Thursday, 3 October 2013

Carry On Follow That Cammell

After a few weeks stuck down south and spending recent match days in the boozer, it was time for another trip out on the train.  Our original opponent today was Cammell Laird but since they were still in the FA Cup, we were lining up at Salford City instead.

I checked out train prices and found it would have meant an additional £50 or so to get to this game – and this is after we’d spent just £28 for the return journey to Rock Ferry! I opted for travelling to Liverpool as planned and taking in a few pubs having been told that their beer scene is actually quite good these days.

I met Martin at Cafe Sorrento for breakfast – he would be travelling with me so far as Liverpool and would get the train over to Manchester.  He isn’t the sort of part-time fan who lets a small change in geography stop him from seeing the Quakers.

As we headed back to Euston to find Howard – who’d decided to travel to Cammell Laird as well – we bumped into our Wycombe photographer chum, Paul, who was off to their game at Rochdale.  I’d not seen Paul for a season or so – one of football’s good guys and it was good to have a quick chat.

The train was very busy and so Howard couldn’t get a seat with us and he had to return to his original seat next to a mum and young baby.  The journey was only two hours though and on arrival we made sure Martin got on the train to Manchester before heading off to explore.  It took a few minutes to get our bearings but eventually we were in the right direction for the pubs I wanted to try out.

We wandered past St Luke’s church – you have to look closely to realise it is a bombed out shell that has been left as it is and the surrounding church yard is used as a place to sit down and reflect.  Interesting. 

Clove Hitch
Most of the pubs on my map were around Hope Street which is an interesting part of town and the part we started on houses the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts where various Scouse luminaries had studied.  There was a throng of Japanese tourists taking photos - we joined in.

Further along Hope Street we came to the Anglican Cathedral – an enormous structure in some interesting grounds.  We wandered in – the scale was impressive but it was quite modern (building started in 1904) and it lacks the style and grandeur of somewhere like York Minster.

At the opposite end of Hope Street is the Catholic Cathedral – the very modern one – but I left Howard to have a closer look on his own. 

Instead I went for my first beers of the day at the Clove Hitch – not so much a pub as a bar and bistro.  Three beers on cask: Kent Brewery Elderflower Saison, Pope's Brewing Company Hop Market and Nelson from local microbrewery Mad Hatter whilst on keg they had Beavertown London Sour and Gamma Ray. I had a half of each and they were all in very good nick.

It has a craft bar in the basement but sadly this doesn’t open until 4:30pm so we wandered back on ourselves and popped into the Philharmonic Dining Rooms (or Phil for short).  This is a cross between a gin palace and a gentleman’s club – highly ornate with several rooms.  The beer choice wasn’t quite as dramatic – I had halves of Liverpool Organic Pale Ale and Rudgate Zest Is Best but I drew the line at Thwaites.

From here, Howard headed off towards the docks as he was set on going for a quick trip on the ferry.  I wandered further along Hope Street and then down a side street to Ye Cracke.  

The outside of the pub advertises Boddingtons and Bass but inside there is a better choice including beers from Phoenix. They’re OK but not brilliant - a tad warm for my tastes. I hadn’t realised it but this place is on the Beatles Tour as John Lennon often spent time here with his first band the Dissenters.

A load of Swedish blokes came in as part of one tour and had a quick pint before rushing away to the next stop.  I got chatting to a couple – Cambridge United fans – who were in town for a psychedelic music festival and we soon got chatting about music and football.

Ye Cracke
The three of us then moved onto the Roscoe Arms – a well-preserved pub with four tiny rooms and beers from the likes of Jennings, Cumberland and Tetley’s.  The beer was OK but not brilliant – once again I'd have preferred them to be a bit cooler. A friendly pub though and a great place to have a good natter.

After a couple of rounds, I left my new chums and headed to somewhere closer to Lime Street so that Howard could join me.  

On my map there was a place called the Swan.  I found this on a back street and it wasn’t a particularly inviting place from the exterior.  The interior had supposedly been refurbished but it was hard to tell as it was quite dark.  It had several beers on cask – of which only the Hop Studio looked enticing – and a small selection of Belgian beers.  

However it did have an excellent jukebox though and a distinctly rocky clientele.  Howard joined me and wasn’t put off by the noise so we had a last pint before catching our train back to Euston.

We were a little behind schedule back into London – the perennial “lack of platforms” excuse – but I was in the Euston Tap by 8pm.  The place was very quiet inside and I took my usual place at the bar.

One of the bar staff – a lad from the Boro – had been to see their latest defeat at Loftus Road.  They had no complaints at all – well beaten it seems – and so we set about discussing who would (should) be the new manager given that Tony Mowbray must be on borrowed time.

To make my day complete, I saw from Twitter that Darlo had won  2-0 at Salford City - hopefully we're now back on track after the midweek defeat at Ramsbottom.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Ooh, flippin’ ’eck - that were close...

Today was my second match of the season and saw a very keen start to the day with a 7:35hrs departure from Euston.  Martin and I are in the quiet coach though the whole train seems to be quiet – no doubt in part due to this being an international weekend and none of the big clubs were in action..   

We make the first of several changes at Stockport for a train to Bolton – collecting John Bell on the way and then meet with Trevor and Steve as we board the connection at Bolton for the slow crawl to our final destination, Clitheroe, in the scenic Ribble Valley

New Inn, Clitheroe
There are a few pubs in the small town but only one jumps out from the crowd, the New Inn, which is barely five minutes from the station.

We head straight there and find a  spacious three-room pub but all the regulars are all packed into the small main bar chatting to the landlord. 

A good selection on offer with several beers from Coach House (Gunpowder Mild, Blueberry Classic, Pete Postlethwaite’s and Farriers Best Bitter) and more from Moorhouse (Premier Bitter, Pride of Pendle, Blond Witch and White Witch) with one from Bowland Brewery, Pheasant Plucker.

I tried a half of most of the beers (save the Mild and Blueberry Classic) and the White Witch was coming out on top but all were in excellent condition. We’d not been there long before we were joined by what must have been a coach of Darlo lads, presumably because this is the first pub to open in the town rather than for the range of beers.  They didn’t linger.

And then were joined by John, Rich and Andy who’d been on the same train but had wandered off elsewhere first.  Whilst we were munching away on some pig-based snacks, Andy alerts us to the bags of crackling that John has brought with him – left over from work he tells us - and it is excellent.  Their spare bag soon disappears.

We reluctantly drag ourselves away slightly earlier than we need to as we’re going to pop into the famous sausage shop on the way – sadly no pies for me but Steve gets stuck in and buys a variety to take home.  Just a short walk from here to the ground where there seems to be a healthy Darlo contingent present.

Alan White back with the Quakers
We wander off to stand near the away dugout at the halfway line – turns out to be a good choice as the home management team turn out to be entertaining Cannon and Ball-style duo. They also love berating the linesman on our side (“did you see that, Julian?”).  They took our jibes in good humour and added an extra comic dimension to the day.

We were joined by Michael Cansfield who had the whole family with him – the kids playing in the puddles and Mrs C taking them for walks around the ground.

The game started out just the same as at Farsley - we started much the brighter side and we jokingly said “ha ha, this happened at Farsley and look what happened”. Not this time we thought but sadly it was as the promising start ended up as a very worrying first half.

The first Clitheroe goal came after a quarter of an hour and was from a corner where the slope was most acute - what was a daisy cutter out wide was a nice height when it arrived in the box – their striker took two attempts to score as keeper Bell denied the first header but couldn’t stop the ball being stabbed home.

And it was further slack marking that allowed Clitheroe time and space to double their lead.  This simply wasn’t funny. 

I’d started the half with an excellent portion of pie, peas and gravy – just £2.20. Now that I was starting to feel depressed I headed off for another portion before the half-time rush. It did help.

At the restart, Chris Moore came on for Paul Robinson and it was five minutes later than Andy (AJ) Johnson scored his obligatory goal after some good passing and provided the Darlo fans with a semblance of hope.  We’d certainly started the second half at a higher tempo but too often the final pass or shot was lacking and we wasted good chances.  At the other end there was the odd attack by Clitheroe but nothing to really trouble Bell.

After a couple of near misses, Darlo’s persistence up front paid off as Moore crossed a corner into a crowded six-yard box where Amar Purewall was first to slot the ball home from just yards.

The Clitheroe players were visibly shaken by this and Darlo continued to pile on the pressure but a winner looked to have evaded us as the 90th minute approached.  I started to make my way over to the exit and as I stood behind our goal watching the final throes, Darlo attacked down the left, the ball came across to Purewal and he calmly put the ball into the net.  Get in!!

Purewal scores the equaliser
I had some sympathy for Clitheroe who had worked hard but in the second half they weren’t at the races and based on this second-half performance, we were deserved winners. 

It was a quick walk back to the railway station for the 18:09hrs train back south.  This time we went via Manchester Piccadilly and back to our seats in the quiet coach.

At Crewe we were joined by a talkative woman who’d been to see a polo international at Chester.  Turns out she was an opera singer too – not topics we know well but I was able to hold my own on the music front having been to one opera. She was good company and we had a good natter for the rest of the journey. Available for weddings and other functions – go check her out at

We arrived back into Euston at 21:15hrs - plenty of time for beers in the Euston Tap where the staff had given up on me for the day (nice to be wanted, eh?). I won’t bore you with the range on offer but be assured it was up to its usual high standard.

Although it was our fifth win of the season, I was happy to see my first win of the season. I was impressed by the character we’d exhibited in the second half and our reluctance to settle for a point – we just need to cut out the jittery defending from the first half.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


Once again my match day starts with a superb breakfast in the Pompidou Cafe - and I need one today as I'm feeling as nervous as I did before the FA Trophy final. Thankfully nerves rarely affect my appetite!

Nothing much to note regarding the journey north except for the odd sight of hordes of Charlton fans getting off at Northallerton as they change for their trip to the Riverside.

We all gather in the Quaker with everyone in a high state of excitement - or as much as we can muster as our ages. I forget to make a note of the beers on offer today - just not myself at all. There were plenty of good 'uns as once again we decided against popping up to Number Twenty-2.

There was even talk of the game being off at one point after heavy rain during the night. There was a call for volunteers to fork the pitch - their efforts were rewarded after we passed a noon pitch inspection.

Purewal puts Darlo into the lead
There was a good turnout for the bus to Bishop and it was good to see plenty of people queueing at the turnstiles - should be close to a full house.

Plenty of old faces in front of the main stand - Chris and his Mum, Mark & James Meynell, Geoff Thompson and various others, all here hoping for the result that will cap off a remarkable year.

I should have been more confident than I was but that is what almost forty years of supporting Darlo does to you.  And we'd already slipped up against Team Northumbria earlier in the season so let's not count our chickens, eh?

My worries were justified during an exceedingly nervy first-half with the away keeper coping with all that Darlo threw at him. Lots of possession from the Quakers but no end result.

And then a few minutes before half-time, Team Northumbria took the lead - a free-kick leading to a headed goal and you could hear the home fans groan under their breath.

Thankfully this was not the Darlo of seasons past where the goal would have caused the players to retreat into their shell.  From the kick-off Darlo attacked with Thompson crossing for Chris Emms to poke the ball past their keeper.

Nervous? Me? Nahhh...what gave you that idea?

Darlo looked much more confident as they came out for the second half and it wasn't long before Darlo took the lead.  Amar Purewal headed home from a delightful cross from Harrison.  This was more like it.

Martin Gray celebrates the third goal
Sadly this wasn't the precursor of a goal fest and despite the almost constant attacking, Team Northumbria held firm and you suddenly remember what a tenuous thing is the one-goal lead.

Everyone in the ground started to pay close attention to their watches and as time ticked by, the chants started to become more confident.

All worries were finally put to bed when Purewal ran though the away defence to slot home from the edge of the area. The. Crowd. Went.Wild.

Some fans came on the pitch to join in the celebrating management team and bench - a mixture of relief and jubilation no doubt after all their hard work had paid off.

Another minute or so before the final whistle blew - the ref smart enough to blew from near the tunnel - and a large percentage of the crowd ran on to the pitch.

I waited a while and then wandered through the throng to get pictures of the ecstatic Darlo fans gathering around the tunnel. More familiar faces - not saying much, just smiling.

The players came out and celebrated with the fans - and then came Martin Gray who got the biggest cheer of all as he joined in with the fans, even crowd surfing at one point. Well done that man!

Slowly people started to drift away and when the players finally retreated to the dressing rooms, we all headed off for the bus back into town. The mood was subdued - an overall feeling of relief for many as we finally made it impossible for Spennymoor to catch us.

It was straight back to the Quaker for more drinks - not much room but who cares - get me a pint (or maybe two halves).
Martin Gray celebrates with the fans
Finally it was time for Martin and I to head back to the station - we travelled back with Richard (MK Darlo) and a very pleasant trip it was too. And then plenty of time for more celebratory beers at the Euston Tap.

So for me this is the season end - no more games for me - and even though I've only been to a quarter of the games I'd normally attend, it has felt a long old season. Promotion at the first attempt was something we didn't dare hope for but here we are - one step forward on our return.

Click here for the full set of shots I took on the day.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

West See Red - Darlo Revenge

A relatively easy start to the day with an excellent breakfast at the Pompidou on Pentonville Road - slightly dearer than some other cafes in the area but well worth it for the quality of the bacon and sausage.

A little excitement at King's Cross as the Tornado is steaming up as it prepares to take a trip up north. It may be a brand new loco but it still evokes my childhood years, watching the trains steam past my bedroom window.

A healthy showing of DAFTS personnel - John, Trevor and Brian were already ensconced by the time I arrived at the Quaker.  Also present were Tony, Colin, Paul and Iain as well as fellow London exile, Steve Wilkinson with his buddy Paul Robinson.

Ticket to ride for John
A decent selection at the bar too: Outstanding 3.9, Truefit Trembler, Long Man Brewery Sussex Pride, Sonnet 43 Blonde, York Dragonslayer, Cottage Light Bridge, Summerskills IKB 1859, Elland Best Bitter and Jarrow's McConnell's Irish Stout.

This was more than enough to keep me happy for the lunchtime session and we decided to stay here rather than venture to Number Twenty-2.

We left just before 2pm to get the bus to Heritage Park and there was a sizeable queue when we arrived.

After some moving and shaking I got some grub and we settled on the grass bank as the game kicked off - there air was thick with tension as all but a few West fans were craving revenge, both for our defeat at their place and the raising of ticket prices for that game.  

It had certainly transferred itself to the players as they got stuck in from the start and the first yellow was shown to a West player for barging into home keeper Bell.

The game was quite even for the first twenty minutes until Galbraith had put Darlo into the lead from a well-taken free kick, Dowson having been fouled outside the box.

Shortly after, a second yellow was issued to Stephenson for using his hands to stop the ball as Darlo looked to break free on goal. The crowd went wild as he walked off and those fans around the dug-outs laid into the West Auckland bench. 

There were more bad tackles and another yellow issued to a West player - who could easily have been sent off for another offence seconds later - and clearly this had got to the West manager Dixon who was sent off for foul and abusive language just before half-time - presumably all directed at the young linesman on that side who stood his ground admirably. 

Despite the one-man advantage Darlo didn't really make the most of the extra man and the chances they created and so it remained one-nil at the break.

Darlo take an early lead

West Auckland remained resolute early in the second half with Darlo old-boy John Campbell - predictably drawing plenty of stick from Darlo fans who'd never really taken to him - being their main threat. For their part the Darlo defence  kept Auckland at arm's length whilst our forwards wasted several opportunities to extend the lead, West keeper Atkinson acrobatically tipping a shot from Gott onto the bar.

Finally though the resistance was broken and Darlo doubled their lead when Galbraith unleashed a rocket which gave Atkinson no hope.  Finally Darlo fans could start to relax a little with just over ten minutes remaining.

But any thoughts that the game might peter out were wide of the mark as West clearly felt the pressure from the crowd.  John Campbell was sent off for something he said to the referee and then his team-mate Vipond - on the touchline after being subbed - was shown a yellow card for dissent, earning a full red after an earlier yellow card.

This game just kept on giving and I almost felt sorry for the West Auckland fans close to their dugout.  But no, they were as nasty a bunch as their team and they were due all the stick they got.

The busiest man on the pitch
Apparently the three red cards brought West's total for the season to 14 - it isn't hard to see why with the sort of attitude that emanated from their manager and which was taken up heartily by his players.

The celebrations afterwards from the majority of the almost 1,800 crowd were joyous as we knew this the sternest of our remaining games although they come thick and fast next week.

Paul had ordered a taxi for our trip back to Darlo so that he and Iain could be sure we'd make our connections. We did and with plenty of time to spare.

On the train back we got chatting to some women from Northallerton who knew my sister and who'd be getting an old CAMRA chap from Hereford all excited. He settled down as they got off and talked beer and pubs until he left us at York.

After all that excitement Martin and I both snoozed for the remainder of the journey back to London. Kings Cross was quite busy as Wigan fans were causing a nuisance. They had to travel back this way after the late kick-off of their FA Cup semi-final against Millwall meant there were no trains home from Euston.

It was this and the persistent rain that led me to go straight home and give the Euston Tap a miss for once.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Coast To Coast

I finish early on the Friday afternoon and head up to Euston for my trip to Preston.  I arrive early and I have a bit of time on my hands so pop into the Tap for a few halves - it would be rude not to.

It was a fairly decent run on the tran to Preston - excellent value at £14.50 - and the journey passes quickly given I nod off for over half of the journey.  I arrive on time where I find my chums Trevor and Margaret waiting to greet me.

They take me on a tour of a few pubs - first the Market which is next to the town's market - not a brilliant choice, Brains or Adnams. We don't linger.

The next stop is the Black Horse which is on CAMRA's inventory of historic pub interiors. Trev tells me it has recently been refurbished and they've done a great job. However it is a Robinson's pub, a brewery I'm not keen on, and even their hoppy beer Hoptimus has that tell-tale Robbies tang to it. One pint does it.

Next is the Greyfriar, a Wetherspoons, and one of the better examples of that chain.  They have a nationwide beer festival on currently and a good choice is available so we get stuck in. They've also cordoned off a corner of the pub for a tasting of Hawkshead beers.

We then make our way towards the University of Central Lancashire and their union building, 53 Degrees, where Hawkwind are playing.   Opposite the venue is a great little boozer called the Bitter Suite. It is full of elderly rock fans in denim and leather getting stuck into some local microbrewed beer.

The Polish support band, hipiersoniK, are just finishing their set as we walk in the venue and so we wander through the crowd to stand towards the front. 

Hawkwind are currently touring one of their classic albums, Warriors At The Edge Of Time, and it has been getting some positive reviews including this one from the Gruniard.  The first half hour is a mixture of some well known tracks plus some new numbers which leave me a bit cold. The WOTEOT set though is much better and goes down well. Trevor really enjoyed it - first time he has seen them since the 70s - though I'm not sure what Margaret makes of them!

DAFTS supping in the Free Trade Inn
 Next morning it is a bright early start - Trev scrapes the ice from his windshield and drops me off at Chorley station for the 6:31am train to Carlisle.  Quite a relaxing journey - the train is quiet as we pass through Lancaster, past Morecambe Bay and skirt the edge of the Lakes.

Less relaxing is the trip from Carlisle to Newcastle - I'm next to a swarm of middle-aged Glaswegian women who all try to talk at the same time. I close my eyes and turn up my music.

The train pulls into Newcastle Central at 10am and I head to the Stateside Diner on Pink Lane - a venue DAFTS have used in the past and the breakfast was excellent. I headed back to the station - Tony and Pete Stockill had already arrived and soon afterwards Martin, Carl, Claude, Trevor and Brian joined us.

Tony, Trev and Brian joined me in a taxi as we headed straight off to the Free Trade Inn in Byker - we just had to after our last visit.

A good selection at the bar: Tyne Bank Peleton Pale Ale, Durham Magus, The Brew Company ABC, Alchemy Citra Burst, Loch Ness Wilderness, Fyne Muckle Flugga IPA all on cask and on keg there was
 Summer Wine Citra Pacer, Marble Vuur & Vlam IPA and Hardknott Rheteric II.  More than enough to keep me and everyone else happy!

The more I visit this pub the more I like it - landlord Mick always has time for a chat whilst he is scurrying ruond trying to ensure there are no pumps without beer. An excellent attitude that has seen them recently awarded Tyneside Pub Of The Year. It must be a strong contender for North East POTY.

Hillheads Park, home to Whitley Bay
After an hour of so, John W joins us after visiting his aunt in nearby Heaton.  At some stage I mention that there is a jazz festival on at the Sage over the river.  This has the same effect as saying the words "Nick Knowles" to Steve Duffy - wild-eyed apoplexy! Who'd have thought it?

As kick-off time nears, Tony declares he might give the game a miss and I'm tempted to join him but that would leave a lot of time for drinking, maybe too much. We eventually reach a compromise and just leave the pub late so that we don't get to the ground until 3:30pm.

On arrival we find the gates are locked but we attract the attention of a steward and they re-open them for us, even knocking a pound off the entrance fee even though we offer to pay full price. The turnstile steward informs us that we're one-nil up, "from a penalty" he adds.

We're not long stood on the terrace when Darlo attack and a Bay defender clips the heels of Thompson for a stonewall penalty - the ref agrees and there are no arguments from the home side.

I spend the rest of the half chatting to former neighbour Geoff Thompson and then as I head to the other side of the ground, I meet more former neighbours, Dave Lewis and his daughter Julie.  It is good to see them again since we all started going to Feethams together in the early 1970s.
I must admit I don't pay a lot of attention to the second half - we're clearly in command but we're making harder work of it than we should.  Whitley Bay don't really have a lot to offer other than cussedness.

We eventually score a third goal from a corner (or maybe a freekick) - the ball is whipped in and at first it appears Tait has headed home but there is a suspicion - correct as it later turns out - that a Bay defender made the all important touch and it was an own-goal. Thoroughly deserved nonetheless.
Darlo go three-nil up
As the final whistle blows, John, Trev and I are off pretty smartly and manage to get to the Metro station just as a train pulls in.  This allows Trev to get back to Central station for an earlier train - John follows as he has an earlier train than Martin and I.

I head off to the Town Wall to have a few more beers - first a Wylam Gold and then the (keg) Wylam Haxan which is a black wit.  Both are OK but nothing special.  Martin and Claude then join me for a quickie before we return to the station and catch out train home.

After Claude gets off at Darlington, we get chatting to a guy sat at our table. He turns out to be a Lincoln fan on his way back to London after he'd been playing at the jazz festival at the Sage.  Phew - just as well Mr Wilson headed off earlier. You wouldn't like him when he's angry...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Ton Up For Darlo...

Thanks to an offer on East Coast trains, I'm travelling to Darlo on the 13:30hrs train, hopefully beating the Friday afternoon rush.   A first class ticket was just £30 (with £10 for a standard ticket) but due to a dodgy stomach I didn't really feel like taking advantage of the free fare on offer (beef lasagne which looked and smelt very tempting).

The train is pretty busy but pulls into Bank Top on time and I head straight off to Number Twenty-2.  My first visit in four months and as I approach the bar, landlord Ralph greets me with a "Hello, Curly!". Some thngs never change.

There are the usual Village Inn beers on offer plus Golden Dragon Pippin and Bitter, Jarrow Radgie Gadgie and Ringwood's Boondoggle. I opt for the Pippin which is nice but due to my digestive problems, I'm not at my drinking best.

Before I finish my first pint, I'm joined by Paul Brown who has also travelled north this afternoon and then as we get the next round of beers in, Tony completes our trio.

We're not long into our beers before the Twitterverse is alive with the news of the resignation of Dennis Pinnegar from the Darlington board.  Tony had vacated the board along with some of the other well-known Darlo faces a few weeks ago and so the rumour mill was busy with idle speculation. Just what was going on?

What was not going on was communication.  There'd been a severe lack of any hard news or information in recent weeks and months from the board.  When would we see our share certificates for instance?

DAFTS in reflective mood
Well, very soon as it happens according to a just released statement from the DFC board - whoever was still left on it - that was reported on the Echo website.

Apparently the share certificates were in the post to the 28 individual share holders (which no doubt includes a healthy percentage of DAFTS)!

After a few more pints, Paul was finally summoned to go and get some tea for him and his missus whilst Tony and I opted for a take-away.  Hopefully a bit of spice would sort out my stomach so we wandered off to Cafe Spice in Clark's Yard.

Sadly I wasn't able to make much of a dent into the food I'd ordered - which wasn't a great deal, very unlike me - but it did mean that Tony would be very well catered for tomorrow!

Next morning saw some improvement though all I could really manage to eat was some cornflakes.  We wandered up to the station, got our tickets and joined Trevor as his train pulled into Darlo.

At Central station, Martin's train wasn't far behind ours and the four of us jumped into a taxi and headed off to the Free Trade Inn in Byker. The pub opens at 11am and I for one wanted to maximise drinking time.

By a stroke of good luck, the pub had hosted a Meet The Brewer event a few days earlier featuring the excellent Magic Rock brewery.  They had a couple of my favourites left - Clown Juice and Human Cannonball - plus one of their new beers, the 2.8% Simpleton, which was so full of flavour for a low percentage beer.

Not only do they produce great beers but all their pump clips and promo material are works of art though to be fair they can't claim the credit -  that must go to graphic designer Richard Norgate.

The pub stands on the banks of the Tyne and there is a cracking view down to the quayside. As we admire it the sweating forms of Rich, John and Andy come into view - they took the mick about us getting a taxi but we're a pint up and not sweaty.

Local CAMRA stalwart Eric Larkham pops in later on - I met Eric and his other half in the Euston Tap a few weeks ago and found we had mutual friends and history in Newcastle CAMRA.

View from the Free Tade Inn - nice eh?
 One thing that stood out for me was the friendly attitude of the staff, especially landlord Mick Potts who didn't hesitate to offer tasters.

One of the pub locals was a home-brewer and had brought in a bottle of his first attempt at a saison-style beer which was handed around. Not a bad first effort.

It was quite a bind to leave all this behind but we dutifully headed off to Byker metro and travelled the two stops to Walkergate. From here it was a ten minute walk to the ground.

I bumped into Mark and James Meynell as we enter - I've not seen either of them for quite a while and it was quite a shock to find that young James is now 30 and a parent.  Another thing to make me feel old.

All the talk was of Pinnegar's resignation and the statement from the DFC Board.  The news has unsettled everyone and once again the main moan is about the lack of information from the club and what is rumoured to be a short-fall in funds.

The game starts and it is Benfield who loook the liveliest, putting our keeper under pressure from a couple of freekicks and shooting narrowly wide.  I hope we're not in for another Team Northumbria-style performance!

Ever so slowly though, Darlo start to dominate possession, making inroads into the Benfield half without puting their goalkeeper under serious pressure.

Darlo finally break the deadlock after twenty minutes or so - Purewal set up nicely by a Dowson header and he didn't waste the opportunity to score Darlo's 100th goal of the season!

A second goal was created and once more Dowson was the provider - he nicked the ball before the home keeper could collect, passing to Thompson who scored.

Before the end of the first half, Dowson finally got on the scoresheet himself as Thompson returned the favour with a neat pass, leaving Dowson to slip the ball pass the advancing keeper.

As the half-time whistle blew, it was hard to see how Benfield would get back into the game.

I tried some chips and mushy peas at half-time but was still not 100% and eventually I decided to leave and head back to the station where the facilities were rather more civilised (if you know what I mean).

In the end I only missed one more goal as it seems Darlo took it easy in the second half and didn't score again until almost full-time.

All those travelling back to Darlo had to take a replacement bus service but thankfully for Martin and I, the trains to King's Cross were still running, albeit via a scenic route that took us via Sunderland and Hartlepool which added an extra hour to our journey time.

And for once I decided that it was probably wise to avoid the Euston Tap and head straight home.
Dowson slots home Darlo's third goal

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Hebburn, We're In Hebburn...

A very rushed start to the day - I wake up late by my standards - just 90 mins to get up and into Kings Cross for our 8am train.  This is more than enough but it means I'll have to get a move if I want to squeeze in a breakfast as well.

When walking round Kings Cross the other week I noticed that our usual breakfasterie - Da Vincis - is no more.  It has been revamped and is now part of the Best Mangal chain which seems to be glorified kebab bars.

We tried a cafe I 've been in before - the Station Sandwich Bar - the breakfast is perfunctory with mediocre ingredients - not very enjoyable, especially after all the rush. I suspect we'll try somewhere else next time.

It is my first train trip for quite a few weeks - nice to be back on-board, watching the world go by and providing some company for Martin. Tony joins us at Darlo and then we meet Trev, John, Rich and a few others at Newcastle Central station.

After dumping my overnight bag at left luggage and getting our Metro tickets, we wander through Chinatown to the Newcastle Arms where the landlord was busy washing the front steps. 

Not a bad choice at the bar - Big Lamp Prince Bishop, Full Mash IPA, Gundog Pale Ale and one smokey beer, Anarchy Smoke Bomb, that looks a bit odd but tastes really nice. The Gundog Pale Ale is tasty too.

After a couple of rounds, we wander down to the Bridge Hotel where we meet Ian Swalwell.  Not long after that yet another of my old University chums, Chin (Andy), turns up for a reunion.  Rocky (Dave) turns up too. Interestingly it seems I'm the only one who still calls them by their nicknames.

At the bar we have an excellent choice featuring Abbeydale Deception, Marble Bitter, Williams Midnight Sun, Hadrian & Border High Level, Outstanding Selling Out, Salopian Hop Twister and, on keg, Three Towns St Erics Pale Ale (which is excellent but doesn't last long).

We then head off back to Central station and take the Metro out to Hebburn. On arrival I check my map and take everyone the wrong way, eventually having to ask for directions. Whatever!

A small-ish ground, just one stand that straddles the middle of the pitch and then two standing ends. The fourth side is for us by officials only.

It looked like Hebburn were carrying on from where they left off a few days earlier - a defeat to Darlo at Heritage Park that some saw some very enthusiastic tackling - and by the 25th minute they were down to nine men.

The pitch was not one that encouraged good football - it looked more like hiking terrain than a playing field - and from the off, Hebburn were determined to knock Darlo out of their stride.  Dowson was fouled in the penalty box after ten minutes and Galbraith scored from the spot.

Hebburn though were level within minutes after some poor defending in the Darlo box as they failed to clear a high ball into the box. Totally against the run of play.

We've not had a gratuitous floodlight
shot for a while so here we go
However Darlo had soon regained the lead when Dowson was brought down outside the box - defender Harrison was deemed to be the last man and so he was shown the red card.  From the free-kick Gott scored via a deflection from the Hebburn wall.

It wasn't long before Hebburn were down to nine men after Forsyth - booked for the initial penalty - received a second yellow.  Credit to Hebburn though as they frustrated the Quakers for the rest of the half and it remained 2-1 at the interval.

Hebburn continued to make it difficult for Darlo in the second half - not surprisingly Darlo dominated in terms of possession, making inroads down the wings. but failed to make the most of their chances. Hebburn keeper Regan also made some excellent saves.

After sixty minutes the Hebburn resistance was finally broken as Purewal slide in to poke home a cross from Galbraith. 

The Quakers visibly relaxed, pressing continually for the rest of the half which saw them add four more goals to the tally in the final ten minutes.

As well as a welcome three points, Darlo looked to have escaped without any major injuries - their refusal to get involved in the rough-house tactics employed by Hebburn was no doubt a major factor.

In all other respects the Hebburn officials and fans seemed a decent bunch - there was some excellent on offer though the (chinese) curry sauce was rather thin for my liking. I'm fussy about such things.

We were all back in Newcastle by 5:30pm - Martin and Iain headed off to catch the train back to London - whilst I checked into the Royal Station hotel.

Tony had stayed on for a few beers and I joined him in the Town Wall.  The Saturday night crowd was beginning to gather but we had a chance to try a couple of really good beers - Portobello Porter (a new brewery from west London) and Allendale End22 Simcoe Single. Both are excellent.

Tony finally had to drag himself back to Darlington for the race night so I popped up to the Trent House, near Leazes Park. This is where I I used to drink in the early 80s, about the time that the first copies of Viz used to be sold here.

Rich, John and Andy were here, going through the card, so I had a couple of halves. Other than acquiring a soul music-theme, the place hasn't changed much since I was a student (though my graffiti in the gents has finally been painted over).

My next port of call was the Crown Posada where I had a quick pint - the place was very full with nowhere to sit so after supping up, I popped outside and caught a taxi to the Cluny.

Brian Bond - in your face
As soon as I walked though the door I bumped into Keith Newman, from Radio Northumberland. He has a show called New Wave With Newman where he plays new wave and punk favourites as well as some new stuff.  He is a big Punilux fan too and has featured them heavily on his show. 

We meet Alan Crawthorne who, like me, is a big Bill Nelson and someone I've communicated with via the internet in recent years. Nice to finally meet him at last.

Also there is former Mission Impossible editor and, more recently, music impresario, Steve Harland, who has come up from Teesside with a load of his mates.

As well as bumping into Steve and Jimi from the band, I'm introduced to Rob Blamire who is bassist in Ferryhill's finest, Penetration. It was through seeing Penetration at the City Hall in 1978 that I first heard and saw Punishment of Luxury so I have cause to be thankful.

As on-stage time approaches we head towards the gig hall - not completely full but a decent crowd.  I have my camera but decide to just take the odd shot so that I can concentrate on really enjoying the gig. Which I do.

The set is much the same as usual - all based on the Laughing Academy album rounded off with a storming version of the Brainbomb single. 

I pop into the dressing room with Keith for a chat with Nev and find a teenage girl collecting autographs - go younger generation!  We leave the band in peace after a while and Keith drops me back at my hotel.  It has been a long but very pleasurable day and I'm ready for bed.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Geoff Luke RIP

Football lost another of the good guys when our Plymouth Argyle-supporting chum, Geoff Luke, died recently.

He was a true man of Cornwall, working as secretary at Truro City in addition to supporting the Argyle. Like many young men, he came to London in the 1970s to seek his fame and fortune and one of his first jobs there was that of assistant secretary at West Ham United.

It was in London that he helped create the Plymouth Argyle Supporters London Branch in 1976 which boasts a membership in the high hundreds and in ethos is not so different from our very own DAFTS.

In those dark pre-internet days, communications were all done by mail and Geoff housed the branch photocopier in the living room of his flat. Ever the trusting man, several committee members helds keys to the flat so they could pop in and copy a few pages for the newsletter whenever they had some spare time.

Martin and Geoff before the FA
Trophy final at Wembley
Another hobby that Geoff was heavily involved in was table football and in his prime he was an England international. For the last twenty years or more he has organised an annual tournament in St Agnes that was highly regarded amongst the finger flicking fraternity.

Geoff made his first visit to Feethams with Colin Fletcher, his table soccer buddy, and was always happy to come and sample the DAFTS pre-match atmosphere at various Darlo games in the south of England (including the FA Trophy final win at Wembley).

Over recent years I got to know Geoff very well - like me he was always ready and willing to go to beer festivals or try out new pubs in the burgeoning beer scene in London - he was great company and we got on famously.

Geoff would disappear for weeks on end though as he visited the farthest corners of Europe attending football matches at all levels of the game.

It was typical of his cheeky nature that he managed to get press accreditation for two Russian World Cup qualifiers by saying he was editor of the Pasty Times (the PASLB magazine).  It impressed the Russian FA and he made it to the press box!

If you asked how he could afford all these trips as a pensioner, he'd tell you he'd budgeted for such a life-style until he was 80.  What happens after that, I'd always ask jokingly? Will you turn up on our doorsteps all bereft?  Sadly we'll never know. 

I'm very grateful that I was able to share his last day with us.  Argyle's match at Southend was called off so after a flurry of texts, he joined myself and fellow drinker Chris Turner (Rotherham's game also called off) in the Euston Tap at noon.

Howard was also in town so he popped along for an hour before he left we three to start a bit of a pub crawl - first to the recently opened Hops & Glory on Essex Road before heading off to Dukes Brew & Que where they brew their own beer. Good stuff it is too

Geoff won the 50-50 draw at our game at Hayes &
Yeading back in 2011.  Ever the gentleman, he spent
most of it on beers
for all his friends.
Our final destination was the Fox on Kingsland Road - an area of London's east end that was once a beer desert but which is now an up and coming district.  It was a pub we'd been to several months ago on one of our crawls of discovery.  We quite liked it - a decent beer choice even if the clientele consisted of loud-talking, trendy types about half our age.

After a few beers, we called it a day at 7pm - fairly compos mentis as we'd been taking it relatively easy throughout the day - Geoff headed off north to catch a bus and then pick up his train whilst Chris and I went south - he home to south London whilst I, having got a second wind, wandered back to the Euston Tap for a few more beers.

What I didn't know until the following Tuesday that whilst on the train home, Geoff suffered a massive heart attack and died.

It is a oft-given cliche but nonetheless true to say that he was taken before his time. At his funeral this week, it was clear from all the tributes made to him that he played a significant part in many people's lives and would leave a huge gap behind.

 RIP Geoff Luke, b. 19 September 1947, d. 19 January 2013.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Mid-Season Musings

As we pass the mid-way point of our first season in the Northern League, we are top of the table though we've played more games than Spennymoor. 

Defeats at the hands of Guisborough and Team Northumbria - games where we should have expected to have done much better - have meant that we're going to rely on Spennymoor to drop more points.

I think that everyone at the club can pat themselves on the back for progress so far on all fronts - things could have been a lot worse and it is heartening to see the great attendances we've had through the gates of Heritage Park.

Away fixtures have also seen Darlo fans travelling in numbers and having a really good time as they go back to their roots.

I'm sure those in charge at the club won't be complacent though - there is still a long way to go and plenty of games to be fitted into the fixture list. And of course the issue of how and when the club returns to Darlington remains a hot topic of debate.

On the negative side and from a personal perspective, I've not made it to as many matches as I would have  liked -  only three games so far compared to the sixteen I'd attended at the same point last season.

I'd intended to attend several more games but fixture rearrangements, the odd boycott and staying at home for building work meant it has been the poorest start for me for many a year.

What is more surprising though is that I haven't really missed attending games - I've certainly not missed having to travel to the north-east for each game, especially given the spate of postponements due to bad weather.

Now I'm sure the fact that we're doing pretty well in the league has had something to do with it but it is no coincidence that London is now brimming with excellent pubs and this has more than filled the gap left by the football.

I suspect that I will make more games in the second half of the season, especially those that will allow me to visit Newcastle as the pre-match drinking choice there is so much better than the likes of Shildon and West Auckland.