Monday, 5 December 2011

Darlo Worth Three Points

Surprise surprise - there is another weekend of engineering on the District and Hammersmith & City lines - all in preparation for the masses for next year's Olympics - and I have to catch the 115 to Canning Town.

In order to get the best ticket prices, Martin and I are on a slightly earlier train today which means that by the time we arrive at Bank Top, I have plenty of time to pop into Taylors without wasting valuable drinking time.  I bump into Tony on the way.

Once vitteled up, we hit the Quaker a few minutes before opening so we can get out of the cold.  But we're still not the first ones in - no sirree, Bob.  There is a guy sat at the bar - he orders a bit of Old Rosie cider and by the time I've given my order, he's downed the whole pint and is ready to order another. Worrying.

On the bar today we have Allendale Swift, Jennings World's Biggest Liar, Goose Eye Black Moor & Bitter, City of Cambridge Boathouse Bitter, Wensleydale Black Dub, Saltaire Winter Ale and Grays Champion Ale.

The Swift is an old favourite of ours but the Winter Ale is a canny drop.

A good choice too up in Number Twenty-2 Bradfield Farmers Blonde, Consett Ale Works Stout, Hawkshead RedLakeland Gold, Ilkley Mary Jane, Goose Eye Pommie's Revenge and Daleside Bitter in addition to the home range.

Adam Rundle shoots and scores
Quite a few beers stand out here but the Pommie's Revenge, the ever excellent Lakeland Gold and the stout were really excellent.

Today is pretty darned cold and the first at which I'd really wished I'd put on my long johns - by the end I was frozen stiff.  I'll not make this mistake at the next game.

I think hopes amongst the fans had been raised by our away win at Ebbsfleet the previous weekend and I know that we wanted to exact revenge after Tamworth inflicted our first defeat so early into the season.

Teenage goal-hero Dale Hopson was once again the main focus of attention and once again he was working well with the rest of the team.  However chances in the first half were at a premium as Tamworth put on a professional display.

Adam Rundle hit the woodwork but there were precious few other chances for the Quakers whilst at the other end, McReady cleared off the line from Iyseden Christie (still mobile) and Sam Russell made a couple of decent saves.

With Quakers under the cosh as they protected a single-goal lead, the 19-year-old latched on to a long pass from Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, missed by keeper Jonathon Hedge who was way outside his penalty area having been forward for a corner, and showed composure to seal victory.

In the second half Darlo started to show a bit more guile with Hatch and Rundle starting to put together some decent moves and put pressure on the Tamworth back four.  But it was teenager Hopson who was the architect for the opening goal as he set Rundle free with a neat pass leaving the striker to slip the goal past the visiting keeper.

Liam Hatch puts keeper Hedge under pressure
It was probably well deserved as Darlington had been on top for quite a while and were the team pushing for a goal.

But the single goal lead started to look very slender as Tamworth came back into the game and there was some panicky defending at times as the Quakers cleared their lines. Darlo fans were starting to fear the worst.

It was from a Tamworth corner in the dying stages of the game that the home fans were able to breath a sigh of relief.  Keeper Hedge came up for the set piece but as it was cleared he raced back to his goal.

Adam Rundle picked up the ball and slipped it into the Tamworth half where Hopson picked it up and slotted it past Hedge to make it two-nil.

On the whole a deserved victory - three in a row - but Tamworth once again showed they're not a bad side and could easily have got something out of the game.  Darlo however do need to find that cutting edge up front in order to make the most of the chances we're making.

The journey is always more enjoyable after a win and we actually arrived at KX a little earlier than expected.  We popped along to the Euston Tap and were joined shortly after by Chrs and Clarkey from the London Millers.

My old Wycome chum Paul also popped in but started to feel unwell as it was pretty warm in the bar.  He left to go home and it transpired that there was a bit of a sewage leak in one corner of the bar which may have triggered this off.  Not pleasant.

As a result, Tony the manager called time, leaving us time for a final pint before we toddled off home.

Lacking Sparkle

A pretty uneventful start to the day - all clear on the tube and the usual hearty breakfast repast in Da Vincis.

And a fairly quiet trip on the train up too until we were joined by a couple of women at Doncaster.  We almost started off on the wrong foot as Martin thought one was after his seat and was getting ready for an argument.

Debutant Scott Harison
However once we'd got it sorted, we got chatting and found they were Scunthorpe fans without a game and off to York for a girly weekend.  Cue a mutual moan about how our respective teams were underperforming. 

On arrival in Darlo there was a brief detour to the covered market for some grub and then onto the Quaker - John W, Brian and Trev were already in place. Tony and Neil then joined us.
The selection at the bar included Tyne Bank - Monument Bitter and Cherry Stout, Mithril Pilgrim Fathers, York Brewery Terrier and Humbug, Hadrian & Border Enlightenment, Abbeydale Deception (which went off as I tried to get some) and Woodlands Oak Beauty.

I can't say that any of them were outstanding with probably the Humbug being the pick of the bunch but it was a low bar so it wasn't too hard to be best.

It was a totally different story up at Number Twenty-2 though - Bradfields Farmers Stout, and Brown Cow, Hawkshead Windemere Pale, Goose Eye Barm Pott, Mithril Flower Power and Lancaster Lancaster Red being the guests on offer.

The Windemere Pale and Barm Pott were excellent - and much to my surprise the Farmers Stout was also a really good beer.  I've never been impressed by Bradfield beers in the past but this made me think again.
We were joined in the pub by John Bell who'd brought along a few guests - his mum, wife Annette and their new puppy Sparkle. 

It was Sparkle's first visit to a pub and boy was she excited.  She was relatively well behaved and some of the regulars were pleased to meet her.  A bit tiring for John though as he tried to keep her under control - don't think we'll see her back for a while!

It was also nice to meet Annette after....ahem....hearing so much about her from John.  I think it is safe to say we were all expecting someone totally different!

Down at the Arena I checked in and made my way pitchside - I was beginning to wish I'd put another layer on as it was getting pretty damned cold.  I'd vowed not to make this mistake after our previous home game saw me freeze to death. 

The cold hadn't put too many people off as we had a fairly decent crowd of almost 1700 with about 50 away fans making their way north.

With a shortage of players, the game would see a debut for one of the youth team, defender Scott Harrison in as Spike Lee was put up front, as well as a first appearance for Adam Reach, on-loan from the Boro.

It was a pretty drab first-half with very little of note to report - Dale Hopson fired wide early on but we had very few clear cut attempts at goal although we did keep possession well. I spent most of the half trying to keep warm.
A rare shot for Darlo
 from Adam Rundle
To make things worse, Jamie Chandler limped off just before half-time and we lost that cutting edge in midfield.

In the second half the visitors made the most of Chandler's absence and started to show a bit of interest in the game.  This culminated in them hitting the post twice in quick succession after Russell was well beaten.

At the other end, Darlo were restricted to shooting from distance but this shouldn't be surprising as Forest Green have an excellent away record.  Clearly they are used to parking the bus after losing just one away game so far this season.

Sub Sanchez-Munoz came on as a sub but failed to make an impact and the game continued to make little impression and by now I was getting really cold and was longing for the final whistle.  When it came, the score was still 0-0 and was qute frankly a waste of everyones time.

A hassle-free journey home meant this was quite a forgettable day so far as the football was concerned - thank goodness for the excellent beer in N22 and the antics of Sparkle!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Medway Meandering

As has been too often the case in recent months, the local tube line is out of action and I must catch the 115 bus down to Canning Town tube.  It doesn't add too much to my journey time - maybe an additional 15 minutes at the most - but it is still a pain.  I don't like buses.
Still, I get to Kings Cross in time for a leisurely breakfast at Da Vincis - the main man is in today and so the chips are perfect.

Due to that element of OCD in me that makes me get to places far too early, I'm way ahead of schedule so have a good look round Foyles in the mall at St Pancras.  Even after that I'm still not expecting to see Trevor for half an hour so get a cuppa at the Sourced Market - full of healthy organic (and expensive) goodies but worth a peruse - only for Trevor to turn up, himself ahead of schedule.

The Man Of Kent
For the trip down to Kent, we're going to be taking the high-speed line from St Pancras - about 15 mins to Ebbsfleet and less than thirty to our initial destination, Rochester.

The conductor on our very empty train is a very chatty chap - took one look at us and figured we're out for a beery day. When we tell him that seeing Darlo is part of the day, he's impressed at our devotion to the cause.

I receive a call from John W - he is already in Rochester and having a look at the castle - but ten minutes later he is there to meet us at the station.

We're there at 10:30am - normally a bit too early even for us but Rochester has the early opening Britannia Cafe Bar – very reminiscent of a Wetherspoons - there is breakfast on offer but the early birds in there are all on beer. 

Three handpumps on offer featuring Gadds No 7, Abigale Ridgeway Pale Ale, and Goachers Light. We get stuck in but it isn't long before I'm interrupted by calls from Martin Deans - he's at St Pancras and wants to know how and where he gets his rail ticket.  I've spoilt him, you know.
The beers in the BCB are fine but as it approaches noon, we wander along to the Man of Kent – a pub I visited a couple of years ago when Liz and I came to take a look at what were then prospective cats.

By the time we've got our first beers, Steve Duffy has joined us.  Also lounging is the bar is pub dog Dude, looking a bit older and quieter than on my last visit.  He seems content to raise his head and check us out rather than come over to inspect us as he used to.

As ever there is an excellent array of Kent's finest at the bar: Wrigglers Best Bitter. Whitstable Pearl of Kent, Abigale Ridgeway Pale Ale, Wantsum Black Prince, Kentish Ale Dominator, Gads Dogbolter, Goachers Mild and Gold Star, Tonbridge Rustic and Old Dairy Sun Tap.

Synchronised waving
Even when the bar is quiet with just a few customers, the pub is somewhere you immediately feel at home and it would be very easy to spend the rest of the day there.

After trying a decent number of beers though we resist and head back to the station.

Just a short hop to Ebbsfleet station and, thanks to Martin, we take the  short cut through car park C to Ebbsfleet's Stonebridge Road ground.

I pass Howard - busy chatting to the driver of Darlo's team coach and trying to get some gossip - I leave him to it and head off to sign in.

A very friendly welcome from all the stewards for what is an unsegregated crowd.   The stadium is neat and tidy - two stands and a covered terrace plus an open end.  The sort of ground that would suit Darlo.
The squad were still warming up as I wandered out onto the pitch, being careful to avoid being hit by some of the wayward shooting on display. Hopefully they’ll be better during the game.

The Darlo side had a new face as Dale Hopson, another product of the youth team set-up, made his senior debut. However his performance belied his lack of experience as Darlo played the best football that I’ve seen this season.

After all the recent news about Darlington’s off-the-field woes, the home side were probably surprised by the way that Darlington attacked them straight from the kick-off. There was no shortage of creative effort as Darlo ran rings around the Ebbsfleet defence with Hopson playing neat passing football with Rundle, McReady and Hatch and looking every bit an established player.

The major surprise of the first half was that Darlington had only achieved a single goal lead as various players went close to opening the scoring with keeper Edwards pulling off some decent saves and Darlo going close on numerous occasions.
Liam Hatch opens the scoring
The goal finally came after former Gravesend and Northfleet (as Ebbsfleet were then) player Liam Hatch stabbed home from close range after the home keeper failed to deal with a cross from Mark Bridge-Wilkinson.

Darlington continued to dominate after the break but failed to capitalise on their creativity. Ebbsfleet slowly started to come into the game and it looked like we would be made to pay when the home side equalised.

The ball was played into the Darlo penalty area – Sam Russell came out to clear but was beaten to the ball as Willock headed into the net. Rather a soft goal.

Far too often in the past Darlo would have crumbled and conceded the initiative at this point but not today as we went straight back on the attack. And it took just a few minutes to restore the lead as Hatch scored his second goal of the game.

Hopson was again involved, laying off the ball to MB-W – his cross found Hatch in plenty of space and time to welly the ball past the keeper. The away fans go wild.

It was then that our composure deserted us as Ebbsfleet pressed harder and we started to panic and lose our shape. Thanks to some last gasp blocks and one superb tackle from captain Ian Miller, we held out.

It was from one Ebbsfleet corner that Darlo secured the points – the ball falling to sub James Gray who fed it forward. The home defence failed to intercept the pass and Hopson ran free and left one-on-one with the keeper. Hopson shimmied to send the keeper the wrong way and slotted the ball home like a seasoned pro.

Cue more Darlo mayhem on the terraces and celebration as the final whistle blew a few seconds later. 

This was a great victory – not just the performance but the superb attitude shown by the players and the way we went about playing the game. Clearly Craig Liddle has got the lads fired up and this was a real morale boost for fans and players.
Dale Hopson scores his debut goal
Highlights of the game can be seen here.

After the game we hurried back to Ebbsfleet station, just missing a train back to London but we didn't have to wait long for another.  The fifteen minute journey is very impressive and so we're in the Euston Tap by 6pm.

An old chum of mine from Newcastle CAMRA, John Holland, popped in for a quick half so it was good to catch up with all the pub news from there - not that I'll get a chance to try any for a while given the Gateshead game is on Boxing Day.

Some cracking beers in here tonight - Fyne West Highlander Black IPA, Redemption Fellowship Porter (to keep John W happy) and a trio from the wonderful Magic Rock brewery - Curious NZ on cask with High Wire and Cannoball IPA on nu-keg.  Superb!

But eventually the hunger pangs began to win the battle over my thirst and I headed home for a curry.  A most excellent day out from start to finish. More please!

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Nature of Addiction

For once on a weekend, football wasn't at the centre of my universe - thanks of course to the three-nil humiliation at Hinckley which was the start of yet another low point in Darlo's history.

In truth, I wouldn't have attended a game even if Darlo had been in the first round of the FA Cup as I was already committed to attending a few gigs of one of my favourite musicians.

Devin Townsend is the fella - one-time vocalist for guitar noodler Steve Vai before creating his own extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad - and in recent years he has formed his band the Devin Townsend Project which is a bit more mellow.

Townsend was playing four straight nights in London - each gig devoted to one of his quadrilogy of DTP albums - and I was aiming to go to three of them, joined by my niece Allie who has seemingly got similar tastes to me. Gotta love those genes!

The venue for the first two gigs was the University of London Union which is close to Euston and therefore pre-gig beers were taken at the Euston Tap a few hundred yards away. Perfect for getting that pre-gig atmosphere.

The first night was devoted to Ki which is the first of the quadrilogy - quite an even paced album with a mixture of slow and fast numbers.  The venue was packed with fans from all over the world - many making the journey from North America and Scandinavia - devotion to the cause.

For the next day - when Addicted was the album to be performed - Allie and I were joined by Liz. I'd bought VIP tickets which meant we would do a meet'n'greet with the band before the gig.

Once again a few pre-gig beers in the Tap before we headed off and joined the queue of other VIPers.  As we were let in we were all given a goody bag (t-shirt,  poster, exclusive tracks on RAM key, programme, laminate etc) before the band were brought in to meet us all.

Devin got the most attention but the rest of the band are a friendly and, I'm pleased to say, hairy bunch of individuals who were genuinely pleased to meet their fans and have a good time.  The other fans were good too - no one pushing in to get to see the band first.

Being a VIP meant we were let into the venue first and so most of us headed down to the front - even if there was another three hours before the band were onstage.
Brian Waddell and Hairy Fan (who may have had a beer or two)
Support for tonight was a band called Amplifier who I'd not previously encountered.  I'd heard one track a day or so beforehand which sounded promising.

However they totally exceeded my expectations with their 40 minute set - a stunning wall of sounds - part progressive, part space-rock.  I shall be checking out their back catalogue immediately.  Check this track out - brilliant.

After what seemed an age setting up the gear for DTP and a few gremlins in the first couple of numbers, Devin hit the strage and proceeded to play Addicted in track order. The sound was excellent, helped by the vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen - what a pair of lungs. Nice legs too! And stood directly in front of me too.

There are a couple of good clips here and here.  Or this one which is taken by somebody directly behind me - quality isn't brilliant, especially my singing.

Overall the best gig I've attended for a long, long time for sound and atmosphere.  A great day from start to finish. And there will be a DVD of it too - can't wait!
Hairy Fan, Devin Townsend and niece Allie

Monday, 7 November 2011

First Victory for caretaker Liddle

A fairly pleasant start to the day in Da Vincis - the chips not quite up to their usual standard but the rest of the breakfast was fine.  Martin joined me and brought me up to date on our midweek cup defeat at Hinckley which led to Raj Singh sacking Mark Cooper.

And to top nit all there was talk of the chairman wanting to renegotiate contracts with the players as he clearly feels - and it would be difficult to argue against the premise - that the club isn't getting value for money.

The journey was spent discussing the merits of those candidates who'd been linked with the vacant job - Colin Cooper and Ronnie Moore being two of the early favourites, the latter not finding much favour with me.

As we approached Newark I was sad to see that the Electric Lightning which had stood in the rail-side scrapyard had gone.  This was an iconic aircraft and I'd seen it there ever since I first travelled to London and it was odd to see it had gone.

Tony met us as the station and we dropped by the covered market for some vittles before getting to the Quaker.

On offer today we had Covenant and Sedona from Summer Wine, Maxim Anderson Best Scotch, Otter Witch, Tall Ships & Rievers IPA from Hadrian & Border, Arkells Kingsdown and Springhead Bare Bones.

It was the Summer Wine beers which stood out for me here - they're a cracking new brewery with some really exciting beers.

In our next port of call, Number Twenty-2, there was a decent choice - Salopian Icon Bitter, Saltaire Triple Chocolate Stout, County Town Gundog Bitter, Thwaites Wainwright, Brakspeak Bitter, Arkells Moonlight and an old favourite, Ringwoods Old Thumper.

Sam Russell makes a good early save
The Gundog Bitter is a beer from Northallerton's new brewery and was quite a nice drop - not quite up to the standard of Summer Wine but time will tell on how they develop.

We were delayed on our way to the Arena after our taxi driver was late - it seems to be a new lot running the cabs these days and they're not quite as on the ball.

Due to our late arrival there wasn't much time to catch up on the gossip as I needed to get straight out onto the pitch. There was just time for Martin to let me know that Len Blockley's family were in attendance today as they interred his ashes behind one of the goals.

Craig Liddle took charge of the team for the day - having made clear he doesn't want the job on a permanent basis (who can blame him) - and he can probably be pleased with the showing from the lads.

The first half was quite positive although both sides could probably have stepped up a few gears and made more of the game.

Darlington scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half after Telford had a couple of good early chances - Sam Russell pulling off a very good save and a Telford forward shooting wide.

The goal came after Ryan Bowman was tripped in the area - Mark Bridge-Wlkinson converting the penalty to get his third goal of the season.

The second half was not very exciting though Darlo came close on a couple of occasions through MB-W and Walshaw (on for the injured Campbell).  As the game came to a close, Telford threw caution to the wind and pushed forward in an effort to regain parity but the defence held firm.

It wasn't the most convincing of victories but is just what the club needs at this moment -with no game for a fortnight perhaps this will give Raj time to appoint a new manager before we head down to Ebbsfleet.

Ryan Bowman cut down int the box - penalty to Darlo
On the way back to London, we were supposed to change trains at Doncaster but we were told the train we wanted was only going to Newark and were advised to catch another train which was just about to leave.
We caught it with seconds to spare - thankfully West Ham fans who'd been playing Donny that day had been sent home via Sheffield as the police weren't keen on them hanging around.

Our train ran onto Newark where we were delayed for ten minutes to change the locomotives and suddenly we were heading back north again with no word of explanation.  I was half expecting to return to Donny but it was only when I spied Lincoln Cathedral out of the window that I realised we were heading to Kings Cross via Sleaford and the darkest parts of Cambridgeshire to Peterborough.

Not a very quick journey - we had been due in at 9:30pm but it was 11pm by the time we rolled into London and my plans to have a drink with Wycombe buddy Paul ruined.

Very annoying but it would have been much, much worse if we'd have lost...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Braintree - End of the Line

For once I was not the first out of the house - Liz was up bright and early to attend the Festival Of Romance in sunny Kings Langley - perhaps that is where I should have gone.

At the start of the season, our game at Braintree promised to be quite straightforward to get to - just wander into town and get a train from Liverpool Street. But no, engineering works on the entire line meant a trip to Newbury Park tube to pick up a replacement bus service.

As I had some time on my hands I went via Stratford and popped into Westfield Stratford City, the humungous shopping centre that has been erected alongside the Olympic site. The largest in Europe I'm told. And they have a Lakeland. First impression? F Huge.

The bus from Newbury Park took us along the A12 to Ingatstone, a small Essex commuter town, arriving in time for me to miss a connecting train by two minutes!

The next train was not for almost another hour but the station is a quaint little place with a drinks stall and waiting room full of train magazines. With a nice cup of tea it was quite a restful place to watch the world go by for a while.

Not many people joined the train to Braintree which runs down a small single-track line through pretty Essex countryside - and Braintree was end of the line.

The only decent pub open on arrival was a nearby Wetherspoons - in this case a converted cinema called the Picture Palace (a lot of thought went into that). There was a bit of a queue at the bar - mainly for people ordering food or coffee which had the bloke in front of me fuming.

It was the end of their International Beer Festival and they still had a few decent beers on - I had Woodfordes Ketts Rebellion, Tring Pudding Porter and Gywnt y Ddraig Black Dragon (for the second time in a few weeks).

I had expected John, Rich and Andy from Darlo to be here but it looks like they were still on the bus to Ingatestone.

The next port of call was the William IV - about a mile walk to the edge of the town but after emailing the pub, it promised to be Greene King-free so was worth the effort.

As I got there, John Wilson was dropped off and Martin arrived in his car. We tried to find the best way in without running the gauntlet of the large dog in the garden but that proved to be the only way in. Once inside the garden though the dog turned out to be a big softie.

As promised, a decent selection of beers on offer - Wibblers Hop Harvest, Mighty Oak Seventh Heaven, Marston Moor Matchlock Mild and Bishop Nick Ridley's Rite.

(right) Whispering Ray tries to put a happy face on things

The latter is from the Ridley family who once ran the Ridley brewery which used to brew some excellent beers but disappeared off the scene a few years ago. Good to see them back.

John and I got a taxi to the Cressing Road ground - a compact little stadium amongst a housing estate (reminding me of Dagenham & Redbridge). No segregation today which was nice to see.

I headed to the turnstile to sign in - unfotunately despite having contacted the club about a press pass (and getting an acknowledgement) I was not on their list. If I wanted to go in I had to pay £15. I paid.

It seems that all the Darlo press mob - Ray, Craig and Les - had the same problem despite all contacting the Essex club beforehand. It did seem very odd, not to say underhand, and certainly against the accepted norms.

John and I found somewhere to stand, close to the main stand, and got chatting to an exile Darlo fan. Mike is originally from Catterick but was living not far from John in Beckenham, south London.

Another new face in the starting eleven for Darlington today - Nialle Rodney on loan from Bradford - a striker who would hopefully add to the five goals Braintree conceded in their last game.

It was the home side that started off most confidently and Darlo found it hard to keep moves going - they were constantly chasing the ball and there was minimal service to new-boy Rodney.

He did have one good chance in the first half when the Braintree keeper palmed the ball towards him. At first he looked as if he blazed the ball over but after looking at my shots it looks like a defender handled the ball.

I was manging to have a good shout at proceedings - not something I normally do when 'on duty' especially if I'm close to the officials but after paying to come in, I wanted to get value for money.

(left) Spike Kee's header creeps into the goal

It looked like being nil-nil as half-time approached but the home team took the lead as Stevens stabbed the ball home from a yard out after a free-kick bypassed the Quakers' defence.

Rodney was replaced by Liam Hatch for the second half - to his relief I suspect - but Darlington's task was made worse after just a few minutes after Davis headed home to double the lead. Poor defending.

On the away bench, Cooper and Dryden looked completely lost - Terry Cooper was also on the bench but did not appear to offer any advice to his son. I don't think there was any to give.

And after an hour it was 3-0 to Braintree after Soderberg parried a shot but the ball fell to a Braintree foot and was easily slotted home.

John McReady as was another debutant, James Gray, were brought on and things started to look a bit better for a while as they brought a bit of vigour to the Darlo attack.

It paid off after 80 mins as Spike Lee headed off after the ball bobbed around the Braintree box - something for the travelling fans to cheer at long last but it was too little, too late.

As the final whistle went and the Darlo fans left, most were of the opinion that Cooper's time was up and it was very hard to come up with an argument against this.

Mike drove us back into town and we popped into the Waggon and Horses for a drink. Despite being a Greene King pub they had a wide range of beers and we tried the Cambridge Bitter whilst waiting for Bev to join us.

Mike was then kind enough to give us a lift back to London, dropping us at Stratford so we could try a beer at the latest craft bar, Tap East, in Westfield.

This is run by the same mob who run the Rake at London Bridge and it has a nice mixture of UK cask beers and foreign keg beer. I had a pint of Magic Rock Rapture - a lovely beer from one of the top breweries in the UK today.

It won't be long before the Tap East starts brewing themselves with John's old mate Eddie doing the honours. I suspect we'll be back again in the not-too-distant future...

(above) "What time is it", asks Cooper. "Time to go" replies Dryden.

Spanish Gold and Darlo Delight

For the home game with Kidderminster I was already in the north - visiting my Mum in Northallerton - and so I was able to get through to Darlo nice and early and have a damn fine breakfast followed by a quick peruse around time and a visit to Taylors.

Of course this also meant I was first into the Quakerhouse which had one of the best selections for quite a few weeks -Osset Silver Link, Jarrow Westoe IPA, William Bros 7 Giraffes, Wylam Hablon Nouveau, Mithril Scrum Down, Tirril Pilsner, Oakham Mompessons Gold, Acorn Old Moor Porter and Ilkley Smoked Witch.

The 7 Giraffes was the pick of the bunch but the Oakham wasn't far behind.

Despite this excellence, we wandered up to Number Twenty-2 and it had to be said they had a pretty cracking range on too -Everards Pitch Black Stout, Exe Valley Viceroy IPA, Black Sheep Emmerdale, Hawkshead Windemere Pale, FFF Alton's Pride and Daleside Old Legover.

No question here as to the best beer - the Windemere Pale blew all the others away and it has also come in for a lot of praise amongst the beer bloggerati.  A brewery with a bright future.

But all good things must come to an end and so we made our way to the Arena where the prospect of a tight contest awaited us.  Kiddy had excellent away record but after Darlo's 4-3 win at Stockport a few days earlier, it was time to put a spoiler on the visitors' record.

It was not going to be easy as Spike Lee had suffered an injury in training so Jonathan Sanchez-Munoz retained his place as Cooper kept the same side from Stockport.

James Walshaw takes a tumble

Lee's continued absence also meant a home debut for Exodus Geohagon - Big Ex as he is destined to be known as at 6ft 5in he is a rather hefty bugger.

Big Ex also has a mean throw on him and this is something Darlo looked to use whenever possible. A nice thing to have but I hope we don't use it all the time.

Out on the right wing Adam Rundle impressed and produced some good crosses which put the Kiddy keeper under quite a bit of pressure before hitting a corker of a long-distance shot which was pushed wide.

For their part Kiddy didn't create many chances but thankfully spurned a good one before the half-time whistle.  And the after the restart Ole Soderberg was beaten but the bar saved him.

The Quakers should have had a penalty early in the second half after James Walshaw was taken out though it has to be said that Walshaw doesn't help matters as he can be a bit theatrical.

Darlo continued to attack but the Kiddy defence were defending well with some real last gasp blocks and it looked like the game would be goalless.

And then with ten minutes remaining Darlo got a throw which allowed Big Ex to hoist a ball deep into the Kiddy box - this was cleared but only as far as Jamie Chandler - he popped the ball back in where Big Ex flicked it to Sanchez-Munoz who finished neatly from close-range for his first goal for the club.

Kidderminster rallied and had a couple of good chances - one after Sanchez-Munoz was turned inside out by the Kiddy forward line but for once Sodeberg looked in control and came out to gather the ball.

The lead could have been doubled at the end as Darlo attacked on the counter - Bowman outran the Kiddy defence but hit the post with only the keeper to beat.

Overall a very decent performance, especially after Tuesday's win, and it goes someway to ridding the memory of that woeful performance just one week ago at Bath.

Sanchez-Munoz scores his debut goal to win the game for the Quakers

Monday, 10 October 2011

Darlo's form down the plughole!

Another one of those annoying days where the District line wasn't running on my end of the line so it was a no 5 down to Canning Town instead where I could join the Jubilee line and along to Paddington.

For breakfast we were re-visiting Raffles on Craven Road - in the past it has been just about OK and if there were other decent ones in the area then we'd go elsewhere.

However I had the Chef's Special - basically the normal breakfast, no chips but with orange juice and marmalade (though I didn't actually get the latter) - and it was very good. Even the standard catering-type sausage had some taste.

The journey to Bath passed by quickly - John read his paper and I rested my eyes for a while - and we were greeted at the station by Trev who was billetted just down the road in nearby Keynsham with his better half.

We hadn't wandered far into town before Brian called to see where we were. He soon caught up and the four of us wandered up along the river and then popped into a free art exhibition for a small dollop of culture.

The West Gate was our first pub for the day and it had a rather disappointing selection of beers, certainly compared to last season - GK IPA, Wadworth 6X, Morland Old Speckled Hen and Ringwoods Exmoor Gold - we all opted for pints of the Exmoor Gold. We'd not been there long when Steve joined us.

There were some decent ciders though - Gwynt y Draig Black Dragon and Mr Whiteheads Equinox - the Black Dragon was a quaffable 4.5% so not too dangerous as a second lunchtime pint.

From here we took a pair of taxis to the Royal Oak - only to get there and find the pub closed. I knocked on the door and the manager came out to say his staff hadn't turned up and he wouldn't be opening for an hour at least! Not keen on the thought of having to serve a few people on his own obviously.

(left) Liam Hatch tries to decapitate the opposition

This was a bit of a blow but Steve remembered there was another decent pub nearby - the White Horse - and so it proved but it was up a very steep hill, way above the ground. Both Brian and I were puffing like good 'uns by the time we got to the top.

A decent selection of beers - Otter Bitter and Head, Yeovil Ales Star Gazer and Devilfish That Gold Devil. We got stuck into our beers and then set about warning others that the Royal Oak was shut.

I got chatting to Jase the landlord - a nice young lad who has turned the pub around from serving one middling ale to having a good regualr selection, occasional beer festivals and a nice tasty menu (doing the cooking himself) which lead to it becoming Bath Pub of the Year 2011.

John B joined us after a while - he'd decided to walk from the station - and then a rare appearance from Frank (joejacques in Darlo Uncovered MB-speak) who is exiled in peaceful Milfordhaven which makes Bath a local-ish fixture for him.

Some may remember Frank as he dressed up as a Quaker for the FA Trophy final - or even many moons ago when he turned up at an away game at Huddersfield after shaving half his beard off! It was good to see him again.

I left the gang a little early so I could collect my press pass - it seemed quite busy today in the home end and it turned out they were doing a special offer for students.

No major changes in the squad - a nice day for football, dry and quite warm and a nice friendly ambience at this cosy little ground. Time to get our season back on track.

A slow start to the game - not a lot happening at all - the only excitement was for me when the senior steward came striding towards me. Apparently I wasn't wearing a bib and the ref was complaining.

Normally a club will issue a bib before we come on but we didn't get any on our visit here last season - thankfully I carry a spare hi-vis bib so not a problem for me. Amusing though that the ref might confuse me with a footballer - quite heartening I suppose!

Chances were limited for both teams in the first half - we had the odd skirmish but their keeper only had to deal with a couple of crosses although he was probably thankful that Arnison's long-range shot went narrowly wide.

Unfortunately for Arnison that was about it - he was injured shortly afterwards and was stretchered off to be replaced by Chris Atkinson.

(right) Mark Copper wonders where it all went wrong

Ole Sodeberg didn't really have to touch the ball in the first half - he carefully watched a couple of shots go the right side of the woodwork - but the makeshift defence managed to keep things at bay.

Overall though Bath City looked the livelier outfit as Darlo failed to hit any sort of rhythm - it was a painful sight and the management team looked extremely frustrated at their lack of progress.

At half-time I joined the others for a quick natter before joining the queue for some chips, only getting served seconds before the game resumed ("queue full of students, you're just a queue full of students").

Adam Rundle and the Bath City subs warmed up around me and you could see their eyes light up as they saw (and smelt) my potato lovelies. And very good they were too.

Early in the second half substitutes John Campbell and Ryan Bowman were sent on for Walshaw and Purcell - Bowman worked hard and made some progress but Campbell looked lost (though to be fair the service to him was minimal).

With about twenty minutes to go the deadlock was broken as the Quakers failed to clear a corner and the ball was tapped into an open goal. Bath joy, Darlo despair.

And then a few minutes later, Bath forward Phillips was given far too much time and space and slotted the ball past Sodeburg. Darlo despair doubled.

The away side looked stunned and completely lost as they tried to get back into the game - Campbell had an effort cleared off the line and Hatch headed over but that was as good as it got. Not very good in fact.

Mark Cooper disappeared into the dugout as he seems to do at times like these whilst Dryden tried to chivy the players. I suspect that like the rest of us, Cooper is at a loss for the continued poor performances.

Darlo fans vented their fury on the players after the final whistle - Brough came in for some stick which was a tad unfair as he wasn't the worst of the bunch - and at least he came over to the fans unlike some others who just went straight to the dressing room.

Thankfully we had a taxi booked to pick us up and so it wasn't long before we were at the station. Trev and Steve left to get their trains whilst Brian, the two Johns and myself headed off to the Raven.

The place was quite busy when we got there - we had a pint of Vale VPA but it wasn't brilliant - not a bad pint but not something we were enjoying and most of us failed to finish them before we headed off to the Volunteer and Rifleman (or the Volly for short).

A pub we'd never tried and I wished we hadn't - a bit of a rugger-buggers pub. As I walked in, a guy in a Wales RFC shirt said "shouldn't you be in New Zealand, ha ha?". A reference, dear reader, to my alleged likeness to France rugby player Sebastien Chabal.

I can't remember the beer we had but it was rather uninspiring too. In fact I think the best drinks were the That Gold Devil and the Black Dragon cider.

A strange day overall in which the highlight was probably the breakfast and it isn't often I say that...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

You Knows It...

The recent set of results for Darlo - 4 defeats and 2 draws - had seen the messageboards approach meltdown with the knee-jerk suggestions of the great Darlo-supporting public (whatever that is) and debating whether we would be better off with or without Mark Cooper.

My view is that whilst Cooper is not perfect, the team have certainly not lived up to the pre-season hype following the FA Trophy win and have certainly under-performed far too often.

There was a key change in personnel with several players departing - some such as Tommy Wright and Chris Senior were expected and probably did not have a major impact whilst others - Paul Terry and Gary Smith as well as Arman Verma - have probably affected the squad more significantly on and off the pitch.

Today we add into this mix the reappearance of that perennial jinx, Howard, so that you would fear the worst for Darlo in their home game against Newport.

On the journey north, Martin outlined the utter despondency of the midweek defeat at home to Southport. A horror story - I'm glad I wasn't there.

At Doncaster a plane spotter joined our table - he was an exiled Geordie so it wasn't long before we got talking about football before talking about planes and how the US had ripped off our best designs - we were quite cheery when we arrived at Bank Top.

Howard went off to Taylors whilst I headed straight for the Quaker where I found some peple sitting at "our" table. I then noticed that half the handpumps were off. Just what was going on?

It turns out that some repairs were being made to the handpumps which meant a reduced choice: Tirril Moroccan Sunset, Jarrow McConnel's Irish Stout, Mithril Ale's Odd Shaped Balls, Lymestone Stonecutter and Banks & Taylor's Edwin Taylors Extra Stout.

(left) Gary Smith and Sam Russell have a mutual moan

Unusually I only tried a couple of halves - the Moroccan Sunset and the Stonecutter before I decided to stick to the latter as it was a tasty session beer.

I'd been joined by Trevor, Brian and John W - no Tony as he was saving himself for a 6km run the next day - and after a while our table was vacated, we moved in and the match-day status quo was restored. These things are important.

And then onto Number Twenty-2 - Mordue Radgie Gadgie, Jarrow McConnells Irish Stout and Saltaire South Island Pale on tap in addition to the home beers.

Tony finally joined us at the pub for a couple of halves before he drove us down to the Arena. A low crowd was being mooted and it certainly wasn't very busy when we got there.

I had a quick peruse of the club shop but nothing really jumped out at me so I headed to reception and signed in.

As I went for my pre-match wee up on level 1, I bumped into DAFTS Steve Rees - he's not been well recently but he is out of hospital now and getting to games by use of a wheelchair although he is starting to get around on crutches. Good to see him back - no reason why he shouldn't suffer like everyone else!

The main item of team news was the dropping of keeper Sam Russell - replaced by Newcastle's number 5 keeper, Ole Sodeberg. A tad harsh on Russell as he hadn't done a lot wrong so far and he's certainly saved us in some games. e.g. Grimsby.

The first half was a tightly contested affair - Darlington had probably the majority of possession and did seem to be making a concious effort.

Newport however applied some pressure so that there were some hasty clearances by the home defence - clearly they hadn't had much time to work with the new keeper and weren't prepared to leave things to him unless absolutely necessary.

(right) Michael Brough shoots

For their part, the home crowd was being supportive and were only too willing to applaud hard work and good play although there was still the odd moan and groan when passes went astray.

But there was a big smile on the faces of the home fans after thirty minutes when MB-W scored from the penalty spot.

Tadhg Purcell was deemed to have been bundled over - and from what I saw through my lens it could have been one of a couple of defenders who were responsible - the ref was adamant and who am I to argue?

And then after fifteen minutes of the second half, Purcell was once again involved - this time to poke home the ball after Hatch had headed down a cross. It was cleared by the Newport defence but only after it had crossed the line and there were a few heart-stopping seconds before we were sure we'd scored.

At half-time I noticed Gary Smith in block 11 - apparently he has been to a few games this season - and he came down to the pitch to have a few words with an obviously unhappy Sam Russell.

In the second half, Darlo created a few more chances - MB-W going close with a long range shot which almost made it 3-0.

Debutant Sodeberg didn't have a lot more to do except collect a couple of crosses - unfortunately he fumbled the ball on each occasion. Peter Beardsley was in the stand, presumably making notes - I suspect like me, he wasn't greatly impressed.

All in all it wasn't a brilliant performance but we did what we had to and got all three points. Jamie Chandler worked his socks off and was rightly awarded declared man of the match. I thought the defence played well and protected their new keeper. Up front Purcell looked busier - hopefully his first goal will spur him on.

On the way back to the station we stopped off to get some fish and chips - very nice they were too - before catching the train back to King's Cross.

We had planned to celebrate the win with a few beers in the Euston Tap but Martin was developing a healthy sniffle all the way back and he decided to just go home instead.

(above) Mark Bridge-Wilkinson scores from the penalty spot to give the Qaukers the lead

Friday, 30 September 2011

State of the (Cask Ale) Nation

By way of something different, I thought I would point you all to an interesting publication – the latest version of the annual Cask Report.

It is an interesting read, mainly aimed at publicans in order for them to understand the trends in current drinking with respect to cask beers.

All beer sales are down but less so in the cask beer market which seems to be at an all-time high, certainly from my experiences visiting pubs in recent years (and that is before we consider the craft beer/nu-keg movement).

Therefore this report looks to helping publicans by outlining what they can do to use cask beer to improve their business. It isn't simply a case of adding a few handpumps to the bar.

There are an unprecedented number of new breweries across the country but it has to be said though that not all of them are producing top quality beers.

This was certainly our experience at the latest Darlo beer festival - lots of new breweries but hardly any beers that you would want to have again. It isn't much fun having a local brewery if their output is no better than the likes of Greene King.

One of the most interesting things it highlights is the way in which it regards younger drinkers as being less loyal – what is calls repertoire drinking – which worries me slightly. Will they stop drinking cask as soon as the next big thing comes along?

It also suggests the those new to cask beers often look to try it as it has a retro feel about it – how’s that for making you feel old? I’ve never thought as myself as retro before though I'd accept being described as stuck in a time warp.

Not so sure I agree with one of the statements regarding cider suggesting - “it also substitutes for ale because as well as being cold and refreshing, pouring a bottle into a pint glass over ice is a slow, relaxed, seated occasion – the same as ale”. Hmmmmm.

You can download the report here.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Darlo Got The Blues

As someone who can be a bit superstitious, especially when Darlo are not doing too well, I decided to try somewhere else for breakfast today - the Station Sandwich Bar & Cafe on Pentonville Road. A very good breakfast but would it bring us luck?

I caught a slow train to Cambridge and had virtually a whole carriage to myself - makes a very nice change and it is certainly the most peaceful journey I've had for a long time.

Chaos on arrival at Cambridge though where there was an almighty scrum to get out as it seemed the whole of the city were inside intent on buying tickets, presumably to somewhere else.

Whilst waiting for Tony's train to arrive I checked out the site of what will eventually be the Cambridge Tap - sister of the Euston Tap - just a few yards from the station exit. Something to look forward to next season perhaps?

(left) Steve, John and Tony waiting for the Cambridge Blue to open

A call from John W to say the Cambridge Blue didn't open until noon - despite what is says in the latest GBG - meant a change of plan.

Tony and I wandered off to a local butcher for some pies before meeting Steve, John and various other Darlo fans outside the Live and Let Live.

Due to open at 11:30am, it was opened with apparent reluctance four minutes late - inside there were only half of the hand pumps on and then one beer went off as the first pint was being pulled.

The remainder of the beers on offer were not the most appealing so we decided to give it all a miss. A shame as we have been coming here for years but it didn't impress last season and I think we'll give it a miss in future.

We then walked to the Cambridge Blue - with a quick visit into Bacchanalia for me so I can lust over various bottles of foreign beeriness - and had just a short wait before landlord Jethro let us in a few minutes early.

A mouth-watering choice on offer - Woodfordes Wherry, Elland Moonbeam Rider, Oakham Musashi and Inferno, Humpty Dumpty Swingbridge Stout and Swallowtail, Cottage Trident and Bank Top Barley to Beer.

The best of the bunch for me was the Musashi and the Moonbeam Rider which turned out to be a rye lager - very interesting but a tad fruity for Tony's palate.

It was my first visit here - other than an abortive one last season - the front of the pub is very traditional whilst the new extension - leading to a large garden at the rear - was quite obviously recent but still matched the rest of the pub.

There were quite a few DAFTS here today - Colin, Neil and family, Ely Steve and Huntingdon Mark who were meeting Paul and Mags and then the Darlo beerhounds - Rich, John and Andy.

We decided against the long walk to the ground and took a cab - annoyingly it was a little tardy and then took us on what seemed to be a roundabout route.

(right) Walshaw celebrates but he was offside

Despite our worries we were there about fifteen minutes before kick-off - plenty of time for me to collect my pass.

No time to have a chat with anyone before kick-off though - only just long enough to get my gear out and take a few practice shots. A nice sunny and no sign of rain - just right.

Darlo were defending the goal at the away end and were soon under pressure - Ian Miller was out injured and was replaced by Sunchez-Munoz who looked a bit lost.

Cambridge applied early pressure and caused Sam Russell a few scares and it wasn't long before yet another cross was not picked up by our defence and left Michael Gash to head home smartly from about ten yards. Very sloppy.

Darlington came into the game a bit more - Chandler shot from the edge of the box and Walshaw hit the side netting but we conceded too much possession to the home side and can only have been grateful to go into the break just one goal down.

At the whistle, Mark Cooper was straight onto the pitch with the ball to give the referee the benefit of his opinion. Unsurprisingly the referee took exception and at the restart, Cooper was exiled to the unused half of the away end. Solitary confinement.

Darlington were not a lot better in the second half - Bowman replaced the ineffectual Purcell and put himself about to some effect but Rory McAuley in the centre of the home defence gave nothing away.

The only time he was beaten was when Greg Taylor hit the bar and then Walshaw prodded the ball into the net from close range but was offside.

Cambridge then extended their lead after an hour and that was about it. Campbell and Arnison were brought on but it made no difference - the game was up. Goodnight Vienna!

After the final whistle we walked back across the fields - careful to avoid the cowpats - and made our way back into town.

(left) Cooper making his feelings known

Sad to see that the Greyhound pub - which we used for a pre-match boozer for many years - is now boarded up and closed.

Tony and I made a quick detour to pick up some bottles from Bacchanalia - some Belgian and US saison beers for me - before joining the others in the Devonshire Arms.

A few Milton beers - Sparta, Minotaur, Pegasus and Nero of what I can remember plus a few guests, White Horse Village Idiot and a couple from Wentworth, WPA and Lemon. The Sparta though is one of my favourites and it didn't disappoint whilst John W found the vanilla taste of the Nero a bit too much.

Neil and Mari joined us with son Martin who tried to climb around the pub when their backs were turned - a right little devil - where does he get it from?

After a couple of pints it was time to wander back to London - thankfully an express service which took just forty-five minutes. Cambridge as ever was a great place for good pubs but the poor performance really put a downer on the day.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Luton Hoo-doo Continues

No early morning rush for me today as I accompanied Liz into town - her plans to meet fellow London Millers was nearly derailed by a signal problem at King's Cross but as things turned out she got there with time to spare and after a quick chat with Jenny and Chris, I left them to their train.

I popped up the Euston Road to meet John Wilson and then we both headed to a newly discovered breakfast venue, hidden away behind St Pancras church on a little pedestrian street, the Sorrento Snack Bar.

John and I had tried to eat here once before but it doesn't open early but no such problems today and when we arrived there were a few tables spare.

The place seems to be run by three elderly ladies - presumably of Italian descent - who run it in a very precise but friendly way. Every customer is "My darling" to the one in charge. I have a side order of black pudding so I can make a full appraisal of their wares.

The breakfast turns out to be one of the better ones we've had for a while - very well cooked chips and bacon, moist black pud, strong tea and excellent toast - the only minus points would be awarded for the less than inspiring catering sausage. Recommended nonetheless for both the food and the friendly reception.

We wander along to St Pancras - having a quick look at the beers in the Sourced market - before meeting Steve Duffy and catching the train to Luton.

(left) Ian Miller makes a timely tackle on Luton new boy Fleetwood

We had timed our train so we wouldn't be too early since the Bricklayers Arms didn't open until noon.

However we had a smug text from John Bell - who'd caught an earlier train - that the pub was already open as it was showing the rugby world cup game. Damn - rugger bugger types in the pub!

Thankfully by the time we got there the game was over and things were not too bad. A decent selection at the bar - JHB and Inferno from Oakham, Azzaskunk and Lemon & Ginger from Nethergate, St Peter's Organic Best and regular beer Bateman's XB.

I restricted myself to both Oakham beers - not very adventurous but you simply can't go wrong with these two - and the sips of the Nethergate beers I had convinced me I made the right choice. In fact they were going down rather too well.

We left in time for a leisurely walk to the ground - I picked up my pass from the ticket office and went off to collect my bib. Like last season I positioned myself at the front of the unused away section which offers a decent view.

Making his debut today was recent signing, Sanchez-Munoz, who was playing at left-back. He certainly looked a big lad and some of his early touches were impressive.

However Darlo were on the back foot for most of the first half - not helped by a seemingly voice-activated ref who gave a foul virtually every time a Luton player flung themselves to the ground. Very frustrating.

Not content with this the referee must have got a new notebook as he was certainly keen to take down a few names - Darlo players only though. Do I sound bitter?

Luton had their new £75,000 striker on display - Stuart Fleetwood - and he was out to show exactly why they'd paid all that money. He was a threat and gave the central defenders a hard time.

As it was, Luton eventually scored after Fleetwood set up Danny Crow to slip the ball past Russell.

The Luton defence had an easier time of it with Walshaw and Hatch struggling to make inroads. Walshaw was subbed after just half an hour when he got a kick to the leg and he hobbled off to be replaced by Bowman.

(right) Darlo debut boy Sanchez-Munoz takes a freekick

Just before the break, Darlo's task was made doubly difficult when Lee received a second booking for what seemed a very innocuous challenge and off he went for an early bath.

With only ten men in the second half, it was very hard for Darlo to get any prolonged passages of possession as Luton tried for a killer second goal. it eventually came from debut boy Fleetwood when he headed home past Russell.

There was no way back now and it was all Darlo could do to stop Luton from scoring a third goal.

The final whistle blew and we were spared further embarrassment - the Darlo fans trooped out disconsolately and headed back to the station.

Back in London, we all headed for some more beers at the Euston Tap. It was a nice warm evening so there was plenty of room inside and Bev was not far behind in joining us there.

After carrying my bag round all day I was a bit sweaty so on the train back from Luton I'd changed into my Killing Joke t-shirt. The shirt has caught the attention of a few fellow fans in the past and today was no exception as it caught that of a less-than-sober Donny Fan who'd been on the lash in the capital with his mates rather than go to see his team in Cardiff.

It seems that he was indeed a KJ fan and proceeded to ask me to take the back of his shirt up ("not in a gay way, ya knows" he added) so that he could show me all his KJ tattoos. Errr, very nice!

And as we got chatting he suddenly decides to quiz us on Number One hits beginning with the letter V! Where's Gavin when you need him? Quite a surreal ending to the day...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Silence At The Lamb

Another bright and early start as I meet John W at Euston at 6:30am - unfortunately the anticipated breakfast stop at the nearby Double Six is off the menu - the place is shut, not sure if that is permanent and so we wander back to Da Vinci's instead.

Maybe it is a bit too early for earnest conversation - either way we have a nice, quiet trip to New Street where we are joined first by Tony and then by Steve and his Villa-Hearts supporting mate, Neil.

We head to the Wellington - we're a bit early but the door is open so we wander in and find we're not the first customers. However the staff are still sorting out the tills so we still have to wait until 10am for the first pint.

The TV screen with the full menu is not working but there is choice aplenty - Salamander Peruvian Torch, Crouch Vale Yakima Gold, Derby Penny's Porter, Oakham Citra, Purity Mad Goose, Otley Thai-Bo, Titanic Last Porter Call, Blue Monkey Big Blue, Sadlers Green Man and Wye Valley HPA.

(left) Graeme ' Spike' Lee is first to the ball

As we were getting stuck into our first pint, Lance joined us - he was originally going to join us at Tamworth but had decided to meet us here instead - a wise move as it turned out.

Needless to say he was soon telling us all about his recent trip to Los Angeles to see his Hollywood sweetheart, Rhonda Fleming. The trip of a lifetime apparently and it seems she didn't get bored of hearing about his other great love, Darlo!

As we were tucking into our third pint, the bar staff asked us to leave the premises - a problem in the cellar rather than a dislike of football fans it seems and the fire brigade were on their way! We finished our beers outside and then it was time for us to head on to Tamworth, leaving Steve and Neil to head off to Villa Park.

At Tamworth station the taxi drivers seemed loath to take us to the Robert Peel and encouraged us to walk instead. I didn't mind but Tony and John were desperate for the gents and it wasn't a pleasant walk for them.

We found Colin and Trevor outside the Robert Peel - not sure why as the place was open - Tony and John rushed in ahead of us.

A relatively decent selection of beers - the pick of these were Oakham Inferno and Dark Star Sunburst.

Last year we had a mass game of pool - mainly as a quick and easy way to raise funds for the Youth Development - but this year we didn't have Brian to organise it for us.

Instead we were were content to play some golden oldies from the 70s on the pub jukebox - the likes of Jethro Tull, Budgie, (early) Yes, King Crimson, ELP, etc - with a little bit of punk to show we're not totally out of touch. The barman must have liked it too as he cranked up the volume.

We all leave in good time for the walk to the ground - I sign in and get pitchside and find irregular DAFTS Pete Stockill has joined the gang, complete with a new flag. Very posh!

Also in attendance today and in the seated away section, is Wrexham manager Dean Saunders, who has come to check out Tamworth, their opponents next Tuesday.

(right) James Walshaw up for the ball

Confidence was high amongst the 193 away fans after the midweek draw at Fleetwood - supposedly one of the favourites this season -but the first half was very uninspiring.

The home team worked hard, keeping lots of possession and giving the Darlo defence a torrid time with Russell pulling off one excellent save but not having to do much else.

Darlo had one good chance themselves but the home keeper was alert enough to push the ball away. And er, that was about it in the first forty-five.

Very disappointing and as a result Bowman made away for MB-W before the break in an attempt to get things moving.

Darlington came out early for the second half and looked to have more about them in the early stages of the half but it wasn't long before Tamworth started to dominate possession once more and created some half-decent chances.

It looked like being a goalless draw until Ben Purkiss lost control of the ball in his own box - in trying to regain possession he knocked over a Tamworth forward. The ref blew - penalty!

A tad harsh perhaps but after the penalty was converted it was difficult to argue that Tamworth didn't deserve to be ahead.Darlington had nothing to offer in the last few minutes of the game and as the ref blows, the Darlo fans voice their displeasure at this lack lustre performance.

We trudged back to the station and wait for our train back to New Street. Originally John and I intended to have a few more beers in Brum before catching the train back to Euston but quite frankly we couldn't be arsed. Bugger!

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Season Starts Now

Sky Sports have been excitedly telling us that the season starts today - obviously they mean no disrespect to the League teams (yeah right) but they are right - today sees the start of the Blue Square Premier season.

If you really want to be pedantic (sit down Brian!) you could say that Forest Green and Stockport jumped the gun last night as their game was live on Premier Sports - free to air - but for once we'll drop the pedantry.

Martin and I had an early breakfast at Da Vinci's as the only cheap rail tickets were on the 7:30am departure - couldn't see any other football fans at that time but there were plenty of people off to Edinburgh for the fringe.

After all the recent wet weather it was nice to find that it was a very nice day in the north-east. Martin and I had a wander round the shops - popped into Millets for a new stool and got a Hawkwind DVD for a fiver from one of the stalls - talk about excitement!

It was certainly good to be back in the Quaker again after all these months though - just the same of course but it was nice to be sat on my stool at our table. We're back to normal.

A bit of a mixed selection on offer today - Hambleton Steeple Stuff, Idle Idle Dog, Sulwath Criffel and Galloway Gold, Hadrian & Border Premium Lager, Hambleton/Black Dog Rhatas, Jarrow McConnell's Irish Stout and Wall's Beater's Choice.

(left) Sam Russell collects - but is he excited about something?

We were given a taster of the Idle Dog and advised it was an acquired taste - we had a sip and quickly agreed.

The Premium Lager and Galloway Gold were both tasty - the Steeple Stuff was well liked too but my favourite was the Beater's Choice - and no bias just because it is a relatively new brewery in Northallerton.

A good turnout from DAFTS today - John W, Brian, Trev, John B, Colin and of course Tony who was handing out the season tickets he'd kindly collected for us.

Worryingly, I discovered my ticket was for block 9. OK, I don't use it very often but I like my seat up at the back of block 11 - the others didn't seem too bothered that I'd been moved though. Gits!

After trying most of the beers, we moved up to Number Twenty-2 which had Burton Bridge Top Dog Stout, Dancing Ducks Pale, Thornbridge Sequoia, Brass Monkey Son of Silverback and Jennings Cumberland Ale as guests.

The Sequoia is a lovely beer I've had a couple of times before so I stuck to that until our taxi arrived.

(left) Greg Taylor continues to impress despite dodgy coloured boots

For the second season in succession Darlo kicked off the season against the champions from the BS South though Braintree are much more of a non-league outfit that Newport County in that they are semi-pro.

One of the Braintree board was next to me pitchside taking photos in his blazer and club tie because if he doesn’t take shots for the club, no one else will.

And no overnight stays for their players and staff either – they’re used to early morning starts on a Saturday, he told me. Tell me about it!

Throughout the first half Darlo found it quite hard going – they had plenty of possession but failed to make the most of it, rarely putting their keeper under significant pressure.

In fact it was Sam Russell that was called into acrobatic action on a couple of occasions, once tipping over from a smart shot. He was not happy with his defence.

The 40-odd Braintree fans looked rather adrift in the away end but they had more to cheer than the home fans.

Thankfully there was some improvement from the Quakers in the second half – Greg Taylor continued his good pre-season form with plenty of attacking movement. He is currently standing in for Aaron Brown at left-back but he will be of more use to us if he plays in a more forward position.

In one rare flurry of activity Liam Hatch – once again sponsored by the Capital Quakers - hit the post and MB-W fired the rebound over the bar. MB-W and Chandler were both subbed – by their standards they'd been fairly quiet - McReady and Bowman coming on in their stead.

Bowman almost scored as he blocked a clearance from the keeper but the ball crept a couple of feet wide of the post. New striker James Walshaw was making little progress and was eventually replaced by John Campbell.

(left) Hatch is congratulated by a brace of Taylors

As time started to run out and a draw looked ever more likely, another new boy Kris Taylor found space at the edge of the penalty box and crossed towards the six yard box where Liam Hatch scored with a stooping – not quite diving – header.

A little cruel on Braintree but even then it wasn't all over as they almost equalised in stoppage time but all three points went to the Quakers thanks to a last gasp goal-line block from Graeme Lee.

So plenty for Mark Cooper to work on if we’re to be serious contenders this season and the next game at Fleetwood will be a much sterner test for the squad.

A slightly later train back to London for Martin, Howard and I but it ran non-stop from York and so we were in the Euston Tap - at Martin's insistence - before 9pm for a final couple of pints...