Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Zwanze Day! And Nevilluxury too!!

Originally Martin and I should have been heading to Darlo for our home game against Guisborough but the match had been moved forward to a Friday evening as Heritage Park was booked for a function on the Saturday.

Needless to say both Martin and I were mightily annoyed by this - the club had known about this issue since the start of the season but had kept the fixture in the programme even though they knew there was no chance it would go ahead on that date.

I switched train tickets for Martin so he could travel on the Friday - incurring further expense that I wasn't prepared to consider - only for the game to be called off due to a frozen pitch. Not a happy bunny.

As it was Liz and I wandered down to Ken's Cafe on Green Street as the early match was West Ham -v- Chelsea.  The place was the busiest I've ever see it, full of Hammers queueing for breakfast. This  included a bus load of French Hammers, some of who we'd seen peeing in a side street.  Zut alors you filthy French people!

After my not-so-petit-déjeuner, we wandered past the Boleyn Ground and bumped into one of our old chum, Stuart Clarke, he of Homes of Football fame.  He was there with his TV producer mate, Dan Gordon.

Stuart was looking to take some shots of fans as they arrived for the game - we suggested he popped into Ken's. Once he was done they were racing off to Kenilworth Road to do the same before Luton's FA cup game.

Duly fortified by my fry-up, I left Liz to watch the game, caught the tube into town and took a stool at the bar in the Euston Tap.  London Miller Chris joined me before we headed up to the newly opened Craft Beer Co bar in Islington where we meet our beery chums, Jackie and Simon.

The Craft Beer Co. is the latest part of the chain and unlike the other outlets, this feels much more like an actual pub.

We don't stay too long though - we head over to the nearby Earl Of Essex which is hosting Zwanze Day. This sees the opening of a barrel of Cantillon rhubarb gueuze in just 32 bars worldwide and this will be the only barrel in the UK.

Not surprisingly there is high demand among the lambic lovers of London and so they're selling the beer in thirds and to do so you have to buy a ticket in advance.

We're there at 4pm to get our tickets as the barrel won't be opened until 8pm. Thankfully the Earl of Essex has an excellent range of beers so we stay put.

I have somewhere else to go for a few hours though as Nevilluxury - guitarist in Punilux - is supporting Alien Sex Fiend's at their 30th anniversary gig at the Boston Dome in nearby Tufnell Park.

I pop into the venue early and catch ASF sound checking,  I meet their guitarist, Simon, who just happens to be a colleague of John Wilson. It really is a small world.

Nev finally arrives with friend Polly - they've come on the train carrying a guitar and an amp - very rock and roll. Cue Nev's sound check.

As the doors open and the ASF fans trickle in, Nev starts his 30 minute set - mainly his solo stuff which nonpluses the audience somewhat until they're on his wavelength.

Set over, we retire to the kitchen for post-gig pizzas and a quick chat before they have to rush off for the last train to East Anglia.

I return to the Earl of Essex where Chris has kindly kept my third of the Zwanze safe and sound - it is really good and you can certainly taste the rhubarb.  Sadly it doesn't last long.

We have a few more beers - some of my favourites have come on since I left including a couple of Kernel beers.  In fact, the Kernel maestro, Evin, is here too to taste the Zwanze but it is far too crowded to chat.

Chris and I leave before 10pm - he has had more than enough even by his standards - I'd like more but the place is simply rammed.  Time to head home for a curry and the FA Cup highlights...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Bloody Students...

Our destination today is Newcastle so we're on the 7:30am train from Kings Cross - it promises to be a long day and even Martin has seen the light as I arrive to find him having breakfast in Da Vincis.

Too early for any other football fans today despite the early kick off at the Stadium of Light - the train is quiet until Doncaster when the carriage becomes full of confused women trying to find their seats as they head to York for Christmas shopping.

Brian joined the train too and we join him in the relative quiet of coach H. At Darlo we're joined by John W, Neil and Claude.

On arrival at Central station we wander off to get our Metro tickets for later - by now Trev has turned up - and we head off to the Newcastle Arms.  We find John, Rich and Andy waiting for it to open and after a few minutes the elderly barmaid turns up and attracts the attention of the manager. In at last!

Rocky (Dave!), Cath and Ted

Amongst those on tap today are Hadrian & Border Needles & Pins, Durham White Amarillo and Big Lamp Prince Bishop. The White Amarillo is very disappointing - thin and not a lot of flavour - but the Needles & Pins is very tasty and the pick of the bunch.

As we sup the management turn the TV on and rather than sport, we watch Lorraine Pascale as she makes some very tasty looking desserts whilst being very suggestive a la Nigella. Beats Football Focus.

As the clock approaches noon, we decamp and head on down to the Bridge Hotel - John Bell has arrived and is with Frank who is standing in for Gateshead chum Steve who is indisposed.

Once again, my old Uni chum Cath has popped along - not long after another old chum, Rocky (or Dave as his family call him) joins us too - we've not seen him since 1984 so we have some catching up to do. I'm pleased to see he still likes his beer.

A good selection at the bar: Summer Wine Rouge Hop, Bristol Beer Factory Independence, Buxton English Pale Ale, Gundog Gundog, Harbour IPA, Moor Revival and Allendale Tarbarl Stout plus Tempest A Face With No Name on keg.

Most of our little band are happy in the Bridge but a few of us wander off to visit the wonderful Crown Posada.  Not necessarily wonderful for the number of beers - they have four taps - but the general atmosphere with the old Dansette playing easy listening vinyl.  A quiet little haven.

The two Johns and I decide to order a taxi - John B goes outside to do so and when he comes back he can't find his wallet. He checks all his pockets and we check the immediate surroundings - even the other punters check but no joy.

A real mystery and we can only assume he has dropped it and someone has taken it.

Keeper Craig Turns
goes off injured

We arrive at Team Northumbria's ground by taxi about half-way through the first half. As a student I used to play football on the pitches in this area - the Geordie version of Hackney Marches.

As we enter the ground the score is nil-nil. The game looked quite even at this point though neither side was creating realistic chances.

Shortly before the first half ended goalless, Darlo keeper Craig Turns was injured and replaced by Jack Norton.

Sadly for Norton (and Darlo) he was beaten by a low shot shortly after the restart.  Not a good start.

This spurred Darlo into action and for most of the second half we were constantly attacking. However far too many moves broke down due to a poor final ball or poor finishing as the ball whizzed across the Team Northumbria six-yard box.

The away fans were all starting to get very tetchy at the lack of an equaliser - something we've maybe not seen much of so far this season.  It didn't help when it looked like TN had scored a second only for the ref to disallow it.

As time ran out, we walked towards the exit - the ref seeming to be playing a lot of additional time - TN attack on the counter and score to make it 2-0 and that's it, game over.

We don't wait for the final whistle but trudge back to the Metro.  Thankfully a train soon turns up and we're back at Central station by 5:30pm.

As the others go to the Forth Hotel for some more beer, I buy a train ticket for John so he can get home. He isn't interested in any beers and who could blame him?  I'm sure he wished he'd ignored his alarm for once.

Thankfully we have an unremarkable trip back to Kings Cross - I'm sure we slept for most of the journey - and since Martin has had his fill of beer for the day, I head off alone to the Euston Tap.

Team Northumbria defend
in numbers 
Not a problem though as there is always someone to chat to there - tonight I meet another Ted - just what the world wants!

Some cracking beers as ever - Mikkeller Solstice Saison, De Molen Amarillo, Magic Rock High Wire, Summer Wine Oregon and Thornbridge Wye.

The Wye is an interesting beer - it is infused with cucumber and is very light and refreshing but still packs at punch at 4.7%. I tried this at the Borefts festival a few months ago but this is even better.

I was still going strong but last orders are called and I wander off to Euston Square, getting back to Upton Park just before 1am. Thankfully the Kebabish is still open - not one of the best curry houses but at this time of the day it'll do just fine.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


And so another Saturday sees me missing our game. On this occasion however no one can accuse me of being a part-timer!

Darlo are playing away at West Auckland and although I'd bought rail tickets to travel up for the game, the decision by the home team to increase admission by 100% (from £5 to £10) has led to calls for a boycott by Darlo fans.

Despite the vague mutterings of the West Auckland chairman trying to justify the increase on additional security costs, it is plainly a money-making exercise taking advantage of our following. It is not the cost per se but the principle and certainly the on-line community are heavily in favour of a boycott.

Such behaviour must be nipped in the bud to deter other clubs from doing the same although praise should go to those away teams we've played so far for not taking such a stance.

Northern League chairman Mike Amos had said this is not the sort of thing they expect to see from their member clubs but nonetheless he'd still prefer that Darlo fans didn't boycott the game. Which does seem to be a mixed message to me.

No doubt some fans will still attend regardless of the price and will not see the point of a boycott.  Whilst I don't agree with them, they're fully entitled to do what they want and they certainly don't deserve the spite and vile that has been levelled at them on the messageboard.  People only seem to like a democracy when it goes their way.

Geuze on cask - excellent!

My non-attendance does me allow to spend some drinking time with the London Millers not far from home in the Black Lion, Plaistow.  Like us, they use this pub as their pre-match watering hole for games at Dagenham.

Sadly the beer selection is a bit boring - Courage Best and three rather obvious beers from Adnams.  I have just the one pint as I bring some of the Millers up-to-date about developments at Darlo.

I resist the temptation to join them at the game - I can find better things to do with £19 - and head into central London and, you've guessed it, the Euston Tap.

Today there is a better-than-usual reason to visit as they're celebrating their second birthday. This comes just a few days after CAMRA awarded declared them to be runners-up in their Conversion to Pub Use award (the winner being the Drop Forge Inn in the Jewellery Quarter, Brum).

To celebrate their birthday, they have some an extra-special selection of beers available. On cask the Kernel Table Beer at just 3% was packed full of flavour whilst the Cantillon Geuze was extremely drinkable.

On keg there were some excellent beers, the pick of them being Kernel/Brodies SCANNERS IPA collaboration, Buxton Imperial Black IPA and making their debut, a couple of beers from the Wild Beer Co, Scarlet Fever and Fresh.

The Wild Beer Co suggest their beers are made with a "combination of ancient and new techniques" to give a "truly memorable drinking experience".  Slightly OTT craft-beer style bollocks? Well both beers are very interesting and enjoyable - far too often you get just one or the other but these beers work for me.

Martin ha travelled as normal so I drop hm a text to see how he is gettign on - he replied to say that he and fellow-steward Claude were watching the game from over a wall. Good lad!

Tigger has been dumped
 After chatting to a few tickers - more than usual today to try the Wild Beer Co beers - I popped along the Circle line to join the London Millers for post-match beers at the Craft Beer Co on Leather Lane.

I'd not seen any league results and so I was quite surprised that Dagenham had won 5-0.  "Evans Out" was my first response but that is always my response to that man.  

Sadly I heard that Darlo had also lost - a last minute penalty scored by old-boy John Campbell according to Martin - which brought a bit of a downer to the day.  However a curry on the way home soon put it all in perspective!

As I wandered back home through the back streets of East Ham I came across this sad looking character who appeared to have been abandoned.  As a Disney chap I should really have rescued the poor mite but I think we already have enough animals in our household...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Retinal Circus

No football again this weekend but I've a good excuse.  Devin Townsend is in town and I'd got my ticket to see him before we'd even been relegated from the Conference.

Devin who you ask?  Just one of the very the best things to come out of Canada since Rush and one of my favourite artistes.

Most people know him for his band Strapping Young Lad but he has had a few other projects since then - not least the current Devin Townsend Project who I saw last year.

For our entertainment Devin is putting on a one-night only spectacular called the Retinal Circus where he reprises his career to date with the help of a choir, dancers and various other artistes. Not to be missed!

Like football matches, I like to have a few beers before a gig to get me in the mood so I've allowed myself four hours in the Euston Tap for this very purpose.

The place is fairly quiet when I get in but service soon gets hectic as a procession of youngsters pop in, dressed either as sheriffs, red indians native Americans or cows.   Very odd.

Excellent brews aplenty - I get stuck into Fyne Avalanche, Fyne Sanda Blonde, Bristol Bitter Kiwi and Arbor Yakima Valley from the cask menu and London Fields Wheat Beer,  Duchesse de Bourogne, and Saison Du Pont on keg.

I bump into someone I'd not seen for quite a while - we used to drink in the same pub after work - and so we reminisce somewhat.  He tells me that he used to go to school with John Lydon of PiL.  Well I was impressed.

I dragged myself away after staying a bit longer than planned and catch the tube to Chalk Farm.  I was surprised a huge queue around the venue but there was a delay in the doors opening.

After 20 mins the queue starts to move and it doesn't take too long to get inside one of the most iconic venues in London. 

The fan-made Lucky Animals video

The Roundhouse was originally a railway shed (with turntable naturally!) which feel into disrepair until becoming an arts venue in the 60s for a couple of decades.  There was another period of closure before it was revamped into the grandiose building we see today.

No support bands - we were to get three hours of his finest tunes so no need for anything else.  In theory there was a story to drive the various non-music entertainment but it was all about the music for me.

Highlight of the evening was the appearance of SYL guitarist Jed Simon for a couple of tracks which got the biggest response.  SYL are a dead project to Devin - something to reflect his mindset many moons ago - but the crowd love it and at the end we're in a heavenly daze.

And to round it all off Darlo won 4-1 at Billingham Synthonia.

Recommended listening would probably be his most recent CD, Epicloud. Relatively poppy than most of his work, it has some cracking songs including the Lucky Animals video above.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Football League Revisited

A trip down memory lane starting at a very busy Maries on Lower Marsh, near Waterloo station.  An excellent breakfast but I was a bit jealous of the blokes opposite us who had a wait for their food but it turned out to be liver, onions, chips and gravy. What a top breakfast!

And then there is the obligatory visit to Ian Allan bookshop opposite - a one-stop shop for all your transport and military reading.  It looks like train-themed Christmas cards for everyone this year!

We meet up with Jenny and Julia on the concourse of Waterloo station - a busy one too with a mixture of travellers, some gathering for the march on Downing Street and others decked out in their finery on their way to Ascot for the racing. I'm sure there is something ironic in that but I can't be arsed to give it much thought.

Chris T joined us at Clapham and we arrived in Aldershot just before midday.  It is a good 15 min walk to the White Lion dodging various road works on the way but it remains the best pub in the town and is worth the effort.

On offer at the bar was the usual offerings from the local Triple F (fff) brewery - Pressed Rat and Warthog. Alton's Pride, Moondance plus a guest beer from somewhere else.

My lack of interest in the guest was due to the fact it was in a barrel on the bar and would be far too warm to drink. It turned out to be free as they wanted punters to try it so they could decide if they wanted to add it to the regulars.

We got chatting to an ex-pat Blackpool fan who watches Aldershot when not following the Tangerines.  He was keen to know how their on-loan player was faring with the Millers.

I was pleased to meet up with another Aldershot fan, Quentin, who I've got to know over the years. As well as football, we also share an interest in beer and Hawkwind.  What a winning combination.

Pub dog Millie was still in attendance but was giving us the cold shoulder, preferring the company of those watching the Spurs-Chelsea game on the TV, barking madly as various punters celebrated the goals.

Triple f brewery now produce their beers in bottles - all bottle conditioned - and I tried the Moondance (for me the best of their wares).  It turned out to be even better in bottles although extremely lively but with a wonderful almost-saison taste.

The Millers left for the game whilst I finished yet another bottle of the Moondance.  Eventually Quentin and I departed for the ground about 20 mins before kick-off and got into the ground seconds before kick-off.

My early shouts about Steve Evans and his short-comings were not appreciated by the more neandethal of the away contingent.  I certainly know I would be disgusted if Darlo had hired him as manager - some Millers' fans feel the same but a surprising number are prepared to gloss over his illustrious past in pursuit of future glory.

I've always liked the Recreation Ground and what would Darlo give for a home like that now?  It still has three sides but it looked quite busy even with a sub-2000 crowd. The home fans seemed very quiet - no drummer today to buoy their singing.

It isn't surprising the home fans are not attending in numbers as Aldershot have been doing badly and today they were rubbish.  Rotherham took an early lead and from that moment the Shots seemed to give up. They went through the motions but a 3-0 defeat flattered them.

After the game we had a quick pint - Fullers Pride - at the nearby Royal Staff where we were able to digest all the day's results.  Nice to see Darlo's winning streak continue with a 3-1 home victory over Bedlington Terriers.

And then the train back to Waterloo - Liz went home to feed the cats whilst Jenny, Chris and I took the Northern Line to Euston and a few bevvies at the Euston Tap.  The colder weather means that it those who normally drink outside are cowering indoors.

For once I don't spend the rest of the night in there and head home at a reasonable hour to catch a curry before they all close.

As I head towards Euston Square tube I come across what must have been a nasty smash on the Euston Road.  A large tanker has collided with a car, ripping the roof off as it almost squashed it.

It looked like all the action is over - no ambulances or fire engines in attendance with just a few uniforms in place, presumably checking what happened.  You'd imagine no one would have got out alive but one of the police told me that there were no serious injuries.  Amazing.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ashes to Ashes

For the second week running there was engineering on my section of the tube and it was back to the buses although an 8:30am departure from Kings Cross meant I almost had a lie-in by my standards.

Before heading for breakfast I wandered off to Foyles at St Pancras and as I was leaving, I narrowly missed bumping into actor Jeremy Irons, looking very swashbuckle in an Indiana Jones-style fashion. He obviously doesn't want to stand out in a crowd.

There were no Premier fixtures so the train is pretty quiet save for some Donny fans getting off at Northallerton for their change to Hartlepool.

At Bank Top Martin was met by his fellow steward Claude so they could head off for fish and chips before their stints at Heritage Park. I made my way to the Quaker for the first time in almost six months where I found Tony, John  and Trev at 'our' usual table.
Ticket To Ride

On the bar today were Saltaire Bavarian Black and Bavarian Blonde, Allendale Weizen and Swift, Hesket Newmarket Black Sail, Wainstone Steel River, Wylam Houblon Nouveau, Tyne Bank Castle Gold and Hadrian & Border Ouseburn Porter.

We were joined by Bev and John's in-laws Mike and Jean who were up for the week.  We were also joined by some really odd bloke (even by DAFTS' standards) - a Crook Town fan apparently - who Bev mistakenly though was with us and invited him to our table.  It was too much for Tony who left and went to the ground early.

During the past few months I'd amassed a huge array of local CAMRA mags so it was good to finally divest myself of some of them.  Local Quaker regular Steve popped in so I was able to make sure he got first dibs on the London Drinker.

We wandered up to Number Twenty-2 as some of the others wanted some food.  I caught up on all the news with Durham Tony and his mates whilst everyone else tucked in.

It was the usual Village Brewer offerings on the bar plus a few guests - Harviestoun Wild Hop Ale was one of these and it was excellent.  It was also nice to have a taste of the Nightmare Stout - not had that for quite a while.

We departed just before 2pm to pick up the Supporters Trust bus down by the Dolphin Centre - £4 return with Trust board member Neil Raper taking charge of the clipboard.  This finally allowed me the chance to pass over a bag of Trust badges I'd had for quite a few years.

The bus journey took about 25 mins - the driver seemed to be taking a bit slow for our liking - and on arrival we decided against popping into the March Hare pub just by the ground.

I met Martin and Gordon outside their new tunnel and Martin took me inside for a bit of a look around. 

Obviously the place is a bit more compact than the Arena but it all seems very clean and neat. Clarke Keltie was on the treatment table with his trackie bottoms down when I popped my head in - not for the faint hearted.

Terry Farley and Marin
There are still the other old faces helping behind the scenes - Terry Farley still looks after the referees whilst Eric Laycock keeps an eye on the press - such as they are these days.

As I made my way round to join John and Trev over on the grass bank opposite the main stand, I bumped into various old faces who were all happy to see me back in the fold. Isn't it nice to be wanted?

I tried out the catering - the chips and curry sauce were very nice. But I was still peckish and found that the pie, peas and gravy nicely filled the remaining gap.

Ashington had a small number of fans in attendance but they were quite vocal. No doubt they were delighted to take a surprise lead after just eight minutes, especially after Darlington had made a most determined start to the game, almost taking the lead direct from the kick-off.

The home fans didn’t have to wait too long for an equaliser as Leon Scott slotted home from edge of the box just two minutes later. And three minutes later Darlo took the lead after Stephen Thomson scored from a similar distance.

The disadvantages of Heritage Park became apparent in the first half as the dark clouds gathered, bringing with it a short rain shower followed by an intense bout of hailstones. All part of the deal at this level and it wasn’t long before we were back to bright sunshine.

Darlo continued to apply pressure for the remainder of the half but failed to add to the lead before the half-time whistle was blown. Home keeper Norton kept the Ashington score to a single goal after bringing off a good save.

After the restart Darlo who continued to make all the running and it took just a few minutes to extend the lead - Thomson scoring his second from the penalty spot after a foul on Nicholls.

Darlo piled on the pressure but it took another twenty minutes or so before Amar Purewal extended the lead, heading in the easiest of chances from about one yard after the Ashington keeper parried a cross right into his path.

View from the terrace towards
the (new) Tin Shed
Minutes later a fifth goal came from another header, this time from Scott and in the closing seconds, Emms was put through and calmly slotted it past the Ashington keeper.

Darlo certainly could have scored more whilst Ashington rarely threatened with any seriousness – for the most part the away side were chasing shadows and were probably glad to have kept the scoreline down to six.

It had been a very enjoyable game with a great atmosphere throughout - you can't beat winning, can you?
We filed out of the ground and along to the bus stop for the coach back to the Dolphin Centre. Back in Darlo I had about 40 mins before our train so could have gone for beers but decided against it.  Thankfully the train back was very quiet - with just one stop at York - and Martin and I snoozed all the way back to King's Cross.

Feeling refreshed, we headed off to the Euston Tap for some beer and post-match chat.  Martin got a taste for the refreshing Bernard Light whilst I had an absolute excess of choice before me - Brewfist Fear (Italian milk stout), Summer Wine Oregon, Magic Rock Clown Juice, Saison Du Pont, Kirkstall Framboise, De Molen Blikken & Blozen (a darkish saison) and last but not least, Kernel Simcoe-Magnum.

As ever I ended up staying way beyond closing time to make the most of this, only making it home on the last tube.  But what a great way to finish off my first game at Heritage Park.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

DAFTS tour de York

For all that I'd got back into the the football groove a couple of weeks ago, this was to be another football-free Saturday.

I woke up later than planned leading to a frenzied dash using taxi, DLR and tube to get me to Kings Cross in time for mandatory breakfast.

I left Kings Cross at 7:30am, arriving in York two hours later. Tony joined me minutes later and we sat waiting for the York Tap to open at their advertised time of 10am.  Finally at 10:15am, the doors opened.

York Tap (platform entrance)
The York Tap is the younger sibling of the Euston Tap and was recently awarded Best Cask Beer pub in the 2012 Great British Pub awards.

I've been in twice before and whilst they always have a wide choice, the condition of the beers has never impressed, certainly not to the extent that they are deserving of an award.  Today was no different - the Tempest beer I had was good but most of others - including the Katzenhammer from Northallerton's Walls brewery - were poor.

We were joined in the Tap by Brian and then Steve - Martin also popped in for half an hour whilst he waited for his connection to Billingham although tweets about a broken rail at Thornaby weren't encouraging for that leg of the journey.

Rotherham United were in town to play York City today and a slow trickle of Millers started coming into the pub, including some London Millers.

We thought it a good time to move onto the next pub on our list, Brigantes, which is quite reminiscent of Number Twenty-2 and is a sister pub to the Tithe Bar in Northalleton. It was just opening as we arrived - slightly better timing for pub #2!

We met a couple more of the London Millers (Derby branch) before the main set of London Millers, including Liz, arrived.  They were in search of food as well as drink - Brian thought likewise and ordered what looked to be a very meaty Barnsley chop (though he didn't seem so impressed with his veggies).

By now we were having deep conversations about the current state of Darlington and everything going on at the club.  It is good to see that Tony is back on the board where he'll do a great job.

The Millers wander off to Bootham Crescent as kick-off approached and shortly after we follow in the same direction.  We skip the chance of dropping into the Ackhorne - an old favourite but not too good on my most recent visits - and drop into the small but perfectly formed Blue Bell.  Good beers and excellent pork pies for those that are still hungry.

Next up is the Pivni bar - first pub in the Tap chain - and as I get the beers in, Steve wanders off to buy a selection of cheeses from the shop next door.  I don't really like cheese but he found a lovely Wensleydale with lemon and it was not too bad at all.

As on the last DAFTS visit here in the summer, we closely monitor the comings and going at the Ernest Roy electrical shop opposite where a wide range of unusual electronic tat is on sale. It does seem an odd little place.

As we do so, news from game at Billingham comes filtering through. First came tweets about the fighting as the game started and then we hear that we've taken the lead.

A merriment of DAFTS in the Blue Bell
Our final point of call is the Maltings.  Normally this pub can be a bit of a crush but since our last visit, the pub has been extended and there is plenty of sitting room. 

Scores continue to be monitored and it seems there is a second-half goal deluge at Billingham that sees us win 7-1. We rack our brains trying to remember when we last scored six goals in the second half.

And then on the train back to Kings Cross - joined by loads of Rotherham fans thankfully only going as far as Donny. Not the most intelligent bunch with some having the cheek to criticise small-but-cosy Bootham Crescent. Such short memories.

A good snooze and then I'm back in the Euston Tap before 8pm - some nice beers on keg tonight and I end up having rounds of Saison du Pont and Magic Rock Highwire

I get talking to a few folk in there including a couple of QPR fans who were drowning their sorrows after yet another defeat, this time at West Brom. I confess I used to like them but can't now that they have Mark Hughes as manager.  They admit they don't like him either.

Also in attendance was John Whinnerah, brewer at Art Brew - a big chap in an Art Brew t-shirt, it was hard to miss him.  I know his beers quite well -  his Single Hop Motueka is on tap tonight - and they're all pretty good. 

John used to run the award-winning Royal Oak in Bath.  This one was of the best pubs in Bath and very handy for Darlo's first ever game at Twerton Park. Sadly since he left, the place went downhill and on DAFTS last visit to the city, the manager there wouldn't let us in due to a shortage of staff.  However there is good news as recent comments suggest it is improving.

As the night progresses, the staff experiment with a mixture of Thornbridge Halycon and gin. Surprisingly it tastes quite good but I've had enough for today and head off to Stratford to get a taxi home (my tube lines are out of action).

As I head to the taxi ramp, I bump into Mark - fellow drinker last week at Borefts - who looks like he has had a few beers too.  We share a taxi to our respective gaffs.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Borefts Festival 2012

The start was ultra-early even by my standards - catching the N15 night bus at 4:30am (and standing room only!) so that I would be in good time for the 6:50am Eurostar to Brussels.  At St Pancras I met fellow beer hound, Chris, one of the London Millers, for a trip to the Low Countries in search of some beer excellence.

Despite the time of day the train is pretty full, mainly with business folk, and the journey passes smoothly with the weather gradually improving as we move eastward.

We arrive in Brussels at 10:10am - two hours before our connection to Utrecht - but thankfully the local Cantillon brewery opens at 9am and off we headed.

Warning to motorists - beware
festival drinkers!
 Famous for lambic beers - which have a very distinctive sour taste and a style that nearly died out until people such as Michael Jackson started to write about the style - it is a popular destination and we weren't the first people in.

After trying out the kriek (cherry), standard gueze and finally the Mamouche (elderflow) gueze, we headed back to the station where we met Jackie and Simon who seemingly spend most of their weekends chasing beers in Europe (when not doing so in London).

On arrival Chris and I checked into our hotel, had a quick brush-up and  headed back into the town centre. As with most of the Netherlands' major cities, it is undergoing major refurbishments which made navigation rather problematic.

We finally located the Utrecht FC club shop so Chris could get a few souvenirs and then located our first port of call, Kafee Belgie. Here we had a few beers and also met Mark, a friend of Jackie and Simon and also a fellow Yorkshireman and East End neighbour.

Cafe de Rat was the next stop - a great little pub with an excellent atmosphere - the place was full of Norwegian beery types who'd come to Holland for the same reason as us.

Erik the landlord was a smashing chap, charming his customers and digging out a miscellany of rare lambic beers to keep us happy (the rarity of one carrying a price tag of €55!).

We were also joined along the way by Des de Moor who is well known for his articles in CAMRA magazines for many years and who also has an excellent beer blog. Check it out.

De Molen brewery - home
to the Borefts festival
Next morning we had breakfast at Utrecht CS before meeting Jackie, Simon and Mark.  We take one of those excellent double-decker trains - a shame we can't have them over here - and head off to Bodegraven and the wonderful Borefts festival.

The festival is in it's fourth year and is held at the two sites of De Molen, the most exciting brewery in the Netherlands.

The festival features their beers as well as offerings from other breweries representing the cream of the European crop. 

Joining us in the queue were a large number of people from the UK and various parts of Europe and a decent number from the US.
The beer was served in small (15cl) portions which meant that you were constantly getting up and getting a refill but even after being there nine hours, we weren't drunk.  There were far too many good beers to mention but it was a superb day spent with loads of friendly beer fiends (not all hairy men either) - I hope to return next year.

Whilst Simon, Jackie and Mark returned for a second visit to Borefts on Saturday, Chris and I took the train into Amsterdam, a city where I really feel at home.

We had a couple of steady openers at de Wildeman which for many years was the number-one-do-not-miss bar in the city.  These days though there are plenty of other good bars but for us de Wildeman has the main advantage of opening at noon.

Next stop was the new-ish de Prael bar - complete with brewery out the back - which has a stable of excellent beers.  In the early days, the brewery employed psychiatric patients as part of their rehabiliation.

The beers are all named after Dutch singers from the 50s, 60s and 70s - typical schmaltzy middle-of-the-road stuff and includes a tasty milk stout - Zwarte Riek - named after a 50s singer.

The surprising thing in here was the number of (all Dutch) hen parties - all with a male guide seeing them safely from venue to venue - and some of the elderly Dutch women looked well scary.  I'd hate to see what they were like by the end of the day.

De Prael bar, Amsterdam
From here we move to the Beer Temple which mainly specialises in US beers but also stocks others from leading European brewers such as Mikkeller. 

For a short while we were joined by a stag-do from Blackburn who were astonished at the prices charged for the US imports.  Friendly lads though.

On the way to our final destination, Arendsnest, we pop into the Bierkoning (beer shop) to search a few bottles from the latest Dutch breweries.  I've never seen it so busy and have to queue for ten minutes with my purchases.

The Arendsnest is packed and we do well to nab the last couple of spare bar stools.  We met the owner, Peter, at Borefts yesterday and he said he was out on a stag-do himself today.

This used to be a popular Belgian beer bar when we first visited about 15 years ago but now it showcases Dutch beers only and it was good to taste some old favourites such as SNAB Pale Ale.

Eventually we'd had our fill - back on larger capacity glasses was having an affect - and we called it a day.  As we left for our train back to Utrecht, we checked the scores - Darlington beating Newcastle Benfield 5-2 whilst the Millers beat lowly Oxford United 3-1. Great news all round!

On Sunday we were up relatively early for a hearty breakfast in the hotel before catching the train back to Brussels.  We arrived at 1pm which gave us a few hours to spare - what else to do but head to another of Brussels' finest bars, Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas?

A long modern-style bar, it has a superb range of draught and bottled beers from all over Europe although on this occasion I found some of my favourite draught saisons not up to (my high exacting) standard.  Nevertheless it was a perfect place to finish our grand tour.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Northern League Debut

Get back in the football groove - that was the plan for today as I left the house at 5:30am and headed off to Kings Cross.  Thankfully Da Vincis opens early so I was able to have a comprehensive breakfast before we caught the 7:30am train north.

Given the early hour, it wasn't a surprise to find the train was not heavily loaded.  Just as well as the seat reservations hadn't been printed, confusing passengers as they joined en route. 

John, Martin, Steve, John and Cath
in the Bacchus
As we pulled into Bank Top station it felt wrong not to be getting off and heading into town.  John Wilson was on the platform waiting for us and joined us for the final leg to Newcastle Central station.

Before we went to the first pub, we had a wander round the famous Grainger Market where, as a student in the early 80s, I used to get 28p a pound ox liver.  Martin commented he'd never seen so many butchers under one roof and it was hard to decide which of their pies to plump for.

The first pub of the day was an old favourite - helped by the fact it opens at 11am - the Newcastle Arms. Given it's proximity to St James' Park the Sports Direct Arena the pub would normally be busy at this hour on matchdays but thankfully Newcastle's game had been moved to Sunday.

The beers at the bar were Anarchy Brewery Sublime Chaos (7.0 breakfast stout), Big Lamp Golden Star,
Temptation 7 Deadly Sins, Triple F Moondance, TSA Sherrifmuir and Wensleydale Gold.  Of those I tried the breakfast stout was very tasty but a half was more than enough.

From here we crossed the city centre to the Bacchus, pub of the year for the fourth time in a row, and where we found our Gateshead chum Steve waiting for us.
Geoff T spots me

The Bacchus strikes me as a larger version of Number Twenty-2 and there is a good choice of cask and nu-key beers. 

Best in show for me was the the excellent Tempest White Light - excellent albeit at 7% not something to overdose on. Summer Wine's Dr Paracelsus looked interesting but a taster was enough - far too much spice to this one.

At the bar I bumped into Ken, a ticking type from Durham. We used to regularly see him in the Quaker but Newcastle has got such a vast array of good pubs these days, he has more than enough beers here to keep him busy.

Also joining us was Cath, one of my chums from my university days in Newcastle.  After graduation Cath stayed in the area and her Cheltenham burr has long given way to a subtle Geordie tang.  It was good to see her again.

After a few beers Steve suggested we wander to the Bridge Hotel - another of my student haunts - where we met a few of his buddies.  After a few more beers - and some cheek from the barmaid - we took a taxi ride to Dunston.

The UTS stadium is a large flat ground with just a couple of stands, surrounded by trees and feeling quite rural.  It was clear to see there was a healthy Darlo contingent in attendance, swelling the attendance to  almost 800. 

The players were warming up as we came in and it was hard for me to put a name to any of them save the Purewals and the guy who seems to love tanning machines - well scary.

I had a reduced set of camera gear with me today and didn't really have a need to be pitchside.  As a consequence I ended up doing more talking than usual - catching up with a lot of familiar faces - and so paid less attention to the game than normal.

The first half was pretty even and it looked as if the home side would take the lead when they were awarded a penalty.  The spot kick wasn't brilliant but Norton did well to save it. 

Dunston would regret this almost instantly as Darlo scored within a few minutes when Joe Tait (apparently) scored with a close range header.  The score remained the same when the ref blew for half-time.

In the second half it remained a fairly even game with Darlo shading the number of goal-scoring chances but neither side being able to put the ball away.

Tait and Scott celebrate
as Darlo go 1-0 up
It was Darlo's turn to be awarded a penalty after about 70 mins as the uber-tanned Leon Scott was brought down - Reay showed the way to take a penalty and put Darlo 2-0 up.

Darlo scored a third in the dying seconds as young Lowes rounded the keeper to put the game well beyond reach.

As we left the ground and waited for our taxi, about five police vehicles turned up - trouble at the far end of the ground apparently after the game but I have to say we were oblivious of it all.

We caught a taxi back to Central station where some of us went for a final pint in the Forth on Pink Lane, an avenue of disrepute in my student days but now quite a decent little cut-through with nice pubs and cafes.

And then it was time for the the train back to Kings Cross, most of which was spent snoozing.

Since Martin had already had a few halves, I ended up going to the Euston Tap on my own but it wasn't long before I was chatting to some of the other regulars.

Nothing particularly interesting on cask tonight so I went for a few nu-keg beers - Red Willow Ageless & Wreckless were both excellent whilst Tempest Face With No Name and Hop Studio Pilsner were pretty decent.

All in all, mission successful - I feel well and truly back in the groove...

Thursday, 20 September 2012

And finally...

....after a bit of a hiatus since the last post, I'm finally going to see Darlington in action when we visit Dunston UTS on Sat.

I had prepared the final reports of last season but hadn't got around to actually posting them - I may well do so in the next few weeks purely to plug the gap and finish things cleanly. Should satisfy my mild OCD.

And as for all the shenanigans during the season? Well I thought there was more than enough being written about our journey out of administration, the attitudes of our former chairman as well as the intransigence of the FA over our new status without adding any more needless comment.

My view was, and remains, the same - the club needs to be run by the fans and the fans need to step up and do their bit.  Those of us who are exiles cannot really do much of a practical nature but many of us have been happy to invest hard cash and allow the locals to put theory into practice.

And so far, everyone seems to have risen to the challenge and on all fronts we've made a promising start to life in the Northern League.

And what is very heartening is that the attendances are very solid and people do seem to be enjoying going back to grassroots - it does help that we're winning mind!

I had planned to attend some games by now but a mixture of home improvement works on the house and then some fixture rearrangements by the club have meant I've missed the opening eight league games.  I don't think that has happened since the late-eighties.

As an exile the rearrangement of some fixtures has been less than welcome given the 12-week advance window for buying cheap tickets on the East Coast mainline. 

Of course, some of these have been unavoidable due to other clubs being in various cup but some of the others could have been handled much better to help those travelling long distances.

The move to Wednesday for midweek games hasn't affected me at all other than have to rearrange the timing for Martin's rail tickets (and the additional cost).  A shame this change couldn't have been considered at the start of the season and built into the fixture list from day one.

And then we have the games moved to Friday where Heritage Park had already been booked up for weddings and the like.  It was annoying to hear about the first one but then to wait a few weeks before announcing the next one?

Apparently it can take the club a while to rearrange a fixture - I don't have an issue with that - but to keep the fixture in the calendar when the club knows full well the game won't go ahead? Less than useful.

As a result I'm keeping my attendance more limited that I normally would - it won't affect the club as they have my season ticket money - and I can find other enjoyable things to do on a Saturday that don't involve getting up early and making a round trip of about 500 miles (not to mention not having to carry my usual photographic load).

Other than the performances on the pitch, it will be interesting to see how things shape up as the interim board moves to a new elected board and how the CIC develops alongside the club.  Hopefully there will be plenty of locals looking to put themselves forward to help.

See you all at Dunston...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Down Amongst The Dead Men

Despite the weather forecast it was turning into a really nice day as we left Da Vincis and caught the usual 8:30am train north.

But it didn't take long for the day to take a nasty turn - we lingered at the platform in Peterborough for about ten minutes and were told there were signal problems ahead between Grantham and Newark.  Then came the news that our train was cancelled!

Martin hadn't even noticed as he was too engrossed working out his bets for the day but we dutifully de-trained and waited for more news.  I feared the worse, worried my drinking would be severely curtailed, and was looking to give it up as a bad job and head back to London.

I called Liz - at home today - and asked her to check online - buses were being sent to take us north so we walked over towards the main entrance. As we did so, the tannoy announced the 9am departure from KX on platform 3 would take us onwards.  We were just above it so were in a great position to get on before everyone else and bagged a couple of seats.

We eventually left 45 minutes behind schedule but the journey from then on was peaceful - save for a noisy baby in front of us - and it was noon as we arrived.  A brief visit to the covered market - family sized quiche and fruit pie for the journey back today - and then into the Quaker.

A veritable feast of DAFTS (and partners) today on duty today - Trev, Brian, John & Bev, Steve & Cath - but my chair had been kept free - thanks guys. Later Sandy (Mrs Trev) and then Lesley joined us.
Pickford collects
Steve Wilkinson, another exile from Darlo, had also made the journey but since he is now safely retired, he'd come up the night before and missed all the fun this morning.

A fairly disappointing choice of beers were on offer with nothing that stood out.  Steve - who'd come up with Cath the night before - told me that there was Taylor's Ram Tam up in Number Twenty-2.  That was enough for me and I moved on.

Unfortunately the Ram Tam had gone by the time I got there but they had Titanic Iceberg, Titanic 1912 (underwhelming),  Brakspears Bitter & Kelham Island Bete Noir Stout.

The massed ranks of DAFTS all took taxis to the ground but we were a bit late getting there and hadn't time to get my 50/50 tickets.  At press reception I bumped into my uncle Ray from Catterick who is still helping his mate Eric.

Down on the pitch, injuries had forced a bit of a reshuffle after Kris Taylor injured himself in training - something behind his knee went pop according to his tweet - and I feared that would leave us up against it today, even against the worst team in the division.

However we didn't start too badly and started to pass the ball around and even exerted some pressure on their defence.  John McReady slipped through the central defenders to give himself a great chance but the keeper got a foot to his shot.

Bath had some decent possession of their own but failed to force Pickford into any major exertion other than to collect the odd high ball.

And then Haydn Hollis bolstered lingering hopes when he put Darlington ahead on 34 minutes.

The centre-back found himself in the penalty area after going forward for an Aaron Brown free-kick. It was not cleared, Adam Rundle played the ball back into the penalty area where Hollis, on loan from Notts County, took a touch before turning and shooting past Glyn Garner.

That was one of the few notable moments during a moderate first half lacking in any real incident.

Haydn Hollis shoots and scores
That there was so little quality on show was no surprise given that the game was between the teams positioned 22nd and 24th in the Conference.

But Darlington had clearly been the better side, improving as the half wore on against the part-time opposition.

The second half was similar, though neither keeper seriously tested for lengthy spells, but what appeared to be a match-clinching second goal came on 81 minutes.

It was a smart strike too, Adam Rundle volleying home from inside the penalty area after meeting a cross by teenage winger Danny Lambert.

Lambert had just come on as substitute, replacing Neil Wainwright who was carrying a calf strain as was Paul Arnison who returned to the side at right-back.

The two-goal cushion meant victory looked assured and, with relegation rivals Newport and AFC Telford unable to win, the fight against the drop looked likely to continue.

But within two minutes of Rundle’s goal, Bath pulled one back through Alex Russell.

The ball fell kindly to him outside the penalty area and he connected well with a lob that drifted over Jordan Pickford’s head.

The goal rocked Darlington and invigorated Bath who sensed blood and they got it in the dying minutes.

Murray dribbled towards the back-peddling defence, cut inside from the left and delivered a low strike beyond Pickford to salvage a draw and sink Darlington.

That Murray celebrated the goal by running across with the width of the pitch to goad some home supporters appeared wholly unnecessary, and hardly the conduct expected of an experienced player.

Adam Rundle celebrates
Darlo's second goal
But his reaction was not among Darlington’s major concerns on a very sad day for the football club as they dropped into the Conference North for the first time in our history.
As is often the case with such results, everyone felt like we'd been beaten as we trooped along Newsham Road.
It was all a bit subdued on the way home and we just got stuck into our pastries and pondered the future games next season (including the lack of southern games).
We were back at King's Cross for a respectable time and we found the place was full of Liverpool fans celebrating their semi-final win over Everton. Thankfully there were none to be send around the Euston Tap when I got there.

I settled in for the rest of the night with some excellent beers - De Molen Vur &Vlam, Bristol dry-hopped Independence and,Californian, Summer Wine Teleporter and finally a collaboration from Steel City and Arbor Ales called DCLXVI which came in at 6.66%. 

Also enjoying a few beers was the Masterchef 2011 winner - Tim - who used to work at the Tap.  A little worse for wear on this occasion.  He and the staff were enjoying grass-based liqueur cocktails with a half-piny lager chaser - very odd.

As I left I handed the remnants of our pies to the staff who were feeling a bit peckish.  I headed off and caught one of the last tubes homeward. Unfortunately I slept beyond my stop and woke up at Barking with no further tubes running. Thankfully there was a bus outside to take me not far from my doorstep. Phew!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bank Holiday Massacre

Finally it seems as if I'm free of engineering work on the tube - certainly for the rest of the season and hopefully until the Olympics and beyond.

Martin met me at Da Vincis - thankfully open on a bank holiday - and for once made the day of the female waitress by ordering a breakfast rather than his usual "just tea".

A peaceful trip north though on the way we got a text from Liz confirming that Rotherham had - as rumoured earlier in the week - taken on Steve Evans as manager.  That will be popular.

Ultimate embarrassment  as Louis scores
We had to remember to get off at Newark, rather than head for Darlo, where we had a short wait for the connecting train for the 30-min journey to Lincoln.

We had time for a quick peruse around Waterstones before hiking up to the other end of the High Street where the Golden Eagle had opened at the very reasonable time of 11am.

This pub was the original DAFTS Pub of the Season quite a few years ago and it hasn't changed much in the intervening years.  It is still part of the Castle Rock chain and this is reflected in the beers at the bar: Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Sparrow and Hebridean plus a couple fo Batemans - XB and Eggs-B, plus RSX from Red Squrrel.

Maybe I wasn't in the mood but the beers didn't seem brilliant - the normally reliable Harvest Pale wasn't as crisp and refreshing as it should be - in fact it tasted a little malty - and the others didn't appeal much more.

Still there was a big pot of chilli at the bar which Pete Stockill tucked into.  We were joined by Brian as well but that was the extent of the DAFTSness today.

Martin wandered off to the bookies and then Pete and I headed off early-ish to the ground - the weather wasn't brilliant but wasn't as wet as forecast. Fingers crossed it wouldn't get worse.

In the ground I met up with the Lincoln photographers - Graham and Andrew - a real nice pair who always look after you and it was good to catch up with them again.  We discussed our respective clubs and like us Lincoln are not in a happy place - crowds are down and the football is poor with no sign of improvement or investment.

Red card for Paul Johnson
Both clubs today needed a win to stand any chance of avoiding relegation, although Lincoln were in a much healthier position whereas Darlo were doomed unless there was a miracle of biblical proportions.

It seemed that the Lincoln players were more aware of this than the Quakers and other than for a short spell at the start of the game, Darlo were on the back foot throughout.

Lincoln had a couple of chances but only wayward finishing and a good tackle from Johnson kept the scores level.

McReady was working hard in midfield whilst Bowman and Broughton beavered away but got very little out of the Lincoln defence.  The referee seemed to think it was Christmas and not Easter judging by the number of free kicks he gave to their central defenders, with Gowling falling to the ground repeatedly.

Lincoln's early pressure paid off when Pickford parried a well-hit free kick only for Lincoln MOTM Lloyd to tap the ball home.

It wasn't long before the home team doubled their lead after a cross came in and the Darlo defence were beaten to the ball by Taylor who headed in.

And then from a similar move, former Darlo player and journeyman superior, Jefferson Louis, headed the ball past Pickford to make it three-nil. If only he'd shown this much gumption when he'd been with us.

Wainy - what am I doing here?
Neil Wainwright - playing at right-back but never looking comfortable - failed to cut out a ball which allowed Lloyd to break free and shoot - it took a deflection off Johnson and gave Pickford no chance. Four-nil!

And then to top off the first half, Johnson was adjudged to have fouled Louis on the edge of the box and the ref continued his Santa act and duly produced the red card. As if Lincoln needed any further advantage!

Wainwright failed to come out for the second half as Paul Arnison came on and Kris Taylor moved back to replace Johnson.  The balance was better and Darlington started to keep possession and move forward with purpose but the home keeper was rarely threatened.

Lincoln continued to make chances and Pickford made a couple of excellent saves and it seemed we might keep it scoreless for the second half.  And then that man Louis hit the post with a shot before scoring his second with a simple header form close range.

There was a late shout for a Darlo penalty when it seemed Rundle's shot was blocked but there was to be nothing for us today.  Poor old Lidds was pulling out what little hair he had left and you had to feel for him.

The referee blew for time and thankfully that was it so that the Darlo fans - just over 170 hardy souls - were spared further pain.  They had been supportive throughout with plenty of gallows humour and they clapped the players off, seemingly to their embarrassment.

It seemed the other results were such that it looked as if relegation would be confirmed but it transpired that the west of England had a lot more rain than us - the Telford -v- Tamworth game had been abandoned and so our fate was on hold for another week.

Although we were booked to leave Lincoln after 6pm, I persuaded Martin to leave on an earlier train to Newark Castle station.   As we alighted there, the heavens opened but thankfully it was short-lived.

We wandered through the town and headed for Northgate station. As we did I made sure we went a certain way so that we could call into the DAFTS-renowned Appleton Gate Fish Bar.  Haddock and chips was the order of the day.

We tucked into it in one of the waiting rooms - envious (or maybe nasty) glances from fellow passengers - it was only when we left we saw the sign saying "Hot Food Not To Be Eaten In Here". Oops!

Our train was on time though not surprisingly it was standing room only unless you had a reservation. After a nice cuppa and a little snooze, it wasn't long before we were back at Kings Cross.

It would have been nice to drown our sorrows with a few beers at the Euston Tap but with it being back to work the next day, we just headed off home.
Craig Liddle doing never gives up

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Hope Begins To Ebb Away

At this time of year I usually head home for a long weekend – it is my Mum’s birthday and there is usually the Spring Thing beer festival.  This year my visit coincided with the Darlo Tykes race night which was raising funds to buy shares in Darlo 1883. 

As I arrived at the Working Men’s club, there was already a healthy crowd raring to go, including some good folk who’d travelled from Darlo, including Rich and Andy.  Rich, like me, was a bit non-plussed by the beer on offer – smooth flow or Newcastle Brown.

Once the racing started I was a winner on the first race and then it all went downhill.  My chum Richard joined us and he proceeded to win his first three races before retiring unbeaten with a smug expression on his face.

Paul Johnson on-loan from Pools
We left before the end and headed to the nearby Tithe Bar as we were desperate for some good beer but it was great to hear that over £1400 was raised – well done to Geoff, Steve, Rich and all the others who made this a very enjoyable and profitable evening.

Next day there was the faintest semblance of a Newcastle Brown fuzzy headiness – all those nasty chemicals no doubt - but by the time I’d walked to the station my head was almost clear.  There were a few train spotter-types around and I soon saw why when I noticed a plume of smoke south of the station.  A minute later the City Of Truro thundered through on its way north. A nice start to the day.

Once in Darlington, first stop was Alfie’s for breakfast in the covered market – excellent as always and with a great vantage point from which to watch everyone going about their business.  After that I had a wander round the shops, popped into Taylors for pies and then arrived at the Quaker dead on opening time – first one in!

And on the bar we had: High House Farm Auld Hemp and 5th Anniversary, Storr Peerless (lager), Naylors Aire Valley Bitter, Hadrian & Border Ouseburn Porter, Jarrow Red Ellen, York Terrier, Wensleydale German (lager) plus a rugby beer, Belhaven Grand Slam, which I ignored out of principle.

The two lagers were not too bad at all and so I stuck to them once I'd done the rounds of the other new beers.

And then up at Number Twenty-2 we had another great range - Hexhamshire Whapweasel, Scottish Borders Dark Horse, Little Valley Pontius Hebdenus, Marston English Pale Ale, Hill House Farm Nel's Best, Hambleton Bitter and the usual house beers.  I couldn't get through most of these but the Whapweasel and Pontius Hebdenus stood out for me.

And then to the main business of the day - our match against Ebbsfleet who'd we played off the park just a few weeks ago with what we had hoped was a revivial of our fortunes. Instead we have a pale imitation of the side that won three pints that day. 

Pickford collects
As ever we're almost down to bare bones and we've had to bring in a young lad – Paul Johnson - on loan from Hartlepool who will partner Kris Taylor in the centre of the defence.

The new pairing were quite busy in the first half but seemed to be holding up well but at the other end Darlington had little to offer with Ryan Bowman not really making keeper Cronin work too hard.

The first half was far from memorable apart from when a woeful shot - or backpass - came straight at yours truly but  I'm pleased to report that I was able to calmly head it away. One of the few things to get a cheer at that point in the game.  I'm wasted on my stool, you know. 

Darlington came out for the second half as if they'd had a rollocking but any positive movement was cancelled out within minutes as the new central pairing failed to pick up Enver-Marum who hit home from close range.

And two minutes later the Kentish men had doubled their lead after more lax defending allowed Ughu to slot home from just inside the box. 

Darlington rallied a little but it was powder-puff stuff and other than Bowman hitting the woodwork, we never looked like pulling a goal back.  Too many players seemed out of sorts and the end of the game couldn't come quick enough for the fans.

After such a performance I was glad I only had the ten minute trip back to Northallerton.  I met Martin at the station and then we were joined again by Drewe Broughton who was once again on the train back south.

Drewe made no attempt to hide his frustration at the result and was at a loss for the apparent communal off-day.   
During my brief stint on the train we chatted about his fitness business -- used by many lower division pros when they're getting fitness back after injuries.   You can see that it is something he really enjoys which is probably just as well as his time with us must be very frustrating. It is certainly is for us...