Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Steel City Weekend

The away fixture at Alfreton proved to be a great excuse for the first DAFTS weekender of the season after a few of us decided to spend a couple of days in Sheffield, currently the top place in the country for pubs with top quality cask ale. 

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
 Eventually Tony and Ray returned before Brian joined us after he'd finished work - we had a few more before heading off on the tram down to Shalesmoor. 

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.

Pickford saves
The heavens started to darken and so we were in the midst of a hail storm, eventually becoming wetter, and most of the away fans tried to find cover in the small away section of the stand.  Eventually a covered portion of the open end was opened for the Darlo fans.  I, of course, had no such luxury!

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

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Field Mill or Amsterdam? No contest...

Although Mansfield isn't the most glamorous place to visit, it was always a great excuse to pop into the VAT and Fiddle near Nottingham station.

But not this season as Liz and I decided to miss our respective games and make a long weekend of it in Amsterdam.  Well, actually I did as I wanted to see one of the bands I like, A Pale Horse Named Death -  You've probably seen the t-shirts - but Liz was more than happy with the idea.

View from the apartment
We'd got in touch with our chums Ken and Vlad and rented one of their apartments on the edge of the Joordaan district.

The place came with all mod cons and a lovely view over the back gardens.  Plenty of birdwatching potential here too - jays, parakeets and woodpeckers in addition to the normal garden bird life.

The weather though was rather on the chilly side and within a few hours it had started to snow heavily - as predicted by hysterical newsreaders back home. No such fuss here thankfully.

We've not seen full-blown snow there before but it really made the place look good.  It had obviously been cold for a while as the canals were frozen hard and the canal boats sounded like ice-breakers as they made their first trips of the day.

Before going to the gig we called in at De Zotte - one of our regular haunts though not for the beer (although they sport a large selection of Belgian beers) but the food - I love their Belgian blue-steak whereas Liz can't get enough of their Belgian Trappist savoury cheesecake.

APHND were playing at the nearby Melgweg - Milky Way - a long established cultural venue where we'd seen a few gigs.  I'd arranged to meet Big John Duncan, former guitarist in the Blood Uncles and Goodbye Mr Mackenzie (and once a guitar tech for Nirvana) in the restaurant there. 

BJD works at the Melkweg these days but unfortunately he'd pulled something in his back and he'd called ahead with his apologies. I think Liz was secretly pleased as she knew we'd just end up talking about Be Bop Deluxe. Still the restaurant was very pleasant and sociable and they had Ij Natte in bottles too.

The gig itself was excellent - a decent crowd of just over 200 - not bad for what is a new band albeit one with strong ties to Type O Negative.  I'd seen them the previous week in London but the sound here was much better.

Frozen canals
Given the cold weather we restricted our leisure activities to the odd wander round the shops until it was time to visit the bars.

This mainly meant the Arendnests as it is our favourite - and is why our apartment was round the corner - but we also found time to visit their sister bar, the Beer Temple.

Food wise we were also spoilt for choice - we were on the Herenstraat with a host of great restaurants that we'd tried in the past. 

This time we went to Seasons where we love their Dutch pea soup and as for the fillet steak with a rosti cooked in bacon fat - beautiful.  With three courses for €28, it is great value.

Our one extravagance was a visit to Cafe Graves - a classic restaurant in the French style we've visited before - they offer a set menu where you don't get to choose your dishes but you let them know the kind of thing you don't like and they'll then select some of their dishes for you.  It works too.

You can also go for what they call the arrangment where you can have a different wine with each course - complete a full explanation of the wine itself - something I've scoffed at in the past as it does seem a bit poncey but again it works and really enhances the experience.

With four courses and the arrangement, the cost is about €65 each - worth every euro.

As ever we had a great time even if it was just for a few days.  If you've never been to Amsterdam before then what on earth are you waiting for?

This post has not been sponsored by the Dutch Tourist Board...

Friday, 3 February 2012

Punishing Myself (Again)

The home match against York promised to be a good game and to continue last weekend's theme - a big crowd, great atmosphere and plenty of positive coverage for Darlo and their fight for survival.

Unfortunately I'm not going to be there - I was supposed to be going but there was a late change of plans after Punishment of Luxury announced a London gig - and so Howard went in my stead.

I still managed a pre-match lunchtime session in the pub as I joined the London Millers in the Black Lion, Plaistow.  Like DAFTS, they use this pub before their games at Dagenham & Redbridge and it has a half decent choice of beer, the best being Stiff Upper Lip, a steady drinking pale ale from By The Horns, a fairly new brewery from North London.

As the Millers headed off for their game, I go home and spend an hour with Jeff Stelling before I wander off into town for the gig.  When I left home Darlo were 2-0 up so it was annoying to learn that we only got a draw.

I head off to the Angel in Islington and tonight's - the Electrowerkz - and pick up my ticket.  Bassist Jimi Giro is outside having a fag and I catch up on his exploits playing in a band in Dubai over the summer.

After pre-gig beers in the Harlequin, a lovely little pub but with a very average pint of Taylor's Landlord, I wander off for some superb fish and chips at Crown Fish and Chip bar on Chapel Market - really excellent quality and not that dear by London standards. Recommended!

Then time for the gig - when I arrive support band Dutch Order are playing goth-rock of a type that does nowt for me. I pop into the dressing room for a quick word with the band before they come out for their set.

Electrowerkz is a new venue for me, set in an old print works, and the sound is not the best I've heard (although I'm stood behind the speakers in my usual position at the front).  The lights are poor, far too much red light which is not good for photography so I stick to using my Flip and capture some live action for a change.

The good news from the band is that they've finished the recording of the new tracks for their forthcoming CD, 5 - so called as it has five tracks. They had hoped to have it ready to sell tonight but no such luck.

They played four of the new numbers and here is one of them. Yvonne:

The Flip doesn't capture the sound very well but you get the idea.

The rest of the set was similar to their last outing as we can see from the set-list (which also had little old me on there as I'm looking after their Facebook page).

The evening was actually a double-bill with Spizz Energi.  Spizz is best know for Where's Captain Kirk back in 1979.  I have the original single somewhere and I do like most of his stuff but I didn't hang around as I quite fancy an early night.  Not very rock and roll, eh?