When the fixtures came out, I note when the international breaks are. I know both Sky and the West Midlands police will have a go at decimating the rest of the fixtures but at least I can start planning my ground hopping. First and foremost, I have no interest in the national football team. That ship has sailed long ago. I got fed up of watching players who you know play out of their skins for their club but go through the motions when they’ve got the 3 lions on their chests. It’s not the pinicle anymore. More an inconvenience. So if they can’t be bothered then why should I? Any other sport and you will see English men and women trying their hardest when representing their country. No, that’s not quite right. You see the lionesses putting a shift in. In front of much much smaller crowds too, though quite rightly, they are growing, but the men? Neah, not interested anymore.
I haven’t got many more grounds to do for 92. With old grounds and new grounds, I’ve actually done well over 100, but effectively, I haven’t done it yet. I do look to see if I can cross over with a new ground and Shrewsbury Town. Last season I did Bradford with my Nephew Dave. My Sister Vals lad. He’s a Shrews fan because Val and Brother in law John took him to games as a kid. So what? I hear you ask. He was born and raised in Middlesex. So where all his school mates supported the top flight London clubs, he was sporting the Blue and Amber of the Shrews. I was hoping to surprise Val and John at Bradford, they didn’t go. I did Scunthorpe later on in the season with Shrewsbury. Did that one on my own. So once I’d worked out that I could do Gillingham v Shrewsbury in the first international break, I thought I’d get in touch with my Sis and tell her I’d be going. After all, Gillingham is a lot closer to Middlesex than Yorkshire. She’d be in Spain that weekend. Mmmmmm. . . . .
I boarded the train down to Euston and looked for my seat. There was a little girl in a Princess dress. All the adults with her had Mickey or Mini mouse ears on. I guessed it was her birthday and the ears, a birthday wish. It looked like her Granddad who was struggling with putting his wife’s wheelchair in the luggage section. I’m sure it was his Son who was giving him the hurry up. The old lad became a bit flustered and didn’t attach it to the racking properly because of the young man’s pressure. It was to fall off later on in the journey nobody was hurt but I’m sure his Son would’ve had a go at his father for it. I don’t know the back story to why the reaction of the younger man but his impatience did annoy. I got my earphones out and then fought what felt like a losing battle, trying to untangle them. Who needs a Rubiks cube, when you’ve got earphones to unravel. Earphones and coat hangers. Why do these inanimate objects hate us so much?
Touch down Euston and 6 minutes later, I was on the tube for Kings Cross. Darrell would’ve made it in 4, but I was impressed with myself. I got off at Kings Cross with plenty of time to go in the Parcel Yard for a quick pint. I’m going to put my hands up on this one, until I got talking to her and I got talking to her because I wanted to know what gender she was because I honestly couldn’t work it out from looks alone. She was as thin as yours truly and so didn’t have much in the way of curvature. I know that sounds a little basic and kind of sexist but it’s not supposed to be and it’s the best way I can put it in to words. She had the punk/goth/skater look going on. The usual definitions blurred. As I chatted to her, It was obvious she’d got personality in bagfulls. She was from northern Spain and had reached that time where her and her parents needed to part company for a while. Not many parents can cope with a non conforming free spirit. It seems hers couldn’t.
Drew Pritchard been here? This is actually inside the pub.
I got talking to another of the bar staff as I wondered round, the place had had a refube. That explained why I couldn’t remember half the stuff that kept catching my eye. Old rail artifacts and old school (And I don’t mean that in the street slang context) furniture. The framed pre Beaching act railway map made me feel a bit wistful. Oh to have that network now.
I drank up and went next door to St Pancras. It’s barmy how close Kings Cross and St Pancras are to one another. It was the first time I’d ever traveled from St Pancras and I’ve got to say, It confused the Hell out of me. It didn’t have the usual information displays so I was briefly disoriented. Once I’d worked out what platform I was supposed to be on and how to get there I was fine.
Daley Thompson? Never heard of him. Got a bloke at work called Daley Smith. Now there’s a man who should have a train named after him.
I was off to Gillingham, well actually Rochester. There’s more and better real ale pubs there. I had grabbed myself a table seat and was soon surrounded by a trio of girls heading for Ramsgate. I’m assuming that’s where they were off to as I didn’t catch where they were heading other than the seaside for the day. Steph phoned me, she was out with Seeley and it was easy to talk and control the pushchair than it was to text and control said veichle. She’d text me a photo of her half done tattoo. Her latest one I will probably post when it’s done because so far, it looks pretty impressive. Each of her tattoos have proper personal meaning and all are very unique to one another and are deeply thought about. The latest one pays homage to Seeley. One of the girls had been told by her Dad to try the oysters. Aren’t they an aphrodisiac? Asked one of the others. Oooh, we’ve got to try them then. As I got off, I winked and wished them good luck with the oysters. Following my own directions, I headed for the first on my list. The Britannia Cafe Bar. Nice little place in the quiet end of town. According to the Medway Beer Belly Camra mag, it was up for sale. There was a bit of interest in it too. I could see why. I moved on to the Two Brewers in the busy end of town. I say town. It’s actually a city complete with cathedral and castle. The fact that It’s only got one street is beside the point. Thing is, it’s got a Dickensian feel to it. You could easily see yourself bumping into David Copperfield or Magwitch. There was a couple of bar hugging regulars in there sharing what was in the papers they were reading. The beer summed up the run down look of the place. It was stale. I couldn’t finish it. I left but not without leaving my calling card of the Birmingham Mail. It’s the only thing the rag is good for. How I see it, I’m doing my bit in advertising how atrocious it is. It’s ridiculously obvious that it’s days are numbered. I’ve been buying it for years and it’s the worst it’s ever been. I don’t know what kind of numbers they sell these days but it can’t be many more than 1 a fortnight or when there’s an international break. I walked over the bridge to The 10:50 From Victoria in Strood. If Rochester was a Dickensian city (Town), then Strood was Chav city. I only had one on my list here and when I’d finally found it tucked away under the viaduct, I was pleasantly surprised. Lovely little gem. I can understand why they’ve got it tucked away. You wouldn’t want the Carling brigade turning up, spoiling things.
Judging by the discarded stiletto, Darrell had been this way. Explains the new trainers. The beer in here was immaculate. Heaven after the rubbish I’d been served at the Two Brewers. I scuttled back over the bridge and made my way down the one street. I’m doing Rochester a disservice really. It drips history and you’d do a lot worse than spend an afternoon here. The one street is packed with independent shops and eateries.
Cathedral + Castle = City
Man Of Kent Ale House was next. A back street corner boozer. A true community pub. Complete with old dog in old dogs chair. Not sure which one came first. The pub is old and could have quite possibly been built round both. I left the remaining Birmingham beer festival flyers here. Well they’d got everything else anybody would ever need in there. A place where you could drop in for a quick one just as it opened and end up staying till closing. The dog must have read my mind because just as I thought about taking his photo, he disappeared into a back room. I missed the next train into Gillingham. It was actually early. I saw it start off as I got on the platform. On the next train, there was a bloke with a St Pauli baseball cap on. I got talking to him. You won’t be at all surprised to discover that I can’t remember his name. Turned out that he’d been to watch them and that’s where he’d bought the cap. He was actually a Leyton Orient fan. We talked about what had gone on at boardroom level down at Brisbane road. I knew the club had pretty recently changed hands and I asked him how the newbies were getting on. He was cautiously optimistic but the early signs were good. It won’t feel right until they’re back in the league. Bournemouth in the Premier league, Stockport in the National league North. Those two could easily be the other way round. How some owners are allowed to walk away from the messes they’ve created without some kind of financial penalties and future business restrictions pinned on them, I don’t know. It’s always the clubs and ultimately the fans that get hit the hardest. The lad left to meet up with his Dad. They would be in the home end. I put a spurt on because I wanted to do The Will Adams. The decor was something you would have come across in the theme pubs of the 70s. Someone had painted the walls to look like wood. It’s obvious that they were more handyman than artist. The beer though was excellent. It was here that I encountered the first Shrewsbury fans I’d seen. An older bunch. You could tell they weren’t new to traveling away. I made my way to the ground. I was expecting police at the away end, there was nothing. With Blues, you just look for where the police are and you know that’s the away end. Once I’d bumped into the Orient fan and his Dad, got my programme and asked for directions, I found the away end. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to benefit but the turnstile operator charged me senior citizen rate. I know my grey hair is thinning way too quickly for my liking but I’m no O.A.P. Ah well, time catches up with you I suppose.
This labyrinth of scaffolding is what holds the away end up!!!
So when is temporary classed as permanent? This structure has been in existence since 2003. I’m hoping that it’s robustly tested at least once a season. Looking at it, I’d say it isn’t. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of test areas. What are the league rules on temporary stands? Is there any time restrictions on how long you can use one? 14 years is a long time so I’m guessing no. If I’m being honest, I would not feel safe if it was at its capacity 1500. It certainly didn’t look safe.
I sent my Nephew Dave a photo of the Shrews fans. He sent me a photo of where he was. Bacup Borough v Cammel Laird.
He does a ground hopping blog and as soon as I’ve worked out how, I’ll stick the link on. After a few texts back and forth, he’s now doing Hampton and Richmond v St Albans in October and then next Easter, Chorley v Bradford Park Avenue and Bolton Wanderers v Blues with me.
I had the better weather but not by much. I was impressed with Shrewsbury. They look a different team this year. Not just in the obvious personnel changes but in attitude and aptitude. There was tenacity in their tackles and a real hunger to get the ball back when they lost it. They were sharp on the front foot broke with speed, used the space well with intelligent runs. It’s early in the season but with wins comes confidence and that was perhaps my only criticism of them here. Gillingham had clawed a goal back and Shrews were a bit jittery in the last 10 minutes. They should have been more than 2:0 up at half time such was their first half dominance and by the time Gillingham had pulled one back, It should have been a mere consolation goal. I saw enough to think that resilience will come and grow.
Game over and it was off to find the Frog and Toad. One of only three entries in the Good Beer Guide for Gillingham and I’d already been in one of them. It was a fair old trek to the pub and had I known it was going to be a disappointment, I wouldn’t have bothered. You don’t know if you don’t check it out for yourself though. The place was a back street pub in another Chav town. I should’ve expected it. Carling all round. After wasting time and effort on the Frog and Toad, I moved on to the Past and Present. Now this place was the best thing in Gillingham bar none. Gillingham’s one and only saving grace. It’s a micro pub. Great beer and a nice little layout. That’s the only problem. Too small. It was also the same service as the Fuggle and Nugget in Burton. I like this way of doing things but after decades of going up to the bar for service in a pub and seeing waitress/waiter service as something you get in a restaurant, it’s taking a bit of getting used to. I sat out the back in the little beer garden. Got chatting to a group of locals. Carling brigade who were upgrading. They couldn’t understand the concept of ground hopping. Keep drinking the proper stuff and you’ll be enlightened. I had a quick half at the Will Adams. Maybe it was because I needed to step back in time to the 70s one more time and then I went for my train.
There were two annoying ickle gangs of chavy gangster wannabes hanging round the bottom of the main street. It summed Gillingham up. Not a place I’ll rush back to in a hurry. I got the train back to London, my earphones had knitted themselves in to a representation of the Gravelly Hill interchange. Once untangled, the full version of Stone Roses, Fools Gold massaged my ears. I had half a London Pride in the bar at Marylebone. I’ve really got to stop doing that because it’s always undrinkable. I did my usual fall asleep on the train thing back to Brum. Another ground ticked off.