Monday, 24 January 2011

Keep 'Em Peeled

My day didn't quite start as I'd hoped - I popped along to the Double Six at Eustion at 7am only to find the place shut - very unusual as it normally opens very early, catering as it does for cab drivers and railway staff - so I had to pop back to Da Vinci's at King's Cross.

And then back to Euston for my train to Brum - I arrived there by 9:30am which allowed time for a quick wander around HMV (wot - no metal section in a Birmingham branch?) before heading to the nearby Wellington.

This place is a bit of a tickers pub - 16 beers on tap, the choice of which are displayed on a TV screen and which you order by number, not name.

(left) DAFTS On Parade

It also opens at 10am which is very useful and allows those local tickers to have a few quick halves before wandering off to the darker corners of the Midlands in search of new beers.

I suspect the place opened even earlier today as it was already quite full when I arrived - a group of drinkers eagerly awaiting a bus to take them to the Winter Ales Festival in Manchester.

Of the beers on offer I managed to try a respectable number - Wye Valley HPA, Blue Monkey Guerrilla, Oakham Citra, Beowulf Hurricane, Church End End Reg and Saltaire White Christmas. Needless to say they were all in excellent nick.

Steve joined me here after taking the bus from Cardiff - he'd texted me to let me know there was a pitch inspection at noon but if the weather outside was any indication, I expected the game to go ahead.

From New Street it is only a 20-minute train ride to Tamworth and on arrival we opted to take a taxi rather than walk the ten minutes or so to the designated pub.

Big mistake. I asked to be taken to the Robert Peel and after a few minutes of driving round the driver said "You do mean the Robert Peel hospital, don't you?". No, the pub, we replied.

After another minute or so he asked if we meant the Robert Peel hotel? Turns out he had never heard of the pub and so he dropped us in the town centre, charging the minimum fare and getting no tip.

Lesson - don't be so lazy!

Thankfully the pub was well worth it when we arrived with a good selection of beers: Oakham Bishop's Farewell, Church End Vicars's Ruin, Marston's Pedigree, Waen Blackberry Stout and Blue Monkey 99 Red Balloons.

Colin was already there - as were Rich Jones and John Gray - and is wasn't long before Tony, Ray, Lance, Brummy T, Trev and Brian all rolled up too.

(right) Gary Shaw joins the DAFTS Brains Trust

Brian saw that they had a pool table and decided we would all contribute £1 and play Killer.

Needless to say most of us were rubbish but it didn't matter as the winner and runner-up donated their winnings to the Youth Development kitty.

We left for the ground with Lance in tow - he'd been insisting he wouldn't go but he just couldn't resist. This would be his first game in about three seasons.

On arrival at the Lamb it was interesting to see that the stands weren't very high at all - the club had previously stated some areas of the pitch didn't get sun but on walking out, the pitch was certainly soft and not nearly as bad as our recent home game against Wimbledon.

There were a few Darlo fans at one end of the main stand but the majority were in the covered terrace behind the goal which Darlo attacked in the first half, playing up a noticeable slope.

Well to be more precise they were kicking that way rather than actually attacking as we had precious few chances at that end. Nathan Modest was beaten to the ball by the keeper and Bridge-Wilkinson went close with a lob that came back off the crossbar.

But for most of the first half, Tamworth were the busier side and kept the pressure on us though Russell had little to actually save but there were plenty of crosses aimed at their very large centre forward that he claimed.

Tamworth were given a great chance to take the lead when a penalty was awarded - I didn't see the incident but there didn't seem to be a lot of protests from our boys.

Russell to the rescue though as he made a great save, palming the ball away after diving to his left, to keep it level at the break.

We had a quick chat with former Villa player, Gary Shaw, who was covering the game for the local press. We all agreed it wasn't a brilliant game.

(left) Players stare at hairy football magnet

In the second half Tommy Wright replaced the on-loan Modest and Darlo started to apply themselves more and eventually took the lead when a Bridge-Wilkinson free-kick was headed home by Liam Hatch.

Second later though Tamworth's large centre-back was deemed to have been elbowed by Wright - the second time in a few minutes this defender had gone down like a sack of spuds -and Tommy was off to get first use of the soap. I didn't have a great view but it looked relatively innocuous judging the reactions of everyone close by.

For a while Darlo kept Tamworth at arm's length but in the last ten minutes Tamworth were applying constant pressure in and around the penalty box and there was a lot of last gasp defending. Gary Smith was replaced by Taylor in an effort to bolster the defence.

Typically we conceded an equaliser in added time - though to be fair Tamworth deserved a point for their efforts but it was a bit of a sickener nonetheless.

Most of our gang had gone back to the local Wetherspoons as soon as the equaliser went in - a few even went before that as they were feeling the cold - so once I was packed up I made my way back the station and onto New Street for a few more bevvies in the warmth of the Wellington and then a sleepy trip back home.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

All Points East

Once again we have a cup game at home, in this case the FA Trophy game against Bath City, which meant there was not a lot of time to get reasonably-priced train tickets up to Darlo and so I decided to get my kicks drinking beer instead.

And not for the first time (nor the last I suspect), London Miller Chris Turner was more than happy to come out and play - but where to go?

We decided to make it a mixture of old and new and started out along the Central Line at Wanstead. As Chris and I arrived we passed one of the pubs on our list, the Cuckfield, but the beer choice looked unexciting and so we cut it out of our plans.

(left) Robin's Pie and Mash

Just a few yards further on was our first stop, Robin's Pie and Mash shop, a recent addition to the Robin's pie empire.

The pies were quite thin with soft pastry but a very tasty filling. They provide the corporate pie and mash at West Ham United so certainly the real deal - no prawns here (though they will do you poached salmon and mash at this branch).

From here it was a short walk to the Nightingale - a lovely pub tucked away from the bustle of the High Street, sat next to a small green which gives it a bit of a Essex village vibe. Great to see the pub opening before noon as well - very civilised.
A decent collection of beers on offer: Fullers ESB, Morland's Old Speckled Hen, Courage Best, Ringwood Boondoggle and Rudgate Ruby Mild. We looked to be the first drinkers in today and the beers we had - the Boondoggle and the mild - were both in excellent condition - too often you get a lukewarm "first of the day" pint. Pricey though at £3.45 a pint!

The pub has several rooms, all with a busy clutter of pictures and memorabilia, giving a real homely feel. There were boards everywhere advertising the food on offer which was very varied but which had an emphasis on fish dishes.
The Essex feel to the place was completed by a set of stereotypical Essex types, including one guy who resembled Smithy (from Gavin and Stacy) in both mannerisms and dress, completed when he orderd rogan josh and chips for a belated breakfast. Classy, Gavlar!
(right) The Nightingale, Wanstead
After a couple of pints we caught the W12 minibus - one of these buses that you can hail as it goes along it's route - and which took us along the edge of Epping Forest, past the towering frontage of Snaresbrook Crown Court, through Whipps Cross hospital to Walthamstow.

Here we popped into the Nags Head in the village part of Walthamstow which is markedly different from the surrounding areas of north-east London. Our Green Army chum, Geoff, was patiently waiting for us.

Chris and I had been here once before - it's a community pub with comfy chairs, books, magazine and various special-interest groups - it could be a bit precious but isn't, helped by a good selection of beers including Nethergate Best Bitter, Crouch Vale Brewers Gold, Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde Mild, Tim Taylor's Landlord and Fullers Pride.

Apart from the pubs, another reason we choose to come to this neck of the woods was to visit the East London Sausage Shop. The sausages are truly excellent and despite good intentions it has taken us over a year to come back and get some more.

From here we walk past the Village - we popped in here on our last visit and the the beer here was terrible so instead we head for the Castle which has had recent good reports and is another new pub for us.

(left) Geoff and Chris leave the East London Sausage Company

What was once an old east-end boozer had really had a major makeover and was now one of the (far too?) many pub eateries full of young couples who all seem to be glued to their netbooks and iPhones rather than actually talking to each other.

Nevertheless they had three handpumps with Black Sheep Ale, Youngs London Gold plus one other. The London Gold is what was Kew Gold which I used to like in bottles but this was fairly bland although in good condition.

The final stop of the day was the King William IV - otherwise known as the tap for Brodie's Beers who are probably the most prodigious brewers in London with a seemingly endless array of beers produced by siblings James and Lizzie, the White Stripes of brewing.

Not surprisingly there was a huge range of beers from the brewery - which sits behind the pub - on offer at the bar including Green Bullet, Brewer's Gold, El Dorado, Polska, Olde Ardour, Romanov Empress Stout (12.1%!), IPA, Kiwi, Citra, Amarilla, Californian and Seven Hop IPA (7.7%) plus a guest from North London, Camden Brewery's Pale Ale.

Some of the beers are excellent and the majority of the others are good to very good - you rarely get a duff beer from them. And all at the excellent price of £1.99, regardless of strength.

The big screen was tuned to Sky Sports so we were able to follow the fortunes of our respective teams - good news for me as Darlo beat Bath City 4-1 but not so great for Chris and Geoff as their teams lost.

The pub started to fill up once the final results came in - the match between West Ham and Arsenal was live on TV and this neck of the woods could be said to straddle both sets of supporters.

Not surprisingly it was the Arsenal fans who had most to cheer whilst the Hammers fans in the pub started up chants against the board - they want Grant out but at least they know he was probably a poor appointment in the first place.

But quite frankly I didn't care as our Wembley dream is still alive...

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Come On Without, Come On Within

After a few days of relative decent weather we set off for today's game assuming all would be fine in Darlo but a text from Tony after we'd left Peterborough got us worried. "Pitch failed early inspection. Second inspection 12:30".

We suspected that it must be waterlogging as the forecast had suggested there was going to be a lot of rain about - what a pain.

All was bright and sunny as we arrived at Bank Top - the odd AFC Wimbledon shirt on the train - and it was down to the Quaker where a good few AFCW fans were ensconced around the bar. Tony and Lesley were already in there though and had grabbed a table.

The selection of beers on offer included Nightmare Stout and First Footer from Hambleton, Mithril Ales Legs Eleven, Ossett Resolution, York Centurion's Ghost and Mature Toad and Golden Angel from the Toad Brewery plus the Allendale Swift which had been on earlier that week when we'd been in.

Neil, Brian and John then joined us as did more away fans so it was getting quite cosy in the small bar area. Finally we got confirmation that the game would be going ahead which brought cheers from most of those in the pub. Would it be a good thing?

After trying most of the beers on offer we decamped up to Number Twenty-2 whilst the away fans all headed off to the Britannia.

Whilst up in N22, Bev joined us and like us, she got stuck into the Nightmare Stout from Hambleton - one of our all time favourite stouts.

Our little mob were going to be in a executive box today as John was the latest winner of the season ticket draw, following in Tony's lucky footsteps. It will be interesting to see if I get drawn out - knowing my luck it will be for a midweek game!

Presumably the burst pipes in the away end had been sorted as the AFCW fans were up there - probably about 300 which isn't bad going. Quite noisy too but then southerners do have big gobs.

(left) 'Wot me?' says Quinn as Hatch lies in a daze

As I went pitchside to get ready, it was clear that the pitch was not suffering from an excess of water but was in fact frozen. As I put up my trusty Millett's stool behind the goal line, the ground held solid even when I sat on it.

Today saw the debut of new signing Adam Quinn who would be playing alongside Ian Miller. He certainly had the look of an archetypal centre-back as he warmed up.

Up front Curtis Main was given the nod over Tommy Wright to partner Liam Hatch up front and he was to have quite a few chances again today - all unfortunately squandered or well saved by England C keeper Seb Brown.

Darlo had the majority of the play for the first half and seemed to be coping with the icy conditions just that little better that AFCW - the area in front of the dugouts looking to be the worst part with players slipping there but the rest of the pitch wasn't too bad.

At the back, Quinn had settled in well and was winning most headers, not just against Wimbledon forwards but also against Miller and Hatch, the latter coming off quite badly as he needed treatment for a clash of heads. Quinn seemed oblivious.

Sam Russell had a fairly quite start to the game - probably getting extremely cold feet like me - but just before the break he was called into action and made two excellent saves.

The second half was much the same - quite a cagey approach from Wimbledon - whilst Gary Smith and Mark B-W went close for Darlo.

Main also had a few more chances - one was a header but that ended up in my direction rather than worrying their keeper.

(right) Curtis Main heads the ball towards a hairy snapper

It was quite noticeable that in the last twenty minutes of the game, the pitch started to deteriorate quite badly and players began to slip all over the pitch.

Tommy Wright replaced Main with a quarter of an hour to go but fared no better whilst at the death Hatch was inches away from getting on the end of a Verma cross. Just one of those days.

All in all, it was probably two points dropped given the way we dominated the game and overall we should be pleased to have taken four points off the top team - could so easily have been six though which would have been a real boost.

It was also good to see that both managers be prepared to play the game even though the pitch was not ideal. Given the current backlog though, I'm sure neither wanted to put this game off.

Today we found ourselves on a later train back to London which allowed us another visit to the Quaker. John, Bev and I walked there, trying to warm up our frozen feet, but were beaten to the bar by Martin who'd been given a lift.

The place was quite busy - a few AFCW fans had also returned - but the place soon became very crowded when a large horde of Notts County fans popped in, fresh from their FA Cup win over Sunderland. Seems a bit of an odd place to drop into on your way back to Nottingham but they were happy to be there.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Barrow Boys Battered

And so finally it looked like we might actually see a game of football. No pitch inspections had been announced so confidence was high that the game with Barrow would get the go-ahead and we set off from King's Cross with almost a spring in our step.

Except that Martin was suffering one of his periodic bouts of what he reckons is gout - his foot was painful and he nearly didn't turn up. Nurofen for breakfast then!

Originally the game was to have been televised by Premier Sports but they'd been put off by the recent bad weather and had decided not to show it after all. However the kick off would still be 4pm.

Of course the upside of this meant that we'd have an extra hour or so in the pub. Tony met Martin and I at the station - we left Martin to hobble to the ground and we headed for the Quaker. John W wasn't far behind us.

Confusingly there wee two beers from the Potton Brewery - Shambles Bitter and the Village Bike - both 4.3%, identical colour and almost identical taste - OK but not brilliant.

Other beers included a brace from Allendale Brewery - Tar Bar'l and Swift (the former was a nice stout but the latter was not nearly as nice as the pint we'd had in N22 a month or two ago), North Yorkshire Xmas Herbert and Crystal Tips, Thornbridge Lord Marples, Tom Wood's Old Timber and Black Country Fireside Bitter.

There were no real hoppy beers on today so we wandered up to Number Twenty-2 where Tony could get a pint of White Boar.

There was not a great deal that caught our attention in terms of new brews so John and I tried the Anchor Steam Liberty. This is a beautiful beer in bottles - one of the first really hoppy beers from the US that I ever tried but it was pretty indifferent here - worryingly it had a slight wheat-beer taste so i hope Ralph hadn't got his pipes mixed up!

(left) Aaron Brown shoots - and scores!

We caught a taxi down to the ground and I picked up my press ticket from the ticket office. The club shop was full of Barrow fans who were having to get their tickets there rather than at the away turnstiles.

Once pitchside the reason for this was clear as the club had put the away fans at one end of the South stand, more or less just below the control box. Presumably the number of travelling fans didn't seem that great considering and perhaps didn't warrant opening the away end?

I latter found out that the away end was actually out of action due to burst pipes - no toilet facilities etc - and that is why they were having to share with us.

However they were first to have cause to cheer as Barrow twice went close in the first ten minutes - Russell tipping one shot over and another narrowly missing.

Thereafter it was all Darlo with the young striking duo of Smith (M) and Main working hard and being ably supported by the likes of Smith (G), Bridge-Wilkinson, Verma and Arnison.

On one attack, the Barrow keeper came right out to the edge of his box to prevent the ball getting to Michael Smith but he failed and Smith was able to turn and lob the ball in from a tight angle. Just what we needed to settle the nerves.

Not long after this, Barrow had Sheridan sent off for what looked a meaty two-footed tackle on Gary Smith. Some thought it was a harsh decision but it did look dangerous from my perspective.

(right) Curtis goes for goal

Darlo had been well on top before this but with the extra man we had total control of the ball and kept attacking the Barrow goal until finally Bridge-Wilkinson doubled our lead with a cracking shot from just outside the box.

Two-nil then at the break and you'd expect the second half to follow the same pattern. But of course not - Barrow went narrowly wide of Russell's post soon after the restart.

Darlo didn't learn and stood off Louis Almond, allowing him room to shot from about 20 yards - a sweet shot that flew past Russell. Cue anxiety.

Thankfully the two-goal advantage was restored within minutes as Aaron Brown was teed up by Gary Smith and his shot from the edge of the box took a deflection which left the Barrow keeper helpless.

From then on Barrow had little to offer and Darlo dominated but failed to add to the scoreline with both Smith (M) and Main going close on a few occasions. Main put in a lot of hard work and with maybe a bit more composure would have scored.

Barrow were far from the best team seen at the Arena this season and perhaps we should have made it tell more but I was happy to simply get three points again. There was some good periods of play where we knocked the ball round well and we now need to start doing this on a consistent basis.

And it was a great shame that Premier Sports decided to give this a miss as it was a good game to watch and might have shown some stay-aways what they're missing.