The first round of the F.A.Cup had pitched Hereford and Telford together. Sky in their infinite wisdom had decided to televise the Blues v Wolves game. It was duly moved to the Monday night. It meant a free Saturday. Second round cup day. Me and Steve Whaley had agreed that whoever won out of Hereford and Telford, we’d go and watch in the next round. A 1:0 victory had put Hereford in the giant fish bowl. They were given an away day at either Chorley or Fleetwood. However much I willed Chorley to win, it would see us make the trip up to the Fylde coast. It did mean that I would be able to chalk off another of the 92. There were a few obstacles in the way. Would they move the kickoff? Would we manage to get a ticket? Oh what joy, rail replacement bus between Preston and Blackpool. The Beeb decided to leave the fixture alone. It was to be a 3 o’clock Saturday kickoff and then Steve’s Nephew came through with the tickets. We were on. I found Steve on the train. He’d got a table and luckily, the seat opposite was available till Preston. He’d got me a can for the train. No no, not Carling. It was a very nice dark ale brewed by Moors. He’d sorted out some pubs to do both in Blackpool and Fleetwood. We chatted about the Blues. He’s a little more hopeful that we’ll pull out of the relegation zone than I am. Not much more, just a little more. Whoever “They” are, I don’t know, but they say it’s the hope that kills you. I’m really trying not to have any. Everything points to relegation but even in a relegation season, you still get the odd game, the odd result that makes you hope. The previous Saturday had given us both that little bit of hope. Yes, even me. We got to Preston 3 minutes late so we put a spurt on to get whatever was allocated as rail replacement transport. Coach? Lorry? Rickshaw? It turned out to be a very luxurious double decker bus. It was also completely taken over by what seemed about 300 young Chinese. They could talk. Boy could they talk. At the same time as one another too. They must be able to breathe through their ears because they didn’t take a breath. I can’t say it was too great on my ears and I know Steve was the same just by looking at the grimace on his face. They were nice enough kids though. Respectful. As we approached Blackpool, we could see the rollercoaster in the Pleasure Beech. Steve pointed it out to the girl next to him. Apparently, this lot were off to the zoo instead. I couldn’t imagine the same amount of British youth going to another country and doing the same. Blackpool is looking tired now. Like a pensioner who tries to cover the wrinkles with too much make up. An ill fitting toupee. Food stained clothes. It’s mostly hen and stag parties now. Its loyal band of repeat visitors ever dwindling. Bar 19 was the first place on Steve’s list. Blackpool is renowned on the real ale circuit as a place to avoid. Bar 19 is trying to buck that trend. It’s falling over backwards to promote the proper stuff. If Chavs were to get their own town, then Blackpool would be it. I’m sounding snobby but it’s no surprise that the Carling brigade love the place. The lovely woman that served us two pints for less than a fiver. (Yes you did read that properly. I’ll say it again, two pints for less than a fiver.) had a huge gold MUFC pendant hanging round her neck like an open and closed shop door sign. Only in Blackpool.
What are the odds on this?
The Washington was next. Green King owned, it’s another place promoting ale. Unfortunately however, I should’ve ordered a plate of chips with what I had. It had turned to vinegar. They changed it easy enough though and the alternative pint was excellent. I certainly wasn’t made to feel that way but I found myself apologising for complaining. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t like complaining. I was brought up not to make a scene and to put up and shut up. Even still, I won’t make do with a bad pint. I’d drink Carling if that was the case.
Is this the land that time forgot?
The Layton Rakes was where we were to be joined by Steve’s mate Nick, a Hereford fan who has ambitions of visiting every single Wetherspoons pub. Fittingly, The Layton Rakes is a Wetherspoons outlet. It’s one of the better ones too. Got an art deco style to it. Especially the upstairs.
No sunbathing today
Unforcast rain fell as we waited for the tram. I wondered how Matt Taylor had sneaked it in. I wasn’t impressed but at least we didn’t have to wait long for the tram. Certainly not the forty minutes that Spoons had had to wait once. Both Steve and Nick were wearing their Hereford scarfs. Nick also had his Hereford shirt on. This was spotted by a Fleetwood fan as he got on at one of the stops along the way. He made a beeline for us. He was harmless but obviously not the full picnic hamper. Definitely knowledgeable though. Worth 10,000 plastic armchair fans. A replica shirt wearer who like Nick, actually goes to games. Disembarking in Fleetwood, we headed for The Steamer. The outside of this place doesn’t do the inside justice. A bit of a Tardis of a place. Not only did it have a pool table but this was dwarfed by it’s neighbour. A full size snooker table. It’s been a very long time since I last saw a snooker table in a pub. I certainly didn’t expect to see one in here. Like I said, a bit of a Tardis of a place.
A perfectly preserved etched glass screen straddled the bar. A nod to a more prosperous time. A time when money was spent on details. Not the build cheap, look cheap of the present and probably the future. We left them my copy of the Birmingham Mail to use as they saw fit because it isn’t fit to read. On the way to The Royal Oak, we encountered a knot of local Carling brigade. What were they not? Intelligent for one thing. Steve and Nick took the precaution of taking their scarfs off. It was the only hostility we faced all day. The Oak was superb. Not only did it have a great range of ales but the locals were not only helpful but knowledgeable. Not without a sense of humour either.
Every home should have one
The next place was a disappointment for me. The Strawberry Gardens comes with a good reputation. I like the name of the place but that was about it. Half of the pulls weren’t on and the rest weren’t very inspiring. Nick had left us by now so he could get a programme. I’d say he made the right decision. There was an old lad selling badges in the Strawberry, his nose had been that badly damaged at some point in his life, that it looked like someone had chucked a raw sausage at his face, it had stuck to his cheek and they hadn’t bothered trying to reposition it to the middle. He tried his best to regale us with an anecdote but neither me or Steve could really be bothered to listen.
A couple of donkeys commandeered from off Blackpool beach
Supporting Blues, you get used to having a heavy police presence following you around but I wasn’t expecting the amount that was on duty for this game. Yes, there were 977 Hereford fans but in an attendance of 2,567? Seemed a bit much to me. I would’ve liked to have got a programme, it was definitely in my plan but Nick had got there first so I didn’t manage to get one.
Highbury and not an Arsenal fan in sight.
The Hereford fans were giving a good account of themselves. So were the team. What they lacked in quality, and you could definitely see the gulf in the technical ability, they made up in effort and team spirit. They chased, they harried, they took the lead. It was a great finish. A finish befitting a league one club, only it came from the club 89 league positions below the home side. The away end went mental. It was a pity it was short lived. Fleetwood equalised with a scrappy goal from Cole. Andrews lad Devante to be exact. I could be wrong but I can’t ever see him emulating his illustrious Father in gracing Wembleys turf in the competition’s final. Half time and me and Steve went down the back of the stand. Our Brummy accents stood out amongst the Herefordshire twang and curiosity got the better of the lads next to us and our presence was questioned. Not in a threatening way, I hasten to add. More bewilderment than anything. I never get tired of the puzzled looks my accent gets in alien places. Steve bought a couple of pies and very kindly gave me one of them. We tried eating them to the side of the terrace but one of the stewards wasn’t having any of it. Where we were standing wasn’t in anybody’s way. We weren’t blocking any doors or any gangways but no, we had to move back on the terracing. Sometimes common sense or courtesy bypasses some stewards. Some grounds in fact. Q.P.R. and Brentford are both served by the Metropolitan police force. Both tight grounds. Both in west London but the stewarding is a lot more hostile towards the away supporters at Loftus Road. So much more friendlier at Griffin Park. Why? Club policy? Recruitment policy? Why? Second half and Fleetwood had Hereford on the back foot for most of it but no more goals were added and that was it. Fleetwood will have to take the trip to Edgar Street for the replay and I’m sure Hereford will definitely fancy their chances.
We got the tram back to Blackpool and again our accents attracted attention. This time, from an exiled Blues fan who claimed he was Zulu back in the day, until after talking to him for a few minutes, it was obvious, he wasn’t. I honestly don’t understand why people do the Walter Mitty thing. You are what you are. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. You’ll always always get found out. We hit Bar 19 again. If I liked the place before, I loved it now. It was all 90s Brit Pop. Roses and the Happys. Oh how I wished I could pick the place up and take it with me. We got the bus back to Preston and Steve hit Sainsbury’s before we got the train. We got talking to an Edinburgh Uni student. I think I impressed both him and Steve when I guessed he was studying medicine. Knowing that Edinburgh specialises in medicine meant that it was an educated guess. What can I say? I do remember some obscure stuff. Touch down Brum and we hit the P.O.V. It’s always busy at this time of year on a Saturday night so no shock to find it busy. We got talking to a couple of Albion fans. It’s nice to talk to fans of other clubs who know what they’re talking about, have done the hard yards. Like the lad in the pub in Leeds. It got busier still so we moved in to a bit of space. One of influx, I recognised. Remember the film and television series “This is England”? The lad that played the lead character Shaun? Yeah, him. Thomas Turgoose. The Baggies went down in my estimation as they flocked round him. He just looked like one of the lads as he chatted. If you didn’t know it was him, you wouldn’t have thought it was him. Seemed very grounded. Down to earth. One of us. I did go and shake his hand as I said T’ra to Steve. I think I said something cheesy like, good to see you Kidder. It had been a long day. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.