Monday, 29 March 2010

Get Nott-ed

The original plan was to have a quiet relaxing day at home with the cats - the thought of visiting Shrewsbury's new stadium and the prospect of yet another defeat was not something I really fancied - but when I learnt that Rotherham were playing Notts County a plot started to hatch.

DAFTS had missed out on our annual visit to Nottingham this season since the game was midweek so this presented the perfect opportunity to put this right.

Even at short notice, I still managed to get cheap rail tickets (£30 first-class return) - Colin and Brian found out about my plans and said they'd be happy to join me - Lance was game too - and in the end it turned into a mini-DAFTS away day without the hassle of actually watching a game.

(left) Lance and London Miller rudeboy Roberto in the VAT & Fiddle

I left St Pancras nice and early as I quite like a wander around the shops in Nottingham but unfortunately my main retail target, independent record store Selectadisc, was closed. I made do with a much poorer choice at HMV and then headed off to the pub.

It was no surprise at all to find Lance sitting outside the VAT & Fiddle as opening time approached - the pub cat also waiting with him.

The VAT has been the DAFTS pub of choice in the city for quite a few years now - good beer, decent snacks, friendly locals and welcoming to away fans - although the pub cat did prove resistant to our combined charms and sat elsewhere.

The landlord asked if we were here for the football as he'd heard that there could be up to a couple of thousand Rotherham fans coming through. It was nice to say that f0r once we were only here for the beer.

Castle Rock have added one of my favourite beers, Screech Owl, to their line-up of permanent brews after winning quite a few awards. Their seasonal ale, Raptor, was also very good - a 6% stout that was packed with flavour.

In addition they had a couple of decent guests, including the Salopian Hop Twister - a golden ale - this one having more taste to it than many of the bland exponents of this style.

Brian joined us - followed soon after by Liz and the combined hordes of the London Millers - Lance and I moved to join them all as they'd settled at the other side of the pub. Colin wasn't far behind in joining us.

After a few more beers and much badinage, we left Lance in the care of the LMs and headed to the station and hopped onto the tram. Our next destination was the Lion at Basford which is next to Shipstone Street tram stop.

(right) Colin, Brian and a tram at Shipstone Street

An interesting pub on the top of a bank, formerly belonging to Batemans, it has a very deep cellar which you can peer down into through glass portholes from the main bar.

It has a very good selection of ales: Mallard Webbed Wheat, Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Titanic Stout, Batemans XB, Bottlebrook Obsession, Slaters Top Totty, Messrs Maguire Haus Lager, Crouch End Fallen Angel and Thornbridge Lord Marples.

We had the Obsession, a 5.4% porter and the Fallen Angel  - both in excellent condition.

At this point Colin suddenly remembered that there was another good pub nearby so we moved on and took a short walk past the old Star brewery.

This now looks to have been turned into a business park so it still looks very much intact, much as it probably did when it closed in 1991 after almost 140 years of brewing.
At one corner of the site we found the Horse & Groom which was once the Shipstones brewery tap but is now a free house.

This is a beautifully maintained pub both inside and out - again with a great range on tap - and it was a delight to visit it.

(left) Horse and Groom

Colin and I continued with the dark beer theme of the last few beers and tried Guerrilla, a stout from the Blue Monkey brewery whose wares I'd first tried in Crewe earlier this year - very nice - as well as the Ruby Mild from Rudgate.

We sat in the empty snug where Colin took the opportunity to show us his latest pride and joy - a new Darlo table soccer team, resplendent in a silver attache case.

After taking a few snaps of these, we drank up and headed to our final destination at this end of the city.

The Fox and Crown is a short walk from Basford tram stop and is the home of the Alcazar brewery.

The exterior of the pub has a splendid mural depicting Sherwood Forest and local hero, Robin Hood.

There were several of their own beers available - Brush Bitter and Windjammer - plus a range of guests beers. I had another stout but can't remember what it was.

Up to this point we had been blissfully unaware of any football scores and it rather a shock to discover that the Quakers were currently winning at Shrewsbury with about 20 mins to go!

Suddenly all the match-day tension we'd avoided started to set in and we started to fret until Sky Sports reported that Diop had made it safe with a second goal.

(right) Fox and Crown and the Sherwood Forest mural

After a brief chant of "Two nil to the Darlington" - somewhat confusing the locals in the process - we supped off and headed back into the centre of Nottingham and onto the Newshouse.

This is another Castle Rock establishment but one I'd never got the chance to try before now - it is one of those annoying pubs that opens at noon instead of 11am.

The pub was already full of some Rotherham fans who were not well pleased as the Millers had lost to a late, late goal scored by bad boy Luke Rodgers.

Colin did his best to try and comfort them by saying Darlo had taken some points from their play-off rivals but I'm afraid they weren't very impressed - not even when he got his little team out. 

Whilst we were chatting to these lads the London Millers arrived and proceeded to have a collective moan about the result - I left them to it as I didn't want to intrude on their personal grief.

I was on a set train home and so wandered off to the station - closely followed by Liz and fellow Millers Clarkey and John K who were on flexi-tickets but were keen to be home too. Rather than sit on my own in first class I deigned to join them and the time soon passed.

All in all, another good day out - good company, good pubs, good beers and a good result even if we weren't there to fully appreciate it.

(above) Colin's First Team

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Spring Has Sprung

In many ways life as a Darlo fan is a miserable one but there is a positive aspect in that the town has two beer festivals each year. And more often than not they coincide with a home game.

Of the two festivals, the annual Spring Thing is always good fun - free entry and not quite as crowded or noisy as it's autumnal sibling - and this one was no exception.

Colin and I were there for the Saturday session nice and early so that we could nab a table.

As ever, Mr Fletcher had a full complement of panda pop bottles so that he could bottle a few brews to take home with him.

This activity completely flummoxed John Bell who arrived shortly after the festival opened and who had never seen Colin going round with his little funnel.

(left) Colin and his trusty funnel

Due to the inclement weather, we were also going to get a full programme of dance troupes in the hall today - clogs are no good once waterlogged apparently - and first up were Richmond Castle Cloggers. Sounds like they'd be ideal for Darlo's current squad.

Before long Steve, Tony and Brian had joined us and it was all we could do to concentrate on the beer and ignore the dancing just behind us although Tony heard Brian say that he quite enjoyed it!
(right) They're behind you!

We then got the more traditional stick-wielding types who made a right old racket, more or less making conversation impossible (although with Brian that is often a blessing).

One of the unusual dance troupes were the Appalachian Cloggers from Chester-le-Street. After the relatively staid sound of the English tunes, it was nice to hear a bit of the old banjo. According to one of the dancers this US-style does not go down so well with some of the more conservative types in this country.

On a trip to the gents I bumped into Rich Parker who had heard that there was going to be a pitch inspection. Cue frantic calls to see if this was true - Martin Deans confirmed that it was but we would have to wait until 2pm to hear our fate.

(left) Tony shows some nifty footwork to avoid a clattering from the ladies of Wakefield Morris

From a beer perspective the festival was excellent - there was a great choice with a vague Yorkshire/Lancashire theme with a decent balance between light and dark ales.

My particular favourites included: Coastal Foxtrot (complete with Genesis cover for a pumpclip), Mallinsons Rocket Ship, Purple Moose Calon Nam, Roosters Good Cheer and the triple hopped Spring Triple Tipple from Yard of Ale.

For once I steered clear of the porters and stouts - instead I tried most of the ciders and perries with Hecks Yarlington Mill and Swallowfield Yellow Huffcap Perry the pick of the crop.

And of course there were also some brews from the members of the Darlington Traditional Brewing Group - I only got to taste the 4% Hairy Coo from Mithril Ales, the microbrewery recently set up by Pete Fenwick (who originally created what was to become Rivet Catcher, Jarrow's awarding winning beer).

The Hairy Coo was a very nice drop but this and Pete's other beers will only be available in a few local real-ale establishments for the near future so keep your eyes peeled.

The beer list must have been up to scratch (geddit?) as they were quite a few members of the ticker fraternity present including some I'd met in Newcastle last month. Our chum Ken said he had been to three sessions as over half the beers were new ticks for him.

Not surprisingly most of us would have been happy to remain at the festival for the rest of the day but the rain had moved on elsewhere and Martin texted to say that the game was on.

The first of our taxis was on time and ferried some of the gang to the game - the second was late and only arrived a few minutes before kick-off after various phone calls.

(right) Tony and a half of decent dark stuff

This meant of course that we were late. It did cross our mind that this may be an omen but we ignored it. I wish we hadn't.

The first thing I noticed after taking my seat was the re-appearance of Noel Whelan in the squad - we missed his debut at Dagenham earlier in the season - and to be fair I thought he wasn't too bad.

A bit slow - mind he never was that quick - but he seemed to hold the ball well and tried to make intelligent use of it.

Overall though it soon had that deja vu feel of the Torquay game a fortnight earlier and so it proved after 25 mins we fell behind to a decent strike inside the box. Adomah doubled the lead ten minutes later.

Not surprisingly this created some Olympic-class moaning and after a brief discussion, most of our little group decided that if the score remained 2-0 at half-time we were leaving.

Darlo then had three chances to get on the scoresheet but Whelan, Purcell and then Waite all failed to trouble the Barnet keeper.

The whistle blew for the break with precious little action and no further goals so once we got the result of the 50-50 draw, we left.

All except for Colin who remained loyal and stayed until the bitter end whilst we went for some bitter in the Quaker. Word came through that we'd pulled a goal back - or rather Gary Breen had scored an own goal - but as ever, all too little too late.

As the time for my train approached I drank up and wandered up to the station - I almost bumped into Gary Breen in WH Smith - I mentioned his own goal within earshot but he didn't rise to the bait.

Joining back on the train was Howard and his wife Susie - unfortunately we were also joined by a bunch of boorish Reading fans who were far happier than they should have been with a draw at Boro.

(above) Wakefield Morris strut their stuff behind DAFTS chaps

Back in London I'd intended to wait for Liz & her London Miller chums and have a bevvy or two in the Betjeman Arms. However they were delayed at Luton due to a person under the train at Harpenden. I think I'd had my fill for the day anyway...

Monday, 22 March 2010

Go On, Go On, Go On, Go On, Gone.

Was it a surprise really?  Probably as I think we'd all taken it as read that Steve Staunton was being given the opportunity to build up a team for next season and that the rest of this season was simply being written off.

Such an approach does not lend itself to enjoyable football and the fare presented to fans recently has been some of the poorest seen in decades of watching Darlo.

The game against Barnet was no exception - two poor teams with Darlo doing its utmost to be the worst - and the fact that only 1,463 came to witness this sorry affair seems to have persuaded chairman Singh that this state of affairs simply cannot continue.

Some progress had been made in the signing of some promising youngsters from the local non-league scene and also from Ireland but it is one thing spotting talent, it is quite another to try and get them to do the same for you.

And far too often they didn't.  From my vantage point at the back of block 11, I think it is safe to say that Stan cuts a frustrated figure in the technical area - he exhibits an air of nervousness and impatience and this seems to transmit itself to the players.

I think the right decision has been made - if Raj can get the new man in place before the end of the month, there are plenty of games in April for him to size up the squad and start planning for next season.

Let us hope he resists the call for the likes of Kevan Smith and Brian Little - their time has surely passed now - and certainly ignore bizarre 'dream team' duos such as Craig Hignett and Gary Pallister - and finds someone who has actually worked with some recent success in the lower leagues.

Raj needs to get this one right...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

When It's Spring Thing Again....

Just a reminder that the Spring Thing real ale festival starts this week and as usual various DAFTS will be attending.

The festival starts on Thursday 18 March but most of us will be attending the Friday night session - full details for the festival can be found here (including the beer list).

We will be gathering in Number Twenty-2 from about 4pm before wondering up to the Arts Centre for opening time.

The festival has a War of the Roses theme this time, no doubt the breweries of Yorkshire will show those of Lancashire just what a good beer really should be like.

On the Friday night we'll be off for a curry at one of Darlo's newest Indian restaurants which has been thoroughly researched by our local experts.

The Garden of India is on Bondgate so walking distance from the Arts Centre - w're aiming to be there by 9pm should anyone wish to join us.

DAFTS will also be at the festival for the Saturday lunchtime session before the home game against Barnet. Come along and say hello...

Monday, 15 March 2010

Never Turn Your Back On A Friend

As ever, John and I both arrived at Euston about 30 minutes earlier than planned – both of us tend to err on the side of caution when meeting up, in fact we’re almost manic about it, but the upside was that we caught an earlier train to Northampton – after the obligatory breakfast at the famous Double Six cafe on Eversholt Street.

The early arrival afforded us the chance to wander round the shops and the stalls in the market place. At one record stall we hit seventies rock gold with John picking up a copy of In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster (by Atomic Rooster) while I got Bandolier by Welsh rockers Budgie.

By this time it was 11am and time for the lunchtime session to commence so we headed off to the King William – or the King Billy as it is usually known in these parts – where we were the only people in the pub.

(left) The King Billy

It had a fairly respectable choice of beers – Cotleigh Barn Owl, Davenport Busy Fool, St Austell Tribute, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Cam Fell Flame.

The King Billy is a rock/heavy metal pub and we found it had one of these new fangled jukeboxes with thousands of songs and so we continued the 70s rock theme with tracks from Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, Hawkwind, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple and the like – sometimes it’s good to live in the past. After a while we were joined by John Grey and Richie plus a couple of their mates.

After our choices had all been played, we headed off to the nearby Malt Shovel Tavern – a haven of real ale opposite the Carlsberg brewery. We’ve been coming here for many years and it always has a great choice of beers.

It has a regular set of beers from local breweries – Wot's Occurring, Harpers, Gobble and Tailshaker from Great Oakley and Natterjack from nearby Frog Island.

There was also an impressive list of guests as well: Mallinson Maestro, Oldershaw Caskade, Phipps Red Star and Ratcliffe Stout, Elland Fade To Black and a 7.3% barley wine called Nips from Grainstore.

All beers were in excellent condition and served by very friendly bar staff – the only sour note was the presence of some old rugger-bugger duffer who loudly insisted, for our benefit I suspect, that rugby fans are so much more civilised than football fans.

Hmmm..I know football fans are not exactly shy, retiring types but presumably he has never spent time in and around Waterloo on the day of a rugby international. Thankfully the old git shuffled off before he really got on our nerves.

We continued to enjoy the beer and chew the fat with a few Cobblers fans - we were also joined by Mad Steve who we’d not seen for a while.

Unfortunately he has recently lost his job (as he suspected he would when we last met him at Dagenham) and so wasn’t able to go to as may games as he used to.

However he hadn’t lost his almost blind sense of optimism which defies all known logic - he's fully confident Darlo will avoid the drop! I think it's all the cider he drinks...

After a few more beers and more waffle, we dragged ourselves away - Steve and his Cobbler-supporting mate joined John and I in a taxi and it wasn’t long before we were at Sixfields and sat behind the goal with Martin, Chris, Ron, Steve and Dawn.

And it wasn’t long before we’d heartily regretted that move as the first half was, from a Darlo perspective, the latest in a series of atrocious performances.

Up front the Quakers were toothless – I don’t think their keeper had anything of note to do – whilst our defence were constantly keeping their forward line at bay and generally making heavy weather of it all.

After 20 mins Northampton took the lead – not a great shock to any of the 156 Darlo fans on parade – the only surprise was that we were only 2-0 down at the break, the second goal coming from a poorly punched Redmond clearance which fell to Osman who slotted home easily.

I sometimes wonder why Redmond doesn’t wear boxing gloves as he – like many of the younger breed of keepers – much prefers to punch rather than catch a ball. I find it strange that this aspect of goalkeeping seems to be dying out, especially as keepers tend to be afforded quite a lot of protection in the modern game.

One pleasant surprise from the first half was the appearance of Brummy Tony who I’d not seen for a couple of seasons. He was never very lucky for us - a claim he'll no doubt deny - but as far as this season goes, I don’t think it really matters any more. It was good to see him again.

As at Crewe back in January, Darlo were much improved in the second half though that was probably as much to do with the Cobblers easing off a little.

Main and Gray had been replaced at the break by Dempsey and new boy Chris Moore as well – Diop occasionally held the ball up but was more of a not-so-innocent bystander and he was eventually replaced by Paddy Deane.

Purcell then hit the post and Darlo had a very good shout for a penalty turned down but it was all too little, too late (and too predictable).

At the final whistle, we walked out with Mad Steve who was telling all and sundry how poor Northampton were – we left him at a bus stop to continue this steam of consciousness with the local fans and joined Brummy Tony on the way to the railway station.

We travelled back to Euston with John Gray and Richie and were back in time to meet up with Bev and the London Millers for their annual raffle draw in the Doric Arch.

(left) Turned out shite again!

The Millers were in a good mood following their 1-0 victory over Dagenham & Redbridge.

Although various DAFTS had bought tickets - the least we can do after they donated six points to our cause this season - only one of them earned a prize as Tony won a Chuckle Brothers DVD (which will at least please his grandson Cai).

For the curious amongst you, the title of this piece refers to Budgie's best known album which features probably their best known number, Breadfan. Have a listen to it - cracking!

Monday, 8 March 2010

(Barely) Alive and Kicking

A very relaxed journey north today - Chris was travelling with us but a late addition to the trip was his fiancee, Suzy, so they'd got seats together in coach G rather than sit with us in coach F. The good thing was this meant there were no arguments about Big Bad Baldy Bazza Conlon.
Instead Martin could get on with his pools selection -aided by his pile of out-of-date newspapers - whilst I listened in to the podcasts of comic duo, Trevor and Simon, which I'd recently come across.

(left) The gang in the Quaker

Although the pair - known for swinging their pants and not doing duvets - were thought of as kids entertainers on Saturday morning TV, I'd always liked them. Far too good for children.

Suitably amused, we arrived slightly early at Bank Top which meant I was pastried up and in the QuakerHouse before the town clock had struck 11:30am.

Beers on today included: Oakleaf Bitter and Pompey Royal from the Oakleaf Brewery, Bread of Heaven from Brains, Manx Pride from Bushy's, Matchlock Mild and Brickdust from Martson Moor, Odins Raven and Dual Hop from Rudgate plus a golden ale from Atlas.

And on parade today were Trevor, John W, Bev, Tony and John B. The latter was here against his better judgment - his back was playing up but he came in the belief that the pain of the game would mask that of his ailing back. You really shouldn't jest about such things.

Of the beers, the one from the Atlas bewery plus the Dual Hop, Matchlock Mild, Brickdust and the Manx Pride all impressed.

Also impressed was my old chum, Ken the ticker from Durham - who I'd meet a few weeks ago in the Newcastle Arms - he was making a rare foray to the Quaker and was delighted as he'd get five ticks from the selection today. That's pretty darn good in the ticking world.

In Number Twenty-2, in addition to the usual suspects there were a few other decent ales: Monty's Firkin from the Magpie Brewery, Decade from the York Brewery and Warlock Stout from Houston.

(right) A pint of stout separates John and Trev

The stout was very good - one of the best Iwe've had recently and worthy of more time but before we knew it our taxis had arrived.

One of the first aspects of today's game that was just a bit worrying was the referee - we never seem to do well when we have the diminutive Mr Mathieson in charge and he's certainly been on the end of some of my more sweary shouts in the past.

But today he didn't really put a foot wrong - unlike Darlo.

And it didn't take long to all go wrong - after just ten minutes Darlo allowed Torquay two attempts at goal following a corner and the ball was knocked past Redmond through a fairly static back line.

And that was it - the remainder of the half was a very grim affair - it was clear that Torquay were as poor as we were and it was not pleasant to watch. Alan White received a long, drawn-out talking to from the ref but did not produce a card which surprised most of us.

Then just as we were looking forward to the half-time break, Torquay doubled their lead somewhat fortuitously - the Torquay man evaded our defence fairly easily but his shot dribbled in. It was one of those days - we seem to have more than our fair share of such days.

The second half brought some hope of improvement after Curtis Main (sponsored by the Capital Quakers of course) was given an open goal - in fact the chance was so easy it seemed to take him by surprise before he reacted and stabbed it home.

But overall Main's performance was underwhelming and Guy Branston had probably the easiest afternoon for quite a few weeks. If Main put as much effort into fighting for the ball as he did moaning that he'd been man-handled then he might have got more out of the game.

My worry is that Curtis Main is not a natural striker - he has the nasty coloured boots befitting of a star forward but he seems to lack a battling desire to get to the ball first. Perhaps when he was a big lad amongst his peers a few years ago it was all too easy for him. I fear he is not the bright young star many hope he is (and I do hope I'm wrong). Tony W agrees - which must be a first for us both.

There was a respectable turnout of Torquay fans who were in good voice throughout - as you would expect if you're winning a long away from home.
There was no sign of their most famous fan, Helen Chamberlain, presenter and mainstay of Sky's Soccer AM.

However her absence won't prevent me from posting a picture of her and I at a Coca-Cola Football League PR event a few seasons ago.

(left) Torquay's fairest fan

Unfortunately in this shot I'm holding the wrong end of her but rest assured that I did originally start further up (if you know what I mean). She's a lovely lass - very genuine.

For some reason she thought I resembed Bomber from Auf Weidersen, Pet!

The Gulls fans were delirious when the final whistle blew - we were simply resigned to our fate. Not that we weren't already resigned to the drop but the manner of the last three defeats means that it looks like the players have given up too.

Trev and I trudged back to the station - always a depressing walk but even worse after a defeat - but at least all our trains were on time. Our train was full of Geordies full of their 6-1 defeat against Barnsley - the Tykes fans themselves were rather quiet, bemoaning the sending off of their keeper.

On arrival back in London I popped over to St Pancras and met up with Liz and Jenny in the Betjemans Arms for a few nightcaps and then it was time to wend our weary ways home...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Fantasy Football

I didn't go to the Bradford game last Saturday and few (if any) of the rest of our gang made it - a case of can't-be-arsed-ness on my part I'm afraid.

Given the result, I think all that I missed out on was some of the usual good beers that the Fighting Cock offers.

Instead I went to an early morning preview screening of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in Leicester Square. In 3D too.

Now I know I'm biased but it is a really good take on both of the Lewis Caroll novels - it has all the usual Burtonesque flourishes with some great effects and the 3D aspect is not overly in your face. I really enjoyed it and can thoroughly recommend it - and it's not just for kiddies.

In view of the lack of a weekend report I've uploaded another ITV Digital clip for you all to see.

If I remember correctly this was from their 3rd Division programme and in this episode they visit Darlo when we're still at Feethams and includes an interview with our own fantasist, George Reynolds, plus footage of wife Susan as she had made her famous comment at a fans forum which led to the players walking out.

And at the end of the clip, Ned Boulting interviews some hairy person at Feethams. Enjoy.