Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Heed Over Heels

Given I'd been up north for the Primal Scream gig, I decided to spend a few days with the family in Northallerton and so it was only a short trip up the line for our big day out in Gateshead.

Nevertheless I was still in Newcastle nice and early and had time on my hands so I popped into the Grainger Market - this is where I used to come as a student for my 28p a pound ox liver!

The only breakfast place that I knew was Sarah's Tuck In which got a rave review here. The food was OK but not quite the standard I've come to expect on a match-day morning.

After a quick look round the shops I met Martin and Claude at Central station which was awash with Darlo fans wandering off to find pubs.

Following my footsteps from earlier in the week, we headed off over the Tyne Bridge and back to the Central where a few Darlo fans were already supping.

(left) Sam holds on tight...

As we got stuck into the beers - including York Guzzler to keep Martin happy - the place got busier and busier, mainly with Darlo fans - all of which took the barstaff by surprise.

John Bell arrived and then our new Gateshead chum, Steve, and his girlfriend, Gina, joined us.

Brian was a late arrival having got a bit lost and ended up at the Borough Arms instead - only one decent beer apparently but they did provide free chips!

We joined Steve and Gina for the walk to the International Stadium - going by some of the back streets overlooking the Tyne - and by the time we reached the ground, there was a huge queue for the home end.

I made my way into the ground and spent far too long trying to get a photographers bib before I eventually make my way pitchside.

The Darlo end was looking pretty full even with fifteen minutes to go before kick-off. I took a few shots of the fans from the front of the stand. I was later told that there was a chant of "Hagrid, Hagrid, give us a wave" - presumably from the younger element - but I never heard it.

By the times the teams came out there was a great atmosphere in the ground and there was singing from both sides of the ground. Both of the curved ends were to have been empty but one was eventually opened for Gateshead fans as the main stand got very busy.

As the game kicked off, Gateshead were obviously out to try and apply pressure - they managed to win the lion's share of possesion but to little end result.

Only one shot looked to threaten the Quaker's goal in the first half but that trickled away for a throw and left Sam Russell little to do other than collect the odd cross.

As in the first game Nathan Fisher and Darlo boo boy Adam Rundle were the main threat but even they found it hard going and other than a few pretty touches, made little headway against the Darlo defence.

(right) Darlo players celebrate

Up front Liam Hatch was running his socks off but was making little impact although one of his headers hit the bar - the ball dropped to Dan Burn who was probably taken by surprise as he could only tap the rebound a few inches the wrong side of the post.

At the break it was nil-nil and I took the opportunity to visit the gents - however there looked to be only one for the whole of the away end and by the time I'd queued and done the deed, the players were coming out for the second half.

There was much more determination from the Quakers this half - Bridge-Wilkinson seemed to step up a gear and was starting to put some decent moves together but we still never produced a real threat in front of the Gateshead goal.

Likewise Gateshead found it hard to penetrate the defence with just one good chance falling to Jon Shaw but before he could steady himself to shot from about eight yards, the ball was whisked away after a fantastic tackle by Ian Miller.

The minutes ticked down slowly and though we looked as safe and secure as you can with a one-nil lead, it was still nerve racking stuff.

It got worse as we entered the period of added time - nerves were jangling and the players were making sure the ball stayed in the Gateshead half.

Finally the referee blew the final whistle and the Darlo players could finally celebrate - the Darlo fans rushed onto the pitch to hail their heroes.

Annoyingly one of the little darlings nabbed my Darlo hat as I was taking photos too - little bastard!

The players went off to the dressing room for ten minutes before they came out again for a more orderly celebration - Mark Cooper was exhausted and told me he'd never been so nervous.

(right) Whispering Ray interviews a happy chairman

As I was leaving the ground I passed the press box so stopped off to listen to Ray interviewing Raj for Radio Tees.

The chairman said he was was absolutely delighted, especially with the turn-out of fans - apparently there were almost 2,500 fans from Darlo.

Ray then interviewed manager Cooper who looked more relieved than happy and was already in that "we need to concentrate on our game on Tues night, Ray" mode that managers use to keep everybody grounded.

As I made my way through the main stand there were a lot of disappointed home officials and fans and I suddenly thought how I would have felt it it was us who'd been denied a trip to the final.

The short walk to the Metro was very quiet - a lot of police still around but most fans had dispersed and so I travelled back into Newcastle on my own.

I had an hour before my train home so headed off to the Newcastle Arms where I got a text from John W who hadn't yet heard the score. I called to let him know he was off to Wembley and was then joined by Brian, John Gray and Rich.

After the game I got a text from Steve, our Gateshead chum, who wished us luck and reckoned that Gateshead had been "outfought, outthought, outplayed and even outsang". Very gracious - I hope I could have been the same had it been Darlo on the losing side.

It wasn't until I was back on the train to Northallerton that I heard we would be playing Mansfield at Wembley. Not the result from Kenilworth Road that most would have expected but it'll do me.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Oh, What Happened To You?

And so the weekend begins and it's only Wednesday - how good is that?

It starts with the 7:30am train to Newcastle from King's Cross - not a busy service - and I'm left to read until I reach Darlo when Tony jumps on-board.

By the time we reach Newcastle Central, Steve is waiting for us having flown up from Cardiff. It is too early to book into our hotel so I store my bags in Left Luggage.

(left) The Central

We make our way to the Tyne Bridge and walk over to Gateshead - certainly fog on the Tyne today, in fact it is foggy everywhere and it all looks a bit gloomy.

Over on the Gateshead side we pop along to the Sage - not a lot to see inside on the whole other than the cafe where Steve manages to grab some breakfast.

Once the clock hits 11:30am though we wander back towards the bridge and head to the Central. This is a pub I popped into about a year ago and at that time it was covered in scaffolding whilst undergoing a major renovation.

That is now finished and it looks lovely, both inside and out. It still has a good range of beers: Consett Red Dust, Titanic Iceberg, York First Light, Itchen Valley's Fagin's, Northumberland Farne Island, High House Farm Nel's Best, Big Lamp Prince Bishop Ale plus one from Ireland, Colleg Brewey's Headless Dog, which is really nice.

We have a few beers here before we walk back to Newcastle - this time via the Swing Bridge - and head to the Crown Posada (which was closed on our last visit).

By now the beer was working it's way into our system and the level of conversation was at the "Miranda - funny or a waste of oxygen" level. Steve and I can't stand her, Tony just likes the first series (one series too much I fear).

The beer was good - Durham Apollo and Big Lamp Sunny Daze were lovely drops - and there were some vintage tunes being played on the old Dansette - including one of those old Top of the Pops albums. We could have stayed there all afternoon but opted instead to check into our hotel, have a quick wash and then try some other pubs.

Steve wanted to wander to the Bigg Market to see if much had changed since his days on the Evening Chronicle back in the late 80s. It had.

We were going to drop into the Bacchus but that was closed for renovation so we headed for a quick one at the Newcastle Arms.

From here we take a short walk to the Bodega which was strating to fill up with what looked like Primal Screa fans. Some decent beers again - Big Lamp's Prince Bisop Ale and the more-ish Avalanche from the excellent Fyne Ale's.

After a few pints we decided it would be prudent to get some food into us and so we headed to Chinatown where we had a great chinese buffet at the appropriately naed No 1 Chinese Buffet.

And then into the gig - a photo pass for me so I managed to shoot the first three numbers from the small pit in front of the stage. Just me and one other guy down there - quite different from the London gigs I've covered where there are usually a dozen or more and you have to jostle for a good position.

After the alloted three songs, I was thrown out into the merry throng who were re-visiting their youth as they danced badly to Screamadelica - Primal Scream's seminal album from their hedonistic youth.
(right) Andrew Innes and Bobby Gillepsie

These days the band are a lot more restrained - an expresso before going on-stage and no sherbets until after the gig. How very rock'n'roll!!

After the gig we meet up with Martin - we popped upstairs to the aftershow party but the music was just too loud that you couldn't hear yourself talk.

We wandered downstairs to their cosy little dressing room instead. Mani joined us after a while - "what happened to that dodgy old chairman, man?" he asked when we were outed as Darlo fans.

I sometimes think George would have made a great frontman for a band though he would probably be more like Screaming Lord Sutch than Mick Jagger.

After a while the band's rider is taken away by the cleaning ladies - the alcohol barely touched - and it is time for the band to return to their hotel bar while we three opt to finally call it a night...

Monday, 14 March 2011

Darlo Sneak A-Head

A very quiet journey north on the train today - a handful of Southend fans who got off at Peterborough and that was about it. You'd have thought we were the only ones playing in the north-east.

As usual I popped into the covered market for some pies - hopefully I'll not leave them in the pub/taxi as I did last week. No doubt someone got a pleasant surprise when they found my bag of goodies.

Brian was the first in the pub today as Tony wasn't able to join us until noon - John Bell wasn't far behind.

At the bar today: York Centurions Ghost, Saltaire Cascade Pale Ale, Quercus QPA, Consett Red Dust, Crouch Vale Santian, Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose, Rudgate Sea Fight and a couple from Yard of Ale, Chinook and Hop'd Scotch.

Of these the Crouch Vale Santian was by far the pick of the bunch - with Santian hops from Oregon it was described as zesty and spicy - not sure so about the spice but it was certainly full of bite - just a shame I didn't start with it.

As we prepared to wander along to Number Twenty-2, a couple of Gateshead fans overheard us and asked if they could follow us there since they weren't quite sure where it was. Of course, we are the Friendly Club after all.

N22 was much busier than it has been for quite a while with a few more Darlo fans than usual - normally it tends to be just our little DAFTS contingent and a handful of others such as Durham Tony. DT was there today and had brought a few glory-hunting friends!

On the bar today we had Beatown Bearskinful, Daleside Best, Titanic Steerage Best, Hexhamshire Whapweasel, Taylors Ram Tam and Allendale Golden Plover. The latter was a lovely pale beer but once I'd seen Ram Tam was available I got stuck into that.

I had ordered three taxis today and we left promptly at 2:20pm when the first arrived.

It was just like the old days - a queue of cars as you came to the roundabout on the A66 so the taxi driver dropped us off outside the ground on Neasham Road. Looks like being a good crowd - Raj will be pleased.

(left) Former Quaker Adam Rundle gets ready to punish Darlo

I had to go to the ticket office for my press ticket - thankfully inside as the queues outside were quie long - and as I arrived pitchside with 25 mins to kick-off, there was already a healthy crowd in and the atmosphere was building up nicely.

The Quakers started well and after about 10 mins thought they had taken the lead through Verma but it was disallowed for offside.

Gateshead raised their game and started to get far too much possession on their left-wing - Arnison not having a good game - and Darlo narrowly survived one scare before Nathan Fisher found space in the box to fire past Russell.

From then on, Darlo were on the back foot as Gateshead applied more pressure - Russell tipped over a Rundle header and it was the former Darlo player who scored from the resulting corner after he prodded home a goal-line clearance by Chandler.

At this point you could feel the waves of negativity pouring down from the stands - it was just so typical of Darlo to do this whenever we had a good crowd in the Arena. Half-time couldn't come soon enough.

Gateshead nearly made it three-nil just seconds after the restart but thankfully their shooting was off on this occasion.

Darlo then started to up their game and finally pulled back a goal through Mark Bridge-Wilkinson. Hatch pushed the ball forward but was fouled as he did so.

(right) Smudger (G) hitches a ride after Hatchy scores the equaliser

Thankfully referee Boyeson - who hitherto was never one of my favourite refs - played advantage which allowed MB-W to slot the ball home from a tight angle (though strictly speaking I think it glanced the post and went in off a Gateshead defender). But quite frankly I didn't care - come on!!!

It was now Darlo's turn to look dangerous and we started to put the Gateshead defence under pressure with Gary Smith being denied by Farman and then Verma going close.

Darlo won a free-kick when sub Nathan Modest was fouled out on the right wing - from the resulting Brown cross Liam Hatch headed home and the Darlo fans went wild.

I think at this stage I would have taken the draw but thankfully Darlo had other ideas. Hatch picked up a mis-cleared ball on the edge of the box, raced towards goal and slipped the ball past Farman to make it 3-2. Brilliant!

Hatch continued to work his socks off and chased a ball to the by-line but ended up narrowly missing me by inches as he fell badly.

He looked to have twisted his back as he fell so I moved my gear and made room for him to get treatment. He came straight back on but was subbed a few minutes later.

(left) Hatch puts Darlo into the lead

At the final whistle, most fans probably couldn't believe what they'd seen - this wasn't the Darlo we're used to and the team went off to a well deserved ovation.

As everyone says, it is only half-time in this tie and we only have a slender one-nil lead to take to the second leg but it could have been much, much worse.

An excellent crowd too by recent standards - it was announced as 4,243 with just over a thousand in the Gateshead end - and it made for a great atmosphere which shows that the Arena isn't always crap.

As I left the ground, some of my old Northallerton chums gave me a load of abuse for damaging Hatch but I soon put them straight. As if I'd damage the Capital Quakers' sponsored player!

There was a small police presence along Neasham Road and at the station keeping an eye on thinsg but there seemed to be no trouble as the Gateshead fans headed off home.

Thankfully I hadn't left anything behind today so we had a celebratory cup of tie and a pie once we'd got settled on the way home.

Back in London, there was time for a quick couple of pints in the Euston Tap - Martin choose our first beer, Dark Star Partridge Best, which he liked but I was not keen on. They had quiet a few Dark Star beers including the limited edition Hophead Citra which I'd had that earlier week at the Wenlock.

Instead I opted for a pint of locally brewed Camden Bitter which is served in keg form (or draft as they insist on calling it) but the beer is not pasteurised like normal old-school keg. It was quite tasty but too cold and a bit too gassy - which isn't surprising I suppose. I would much prefer it on cask but it seems that is a bit too old fashioned for them...

Investing In Youth

As some of you may know, fellow fans Tony Waters and Geoff Thompson have been busy raising money for the youth team at Darlington.

Since dropping out of the League, Craig Liddle has seen the youth set-up at Darlo miss out on grants and obviously this makes his job much harder.

Tony and Geoff set themselves a target of raising £1000 via various raffles and other fund-raising events whilst Tony resurrected the popular sponsor-a-goal scheme.

The response from various DAFTS personnel has been exceptional and so it was good to see this recognised in a recent programme article from the Salisbury City programme a few weeks ago when Tony and Geoff presented Lidds with a cheque.

For those unable to make the game, here is that article.

It would seem to be money well spent as the youth team is having a very successful season and the likes of Dan Burn are now bursting onto the scene so if you haven't yet contributed, dig deep.

Well Done to Tony and Geoff for their work in helping to do this and of course to all who contributed. Keep up the good work!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Cambridge Blue

An incident free trip to Darlington and an early arrival too - I popped into the covered market for some food then got to the Quaker just as Tony was walking in - ever the gent he got the first beers in whilst I got chatting to a ticker chum from Newcastle who was avoiding the football fans in his home town. Sadly, we have no such problems in Darlo.

I managed to get through all the new beers on offer today: Beartown Bearskinful and Bearly Spring, Loddon Harebrained, Wold Top Spring Thing, 1648 Ruby Mild, O'Hanlons Port Stout, Potbelly Pigs Do Fly, and Cleveland Brewery Ironmaster.

The Bearly Spring was a real surprise, pleasantly so - quite light but very fruity - whilst the Port Stout was simply gorgeous - consistently one of the top stouts around.

Brian, Trevor and then John B joined us - all the talk today was of the forthcoming semi-finals against Gateshead and the chairman's recent call for 2,000 adult season ticket holders to book up in March. Highly optimistic to say the least but good results in the next few games might go some way to tempting a few of the stay aways.

Up at Number Twenty-2 there were some good beers, including Elgoods Pagaent and Wensleydale Black Dub as the stout on offer. I stuck to the Pagaent.

(left) MB-W warming up

Down at the ground, I went up to the first floor for my pre-match ablutions - it doesn't do to have a full bladder during the game because if you sneak off, everyone knows where you're going - and I bumped into my old mate Geoff Thompson who was running a Darlo Tykes day out.

It wasn't long though before he took some money off me for raffle tickets - but all in a good cause as all profits are going towards youth team development.

We had faced our opponents Cambridge just a few weeks ago when we made hard work of victory. Today was much the same.

For the first half, the Quakers applied a lot of pressure but with little end product - the Cambridge defence were solid and former Quaker keeper Brown managed to hold on to anything that slipped past them.

Sam Russell didn't have a lot to do but towards the end of the first half, he came to the edge of his box to clear only for the ball to fall at the feet of a Cambridge striker - thankfully he missed an open goal. Phew!

Brown continued to be the busier of the keeper and he was to make a good save to prevent sub Chris Senior from scoring from a header. However he could only push it into the path of Liam Hatch who headed the ball home. A well deserved goal and a sigh of relief ran round the stadium.

With twenty minutes to go, Cambridge finally had to go for goal but had left it too late as Darlo comfortably held out for the win.

On the train home I was delighted when Martin suggested we drop into the Euston Tap after the game - looks like he has been listening to me after all - and so we went straight there after arriving back at King's Cross.

(right) Verma and Senior celebrate Darlo's goal

The place was quite busy but we were able to find elbow room at the bar. Martin has now taken to choosing his own beers now - the training is obviously working but have we created a monster?

It appears not - he makes a good decision by opting for a pint of the Marble Pint. Also on offer was Marble's W90, Thornbridge Raven and Rooster's Yankee so it was difficult to go far wrong.

We were served by one of the contestants from BBC's MasterChef, a guy called Tim, so we get chatting to him. The series is on-going although recording has finished - he is down to the last nine but refused to divulge how well he has done.

We tell him that neither of us watch it - in fact I've not seen it since Lloyd Grossman presented it - as I dislike the two presenters and the way in which it has turned into a highly competitive and nasty programme. It's just cooking for fuck's sake! Nevertheless we wish him luck.