hartlepool.

A decent array of guest beers here too today: Brentwood Devil's Dyke, Everards Tiger, Great Heck Bitter, Mithrill Fire Cracker, Titanic Anchor Bitter, Timothy Taylor Best and Wensleydale Black Dub Stout.

Down at the ground I made my way to reception with Echo photographer, Chris Booth. A new ticketing system was in place today which meant we both had to go back to the ticket office for our press tickets.

When we got there we found that what we thought there had been issues with the ticketing system and that there'd been delays for many people and some, so we were told, had left in disgust.

When we finally got in the crowd looked very sparse and so it was to prove - just over 1600 with maybe 150 from Bristol - but by the end of the game the home fans were rocking.

Like the previous week against AFC Wimbledon, Darlo took a relatively early lead - Chris Moore crossed to Bridge-Wilkinson whose effort was cleared but only to Michael Brough who hit it home from the edge of the box.
(right) Darlo's Michael Brough opened the scoring

It was to be an extremely short-lived lead though as the ref gave a foul against Liam Hatch for his tackle on former Miller Will Hoskins. I didn't think it was an offence but if it was it was clearly in the box.

The ref however had other ideas - as he continued to do for the rest of the game - and awarded a free-kick just outside the box. Hoskins took it and whipped the ball around the wall giving Russell no chance.

Hoksins had been Rover's main threat but he retired injured after half-an-hour after being hurt in a seemingly innocuous tackle with Brough.

Just before the break, assistant Richard Dryden was sent to the stand after angrily booting the ball after the ref and the linesman gave a throw-in to Rovers despite their man touching being the last to touch the ball.

Such poor decision making extended into the second half and helped galvanise the home fans in their vocal support of the team.

Chances were few and far between as both sides matched each other but Gary Smith was to give Darlo the advantage once more with a simple tap-in after a defender's attempted clearance came back off the Rovers post only to find Smith handily placed.

Russell had only one real save of note to make later in the half but for the majority of the time the Darlo defence kept Rovers at arms length and went on to reach the second round.

(left) Ian Miller with his proto-tache for Movember

As we had bought our tickets late, we opted for a cheaper but later return train which gave us the chance for post-match celebratory beers.

John and I walked back into town - we took a different route to normal walking west of the railway close to South Park. The firework display was being prepared and so it was fairly busy with people trying to find somewhere to park.

By the time John and I go to the Quaker, we found Tony, Brian and Martin were already having a beer so it seems that my suggested shorter route didn't really work. We won't make that mistake again.

After a few beers we wandered to the station - I popped into the Wing On chinese takeaway on Victoria to collect a pre-ordered takeaway as I wanted something nice and warm for the journey home.

The journey back was uneventful and conspicuously absent of any other football fans - we had been hoping to avoid any Palace fans on their way home as they're a boor-ish bunch based on past experience.

We didn't get back into London until after 10pm but I made time for a last pint at the newly opened Euston Tap. This is a new bar inside one of the gatehouses outside Euston station.

It is run by the same mob as the Sheffield Tap and by an odd coincidence, the manager Yan is a former barman at Stedder's former pub, the Admiral Rodney in Colne. Martin Deans and I spent a wonderful night here once before our first game at Accrington Stanley - I overdid the Titanic Stout that night and was not my usual match-day self next day.

The Euston Tap is exceedingly small and has all the draught beers poured from a set of beer fonts at the rear of the bar - no handpumps here as no doubt that would put off the young trendies - plus a couple of large bottle cabinets with a host of German and American beer.

London Miller Chris Turner was waiting for me as he'd eschewed Rotherham's cup game for a day out drinking in sunny Wainfleet.

There is an upstairs area which is reached by a twisted staircase - the one and only toilet is upstairs too so not wheelchair friendly but I guess that the building is listed and cannot be altered.

The beer was in good nick and not overly expensive so I dare say this may become a regular post-match venue. Give it a go if you're in the area.

Stedders now has an
online version of the Football and Real Guides and is looking to produce a book version in the near future. We'll let you know if he does...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Underground, Overground

After missing the FA Cup victory at Mossley I was ready for a good day out and it all started as I met Tony off his train at Kings Cross.

Our journey to south-west London allowed us to make one of our infrequent but very welcome visits to Maries which is just a short walk from Waterloo station.

John Wilson was already well through his breakfast when we arrived - no need to spend time perusing the menu here as I always head straight for the Number 7 (with a side order of chips). Tony is happy to follow my example.

We're then joined by Trev who has come down for a couple of nights with his wife but she has declined to join us in favour of a bit of culture and a visit to St Pauls. She doesn't know what she's missing.

From Waterloo we take the overground to Norbiton and from there it is only a ten-minute walk to the Willoughby Arms, the pub of choice for today, so that we arrive at 11am.

The pub actually opened at 10:30am which is extremely laudable and we're welcomed by one of the AFC Wimbledon fans already ensconced at the bar.

Cue the usual confused looks when he finds out that only one of us has actually made the journey all the way from Darlo.

Today the pub has a Halloween beer festival on - all the beers are sat out on stillage in the back yard and you order your beer from a till by the back door instead of at the bar which confuses us to begin with.

They have a good selection on offer - those that I get to try include Hophead and American IPA from Dark Star, Hepworth Iron Horse, Twickenham Strange Brew (which was but not in a totally nice way!), Isle of Purbeck IPA and Orchard Pig Medium Cider.

Mr Wilson tried out some of the stouts and porters on offer - Two Bridges Ink Pen Mild and Hammerpot Bottle Wreck Porter were both nice, less so was the Ha'Penny Spring-Heeled Jack London Porter. Unfortunately due to getting up too late and then train problems, Bev never got to try them.

(left) The Willoughby Arms

Various other DAFTS arrived as the session progresses - Steve is not far behind us but John B, Rod and then Brian are all delayed by problems on the line. Looks like we got here just in time. And then Iain arrived with a number of his chums, all of whom had come to see us before (and who still come again - they must enjoy the beer).

Landlord Rick offered to order taxis for us so that we can maximise our drinking but we decide that we need the exercise and head off.

Various DAFTS have already been to Kingsmeadow (or the Cherry Red Records Fans' Stadium as it is now known) as Darlo played in a pre-season tournament there back in July 2001 when Tommy Taylor was in charge.

I seem to remember Gregor Rioch, son of Bruce, was trying out for us that weekend but thankfully we never took him on. Very agricultural as I seem to recall.

Back then we were one of four teams playing which also included hosts Kingstonian (when it was their own place) along with Aldershot and Brentford. I think we came second overall.

The ground doesn't appear to have changed much physically in the intervening years though it is obviously a lot busier these days as AFC Wimbledon are pulling in decent crowds.

I make my way into the ground, collecting my press pass and hi-vis tabard, and head off to join the Darlo faithful who have been given one corner of the ground. It looks to be a good turnout.

No real surprises in the team sheet today with Liam Hatch back in the squad at the heart of the defence.

Darlo started the game slowly as Wimbledon looked the liveliest and we seemed happy to soak up the pressure leaving little for Sam Russell to do.

From more or less our first attack, Chris Senior prodded the ball past the Dons keeper after good interplay from Tommy Wright and Gary Smith. The home crowd were stunned whilst the Darlo fans went wild.

Darlo continued to attack whenever they could whilst keeping Wimbledon pretty much at arms length, restricting them to some speculative shots which flew high and wide.

Michael Brough was making his league debut for us after what sounded like a good game up at Mossley last weekend and he looked pretty solid in midfield - didn't do anything fancy but broke up play well.

Darlo went in at the break to loud cheers from the Darlo fans and I took the chance to have a chat with a few folk. There was also a rogue Womble wandering round too.

In the second half Darlo continued to hold their own whilst having a few opportunities of their own. Mark Cooper brought on Jefferson Louis for Wright after quarter of an hour just as Darlo were awarded a penalty.

(right) Mark Bridge-Wilkinson makes it two-nil

Darlo had taken a corner from which we had scored but the referee had already blown up for a foul on Danny Hone which took everyone by surprise. Louis grabbed the ball and decided he was going to take kick.

Unfortunately the confidence in his own ability was misplaced but fortunately Bridge-Wilkinson was the first to follow up as the keeper parried the spot-kick and slotted it home. Two-nil and the Darlo fans were delirious.

Danny Powell was then brought on for Chris Senior which struck me as a bit odd as Senior was having a decent game. However Powell's pace saw pass his marker and go one-on-one with the keeper on a couple of occasions but each time he failed to capitalise.

Wimbledon came into the game more as the half progressed - when the defence passed the ball out to the forward line, Louis was poor at retaining possession or offered little when competing for headers . On the touchline, manager Cooper was constantly directing him but to little effect.

Sam Russell managed to keep out a few efforts on goal and we appeared to escape what looked to be a valid shout for a penalty.

The referee didn't help calm the nerves as five minutes of added time were announced. More than enough time for us to concede two goals!

(left) Danny Hone's header hits the woodwork

Thankfully we held firm and Darlo recorded a well-deserved win with a great all-round team performance.

The 346 away fans (plus me) thoroughly enjoyed their day out and it was a merry throng that took the train back to Vauxhall (or Waterloo in Brian's case as he'd fallen asleep on the train).

From Vauxhall we all changed to the Victoria line and headed off to King's Cross. As we were on the escalators coming out from the tube, a message came over the PA asking everyone to exit the station.

John, Bev and I waited outside for Tony whilst Steve decided to head off to Paddington in case the tube situation didn't improve.

No sign of Tony so we headed off to the nearby Kings Charles pub as he knew we were heading there but it was shut - very annoying - so we decided to convene in the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras for a few beers before everyone had to go and catch their trains leaving Bev, John and me to wander home on the tube.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Wright At The Death

When normally arriving before opening time in Nottingham, I have a wander round the town for a while but today I made my way straight up to the castle - a bit of a steep climb with all my camera gear - and into the queue for the Nottingham beer festival.

Whilst queuing, Colin came scurrying past - he was a volunteer working at the festival and was off to do a few hours behind the bar before our game at Mansfield.

(left) Colin at bar C in one of his many bandannas

The festival is in a big marquee in the castle grounds and Colin was working on bar C so I went over to give him some business.

This was my first visit to this particular festival and it had a very extensive range of beers.

There quite a few tickets in attendance too which is a testament to the number of small breweries that were here - as well as the fact that there were still a lot of beers available - not bad for a Saturday.

The first beer of the day was the Prikarpatskiy Silny Kofe from Steel City Brewing in Sheffield – I’ve been meaning to try one of their beers for ages as the two brewers seem to have the right idea about brewing (despite coming from South Yorkshire) plus they brewed a beer in memory of one of my favourite musicians, Type O Negative’s Pete Steele. This was a oatmeal stout with a hint of coffee – not the type of beer I normally have as an opener but it was worked well and was very tasty.

Other beers tried included the Mallard Feather Light (a real lager – OK but a bit lacking in flavour), Kinver Light Railway. Great Oakley Tailshaker, Howard Town Snake Ale and the Kelburn Pivo Estivo. All in excellent condition too.

After a couple of hours I left Colin and headed off for the station and caught the train to Mansfield.

From there it was a one minute walk to the Railway Inn which was heaving, mainly with home fans but quite a few Darlo fans too. I'd texted Tony and he'd been kind enough to get me a pint of Batemans GHA in advance as the queue at the bar was quite deep (not surprising as it is the only really decent pub in Mansfield!).

Tony and Ray had both got into Mansfield just after opening before being joined by Lance, Brummy T, Brian and Trevor.

I only stayed for the one pint before heading down to Field Mill with Trevor and I was in the ground and pitchside about 20 mins before kick-off.

As I wandered to my favoured position close to the away dug-out - this is in front of the Bishop Street stand which has been closed for quite a few seasons which allows me to stand up to photograph - I saw Steve Foster who noticed me and came over for a quick chat (I used to sponsor his shirt during his time at Darlo so its the polite thing to do).

As seems to be the case at our matches these days there was a new face in the squad - Mark Bridge-Wilkinson who is on loan from Carlisle. Chris Moore was also back in the squad after being on loan at Spennymoor.

There was a major surprise with the team formation though which saw Ian Miller playing at right-back whilst Liam Hatch took his place in the centre of defence. Eh? Wot?

I don't know whether this was a last minute decision but it certainly seemed to confuse Darlo who were one-nil down within ten minutes.

(right) Darlo old boy Foster vies for the ball with the Darlo defence

Despite three of our tallest players being in the box, Paul Connor rose unchallenged to head home past Russell who had no real chance of saving it.

Mansfield then bossed the tempo of the game for the majority of the half, bypassing the Quakers midfield with ease with the result that Hatch was probably the busiest player on the pitch making good tackles and getting to a lot of high balls.

At the other end former Stag Jefferson Louis made very little progress against Foster and co. in the Mansfield defence and Tommy Wright was so anonymous I hadn't realised he was even on the pitch for the first thirty minutes.

On the bench, manager Mark Cooper spent a lot of time in the dug-out but was clearly visible as they have see-through dugouts at Field Mill - very cunning!

Meanwhile his number 2 Richard Dryden was doing most of the shouting, not just at our lads but also the poor old linesman who got the sharp end of his tongue for most of the half (despite not making any bad decisions).

Towards the end of the half Russell made a great save with an outstretched foot and it was this combined with some wayward shooting which somehow saw Darlo go in only one-nil down at the break.

At half-time, all the talk on the away terrace was of Cooper losing the plot and that he had to go - the typical Darlo soap opera. And after that performance it was difficult to argue against such logic but surely there was some method being this apparent madness?

So it was a huge surprise to all when we saw a totally different performance in the second half.

Josh Gray replaced Austin and we suddenly had Mansfield on the back foot, presumably they were lulled into a false sense of security by our shocking first-half display.

(left) Chris Moore skips past the Mansfield defence

Miller saw an effort blocked, Hone saw an effort cleared off the line before he could get to it and Tommy Wright slashed an absolute sitter into the stand.

Moore then skipped past a defender to go though one-on-one with the keeper but his effort went wide.

Darlo maintained the pressure for about twenty minutes before Mansfield woke up and started playing. They could have sealed the win with another header but Austin was on the back post to clear it.

Chris Senior was then drafted in to replace the ineffective Louis, and then Powell came on for the tiring Moore, and Darlo started to look dangerous again.

As the minutes ticked away the baby-faced ref awarded seven minutes of additional time - it sounds a long time but was not surprising after injuries to their keeper (twice) as well as to Hatch plus various subs - and Darlo pressed again.

As time was running out the ball was hoofed from defence by Brown - Bridge-Wilkinson headed it to Senior just outside the box who then took the ball past one defender and on to the byline before sending the ball across the six yard line where there were about three Darlo players waiting. This time Tommy Wright made no mistake.

The away fans went wild with several jumping onto the pitch to celebrate with Senior who for the second time in recent weeks has laid on a late goal for Darlo.

The game kicked off only for the referee to blow for time after just thirty seconds and fighting broke out close to the away end. However by the time I met Colin and we wandered to the station it all appeared to have petered out.

Brummy Tony joined Colin and I as we caught the train back into Nottingham and to the VAT & Fiddle where we met Argyle-fan Geoff (who was staying with Colin) who along with other members of the Green Army were having a consolation drink after being beaten 2-0 by Notts County.

(above) Tommy Wright scores the late, late, late equaliser

I had a couple of hours before my train back to London so was able to chew the fat for a while whilst supping the Castle Rock Screech Owl and reflect on the game. I'd certainly have settled for a point beforehand and hopefully we'll see Darlo improving their first half performances sooner rather than later...

Monday, 11 October 2010

Great Weekend, Crap Result

When the fixtures came out the one immediate disappointment was the midweek timing of our game at York. However we're not the sort to miss out on a good time so a few of us decided we'd have a weekend there and simply time our visit for a home match.

Spouses were invited too of course and so it was that Liz and I headed up from Kings Cross on Friday morning and arrived in York to find the place abuzz as our visit coincided with race week.

(left) Bishops Hotel (or The Posh Boils as John Cleese would call it)

We were staying at the Bishops Hotel which is run by former Darlo legend Marco Gabbiadini along with his wife Deborah.

There was no sign of Marco though as we checked in but his football memorabilia was dotted all around the hotel, including the award given to him by Darlo fans for the Greatest Player Seen At Feethams.

Once we'd refreshed ourselves we headed into the centre of York for a little bit of light shopping and a wander round some of the pubs (the Pivni Bar and the Blue Bell) that I'd visited when I was up our game here a week or so ago.

As we wandered past York Minster we spied Coast presenter and (to ladies of a certain age) academic man-totty Prof Neil Oliver filming outside. Hopefully they've caught both of us loitering in the background.

The rest of the group met us later in the Ackhorne - off the beaten track so not full of race goers - first Steve and Cath, then Paul and Linda and finally Iain and Frances.

After a few beers we went for a very nice meal at Rustique - a French restaurant close to the Jorvik centre where the food was excellent.

The next morning Liz and I were the first ones to head off after breakfast as we went to our respective games - I got into Darlo just before opening time and John W joined me in the Quaker after leaving Bev to paint some fences.

We both had a few halves to start with so we could try out most of the following: Marston Moor Longtail, Brentwood Devils Dyke, Hill Island Golden Trident, Jarrow Rivet Catcher, Cairngorn Witches Cauldron, Naylors Autumn Ale, Big Lamp Summerhill Stout and a brace from the Black Hole Brewery, Cosmic and Super Nova.

Steve, Iain and Paul joined us a little later and we made our way up to N22 where we met Durham Tony. More good ales this weekend - Allendale Swift, Dark Star American Pale Ale and an oatmeal stout, Polar Eclipse, from Beartown Brewery which was very quaffable.

Our journey to the Arena was more protracted than it should have been as our taxi driver decided to take us via the Civic Theatre rather than through South Park - the road under the railway is too narrow for him - and got caught up in a bit of a jam as a result. No tip for him.

I had a quick chat with Martin out at the tunnel - he'd come up with his other half, the fabled Christine who none of us had ever met, as well as some friends who live near Hayes. In the away end there were less than 40 Hayes and Yeading fans.

(right) Jefferson Louis makes his debut

There was yet another new face in our team today - Jefferson Louis who we'd taken on from Gainsborough Trinity - who can certainly be called a journeyman as we were his 23rd club!

The first half was eminently forgettable and it is hard to remember a great deal of it - there was the odd flurry around the goalmouths but nothing very exciting - and if anything Hayes looked the more interesting.

The major incident happened early on and was an injury to Paul Terry - replaced by fit-again Gareth Waite - and subsequently it appears that we'll not see him again this season as he has torn his cruciate ligament.

From where I was sat it looked as if Mark Cooper was not in the dugout but I had a word with Martin who said he was in there but right at the back whilst Richard Dryden did the talking from the touchline. Meanwhile in the concourse all the talk was of Cooper resigning.

It was whilst responding to a text from Chris - listening via the internet whilst on honeymoon - early in the second half that Hayes scored. The reaction from the crowd was not good - more boos.

Tommy Wright was then brought on to try and generate a bit of oomph up front and for a while Darlo did apply some pressure. New boy Louie had a few shots and Wright had a header saved but it was all very ponderous and predictable.

It remained one-nil as the final whistle went and the team trudged off to a chorus of boos.

It was not a happy journey back to York but thankfully it was quick. We went back to the hotel for a quick shower before Steve, Cath and I wandered back into town, collecting Liz on the way who had just got back from the Don Valley stadium.

(left) The Ackhorne

The city was awash with race revellers in various states of undress and as we were walking across the river when I spotted a familiar face - Marco Gabiaddini!

He was suited and booted but looking ever so slightly confused - I introduced myself and he told me they'd been in a box at the races since noon and he was beginning to feel the effects. He'd not had any winners either though Debbie has wife had had some success.

After a few beers in the Ackhorne, we joined the others at the Limehouse restaurant which came well recommended. And most excellent it was too. After the lifless affair at the Arena I had pigeon breast on black pudding for my starter and a bloody t-bone steak for my main - beautiful.

As we left for home next morning, Marco was checking out the guests and he looked to be in slightly better shape than the previous evening - we had a bit of a chat about his time at Darlo and how he is now fitter than he ever was.

A shame we can't take him back in a time machine as he is just what we need so badly at Darlo...

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tyrannosaurus Wrex

For this trip to Darlo, we have a change in personnel - Howard is making one of his infrequent appearances whilst John W is a late substitute for Martin who is away sunning himself in southern Italy. Part-timer!

A pleasant journey north except for the presence of some Blackheath rugby fans at nearby tables - four blokes, one of who has brought his wife with him.

The blokes were OK but unfortunately she turns out to be of the gobby loud variety who pronounces to all in earshot that she is a champagne snob and "proud of it" as her compatriots are supping bottles of cava - something they do on all their trips apparently.

Just as we approach Darlo, she says to a fellow passenger that rugby fans are much nicer than those nasty football types as the rugger lot will share a pint and a joke together after the game. I'm tempted to live up to her stereotype and punch her lights out but instead I just wish evils things to befall her.

Once in Darlo, John and Howard have errands elsewhere leaving me to head off alone to the Quaker but not for long. Before I can even order my pint, John B arrives having decided to make an early start from the north-west.

(left) John modelling the Darlo Devo Dome

I start off with a few halves so I can check out a few different beers with the choice today being: Hambleton Farriers Formula, Wyre Piddle Piss Thru' t Leaves, Derwent Harvesters Pale, Crouch Vale Amarillo, York Harvest Ale plus Ginger, Legion Ale and Farne Island from Hadrian and Border.

The best of the lot are the Farriers Formula, the Harvesters Pale and the Amarillo. I have a small taster of the Ginger - quite nice. The Harvest Ale though was a bit nothing-y for me whilst the Wyre Piddle beer was simply off - John B found this out on his first sip but it was quickly replaced.

Fresh from his trip to China, Tony was next in with his breakfast of chips - he's had his fill of Chinese food for a while so you can't blame the lad. Next in was Brian, John and then Howard.

Up at Number Twenty-2 there were a few new beers which I failed to note. The one we really enjoyed was the Espresso Stout from Dark Star - a rich beer which didn't have the coffee grounds taste we've sometimes noticed in the past.

Down at the Arena we pop into the club shop only to find a miserable selection of items on offer - it really is getting poorer each week in there - you can buy goods from the online shop but I would like to get an idea of sizes before I do so and there were no jackets to try on. Not much use really is it?

Out on the pitch I got chatting to Echo photographer Chris - a really nice lad despite being a Bradford fan - we don't often see him outside of the Premiership these days so we were honoured to have him with us.

On the field today we had a few familiar faces - Dean Saunders who now manages Wrexham and Frank Sinclair who was in the heart of their defence.

(right) New boy Powell makes space for himself at a corner

On the Darlo side, captain Ian Miller was back in the team after injury whilst there was a new face upfront, Danny Powell, who had just arrived on loan from Franchise FC.

And it was Powell and Sinclair who were at the heart of the first talking point of the game when both players clashed and Powell went over in the box.

Cue loud claims for a penalty but the foul clearly started outside of the box and the ref wasn't fooled by Powell's unnecessary theatrics in an attempt to get a spot kick. His efforts would have been better spent trying to stay on his feet and score.

Powell had a couple of other half-chances but they came to nothing and that was about it for the first half. Wrexham had a few chances of their own but nothing to trouble Russell.

Just before the break Miller picked up an injury which saw him replaced by Dan Clarke as the game resumed.

In midfield Darlo failed to stamp their authority on the game and chances were few and far between for either of the sides.

(left) Chris Senior showing off his thighs

As the game drew to a close Wrexham upped the pressure and started to throw a few balls into the box and headers went narrowly wide on a couple of occasions.

It wasn't a total surprise when they did score from another high ball into the box.

And so a very disappointing result as neither side deserved to win but we just didn't do enough in the middle of the park to create chances for our forwards. It was a bit of a glum journey back.

Once back in London, we met Howard's wife Susie at King's Cross before we started on our way to Chris Stockdale's wedding reception in Barnes. Unfortunately various traffic snarl-ups meant it took us almost two hours just to get to Hammersmith and still everything was gridlocked.

With not much time before the wedding reception finished we gave it up as a bad job and I headed home on the tube and picked up a consolation curry.

Finally congratulations to Chris and Suzy - may she forever let Chris go to games!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Northern Lights, Camera, Action

I'd originally intended to stay at home and watch the York game on TV having finally decided to sign up with Premier Sports but Martin offered me a lift and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss as it's been quite a while since we last played at Bootham Crescent.

So I started and finished work early and headed off up the Piccadilly line to Uxbridge where Martin was waiting for me. He was certainly in a chatty mood - so much so that he missed the turning for the A1 so we went via the M11 instead.

It was a frustrating journey - there seemed to be an inordinate amount of lorries which seemed intent on blocking the outside lane. Plus it was pissing it down - I was beginning to think the sofa may have been the place to be after all.

(left) Brigantes - first pub of the day

We finally arrived in York about 4:30pm and after parking up close to the ground we headed into the centre of York to find the first pub on my list for the day.

The Brigantes Bar (and Brasserie) is a new venue for me - part of the Market Town Taverns chain which has an outlet in Northallerton - a good selection of local ales from the likes of Rooster, York Bewery and Leeds. Martin is pleased to see that his favourite - York Guzzler - is on so he opts for that. Just a quick pint though as there a few I want to wander round today.

Next stop is the Ackhorne - slightly off the beaten track and one I've been to several times in previous visits. There are a few Geordie lads who start chatting to us but again just a quick pint before we move on.

The Blue Bell on Fossgate is another new venue for me but is a long standing favourite for those that know their pubs in York. A small twin-roomed pub with with not a lot of room in either - we had a good pint of Ossett Silver in the front bar and soon got chatting to some locals.

As we moved on, Martin headed to the game whilst I went to find the Pivni (formerly Pivo) bar. This seemed to be another small-ish bar but it is actually spread over three floors in a modern-but-traditional way.

(right) The Blue Bell - small but perfectly formed

This is the sister pub to the Sheffield Tap - a bar that the London Millers rave about - and the forthcoming Euston Tap.

It has a wide choice of continental and US beers plus Thornbridge and Brewdog beers on tap. John Bell meet me here for a quick pint but I left him to have a last swift one as I needed to go to the ground and get my press ticket.

Given that the game was being televised, there was none of the razzmatazz one associates when Sky cover a game. A few miserable looking cameramen and the odd effects mic by the pitch were the only signs we were on the box.

There was certainly an excellent turn-out of Darlo fans - over 700 from a crowd of 3,100 - and they were in good voice.

The rain had stopped as we kicked off and I settled down on my stool in one corner in front of the away end.

There was not a lot to choose between the sides tonight - the Quakers were not brilliant at keeping possession, often losing the ball far too easily, but the defence was solid.

We didn't seem to get the rub of the green with the referee ignoring valid pleas from Hatch as he was repeatedly knocked off the ball but being only too pleased to give free-kicks when the hulking mass of Rankine fell over like a blouse as soon as he was touched.

Following his improved performance as a sub at the weekend Curtis Main was trying to make things happen up-front and shot narrowly wide but chances were limited for both sides though Russell was probably the busier of the keepers.

(left) Curtis Main battles to keep possession

At half-time, York and Darlo old boy Marco Gabbiadini made an appearance on the pitch. If we only had someone of his stature this season to put away the chances we created in previous games. Hopefully we'll have more news of Gabba in the next week or so.

In the second half, York started to gain the upper hand but the tide turned once the lack-lustre Hatch was replaced by Michael Smith and Darlo seemed to string a few moves together.

John McReady was later thrown on as a sub but as the game faded out into a draw, the only incident of note was the sending off of Paul Arnison after he was given a second yellow. I supposed we shouldn't be surprised as there have been lots of red cards in our games recently and eventually one was bound to be for one of our players.

According to John W who was watching the game in a pub in Camden, the TV pundits gave the man of the match award to Darlo old boy, David McGurk, which is probably a back-handed compliment to our forward line.

After the game, Chris joined Martin and I for the journey back to London as he needed to come and help with the preparations for his forthcoming wedding (on a match day too - tsk tsk).

The start of the journey was quite chatty but after a while I drifted off only to wake up to find Chris had also dropped off - not a surprise for anyone who knows him - and we were approaching west London.

It was 1:30am - far too late to get a tube home and I don't do night buses - so Martin dropped me off in my office where I started work a little bit earlier than usual.

(above) A good turn-out of Darlo fans

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Late, Late Show

The season is well and truly underway now and as a consequence the days are drawing in and the temperature is dropping.

As Martin and I got off the train at Bank Top, I made a mental note to check the number of decent long-johns I have for the forthcoming winter months (especially as I'll be sitting on my camping stool, exposed to the elements, for most games).

But while there is a nip in the air, rather than wander to the underwear department in M&S I head off to get some pies for the return journey and then pop along to the Quaker. I am nothing if not predictable.

It's all very quiet in there - we seem to be getting fewer away fans in here these days - and as I walked in they'd just finished getting a full set of pumps ready.

For our delectation we had Cairngorm Gold, Jarrow Rivet Catcher and McConnells Irish Stout, Wold Top Big Sky, Loddon Russet, Taylors Landlord and Ram Tam, Brewsters Daffy Elixir and Isle of Skye Red Cullen.

I tried the Gold and Daffy Elixir - both excellent - but finished off with a pint of Ram Tam. Unusually smooth and without that touch of dark bitterness it normally has and which I really like.

(left) Ref Clark - you hum it son, I'll play it

It is also a bit of a quiet turn-out too - John W was back after his holiday and Colin had also turned up but others had found better things to do (especially Tony who is in China with his dad, Ray).

And then up in Number Twenty-2, we're joined by Bev who has decided against going to another pub to see her beloved Chelsea on the box.

On tap today were some interesting brews: Captain Cook Black Porter (as the stout), Glotts Hop from the Howard Town Brewery, Thwaites Lancaster Bomber and Mithril Ales' Flower Power.

The latter is brewed by local CAMRA member Pete Fenwick at Aldbrough St John - it's a very nice drop and was voted beer of the festival at last week's Rhythm & Brews festival (no favouritism there I'm sure!).

Once at the arena and inside the ground it is easy to see why there seem to be no away fans in the pub - there seem to be only about fifty Southport fans which doesn't seem a lot for what was a league club we often played in the 70s.

The game itself was a pretty dire one in the first half - there was a bit of wind which didn't help matters but Southport were managing to stifle any of our attempts to play the ball around.

The situation certainly wasn't helped by the petty whistle-blowing of ref Clark who looked like he'd gone missing from a chimps tea party (and had the decision making skills to match).

After the restart Curtis Main replaced a tired-looking Michael Smith - possibly this was the last chance for Main as he soon got heavily involved in the game and had two or three very good chances, one of which should really have been a goal.

(right) A shot from Liam Hatch strikes the hands of a Southport defender

In the latter stages Southport went down to ten men when one of their players was sent off - the decision did look extremely harsh from where I was but it was par for the course today.

There was certainly more bite in our play with the numerical advantage and it allowed Liam Hatch to find some space before shooting narrowly wide.

And shortly after another shot from Hatch hit the outstretched hand of a defender leading to the award of a penalty.

At the time I though this decision was a tad harsh too until I saw that the defender had his arms flapping in the way. As the pundits are only too happy to tell you, you just can't do that sort of thing in't modern game.

Chris Senior was the player assigned to penalty duty today and based on recent form you'd wouldn't bet against him scoring.
Unfortunately his shot was accurate but slowwww and the keeper gathered it in easily.

(left) The keeper safely gathers in

And so it all looked like being yet another draw and definitely two points dropped as we entered the four minutes of additional time awarded by the ref.

But then Senior - obviously keen to make up for his penalty miss - made his way into the box and teed up sub John McReady for a close range shot into the back of the net.

The place went wild and I kept my eye on Senior as he wheeled away in celebration towards block 11 and kicked off the corner flag - no doubt he was doubly relieved - but I think we were all happy to be the beneficiaries of a late goal for once.

According to Martin, the Southport players were less than happy at the final whistle and accused us of being "robbing bastards" - how classy - as they headed off to the dressing rooms. I know the ref didn't make things easy for them but it was a bit rich to have a go at us.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Bath Time

One of the more pleasureable aspects of our relegation to the Conference has been the visits to new towns and cities and finding out a bit more about our green and pleasant land (and the pubs therein). This was certainly the case with our visit to Bath.

The city has often been compared to York and given the amount of tourists pouring out of Bath Spa station at 10:30am, I can see what they mean. Trevor was already there when I arrived and we then waited a further ten minutes until Steve’s train pulled in.

We ambled slowly through the town and as we approached the cathedral, it was clear from the number of people in period costume that there was a bit of a Jane Austen theme to the day. But why had no one told us? We could have had Brian dressed up as the Mr Darcy gone to seed – or me as Mr Darcy on a bad hair day?

In fact it was the Jane Austen festival and this was their opening promenade – last year the world record was broken for the “largest gathering of people in Regency costume” at this event – 409 in case you’re interested.

As the cathedral bell rang out eleven times, we went to the Garricks Head to find the door open but we were given the "sorry, we don’t actually open until noon". Down with this sort of thing!

A quick retracing of our steps took us to the West Gate – one of those pubs with sofas and lounge-type seating but they had an interesting selection of several local ales and ciders. I had the Beech Blonde from Arbor Ales and it was a pretty tasty drop.

(left) Steve and Trev enter the Raven

After a quick pint, we took the short walk to Queen Street and the Raven which is the current pub of the year. An excellent selection of beers: Blindmans Raven and Raven's Gold, Keystone Bottle-Strength Porter, Cottage Winston Churchill, Slaters Premium and Moles Rucking Mole. It was also good to see that they used lined glasses so that you get a full pint and not just a full glass.

The next pub on our list was the Royal Oak - this is on the main road to Twerton Park and has vied with the Raven for the pub of the year accolade for the past five years. Again an excellent choice: Renaissance, Plain Indulgence, Hip Hop Green Bullet and O'Kanes Wit from Art Brew, Glyph and Eye-Opener from Stonehenge Ales, Three Castle's Saxon Archer and Milk Stout from the Bristol Beer Factory plus a couple of ciders.

The pub was virtually empty when we arrived but slowly filled up with a few DAFTS and then a few Bath fans.
(right) The Royal Oak

Iain and Paul had made their separate ways via the train which meant that for once they could have a drink or two. And then Mark and Simon (comeondarlo and spyman) also joined us for a quickie before they decided to wander off to the ground and try out the Bath City clubhouse.

Twerton Park is just a 15 min walk from the Royal Oak and we arrived in plenty of time before kick off. Another tidy little ground where the Darlo contingent had been given the open end - once again I was pitchside just in front of our fans in the away stand.

There were no major changes to the side from last week’s win over Forest Green though I was a bit concerned in the first 20 mins or so at the amount of possession that Bath had.

(left) The Darlo contingent

They spent a lot of time in our half but thankfully to little significant affect. It also meant that Liam Hatch spent more time defending that he did attacking which is not what we really want to see.

Sam Russell was almost caught out when he collected the ball on the edge of the box and only just stopped from being in the same postion as Eastbourne’s keeper a fortnight ago. The Bath City subs near me screamed at the linesman but I reassured them that he did not stray out of the box. I was surprised that they seemed to believe me.

Darlo had a few opportunities at the other end though we sent too many high balls that little Chris Senior had little chance of collecting. However he later did very well to lob the ball over a defender and then head it past the keeper to put us into the lead which was how we went in at half-time.

At half-time, Leon Knight came out with our other subs for a kick around – he looked a little on the "cuddly" side to me but he gave me a smile and a thumbs up as I tapped my belly.

He looked happy to be out on the pitch but it was to goa bit of a shame that it all went wrong a few days later - perhaps it was a lucky escape given his propensity for tweeting every little detail (and posting topless photos of him and other members of the squad that the world could well do without!).

(right) Chris Senior on the ball - star man for the Quakers

In the second half Darlo had the majority of possession with plenty of good work from Arnison, Hone, Hatch and Senior and it was the latter who almost doubled our lead with a shot at goal which beat the keeper but came back off the post.

The lead was finally doubled a little later when Hatch found some space and hit a cracking shot from the edge of the box – it had goal written all over it as the ball left his boot.

It should be noted that for once we had a decent referee who wasn’t overly fussy and who only booked one player (Hone) - he was certainly the best that I’ve seen so far this season.

Curtis Main was warming up by me when he got the call to come on as a late sub – “yes!” he said - and he raced off to the bench and on to the pitch to replace Hatch.

Unfortunately he was soon in the bad books as he went on his first foray forward only to lose possession of the ball far too easily - he then ambled slowly back which earned him a mouthful from Mark Cooper who was later overheard on the radio to say that Main stood picking his nose rather than tracking back. Not the impact that Curtis nor his manager were looking for.

From then on, it should have been a simple matter of seeing out the game but as soon as the six minutes of added time were displayed, the team seemed to get the jitters. Bath pulled a goal back with two minutes to go – Darlo fans smiled, shook their heads and thought it was just a shame we hadn’t keep a clean sheet.

From the kick off Darlo quickly lost possession and the ball came out to the Bath left wing – it came in-field where Hector Mackie hit a leisurely lob over Russell to send the home crowd into a frenzy and the Darlo fans into a communal sense of stunned déjà vu.

(left) Old geezer has a sneaky fag whilst Dryden and Cooper try to work out what has gone wrong

Thankfully Paul had ordered a cab back to the centre of Bath so we didn’t have to trudge away with the jubilant Bath supporters – whilst Iain and Paul caught trains home Steve and I wandered off to try a couple of other pubs to the north of the town centre.

The Bell is a large-ish pub that seems to be very community orientated judging by the noticeboard advertising various local services such as how to use a staff (which must come in handy for fending off the hordes of Regency-dressed folk once a year) - there was also a very respectable range of beers.

From here we went onto the Star Inn just a short walk away – this is a multi-roomed gem of a pub with about five beers on offer, most from the Abbey Bellringer brewery. We both had the Otley 05 which was very disappointing (to use the old football cliché) and we left to catch our trains without finishing our pints.

Despite the disappointing result - and I feel I'm saying this a lot recently - we had a very good day out in Bath and if we're still in the Conference next season then I'll be looking forward to a return visit - there are certainly enough decent pubs to make a weekend of it next time...