Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Daylight Robbery

For once there were no engineering works on the District Line and it was a stress-free journey to King's Cross and the usual breakfast at Da Vincis.

We meet Chris and his bike on the concourse and for a short while it looks like the Big Bad Baldy Bazza Conlon argument from a previous journey was about to re-ignite. Thankfully it died out - life is too short for this nonsense.

Chris tells us that he and his fiancee, Suzy, are going to be cycling from London to Darlo in a few weeks time - much as he did with Howard a few years ago.

This time there's a twist - they're going on a tandem. I suspect it will be a good test of their relationship. Personally my money is on Chris cycling solo from Peterborough!

We arrived slightly later into Bank Top today and by the time I'd got my pastry items for the day, John was already waiting for me in the Quaker.

As ever a very good choice was on offer: Saltaire Stein Gold, York Guzzler, Hadrian & Border Are You Listening Gordon Heal?, Moles St Elmos Fire, Wolf Remus, Hart Squirrels Hoard, High House Farm Black Moss and Broughton Old Jock and Exciseman 80/-?

John and I got stuck into the extremely quaffable Stein Gold - John taking it easy as he was still suffering from the night before when he'd been out on the town with Tony. The Remus was also very tasty.

Joining us later was Brian, Tony (not looking or feeling as bad as John), John B, Lesley and then Neil. The latter had only just made it from snow-bound Aberdeen. Their lose is clearly...errr...our gain.

As ever we then wandered up to Number Twenty-2 - in addition to the usual Village Brewer beers, the guests included Bradfield Blonde, Thwaites Original, Sharp's Special, Copper Dragon Challenger IPA and Cathedral Ales Red Imp.

(left) The bar at Number Twenty-2

Once down at the Arena, John and I wandered into the club shop to see what schmutter there was to be had.

We were looking at some nice bench coats - they didn't quite have my size in but John found one which was just right - not too bad at £35. I got a wooly hat and a pair of DFC-branded gloves instead.

Once inside the ground and headed to the back of block 11 which is where we were greeted by the massed ranks of the Darlo Tykes. As ever, my old neighbour Geoff had pulled together a formidable group of fans and friends from Northallerton - plus other waifs and strays - and they were sure to make some noise and bring a bit of atmosphere to our section of the stand (full of moaning old curmudgeons).

The Tykes had all scrubbed up nicely for the occasion - my only worry was the number of shirt buttons looking under extreme strain. Protective head gear required.

The game started with Darlington looking the more lively - we seemed assured in defence and up front we made most of the running. Mor Diop had a good chance but he put the ball just the wrong side of the post - as ever he looked like he had his legs on the wrong way round.

Thankfully we weren't to rue this missed chance as Tadgh Purcell scored just before the half-hour mark. He was well placed in the six yard box to slip the ball into the net from a Mulligan pass.

(right) Darlo Tykes celebrate Purcell's second goal

The game continued to be bossed by Darlington until the half-time whistle. And then Purcell struck again early in the second half to double the lead.

The ref - who had a fairly decent game which meant Colin was extremely quiet for once - awarded the Quakers a free kick just outside the Spireites box. We were a bit concerned when the ref only paced out nine steps for the wall to retreat - it didn't matter as Purcell slotted home with what looked like a deflection off the defensive wall.

Diop managed to miss another chance but Darlo continued to look good value for their lead. Staunton made a few substitutions and after the second of these, the defence failed to pay attention when Whaley took the ball forward and then shot from outside the box - the ball squirmed under Redmond.

A goal from out of the blue and there was a noticeable tensing of the atmosphere amongst the Darlo faithful - the players must have picked up on this as they then looked extremely nervous as Chesterfield upped their game.

And then a wonder shot from Talbot that looped over Redmond - unbelievable. Coasting to victory one minute, hanging on for a draw the next.

If only.

Chesterfield continued to pile forward in the final minutes and our fate was sealed when Richie Byrne tried to clear but only succeeded in putting the ball into our own net.

A cruel, cruel finish to what had been a very decent performance with lots of positives - well, for 80 minutes. We do seem to make a habit of conceding late goals.

My old Supporters Direct chum, Phil Tooley, summed the game up perfectly in his report for the Sheffield Star when he said "Darlington were the better side with more ideas and more accomplishment for virtually all of the contest but they came out of the game with nothing more than a 13-point chasm to clear to find safety with games rapidly running out. "

I left as the final whistle went and caught the bus back into town - off to drown my sorrows in the QuakerHouse as we were on a late train back to London. Martin joined me after a while - he was keen to have some of the Guzzler in an effort to console himself - he said that some of the Chesterfield staff were almost embarrassed at the way they'd snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

If only we could be that embarrassed for once...

Monday, 22 February 2010

Pie and Mash Club

Over the past few years I've really got into pie and mash after many years of ignoring it. I'm not sure why I spent so long giving it a wide berth - I think the thought of having some weird green stuff on a pie instead of gravy just seemed so wrong.

But having finally tried some a few years ago and found that it's not actually as bad as I thought, I started following the progress of the Pie and Mash Club.
The PMC are a group of individuals who come together every so often for some p&m on a Friday lunchtime at a pre-arranged venue.

(left) Please, can I have some more? Nick polishes off some eels

It's mainly a social occasion but there is a healthy competitive element to it too.

As the venue for the latest outing of the club was my local shop, Duncan's on Green Street, I'd arranged to work at home for the day so I could attend.

On my arrival a couple of members were already present and tucking in - I was interested to see that they were just having pies, no mash. Presumably the mash fills you up too quickly?

Having no wish to take on these experienced trenchers, I went for double pie, double mash and liquor.

Other members of the club then joined us including Nick who organises the fixture list, keeps score and writes up the days events.

Pie shop owner Joan was bemused by all the frenzied activity - normally the shop never gets too busy except on West Ham matchdays when the queue stretches down the street.

I'm obviously rather biased but this shop does produce the best pie and mash I've had from my travels across London. There are other more well-known shops, such as Manze's and Goddard's, but for my money they don't come any near as good. The fact that these others are from south of the river has, of course, nothing to do with it.

There is a scoring system for the food eaten - 4 points per pie, 4 per portion of eels, 3 per portion of mash and 1 per portion of liquor. David Arkell was setting quite a pace today and eventually went on to score 56 points. Joan commented she'd not seen anyone eat so much - and in less than an hour too!

At the last count Nick Evans was leading the pack for the season - mainly by way of attending all the events - whilst David Arkell was second.

(right) Len Wilcox faces up to David Arkell

And currently in third place was Len Wilcox who told me he visited Feethams a few times and as a West Ham fan he even remembers our league cup game at Upton Park back in 1975. I remember listening to the progress of this on the radio - we lost lost 3-0 after a goal-less first half if I remember correctly.

Len is keen to get some points on the board and the tension between him and David Arkell hots up and the taunts about small pies start to hit home - they're like two bull elephant seals sizing each other up. But Arkell is out of sight today and as I leave for home Len is vainly trying to catch up.

The future of many pie and mash shops are in the balance - as with many pubs in the area some have closed as their traditional east-end clientele are either dying off or have moved to Essex. Joan was interviewed in an interesting article here where she describes the problems the shop faces.

But there are a few encouraging signs - a new pie shop opened up a mile or so away in Plaistow recently and my other local shop, Robins, have opened a new outlet in Wanstead. In an area where every other shop seems to be a fried chicken franchise, it's nice to see all is not lost.

Update: Nick has now written his report on this tie and interesting to see that Len managed to polish off eight pies but failed to match David Arkell by just a solitary point.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


The main reason for my visit to Newcastle was to see Punishment of Luxury, one of my all time favourite bands, who were playing in the east of the city. The band hail from Tyneside so this should be a good place to see them live.

Before then, I spent some of the day wandering round Leazes Park and Spital Tongues area of town where I spent a year in a hall of residence. Not much has changed other than the sheer size of St James' Park which now dominates the skyline.

After a quick visit to the Newcastle Arms and a chat with the tickers, I met up with an old university friend, Cath, and her husband in the Forth Hotel pub.

It was good to see them both again and we caught up on all our news over a meal and a few beers. It's almost thirty years since we started university - where did all the time go?

I retired to my hotel for a couple of hours before meeting my sister Becky at the station and we wandered along the quayside admiring all the new developments. I had thought it would be good to walk to the gig but I'd misjudged the route so we caught a taxi.

The venue for the gig was the Cluny - another Head of Steam establishment but a world away from the Central Bar.

This is more like a venue with a big bar added on. Still, they had a healthy selection of beers plus some Belgian fruit beers for Becky.

(left) Punishment of Luxury

We wandered into the gig itself about 10pm, missing any support band that may have been on, and settled down the front.

After some problems with the keyboards the band came on with their usual opener, Puppet Life, which got everyone moving.

The setlist was mainly gleaned from the Laughing Academy album, plus a few singles, plus the odd song which never made it onto vinyl (as it was then).

The highlight for me was the rendition of Obsession, a tale of a man who stalks and kills a girl he fancies. Sounds jolly doesn't it? But it's a wonderful dark song which was often the last thing I heard as I went to bed as a youngster - it never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck even after all these years.

They'd not played it for a while and guitarist Nev obviously wasn't very confident of his memory as he had his lyrics for this track printed out and put in front of his mic stand. I suspect it was more of a mental crutch as he didn't need to use it. The whole crowd knew the lyrics anyway.

(right) Lyrics to Obsession written out for Nev

And then the gig was over and we were out in the cold Tyneside air where we got a number for a taxi from Jimi Giro's daughter. I don't think she was very impressed when our taxi arrived first.

On the way back to our hotel it was interesting to witness the nightlife in the centre of the city - every bit as stereotypical as you'd expect - scantilly dressed women tottering around in high heels defying the wintry winds blasting across the city.

We were delighted to see one young lass, eating her chips whilst sitting on a tiny window ledge - her arse slipped and she fell off, legs in the air and chips everywhere. I think it's fair to say she was more upset about losing her chips than her dignity...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Meet Me On The Corner

Originally I had intended to travel up for the game at Morecambe with a few southern-based DAFTS but I ducked out a couple of months ago when I found it clashed with a gig I wanted to see which is why I spent the weekend in Newcastle instead of the north-west.

I decided to travel up early on the Friday and take time re-visit some of my old haunts - I was at university there in the early 80s - and a brisk InterCity service saw me arrive at Central station before noon.

It was a bit early to check in at my hotel so I wandered over the Tyne Bridge to Gateshead and took in the massive redevelopments around the Quayside since my last visit in 2001 - the Sage and the Gateshead Millennium bridge amongst the most obvious ones but there has been a lot of other new buildings put up too.

However I was in search of something a bit older - a pub called the Central Bar which had been bought by the Head of Steam chain and is in the process of being given an expensive makeover. North-East CAMRA chum John Holland had suggested it was well worth seeing.

Unfortunately it is completely hidden behind scaffolding but click here to see what it looks like without the covering.

(left) Buffet bar at the Central Bar

Inside the pub has some wonderful original features - such as panelled walls and a wonderful old buffet bar which is not currently in use.

There are plans to open this bar and other rooms plus build a rooftop terrace.

The beer choice was decent too - and all in good nick - with a choice of Hop Back Crop Circle, Elgoods Copper Feelgood, Big Lamp Bitter and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted.

The renovation still has a long way to go and it will probably be another six months before it is all complete but it promises to a small but significant step in the on-going regeneration of this part of Gateshead.

The next pub on my itinerary was an old favourite of mine - the Crown Posada on The Side, the road that weaves down to the Quayside from the centre of town.

In my time there in the 80s, it served Taylors Landlord and toasted curry sandwiches (albeit with sultanas in the curry - verboten!) - today the toasties are no longer on offer but the beer is still good and the food is now stotties with basic fillings.

(right) Crown Posada - note stain glass windows

For a Friday lunchtime, the pub is relatively quiet and I'm able to sit at the bar. My attempts to chat with the barman are in vain - not a chatty type. No jukebox either - just a Dansette-style record player and a load of 12" easy listening LPs.

Beers on offer include Lord Collingwood Festive Ale, brewed by local brewery Wylam to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Admiral Lord Collingwood, who helped Nelson defeat the French at Trafalgar. I'll drink to that.

Also on offer were Mordue Workie Ticket, Black Sheep Bitter, Jarrow Bitter plus a couple from Hadrian and Border - Gladiator Bitter and the curiously named Are You Listening Gordon Heal?

Just as I was supping up, the tranquility was broken by a 22-strong stag party from Wales - all on bottles of Bud. Very boisterous but friendly - "Hello all! Oh look, it's Adam Jones! Legend!!".

They were referring to me, dear reader, and my alleged likeness to a hairy Welsh rugby international.

(left) A hairy man with a camera
(photo © BBC)

I made a hasty but dignified exit and took the opportunity to check into my hotel before moving onto one of Newcastle's premier pubs for the casketeer - the Newcastle Arms - on the edge of Chinatown (which was never there in my day).

The Newcastle Arms was a pub we avoided years ago but today is highly regarded - and this weekend they've got a beer festival on. How's that for synchronicity?

There was the main bar with six pumps and then another six on temporary stillage and a whole host of beers that I'd not come across. Too many to list so I won't.

There was a healthy contingent of CAMRA folk, both from the local branch and further afield, with whom I had a good natter. There was also a plethora of tickers (or scratchers/scoopers) going through the beer list.

I came back here for another session on the Saturday lunchtime and met Ken, a ticker from Durham, who often used to popped into the Quaker House on a Saturday lunchtime. He was with a few other scoopers, all on halves of course. The staff will even get samples from beers still in the cellar for these lads (known as a cellar run) and you can see that it's appreciated.

Beer ticking has never interested me as such - I'm happy to drink new beers of course but won't record them save for mentioning them here (cos my memory is not what it was) - and the pursuit was the subject of a recent documentary.

I've yet to see it so don't know whether it puts them in a favourable light. They can be an easy target with their obsessiveness but they're a friendly bunch and some are even married!

I was very impressed with the Newcastle Arms - not just the beer, that's a given - but the management and staff were very friendly and although they don't food, they're happy for you to bring your own.

Little wonder then that it has been the top pub in Newcastle for three of the last four years (and runner-up when it didn't come top).

This particular day ended relatively early in the evening but in traditional style - I ordered a takeaway curry and had another quick pint in the Posada whilst waiting before returning to the hotel with my grub.

NB: For a useful guide to pubs and beers in Newcastle and the surrounding area, check out this site.

Late Update: The Newcastle Arms was bridesmaid again this year as it came second to the Bacchus which has just been named Newcastle CAMRA Pub of the Year 2010.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Trouble and Strife?

For those that are interested, here is the DAFTS programme article from the Rotherham home game which suggested that I now have a wife...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Bengal Lancer

Last night I met up after work with London Miller Chris Turner in Smithfield as we'd been invited to tutored tasting of Fuller's latest beer, Bengal Lancer.

Before the event we dropped into the Bishops Finger, a well-known Shepherd Neame house, for a couple of openers. We choose the Late Red and it was very tasty - it had the unmistakable Sheps tang but this was nicely balanced out by a burst of hops.

From the Finger it was a short walk to the Butcher's Hook & Cleaver where the tutored tasting was being held. The proceedings were running a little late so we got ourselves some more beer - I went for Chiswick which I don't tend to drink normally but it was nice and light. It would come in handy as a control beer too.

(left) Chris with a pint of Bengal Lancer

Pretty soon, the management started pouring half-pint samples of the Bengal Lancer in preparation for the arrival of Fuller’s Head Brewer, John Keeling, and Brewing Manager, Derek Prentice.

John Keeling kicked off the talk by explaining the inspiration behind this new brew - basically a desire to recreate the traditional style of an IPA - pale and hoppy but very full-bodied.

Also on the bill tonight was beer writer and blogger, Pete Brown, who had covered the history of the IPA in his book, Hops and Glory, and explored the many myths surrounding this style, such as it had to be brewed to a high alcohol content to survive the long voyage.

Finally Derek Prentice talked about the various characteristics of the final product - which will also be available in bottled conditioned form - and answered questions from the floor.

So what of the beer? Well the samples we were given - served from large glass jugs - seemed a bit warm and cloying. There was plenty of hops and that tell-tale taste of Fullers. It was OK but nothing brilliant.

However when we had a pint straight from the handpump, which was slightly cooler, it was significantly better and I would certainly drink this in preference to London Pride.

We had a good chat with Derek after the tasting was over - a very nice chap who has brewed for Youngs and Trumans before joining Fullers and a veritable font of knowledge for brewing in London.

Before heading home we popped to one more pub - the Rising Sun - which is a Sam Smith's pub down a small alley off Smithfield. It had one beer on handpump, Old Brewery Bitter, but we opted for a bottle - Taddy Porter for me and Oatmeal Stout for Chris.

The pub is a lovely little place - very traditional, cosy and warm with a roaring fire and darts board - and by that time it was nice and quiet.

We got talking to an interesting old regular who lived nearby. Very handy for the meat market I said to which he then took great delight in telling us what hassle he has these days to get sheep heads and his techniques for skinning and cooking them. As the News of the World is oft to say, we made our excuses and left...

Please Can I Have Some Moore?

After what seems like ages, it was looking good for our first home Saturday fixture since mid-December. And not just any old fixture either, we were playing our friends from South Yorkshire so it promised to be an interesting day.

I left home just after 6am - the District line is out of action on our stretch so it means taking a bus, the DLR and then finally a tube to King's Cross. The journey time isn't that much greater but it's a bit of a pain.

I'm ready for my breakfast today and it's off to Da Vinci's as usual. Today I discover that toast and chips make a very tasty combination - I've never had a toasted chip butty before but I will from now on.

The Three Gentleman from South Norwood - Andy, Chris and Paul - join Martin and I in the cafe. Andy and Paul opt for the no. 3 which is bascially everything - Chris plays it safe and does without the chips.

Martin and I are on the 8:30am train so we leave TTGOSN to their grub - the London Millers obviously need their beauty sleep and have opted to take the 9am. Meanwhile John Wilson has beaten all of us and is already on his way having caught the 7am train.

Chris S meets us at the station, complete with his bike as he's going up for a few days. And quelle surprise, it isn't long before him and Martin are arguing - this time about the merits or otherwise of Big Bad Baldy Bazza Conlon. I keep well out of it as this argument because - like those on Keltie and Convery - it never goes anywhere.

Thankfully they stop - Chris reads his book, Martin studies football form in his huge pile of papers for his pools coupon and I contemplate life as I gaze out of the window. It's a grey, foggy day out there - hopefully not too foggy at the Arena.

It's all very quiet at Bank Top station when we arrive on time - a few Rotherham fans get off having joined at Doncaster - and it's a damn sight colder up here.

(left) Julia, Paul and Andy in the Quaker

On offer today at the Quaker House we have Green Jack Canary Pale Ale; Rudgate Eric Bloodaxe and Bramling Cross; Marston Moor Matlock Mild and Mongrel; Marstons Burton Bitter; Jarrow Joblings Swinging Gibbett; Bank Top Dark Mild; Idle Brewery's Cooper and Allendale Endeavour.

I'd just got myself sorted with my first drink when Tony and then John walk in - more Canary Pale Ale. A canny drop.

Next beer is the Cooper from Doncaster's Idle brewery - a bit sweet and floral for our tastes - so we move onto a safe pint, the Joblings Swinging Gibbett.

By now, the full force of the London Millers have joined us, bolstered by Chris K and Chris B who have travelled from Manchester - time for a quick roll call so I can get the taxis booked.

TTGOSN and Julia had popped into Taylors for some pies first - Paul Martin was well prepared with a tupperware box so he could take plenty of pork pies back home.

John and I were the first ones up to move up to Number Twenty-2 where I bump into old travelling buddy, Paul Walker, who is down for the game. As ever he's more interested in the prices for the game and asks if I've had a bet. No, sirree bob. I can't bet on Darlo as that's just tempting fate to poke me in the eye.

In addition to the usual Village Brewer range, there's Saltaire Blonde on offer today which turns out to be very tasty. But just one pint as the stout on offer today is our old favourite, Yorkshire Stout (Hambleton's Nightmare) which is one of my absolute favourites. It doesn't disappoint.

The London Millers wander in along with the Tony, Brian and Lesley - the Millers try out the food and are very impressed.

I fall into conversation with a couple I've seen in the pub before - it turns out that they, Ian and Hilary, used to be near neighbours of mine as they used to live in Barking. They knew of me as they'd been members of the Supporters' Trust a few years ago when I was the membership secretary. They're not avid Darlo fans per se but simply interested in helping to preserve a club and it's community.

Our chat was curtailed as the taxis arrived and we were all ferried away for the nerve-racking part of the day.

(right) A motley of London Millers

Once inside the ground, the first surprise was finding that the DAFTS column I'd written - in which I'd welcomed the London Millers and compared them to DAFTS - was in the programme but a strap line had been added in which it described Liz as my wife! That's news to us.

The next surprise was the Quakers taking a relatively early lead - the game had been a bit patchy to begin with neither side looking settled when Purcell's shot was deflected by Curtis Main past keeper 'Don' Warrington.

I suspect the yellow-booted Main knew very little about it but we didn't care as this is the sort of luck that's evaded us this season.

The rest of the half was a very scrappy affair - Rotherham applied pressure in the latter stages of the half but the defence held firm though seemed a bit nervous about keeper Shane Redmond.

There was one dodgy moment when Redmond came well out of his box and made a poor clearance - this fell to Harrison who tried to lob into the goal from distance but was well wide in his execution.

One of the players who has most impressed since joining in recent weeks has been Gareth Waite and he was to put Darlo 2-0 up after just seven minutes of the second half.

Diop was making a nuisance of himself and although there were several Rotherham players in their box, they contrived to lose the ball which feel to Waite for an easy close-range tap in.

Darlo had a few more chances during the half and Deane should really have buried a chance to make it 3-0. Rotherham pressed for periods but Darlo kept a tight back line and limited the chances Rotherham had - what they had were squandered and Redmond was rarely tested.

As the final whistle blew I rushed off to get the shuttle bus back into town. We were on a later train today and so I headed back to Number Twenty-2.

I'd arranged some taxis for the Rotherham contingent as it was going to be a while before they got out - Liz had to gather in their flag and all that palaver - but it wasn't too long before they, along with Tony and John, joined me at the bar.

Congratulations and Commiserations were swapped and then we got on with having a few more beers.

We nipped back to the Quaker for a quickie - it was quite packed as the rugby was on, notable only for the fact that my hairy doppelganger Adam Jones had scored for Wales. But beyond that we didn't really care.

(left) Liz gives a sly V and Chris looks to contribute to the swear box

The trip home was very convivial - beers, teas and pastry comestibles were consumed - and I managed to mislay some rail tickets but the train guard took my word that it was all kosher.

I thought the atmosphere was going to turn ugly when Andy questioned my recent comments on his beloved Clarets after my debut visit there earlier in the year.

I'd described it as "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."

From my point of views that's complimentary and is the sort of place that appeals to me. I'm not sure Andy is convinced though. I suspect it was the John Smith's Smoothflow talking...

Monday, 1 February 2010

Bricking It

I've never been keen on Cheltenham - in theory it's a nice enough town, quite genteel, but it just doesn't feel like a football town. And from the station it's a real hike to the town and the football ground. The pubs are, barring one notable exception, not too exciting either.

So with all that in mind I jumped at the chance of joining Steve for the Fulham -v- Villa game when he offered me a ticket.

And since I didn't need to leave home until late, I finally got the chance to try out one of our local greasy spoons, Ken's Cafe on Green Street, which is just done from the Boleyn Ground and highly regarded by Hammers' fans.

(left) House of Hammers

Phill Jupitus is apparently a regular and he looks like he knows where to get a good meal.

The big breakfast is excellent value - egg, bacon, two sausages, chips, beans, fried slice, bread and a cup of rosy lee for a fiver - and fairly decent quality. I was the first customer of the day but it soon started to fill up as West Ham were at home to Blackburn later in the day.

Despite engineering work on the middle part of the District line, I was able to get to Putney without any great hassle - a very pleasant walk across Putney Bridge and onto the Bricklayers Arms.

Although not officially opening until noon, there were a few people already in the pub, Steve being one of them, so he got the beers in.
The Bricklayers is an independent pub but does more or less the full Tim Taylors range as well as a few guest beers. Today the guest were all from Itchen Valley.

I've been here on numerous occasions over the past few years and I always go straight for the Ram Tam - Steve opting instead for Itchen's IVB.

I was quite surprised to find they were using plastic glasses - I know that it's a match day but we're a good schlep from Craven Cottage and it's not likely to have any bother as we cask ale types tend to be quite peaceable.
The Ram Tam was wonderful stuff regardless - it's quite hard to find outside Yorkshire but it's a lovely beer for a cold day.

It wasn't long before we were joined by Neil and Sam, Villa fans and residents of Cardiff just like Steve, despite both of them being Scots and having Scottish teams to support as well (Hearts and Falkirk respectively).

Not surprising the talk was all of Carling Cup final tickets and who'd managed to get one. Steve and Neil have season tickets so they're all right (jack). For the others it looks like it'll be the TV.
(right) Unlikely Lads
Eastbourne-based Villa fan Pat was next to join us followed by Rhodri, Steve's mate from BBC Wales.

It soon became apparent that all was not well elsewhere. John Bell sent a text saying there was a pitch inspection at Cheltenham - his next text was to say the game was postponed (or "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" as he put it ever so elegantly).

I felt slightly vindicated in giving the game a miss - though Neil and Sam are now suggesting we all make an afternoon of it in Cheltenham for the rearranged fixture.

Likewise we hear from Liz that the game between Rotherham and Macclesfield has also bit the dust - she and the other London Millers instead finding refuge in the Fat Cat. It's a hard life...

The Ram Tam failed to last the lunchtime session and we moved onto a double round of Golden Best - not surprisingly it was a bit watery in comparison - before heading off to the Cottage. The journey is as pleasant as they come - walk over the Thames and then through Fulham Palace Gardens and Bishops Park.

In previous seasons we've been in the away end proper but today we're in the neutral section of the Putney End. The tickets are a bit dear at £40 but we're in row E right behind the goal.

The game started off slowly with no side really putting the keepers to hard work. Villa looked the slightly brighter of the two teams as the half progressed but it looked like going into half-time goalless until Agbonlahor got a brace in the last five minutes - a header which sneaked over the line and then a very tidy lob over Schwarzer.

(above) Villa keeper Brad Friedel beats Zamora to the ball

In the second half Villa sat back somewhat, probably expecting Fulham to pile on some pressure but it was all a bit half-hearted. Gera got the ball in the net but was off-side and the game slowly ran down to it's inevitable conclusion.

After the game we headed back to the Bricklayers to meet Cath who'd been busy shopping at the Dr Martens shop. It was heaving with Fulham and Villa fans so after a quick beer we headed to Aldgate East and a pint in the Pride of Spitalfields.

The pub was equally heaving with a mixture of locals and Hoxton-types so we just had a quick pint of Mighty Oak's Maldon Gold and left for some grub.

It's a long time since I'd had a curry down in Brick Lane - these days there are touts outside most restaurants trying to tempt you in with a variety of offers ("35% off the bill, sir?") who get very annoying.

We opted for one of my old haunts, the Sheba, which I patronised a lot in the 80s with various medic friends from the London Hospital. After waiting ten minutes to be seated we finally got to grips with the menu - a bit more expansive that I remember though old favourites such as bombay duck are no longer available. An acquired taste it has to be said.

The food was good standard fare - nothng outstanding but it hit the spot after having nothing solid since breakfast - and then it was back to ours for Match of the Day and relive the victory all over again...