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...

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Capital Brews

As a city London was internationally famed for brewing but over the 25 years or so that I’ve been living down here, the great brewers have slowly disappeared, leaving just Fullers out of a long line of famous names still commercially brewing in the capital.

There then was was a period when brewpubs became the in-thing – the Firkin chain were the most successful for a while before owner David Bruce sold them and they were rebadged and gradually faded away.

There was even a French brewpub called Brasserie Les Sans Culottes in Covent Garden - with some continental-style beers and sparkling Normandy ciders - but as with many other such outlets it didn't stand the test of time.

In recent years however there has been a resurgence in the opening of new breweries and what has been heartening is that in the cut-throat industry they’re joining, they’ve come together in a spirit of enterprise and formed the London Brewers Alliance with the intention of self-help and putting London back on the brewing map.

As a keen drinker I’ve kept a close eye on these developments and so was happy to attend their first event – the London Brewers Alliance Showcase – which took place last week at Brew Wharf in London Bridge.

(left) Lizzie Brodie pours me a half of their porter

This event would essentially be a small festival where we could taste the wares and meet the brewers. The cost was £15 but for that you got seven halves of beer and one half of their collaboratively brewed London Porter. Not bad at London prices.

I was attending with London Miller Chris and his colleague/fellow drinker Roger – having first popped into the nearby Wheatsheaf for a couple of openers first – and the place was quite busy with a number of familiar faces from the London CAMRA scene.

In all there were almost a dozen breweries assembled – Camden Town, Brew Wharf, Kernel, Brodies, Zero Degrees, Fullers, Redemption, Meantime, Ha’Penny, Sambrooks and Windsor & Eton (the latter stretching the definition of London somewhat).

I managed to get round about half of the brewery stalls with Brodies and Kernel proving to have most of the better beers that I’d tried.

Brodies brew not far from Leyton Orient having taken over the old Sweet William brewery and pub and consist of a brother and sister team, James and Lizzie Brodie.

They had a marvellous 7% London porter on draught – which surpassed the collaborative porter that Chris kindly gave me a sip of – as well as a number of their bottled products, one of which was a very enjoyable dunkel. Given the number of beers they've produced, I don’t know where they find the time to brew such a diverse range.

Kernel Brewery is run by a fellow hairy chap called Evin who I’ve met a few times on my visits to the brewery and he produces a variety of wonderful beers, both dark and light. Recent highlights for me have been the Baltic Porter and the White Ale.

I recently suggested that he should call his new son Simcoe in reference to the hops he uses a lot but he and his partner have played safe and called the little chap Kai.

The draught IPA was on top form – very hoppy but not aggressively so - just a shame we don’t see it on cask more often.

Some Brew Wharf beers were also available and I was pleased to finally try their 6.8% black IPA, Military Intelligence.

This has received lots of praise amongst the beer cognoscenti in recent weeks and much deserved too – being dark, hoppy and drinkable is something that is difficult to pull off but this was excellent.

(right) My ticket to drink

With a early-ish trip to our game at Bath the next day I finally managed to drag myself away from the beer – I still had plenty of vouchers left as some of the brewers didn’t tick them off – but for once discretion was the better part of valour.

But it’s clear to see that London is entering a new bright age of brewing and catching up with other areas of the country - long may it continue.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Rub Of The Green

I was spending a long weekend up in Northallerton so I only had the ten minute journey on the train through to Darlo.

And for breakfast it was the delights of Alfie's Cafe (upstairs in the covered market) which does a very tasty full English, all for £3.99. I even got some black pudding thrown in for free.

I needed to walk some of my breakfast off before starting on the lunchtime session so I had a walk along Victoria Embankment and onto Feethams - I'd heard rumours that building work was starting so I thought I'd check it out for myself.

(left) Feethams - I can hear the grass grow

Down at our old ground there was little sign of any activity other than photosynthesis and the twittering of birds.

The ground is still very much overgrown with shrubs and trees starting to get a firm hold in the pitch. I made my way through it all to the Tinshed - not a lot had changed there either except for some new graffiti.

I wandered back into town up Polam Lane which has now been tarmacked - all the old cobbles have been removed which seems a shame but perhaps the urban 4-wheelers can't cope with them?

I popped into Taylors to get Martin a few items for his billy-no-mates journey back to London and then got to the Quaker just as the town clock was striking eleven.

Since my last visit, the stain-glass panels above the bar had been officially unveiled and it certainly seemed to add a bit of class to the place. Not exactly difficult mind...

(right) The stain glass panels in all their glory

I was keen to see whether I'd won the 20 pints on offer for guessing the number of glass pieces used in the panels but alas not. I can't remember my estimates but I wasn't far off the winning figure of 346. Drat!

One further addition to the drinking experience recently added is the colour-coding of the beer menu so that we can see what type of beer is on offer. Simple but effective and very useful.

Today's list included: High House Farm Farmer's Pride, York Centurion Ghost, Jarrow Rivet Catcher, Consett Molten Ale, Westerham Progress, TSA Red Torpedo, Bragdy Conwy Shipwreck IPA, Derwent Whitmell & Mark IPA, Wensleydale Foresters Bitter and Elgood's Indian Summer.

For me, the pick of the bunch was the Progress which is a tasty single hop beer whilst the Red Torpedo was quite odd - a ruby IPA which had neither the good points of a ruby beer or an IPA. A shame as TSA do some very good beers.

Tony arrived next followed closely by his Dad Ray - Tony was then handing out birthday cards as Ray and I share the same birthday though obviously there are a few years between us.

Colin and John Bell arrived together and after a few more beers we moved onto Number Twenty-2 where Colin and I got stuck into a very nice pint of Derventio Cupid.

Down at the ground we got our 50-50 tickets from Mary and then had a wander into the club shop. I was keen to check out the DFC bench coats as they look ideal for winter - however when I tried them on even the XXL size was tight.

Now I know I'm not a slim chap but these sizes do look a bit on the small side. There had been comments about this on the message board recently so something seems amiss. I wasn't the only one in the shop to be struck by this either.

I was out on the pitchside again today though with just with the one camera - the away end was probably the quietest I've seen it for along time with only thirty or so 30 Forest Green Rovers fans making the trip north.

Darlo made the best start of the season with an opening goal after just two minutes and then the lead was doubled ten minutes into the game.

(left) Gary Smith does his Mary Poppins impersonation

The first goal was a low shot from Chris Senior but I wasn't able to see who scored the second.

I initially thought it was a Michael Smith header but it turned out to be an own goal which probably explained our celebrations where no one in particular was mobbed.

From that point we should have had more goals, especially as Rovers looked to have already thrown in the towel, but Darlo took their foot off the gas and even though we continued to press and create chances, we couldn't put the ball into the net.

For their part, Forest Green made the odd foray into our half but failed to do anything meaningful and so we went in at half-time with just the two-goal lead.

Up in block 11, Tony had sent me a text to say he'd won the 50-50 draw with tickets he'd bought just after I'd got mine. Double drat!

I thought that in the second half we would have upped the tempo but not at all - we knocked the ball around easily but failed to seriously trouble keeper Bittner. Rovers forced Sam Russell into one smart save but that was about the sum of their endeavours.

Jamie Chandler replaced Joe Clarke - who'd had a poor game by his recent standards with a few wayward passes although his break-up play was excellent - and after ten minutes on the pitch Chandler had added a third goal with a shot from just inside the box.

The game then ended with Rovers defender Lee Fowler getting a red card after one too many fouls on Liam Hatch who had nothing to show for his hard work except bruises.

Manager Mark Cooper had said he would put the squad through a tough week of training after the Eastbourne episode and it seemed to have paid dividends with some good performances.

(right) Jamie Chandler celebrates his goal
Danny Hone was adjudged to be man of the match by the sponsors though Chris Senior and Michael Smith - who seems to get a little bit better with each game - would both have been in my list of serious contenders.

After the game Mark Cooper was quick to say that he wasn't completely satisfied with the performance and that the players would be in for another full week of training.

Good to see that this performance isn't going to let them off the hook completely but it is pleasing to see the players take a step in the right direction. The key now is to maintain this form against some of the teams at the top of the division.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

God's Waiting Room

The transport situation is back to normal today - engineering works on the tube are in place as they will be for most weekends this month - but I'm up and away in good time to meet Tony at King's Cross at 8am though he had the worst of it having to catch a train at 5am.

We take the Victoria line down to Pimlico and meet up with Liz outside a new breakfast venue, the Regency Cafe. I've heard a lot of good reports about this place so today's trip to the south coast offered an ideal opportunity to pop in and try it.

(left) Tony tucks in

It's quite different from most cafes in that you order your food at the counter and then you'll be called to collect the food when it's ready. The woman at the counter has a quiet voice when taking the order yet turns all Windsor Davies as she barks out that "Set Breakfast and Chips" is ready. What a voice!

The breakfast is truly excellent - both bacon and chips are all well cooked, the sausage is meaty, the black pudding is thick and moist, the bread is crusty and the tea is strong. Well worth another visit when we're next in the area.

We take the short walk from here to Victoria station - there are a worrying number of police and fire brigade around when we arrive with the entrances to the underground taped off but thankfully the rail services are unaffected.

We board our train but not before the ticket barriers have played silly buggers and I've had to give the station staff the benefit of my views - I'm already ranting and we're not even at Eastbourne, it's going to be a good day at this rate.

Our Argyle chum Geoff joins at the front of the train once he has got a pastie for his breakfast (you can take the boy out of Cornwall etc etc) and then once we're underway, John Bell joins us at Gatwick as flying is the only way he can get there and back in one day.

We pull into Eastbourne where Brummy Tony is waiting for us - Colin's mate and local resident Andrew is also waiting - and we head over the road to the London and County, a Wetherspoons pub. John has to drive later so he volunteers to go and check out if our main pub is open yet.

There are some local beers on offer - Blonde and Gold from the White Brewing Company plus Grainstore Ten Fifty. The White beers are attractively priced at £1.99 a pint so we have some of those - they're OK but not brilliant so when John texts us to say our main pub is open we sup up and move on (leaving just as Steve Duffy arrives and is getting a pint).

The Eagle is just a couple of hundred yards away and is a bright open pub with some local beers and big screens for the TV sport. They're showing the MK Dons v Hartlepool game but no one pays it any heed.

(right) Brummy T and Pat chew the fat

On tap they have Harveys Sussex Best as well as a couple from the Rother Valley Brewing Company - Wealden Bitter and Levers Alone - and Bee-Head from 1648 Brewing Company.

We try the Wealden Bitter but it isn't brilliant - not quite off but not quite right - we move onto the Bee-Head, a honey beer that isn't too honey-ish, and which is really tasty but then runs out. We settle on the Levers Alone which is the best of the bunch having just been put on.

A myriad of folks then join us - Ian Swalwell and one of his mates, Chris and Simon (aka comeondarlo and spyman in messageboard parlance), Rich, John and Andy from Darlo, Pat (Steve's Villa-supporting chum), Alisdair (Steve's old university chum) and Steve's brother Martin who lives down the road in Hove.

Colin is the last to join us - with other half Gill - but he is not partaking this lunchtime as he's helping out Ray Simpson with the match commentary. Taking his role seriously, he has been busy doing his research and has reams of notes.

Quite a few people are tucking into the pies that the pub offers - they're produced by Pieminister and are a little different to the normal pie.

They are proper pies (in that they have a pastry lid, bottom and sides) but unusual fillings such as Thai Chook (thai green curry), Matador (beef & chorizo) and Heidi (goats cheese and sweet potato), all served with a little pot of gravy. A bit poncy for my basic tastes but those who partake really enjoy them.

Various people then wander off to the ground - Steve and a few others take a taxi whilst Iain offers Liz, Tony and I a lift. We arrive about ten minutes before kick-off which means I have to run off and get my press pass.

The ground is quite small - three terraced sides and a small main stand with about ten rows of seats - very cosy and tight so that you're up close to the players.

(left) Liz, Tony and Martin at half-time

There seems to be a decent crowd with some Brighton shirts on display as their game against Argyle was off due to international call-ups - hard to believe that - plus today is Non-League Day when fans of Premiership and Championship teams are being encouraged to come and see their local teams.

The match kicks off and there was little to choose between the sides initially - Darlo probably had the edge and made more attempts at goal whilst Sam Russell was relatively untroubled.

The first real incident of the game was when Eastbourne left-back Jenkins took out Gary Smith with a two-footed tackle. Apparently he'd already been giving the young linesman a load of verbal prior to that so it is little wonder that he got short shrift from the men in black and he was red-carded.

And then just two minutes later, keeper Banks collected the ball outside the box leaving the ref with little option but to wave the red card for the second time.

Midfielder Smart took over the keeping duties - he'd been quite useful in midfield for Eastbourne up to that point and he nearly kept a clean sheet until Senior scored with a diving header just before the break.

During half-time I received a text from the Northern Echo - apparently John Terry was at the game and could I get some shots?

(right) Martin points out a handsome photographer to Ron and Howard

I wandered over to the small main stand and bumped into Martin Deans - Terry had gone to the bar apparently.

I hung around chatting to Martin and JT was back just before the restart, smiling and signing autographs for children.

With a two man advantage you would really expect Darlo to go on and score some more goals, wouldn't you? But let us not forget that this is Darlington and absolutely anything can happen.

Darlo proceeded to make hard work of the depleted Eastbourne side and several good chances were squandered - Offiong and Hone shooting the wrong side of the post whilst Michael Smith and sub Josh Gray were both denied by last-gasp saves from the stand-in keeper.

The second half was not without its lighter moments. Gary Smith was close to me at one point and I told him how much he'd improved since he sorted his hair out and ditched the Alice band. After a quick double-take, he laughed, obviously not used to expert hair advice from someone who hasn't cut his hair for several years.

Encouraged by Darlo's failure to extend their lead and presumably still smarting from the double sending off, Eastbourne were pulling out all the stops, managing to make some headway at the other end.

(left) Stand-in keeper Smart denies Michael Smith

Eventually Darlo were made to pay for their wastefulness when Taylor headed past Russell to level the score.

The home crowd went wild in celebration whilst Darlo fans just shook their heads in disbelief.

With twenty minutes still to play it was now more a matter of hanging on for a point rather going for the win.

And so it was and at the final whistle Smart was hailed as a hero whilst the Darlo players simply looked embarrassed and trudged off, presumably to get some words of advice from Mark Cooper.

In the aftermath of this result, there was a lot of over-the-top reactions as some declared this the lowest point in Darlo's history, etc etc. Clearly that is just rubbish but it is not a result that will bring any credit to us but these things do happen.

Perhaps I'm being more fatalistic these days and refuse to let results spoil my day out. Or perhaps now that I'm back on the touchline I have to be slightly removed from the tension so that I can take shots and capture the action.

Eastbourne should also be credited with a very spirited performance as they never let Darlo get into any rhythm and Smart showed he could have been a full-time keeper but for the fact he's my height!

I certainly think that Richard Offiong will find that we won't be extending his loan - he has failed to show that he is going to be in any way productive for us - perhaps this will allow Curtis Main (a sub today despite newspaper reports he was at Bury on trial) a chance to show us whether he has improved.

After the game, Iain kindly drove us all back to the Eagle where we had a couple more pints before we headed off back to London, saying goodbye to the Duffy bros at Lewes.

We got home - Tony with us as he'd decided to spend the night at our place - and we popped along to the Udaya, our local southern Indian restaurant, so he could try out some kerelan cuisine. Other than the result, it had been a very enjoyable day.

Liz also has her own report of the day out over at the London Millers blog.