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...