Friday, 31 December 2010

When Winter (Comes Howling In)

Even though I'd been told that the game at Gateshead was extremely unlikely to go ahead, the decision to hold an inspection at 9:30am on match day instead of calling it off earlier meant that Martin and I felt we had to set off - just in case - and so we left London on the 7am train.

The first text indicating the game was off came as we passed through Northallerton and it was more or less confirmed as we arrived in Darlo. There we were joined by Tony and Brian and a swift decision, already formed in our heads, was made to carry on and have a day out in Geordieland.

Thankfully Central Station still has a left luggage service and once I'd dropped off my camera bag, we went for a wander around town.

We dropped into the Newcastle United club shop, filled with a wide array of NUFC tat - I'd hoped they'd have a plain black and white scarf but it seems that everything has to have the club logo on it these days.

(left) DAFTS lads at the entrance to Chinatown

Next stop was the Back Page - a shop which has loads of football books, videos and memorabilia with a healthy bias towards the north-east clubs.

Unfortunately the only Darlo representation in the shop was two copies of George's opus, Cracked It!

Our first port of call was just over the road from here - the Newcastle Arms - and this normally opens at 11am but wasn't opening until noon today. Even worse, my backup pub, the Bodega, was closed for the day. Damn you, festive season!

We were a bit peckish after all the walking so we decided to fill in time and find somewhere to eat - the Stateside Diner on Pink Lane was one of the few places open and it did a mean bacon and egg sarnie too.

We got into the Newcastle Arms just after opening time and they had their usual choice of interesting beers - their own Winter IPA brewed by local brewer Big Lamp plus Falstaff Brewery's Yeti, Thornbridge Hopton, Marston Moor Porter, Deuchars IPA and Durham Apollo. All went down well with the Yeti finding special favour with Martin who stuck to it.

After a few bevvies we decided to pop down to the Crown Posada - a must for those who've never been supping around Newcastle - but when we got there we found it was shut!

After a bit of wandering round we popped into the Duke of Wellington on High Bridge - a few handpumps here with Hadrian-Border Tyneside Blonde and Taylor's Landlord the ones I remember.

When I was a student in Newcastle in the early 80s, this pub was one of a small number owned by CAMRA.

These days it is now a normal pub although there was a live TV feed from Greece of the Spurs -v- Newcastle game. Not surprisingly the place was full of their fans getting irate every time a decision went against their boys.
(right) Bacchus Boys

This soon got extremely tedious so after we'd finished our beers we popped a bit further along the road to the Bacchus. This has been the local CAMRA pub of the year for 2009 and 2010.

It struck me as being a larger version of Darlo's Number Twenty-2 - similar vibe and clientele and some good beers too including Jarrow Rivet Catcher and Yorkshire Dales Bacchus Ice Crystal plus some London Stout and Wheat from the Meantime Brewery.

By the time we'd had a few more beers and discussed to death the regime at DFC, it was time for Martin and I to wend our way back to Central station and the train back to London - asleep for most of it you'll not be surprised to hear.

I'd like to think I'll be back up for the game when it is finally rescheduled but it will all depend when that that is - hopefully when the weather is a bit more clement.

I've named this piece after this excellent song by Lindisfarne about the true meaning of Christmas, more or less a solo by Alan Hull, long gone but still missed.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Arsène Around?

One of the most encouraging things to happen at Darlington this season has been the form of the Youth team, managed by Craig Liddle and Neil Maddison.

There had been worries about whether they could afford to continue once we'd dropped out of the Football League with the subsequent drop in funding that this brought.

To this end Tony Waters and Geoff Thompson have been busy encouraging ordinary fans to raise money - hopefully £1000 - to help them out.

(left) I bet Arsène didn't see this tackle

So far the response has been excellent and Tony was able to present Lidds with £500 towards the cost of travel and accomodation for FA Youth Cup 3rd round fixture against Arsenal.

This fixture caught the attention of a lot of fans as this would be the first time these clubs had met - certainly to my knowledge - and this would be a true test of the youngsters' abilities.

The original fixture fell victim to the first bout of wintry weather but it finally took place at Underhill a week or so later.

Before the game I had a quick pint of Taylors Landlord in the Olde Mitre with Geoff Luke - the beer seems to be a bit better in here these days - but there was not time for much more as the kick-off was at 7pm - presumably these youngsters need to be wrapped up in bed at a reasonable hour.

The main stand was open for fans for the princely sum of £3 but I was to be pitchside tonight to capture the action.

As the teams came out and shook hands before kick-off, it was clear to see that the Arsenal team were an impressive bunch, some much bigger than our boys.
(right) Lidds keep a keen eye on his charges

The game started and both teams found their feet and knocked the ball around well with Darlo looking far from poor relations.

However Arsenal opened the scoring after 10 mins with a tap-in on the line after some slick passing.

They continued to make chances but Darlo went on to equalise after about 20 mins through a tap-in from Rob Ramshaw.

Parity was short-lived though and Arsenal took the lead after a couple of minutes and dominated the remainder of the half with the Darlo boys always a pace or two behind and more lightweight in the tackle.

The main tormentor was Chuks Aneke who won several headers in front of the Darlo goal, scoring once and going close on other occasions.

Benik Afobe scored his second to make it 4-1 at the break - he is currently on-loan at Huddersfield but had been brought back for this game so clearly Arsenal were taking this game seriously.

The second half saw the Quakers under a lot of pressure again and it was amazing that they only conceded two more goals - Aneke getting his hat-trick in the process.

Sloppy finishing by Arsenal was to blame but great credit must be given to keeper Nick Thompson for pulling off several great saves.

There was even a shout of "Sign him up Arsène!" from the Arsenal contingent.

(left) Chuks Eneke makes it 3-1 as he scores from a corner

As the end of the game approached, the temperature dropped sharply and my feet were like blocks of ice. Three pairs of socks for me next time.

During the onslaught the Darlo lads rarely resorted to hoofing the ball upfield and generally tried to play the ball forward. The Arsenal defence though were too quick and too strong and most forays were snuffed out.

A harsh lesson for the Darlo team and a disappointing result for the handful of Darlo fans in the corwd. It is clear though that Arsenal have many talented youngsters who will do well at the higher levels of the game and the experience of playing them will not be lost on the Darlo players.

As I headed back home on the tube with fellow fan Steve Wilkinson, news came though from the Arena that the FA Trophy tie with Tamworth was level at 1-1. Thankfully by the time I got home Darlo had won 3-2 - their reward a home tie with Bath City in the next round.

For more details on the game, see the Arsenal report here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Hergé We Go, Hergé We Go, Hergé We Go

This weekend saw a few DAFTS opt for the bright lights of Brussels rather than the FA Trophy tie with Tamworth as a way to celebrate Lesley's 50th birthday.

Originally Tony and Lesley had arranged to go to Bruges with Neil and Mari before changing it to Brussels which is when yours truly opted to join them.

(left) last chance for a decent breakfast for a few days

After a hearty breakfast at Da Vinci's, we gathered at St Pancras International for the 11:04am service to Brussels Midi which turned out to be a very smooth journey getting us there just after 2pm.

As we exited the international part of the station, there was a driver on the concourse waiting for a passenger. "Bianca Jagger" read his sign. "Wishful thinking!" we told him.

We caught a local train to take us the couple of stops to Brussels North and our hotel which was located in the modern business district - very much like a small version of Canary Wharf but with much less atmosphere.

After a quick beer and a bite to eat in the hotel bar, we wandered off into town - taking taxis as the hotel is about a mile from the main centre - ending up near the Belgian stock exchange (or Bourse).

As Friday night is usually a curry night in DAFTS circles, we'd eyed up a couple of possible restaurants - one was an Indian with the highly odd name of the Shamrock and the Fanny Thai which does thai food (what else?) - on Rue Jules van Praet which seems to be a mini-Chinatown.

We went into a nearby bar - Les Roi Des Belges - which turned out to be full of young, trendy folk and not the sort of place DAFTS are normally seen in but we were thirsty and once we'd got a table we were well settled.

Tony and Neil tried various beers from the beer menu whilst I was a little too adventurous in trying (and sticking to) 75cl bottles of the N'Ice Chouffe.

This is a 10% winter beer which despite the strength was quite easy drinking - too easy as I ended up having another two bottles.

By the time we ate at a nearby thai restaurant I was a little befuddled but at least I still remember that the food was very good (even if I disagreed with the waiter over what a spring roll is - don't ask).

Not surprisingly I was a bit fuzzy-headed the next morning but that was soon cleared as Tony and I set off early for a walk back towards Brussels Midi. Our destination was the Cantillon Brewery which was top of my "must do" list (just above "get nice chocolates for Liz").

We arrived just after 10am and after being given a talk on the brewery and the process of spontaneous fermentation - which uses natural yeasts found in the building itself - we were free to wander around the brewery.

The beers that Cantillon produce can probably be described as an acquired taste - lambic beers are sour, even after fruit has been added - but I developed a taste for them several years ago and this brewery is one of just a few which still follows the traditional process.

(right) Tony tries the Cantillon kriek

At the end of the tour we ended up at the bar where we bought a few samples - the basic Geueze and then two beers which had added fruit - the Kriek and the Rosé de Gambrinus. Tony found the latter to be most to his taste and took a bottle back for Xmas day.

The afternoon was spent trawling around a few shops - Neil and Mari had gone off to do some serious shopping but Tony, Lesley and I couldn't muster the enthusiasm and we wandered around the city centre and visited a few bars.

We later met up with Neil and Mari in a small brewpub just off La Grande Place - Les Brasseurs de Grand Place - where we tried their artisinal beers. Given the prime location, it was not surprising to see them charge 4.5 euros for these beers which weren't exceptional by any means.

From here we went in search of a nice juicy steak - we'd seen a restaurant called Steak Frit earlier in the day and although it was initially busy when we went, Tony worked his charm and we finally got a table.

The place was packed and the service from our waitress was rather haphazard but even so we were quite surprised to later see her chucking in her apron and storming out after a heated discussion with the maitre d'.

The steak though was beautiful, charred on the outside and bloody in the middle - served with excellent frites and what could only be described as a token effort of a salad. Clearly the Belgians have no time for such things.

And that was my lot - just the most fleeting of visits but I'd probably come back at a quieter time of year and try out some of the bars I didn't get a chance to visit.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Darlington & Stockton Times

Despite the Kidderminster game being called off well in advance - not a huge surprise to anyone living in the north-east as the Arctic conditions , both John W and I were in the north and decided to have our pre-match session. It was either that or shopping.

I was a bit worried about getting through there from Northallerton - many trains had been cancelled - but Trans-Pennine trains were running a severely reduced service which only went to Bank Top.

The town centre was extremely quiet when I arrived with not may shoppers braving the conditions and I popped into Alfie's above the covered market for a very good value breakfast - the best I've had in Darlo.

The Quaker was open on time and so I started making my way through the card - quite a few Christmas beers but thankfully some were not the Xmas pudding-style that some brewers seem to thing we want.

(left) Brian Bond - no socks? In this weather?

John and then Tony arrived and it was quite noticeable that there were quite a few unfamiliar faces in the pub today - we wondered whether they were refugees from the Tap & Spile which appears to have closed it's doors, at least for now?

Tony was not in good drinking form though he joined us for a short while at Number Twenty-2 before decided to call it a day. John and I persevered and had a few more before we both headed back south, he to London and me to Northallerton.

Later that evening I went to the Georgian Theatre at Stockton with my sister and niece to see Punishment of Luxury.

The event was being put on by the Rock Garden Revisited team - including our very own Steve Harland - who are dedicated to celebrating the history of that iconic music venue as well as bringing some of the bands back to the area for gigs.

Thankfully the roads were clear and it was a nice easy run for us up the A19. It was probably over thirty years since my last visit to Stockton - delivering an injured heron to a bird sanctuary - and it was quite dead.

It was nice and lively (and warm) when we got to the theatre - Steve on the door to welcome us as we arrived - and we headed for the bar. No real ale but they had some bottles of Keltek King which made up for it.

Two local bands were on the support roster - openers British Lichen Society had similarities to Joy Division whilst Russell & The Wolves had overtones of garage rock and rockabilly - they reminded me of the Batfish Boys, a grebo-band from Leicester that I used to see back in the mid-eighties.
They were quite a number of old punks in the crowd - they don't age well though some of them admired my niece's pink hair - very punk.

As usual, Punilux came on to Puppet Life - their 'hit' single - which got the crowd jumping around and then they went through their usual set taken from the Laughing Academy album and early singles.
(right) Jimi and Neville rock out to Brainbomb

The highlights for me were Obssession, Fracture - a number that has been developing over the past year or so - and closing the gig, Brainbomb. Fantastic.

If you want to see some of the live action, you'll find it on Youtube - you may even see me "dancing" (shuffling side to side arrythmically is probably a closer description) but don't check it out too closely.

Many thanks to Steve H and his compadres for putting this gig on and good luck with their future shows, bringing back those bands that time almost forgot...