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.

No comments: