Monday, 18 October 2010

Wright At The Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(left) Chris Moore skips past the Mansfield defence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 October 2010

Great Weekend, Crap Result

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(right) Jefferson Louis makes his debut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(left) The Ackhorne

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tyrannosaurus Wrex

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

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

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

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

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

(left) John modelling the Darlo Devo Dome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(left) Chris Senior showing off his thighs

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

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

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

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

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

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