On Friday afternoon we all made our way to the Steel City and gathered at the Hillsborough Hotel - Tony and Ray had arrived early - even finding time for a lunchtime beer with DAFTS local boy Brian in his lunch hour - and they were on their way to the nearby New Barrack Tavern as Steve and I arrived.
After checking in and dropping off our stuff into our rooms, we popped into the bar and started on the beers. One of the key features of the Hillsborough Hotel is that it has it's own brewery - Crown Brewery - and they had several of their beers on when we arrived - their regular session ale HPA as well as stronger brews, Brooklyn Heights and January Sail.
|Steve, Ray and Tony on the tram|
Our destination was the Bottom Wellie - formerly Cask & Cutler, but now called the Wellington and known locally as the Bottom Wellie (the Hillsborough Hotel was formerly called the Wellington and is the Upper Wellie - though nobody calls it that - confused?).
More good beers here - predominantly from Little Ale Cart, a small brewery in the back of the pub, which are always seem to be to my taste. We had a few pints before hunger pangs got the better of us and, leaving Brian to go home for some beauty sleep, we take the tram back to Hillsborough for a cracking curry at the Bangla Cottage. We make it back to hotel at midnight and caught last orders for a final pint.
A relaxed start to the matchday - a full english breakast in the bar with Ray complaining he was suffering from the curry - far too much detail fella - and then the tram down to the station. Ray, Steve and I headed off to Alfreton leaving Tony to wait for Brian and John B.
The weather was not good - steady rain and high winds - and it didn't make the slow climb to the centre of Alfreton any more pleasant but eventually we arrived at the Lord Alfred where Trev was waiting to buy us a beer.
The pub is very Wetherspoons-like - a lot of people eating food and having tea/coffee - but it didn't have that depressing JDW vibe. The first pint - Blue Monkey's 99 Red Baboons - was on the turn, Steve changed his but I was partway through and had almost got a taste for it so struggled on.
The other beers were in finer fettle - obvious choices such as Doom Bar and Fullers London Pride were ignored in favour of brews from micros such as Blue Monkey (BG Sips) and Abbeydale.
Tony and John B, then Brian and finally Colin turned up. Colin was accompanied by another local, Chris Freer, who is really a Forest fan but spent several seasons following us and now spends his time in the non-league - see his excellent blog here.
By now the weather had brightened up and I wandered off early down to the ground and got myself some excellent chips and gravy. The rest of the menu looked well tasty too.
There was a fairly decent turn-out of Darlo fans, most stood on one half of the open terrace whilst Martin, Chris, Pete and a few others were seated in a small section of a stand.
|Ryan Bowman puts Darlo in the lead|
The Quakers started the game quite brightly, passing the wall around well, but Paul Arnison and Kris Taylor were nonetheless quite busy in defence - even John McReady was spending more time in his own half helping out that we'd have liked.
But it was Alfreton who went closest after Jordna Pickford did well to save when an Alfreton player was put through on goal.
The home keeper also had to be busy, making some crucial interventions, saving a good effort from MB-W and then tipping over an excellent shot from Taylor.
Darlington were reduced to shooting as the home side had a central defence of giants and any ball that was hoisted up to Ryan Bowman was headed back with interest. Too much to expect of him on his own.
But it was Bowman who managed to put Darlo after about half an hour when the Alfreton keeper parried a Rundle shot into his path, leaving him the easy task of tapping the ball into the back of the net.
Any hopes that this would be the catalyst to the Quakers exerting more control over the game were soon dashed as Pickford was faced with another one-on-one but this time he was beaten and it was all level.
Alfreton then looked as if they would go into the lead but Darlo held out until the half-time whistle.
Today's ref was the piggy-faced Richard Clark although I shouldn't be so cruel as after taking charge of our recent home game with Fleetwood, he donated his match-fee on the cause. Well done, Sir!
It seemed as if he was still looking kindly on us when he sent off home player Alfreton’s Anton Brown. He had already been booked for one trip and was duly off for an early bath when he did much the same to McReady.
The conditions soon passed, but not before Bridge-Wilkinson tested Lowson with a dipping and swerving effort and at the other end Pickford almost caught out by Arnold at a free-kick, but he pushed the ball over.
And then just before the hour Alfreton took the lead for the first time in the game, and it came after a poor Pickford kick.
Alfreton swiftly attacked and Jarman fired in a shot from the corner of the penalty area and Clayton was on hand to tap home to make it 2-1.
But within 60 seconds Quakers were handed a boost when Alfreton had a man sent off. Brown finally saw red, long after he should have done, and again it was for a trip on Ramshaw.
But ten minutes later, despite the numerical advantage, the game was as good as over for Darlington when Arnold added a second to make it 3-1.
From then on it was mainly a matter of damage limitation as we continued to get very little joy upfront - as the game wore on the football got worse for us. I was never a fan but I had hoped that Clark Keltie might offer some support at this level but he looked woeful though no doubt he is lacking in match practice.
Despite the performance the Darlo fans warmly applauded the players who looked quite sheepish as they in turn applauded the fans. No doubt they would get a slightly frostier time from Lidds once they were back in the dressing room.
We made our way from the ground to the station but had to wait about half an hour for our connection back to Sheffield. Time for more inquests among the Darlo fans waiting for trains but I did my best to abstain.
On arriving back in Sheffield we decided against wandering round the pubs in the city centre and simply decided to return to Shalesmoor.
First stop was the Kelham Island Tavern - twice winner of CAMRA PotY - a good range of beer but I can't say I'm keen on the place personally. We have just one pint and move onto the nearby Fat Cat - matchday residence for the London Millers, if only for the rest of this season.
We found places to sit in the former smoking room and the conversation revolves around all sorts, including my OCD approach to hanging out washing. You had to be there I suppose.
After leaving the Fat Cat, we headed off for food - we walked past the recently re-opened Shakespeare on Gibraltar Street and to the 7 Spices Balti. Quite a cavernous place and not too busy - the food was very good and the service quite prompt - a good way to finish off the weekend.
|DAFTS HQ for the weekend|