Monday, 25 January 2010

As You Were...

For once on a match day we had an extremely unhurried morning - we weren't leaving Euston until 9:40am and were able to take our time over breakfast in the Double Six. As well as Martin, Howard was making one of his rare away visits having never been to Gresty Road.

The cafe was full of fans of various types - including a sizeable collection on Brighton fans on their way to Villa for their FA Cup tie - but it was mercifully free of the usual loud-mouth cabbies that seem to eat here earlier in the day.

The journey to Crewe was as quick as it can be - first stop on this service, taking just 90 mins.

I'd been in touch with the chosen pub for this trip earlier in the week - it is the local pub of the year for 2009 so was an obvious choice - and they'd said they'd open up early for us.

I therefore wasn't going to waste valuable drinking time walking so we took a cab to the Borough Arms.

(left) Borough Arms

On arrival Trevor was already being served - he'd walked from the station along with John and Rich who travelled down from Darlo with a couple of their mates.

There was an impressive selection on offer: Woodforde's Wherry, Bowland Pheasant Plucker, Northumberland Winter Gold and Bucking Fastard, Blue Monkey Ape Ale, Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, Harviestoun Ptarmigan and Salopian Oracle. All served with a smile from Rob.

They'd also ensured there were plenty of sandwiches and pies for us all - a warm welcome indeed.

There was one beer brewed on the premises - Hop and Glory. When John, the current landlord, took over the pub he found the previous incumbent had left behind some brewing gear. Rather than use it himself, John hired a German master brewer from London to brew for them.

It seems the brewer comes up to Crewe about once a month and brews enough for about 16 kegs.

(left) Howard peruses the hand pumps

However there was no brewing over Xmas as it seems salt from grit laid during the snowy weather had got into the water supply.

I started off on the Winter Gold which was decent stuff - as was the Hop and Glory - both quite similar at approx 4.5% and easy drinking with a decent amount of hops.

We were then joined by Lance who'd been the first to arrive in Crewe but in true style he'd had a good wander round before joining us. We were also treated to the sight of his Villa socks - not for the faint-hearted.

Colin then arrived having braved the hordes of English Defence League members on their way to Stoke - he was ready for a beer. Last to arrive was John Bell for what was almost a home game.

The best beer for most of us was the Salopian Oracle - yet another golden beer but at 4% it had bags of flavour and slipped down a treat. I'd also had a drop of Colin's Blue Monkey Ape Ale which was very tasty too - and at 5.4% it only cost £2.85 - the dearest on offer with most others only £2.50.

The pub never got really busy which is a real shame - it's a clean, tidy comfortable pub, no noisy jukeboxes or games machines.

(left) Lance and his Villa socks - classy...

The Preston -v- Chelsea FA Cup game was on TV but it seemed that people preferred to chat. There were a few Crewe fans that came in and who were very friendly but not as many as I thought would be in - their loss.

Whilst some of our group chose to walk to the ground, we wanted to make the most of our visit and preferred to take a taxi. Unfortunately it was a bit late - barman Rob kept an eye out for us and kept chasing up the taxi firm - and so we finally arrived about five minutes after kick-off.

The police - of which there seemed to be a larger number than I'd have expected - were all busy tucking into burgers and pies are we came past, looking very sheep-ish as if they'd been caught in the act.

It's many years since I've been to Gresty Road - 1993 to be exact when we lost 2-1 - its a bit of a hazy memory but since then they've moved away fans from behind the goal to the compact Blue Bell stand.

There was a decent contingent of Darlo fans all hoping for another inspired performance from the Quakers - or even a wretched performance from the opposition would do, we're not proud - and for a while we competed but it wasn't to last.

The three forwards for Crewe were very lively and made it difficult for the defence - Alan White is back in the heart of defence, now with hair which I don't think suits him - he needs his hard-man shaven head and not a choirboy cut.

And keeper Liversedge never seems at ease with crosses into the box and following a corner from one of his fumbles, Crewe take the lead though Zola.

And then in the space of ten minutes with the defence at sixes and sevens, Crewe scored another two and it's Goodnight Vienna. And there could have been more - Liversedge making a good stop when one-on-one with one of their strikers.

Up front we never really made any impact on their goal - the only positive from the first half was the work put in by Gareth Waite over on the right side of midfield. Considering he was signed from Spennymoor a week or so ago, he looked good.

At half-time I had a chat with a few of our number and any positive vibes that we'd had following the win against Rotherham in midweek had been blown away. Not that we were surprised of course.

The second half saw a much improved performance - whether this was due to a bollocking from Staunton or Crewe taking it easy - probably a bit of both I suspect - but we started to take the game to Crewe.

Waite moved to the centre of midfield and continued to look good but there were very few chances on goal. There were an awful lot of balls crossed into the Crewe box but I don't remember a single Darlo player getting his head to one.

The game crept slowly to it's inevitable conclusion - the highlight was a steward offering jelly babies to us - and then we all trudged back to the station. Howard tried to buoy our spirits by buying oranges and Mars Bars - he's good like that.

The journey back to London was a quick one - and thankfully the drunken Chelsea fans who traipsed into our carriage had got the wrong seats and moved on elsewhere - and the journey passed peacefully.

Back in London, Martin and I wandered to the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras where we met up with Wycombe chum, Paul. We've not seen each other this season following their promotion to League One but it's been far from rosy - their season has been almost as bad as ours.

Liz and Clarkey then joined us after getting back from Rotherham's victory over Grimsby - two favours from the Millers this week - and we had a couple of beers before heading home...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Washed Out

So the snow has all but vanished and things are slowly returning to normal. Certainly the trains were all OK so it was all system go!

For a change we had young Chris Stockdale with us - still bubbling from his recent engagement - and it wasn't long before the recent Clark Keltie episode was given an airing - Chris is a fan of the simian-faced player whilst Martin and I have always been less than enthused about his abilities.

One thing we do agree on is that it's good news that Alan White has rejoined us as it's imperative that we start to keep clean sheets. Now all we need is a reliable keeper.

Not long into the journey, Martin received a text from the club saying "Pitch inspection 10am".

I don't know why we're surprised as we should know by now that as soon the as the club says it's confident about the game going ahead, we should be worried. A flurry of texts ensued as we pass on the news to others.

By 10:20am we've had no further updates so Chris uses his internet-enabled thingy to check the Uncovered messageboard which is when we find there's another inspection at noon. Martin's alternative plan to get off at York for their game against his local club, Hayes & Yeading, is put on the back burner for the time being.

On arrival at Bank Top, I wait until Steve Duffy's train pulls in a few minutes after us and we wander down to the Quaker House via the covered market.

A wonderful choice of beers awaits us today - Marston Moor's Poona Guard, Grafters' Brewers Troop, Allendale Beacon Fire, Dent Porter, Jarrow's Swinging Gibbett, Yard of Ale Yards Ahead IPA, York Guzzler and Purple Moose's Snowdonia.

I'm followed in by Brian who was hailing me as I walked to the pub but I was in my familiar head-down-get-to-pub mode and totally oblivious to him.

First beer of the day was the Snowdonia which is a lovely quaffing pale ale - just 3.6% but full of flavour.

This proves to be the most popular beer of the day as we're joined by Tony and the Two Johns (Bell and Wilson) and they take to it like fish to water.

(left) A pensive Mr W

A text from Liz - Rotherham's game at Accrington had been called off and so the London Millers were going to be spending the day trying out various pubs in Preston instead. Nice.

We were still eagerly awaiting further news on our pitch inspection and it took a bit of time to get through to us. We were a little disappointed it was off - mainly as we wanted to see the new signings in action - but staying in the pub was hardly going to be onerous. Martin called to say he was on his way to York.

Next beer for me was the Yard of Ale IPA - very similar to the Snowdonia - and then it was onto the Dent Porter which was dark, full-bodied with a slight coffee-ness to it.

Highlight of the session in the Quaker was Steve's very impressive and impassioned rant on Nick Knowles, BBC's perma-tanned TV presenter.

Steve - like Liz and I - are continually amazed that he seems to be on every crap daytime show going - clearly he knows where the bodies are buried - how else does he get a job? It was as good as a work-out for Steve. A shame we didn't record it for posterity.

After a few more pints, John and I moved along to Number Twenty-2 where I meet my Northallerton chums, Richard and Diane, who were escaping the kids for a day or so and spending a romantic evening in Hotel Bannatyne.

(right) Richard and Diane get a big hug from a hairy man

Some good beers are on here too - most notably the Geordie Pride from Mordue and the
Black Dub stout from Wensleydale Brewery which was exactly as I like it - dry and full-bodied (not unlike me, dear reader).

It was a very pleasant afternoon - John Bell left early-ish as he was remembered what state he was in after the last postponement turned into an elongated session - he badly needs to earn some brownie points for future games.

Steve, John W and I weren't too far behind though and we supped up and headed off into the night. On the way to the station Steve went for a pizza whilst John and I popped into what was the Victoria Fish Bar - now revamped for all sorts of fried and baked snacks - but they still do curry and chips so that did me.

Hopefully we'll not have the same problem next week at Crewe - a ground I've not visited for many years - and we'll finally get to see our latest line-up...

Monday, 11 January 2010

Shiver Me Timbers

And so another weekend without our regulation quota of trains, pubs and football. Obviously not a surprise given that there had been no let-up with the wintry conditions and so it was almost a complete white-out across the country with a handful of games actually going ahead.

Since the match was called off on the Thursday, this gave me plenty of time to come up with some alternative plans for the Saturday. Thankfully Chris T was more than willing to throw in his lot and join me.

And since he'd had ventured over to my side of town for a crawl before Xmas, it was now my turn to head to south London for the start of our little wander.

I arrived at Elephant & Castle tube and finally found the Walworth Road through the maze of underpasses - not a particularly salubrious stretch of road but it wasn't long before I found our rendezvous point, Arments Pie, Mash & Eel shop.

Arments have been plying their trade around here since the First World War but the premises at Westmoreland Road are relatively modern and probably the largest I've seen for a pie and mash shop.

(left) Luvly Jubbly!!

Unusually they offer a steak and kidney pie in addition to the standard issue and it's not too bad - quite a decent bit of kidney and quite flavoursome. The mash is OK - a few too many eyes in it for me which for some reason reminds me of school mashed potato - whilst the liquor is positively glowing (reminding me of Percy's purest green).

Following this we meandered towards Camberwell taking a slight deviation via the very impressive Addington Square - just about 100 yards from Walworth Road but seemingly from a different time - impressive regency-type houses with a central communal garden - very grand.

From here we went through slightly grimmer housing estates until we reached the first pub of the day - the Hermit's Cave - which is on of the corner of Grove Road on Camberwell Church Road.

It's quite a small-ish pub with a couple of tight bars, one of which seems to be set up for TV viewing rather than anything else and another with more comfy seating. It's a bit dark inside and rather quiet for a Staurday lunchtime but I suppose it is still quite early.

There's a decent selection of beers with three from Brodies (Mild, Red and IPA) plus Gravesend Shrimpers Bitter from Loddon Brewery. There were also two ciders on tap.

(right) The Hermits Cave

I tried a pint of Shrimpers Bitter whilst Chris had the IPA - both were OK but nothing special so we moved on.

We walked along Camberwell Grove which is also in marked contrast to the Walworth Road - very large and elegant houses - and as Chris commented, some wouldn't look out of place on a well-to-do seafront.

We popped into what was the Grove pub and is now in the final stages of being revamped as the Grand Union. Three handpumps for Youngs Ordinary and Well's Bombardier on the bar but no beer available from any of them.

We continued on and headed to Hooper's Bar and weren't totally surprised to find we were the first customers of the day. Two beers on offer - Adnam's Yuletide and Keltek Arthur's Ale. There was a third pump with Moorhouse's Pendle Witches Brew but this appeared to be off.

The Keltek is a new brewery to us - the pump clip was a rough and ready homemade affair which offered no clues but subsequent googling shows the brewery to be based down in Redruth - and the Arthur's Ale was quite tasty given it was only 3.5% but it didn't warrant a second pint.

It was also nice to see they use oversize glasses here too - I hadn't noticed this on previous visits. And no sign of our chum, landlord Jamie, as he's sunning it up in the Caribbean.

We'd originally intended to move onto the nearby Gowlett but after a flurry of texts with some other London Millers, we decided on a change of plan that saw us go to Herne Hill instead.

On the way there we popped into the latest branch of William Rose on East Dulwich Road - a butcher with a fine array of game birds as well as some enticing sausages and pork pies - and enticed we certainly were.

From here it was a bus ride to Herne Hill and the Florence pub. I'd been meaning to come here for a few years following good reports. On the slopes of Brockwell Park opposite there were lots of families out sledging as the snow started to come down quite thickly.

Inside the pub, we were warmly welcomed by the manager who sensed we were on a crawl - not quite sure what radar he has but it was spot on.

It's a big airy pub which seems heavily focussed to food with few people at the bar. We tried a pint of their own brew, Weasel, which was quite hoppy but a bit flat. Probably not surprising as it turned out to be the last of the barrel.

They also brew a wheat beer, Beaver, but this unfortunately wasn't on tap but our friendly manager managed to get us a small sample. Quite nice too with spicing more akin to Hoegaarden than Schneider Weisse but enjoyable all the same.

The manager said they were thinking about brewing a mild as well - they'd then have to try and come up with some ploy to market it to the younger crowd they serve so that it won't simply be regarded as an old man's drink.

I had a pint of Adnams Old before we left - very more-ish but served a tad too cold for my liking. Chris went for a bottle of the Coopers Sparkling, rolled before poring to disturb the sediment as is traditional with our antipodean cousins.

From the pub it's a very short walk to Herne Hill station where we catch the train to Beckenham and then take the tram to Addiscombe.

It is here that you find Clarets Free House which is the oft-visited pub for those three gentlemen of South Norwood - Chris, Andy and Paul. It is my first visit so I was keen to see what the fuss was all about.

(left) London Millers found here - beware...

A large-ish one room bar - quite gloomy and populated by what is probably fair to describe as an older clientele. Few pretty young things in here but sometimes that doesn't matter.

There was a great range of beers - apparently there is always a Palmers beer on sale (and it is Palmer's biggest selling outlet in London and has the certificate to prove it) but their beers don't do it for me.

I opted for an opening pint of Celtica from the Great Orme Brewery - a golden ale, quite light but nothing challenging.

There were also a few beers from the Westerham brewery - we were all on their William Wilberforce Freedom at some point which was another golden ale with a nice dash of hops - a Fairtrade beer originally brewed to celebrate the abolition of slavery.

Paul was in residence when we arrived and Andy arrived shortly afterwards - the chat was the usual male stuff and varied from how much we all spend on our weekly shop, which Sainsburys is best around that neck of the woods and do borlotti beans belong in a stew. Heady stuff.

The best beer of the day for me was the last one - the Sussex Stout from the Dark Star brewery which I almost overlooked as the pump clip looked like an old-fashioned Guinness clip. Dark Star is one of those breweries from which I've never had a poor beer and this pint wasn't about to start a trend - a nice full-bodied dry stout without any overwhelming bitterness. A perfect final beer.

Paul started the exodus as there was a stew with his name on it back at home - with borlotti beans - and it's then that hunger got the better of the rest of us.

I had the longest traipse back to east London where I popped into my local kebabish where I had a very interesting chat about brain and lambs foot curries.

It seems they no longer make a brain curry but they do still have the lambs foot curry - check out the recipe here - I have to admit I chickened out and went for boring old tikka instead. Maybe next time when I've had more Dutch courage...

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year?

And so we say reach 2010 with news that our fourth game in a row has been postponed due to the inclement weather.

At least we can be thankful the club had arranged for an inspection 24 hours earlier than usual which means that Martin and I have been spared starting our journey north. Well done DFC and the Football League - it's not often I get to say that!

It remains to be seen whether all these postponements will give Steve Staunton the time to bring in a few new faces for our trip to Bury next week - assuming the weather improves by then of course!

In order to keep you entertained during this period of inactivity, for your delight and delectation I'm presenting a section from On The Road, a programme produced by ITV Digital as part of their offering when they had the franchise to cover football (and after they'd renamed themselves from On Digital).

This programme was all about travelling to different grounds and in the episode that this is taken from, the presenters were also visiting the likes of Scunthorpe, Hull and Grimsby. How very grim. I dare say they were quite pleased to get to Darlo after that lot.

Neil, Tony, Steve and I were filmed in the market square outlining how to get to the ground, where the good pubs are and what DAFTS are all about.

There's also an interview with Doug Embleton (representing the embryonic Supporters' Trust) and Peter Thorns (then secretary of the Supporters' Club) as they're asked for their views on our forthcoming move to the Arena. There's also a few vox pops and of course, a few words (and more) from George Reynolds.

I suspect that few of you will have seen this as I suspect Liz and I were one of the very few to subscribe to On Digital. Enjoy...