One of us ale trailers had come up with the concept of a crawl of some of the less reputable pubs, it had had a mixed reaction amongst us. I for one, wasn’t enamored with the idea at first, and if I’m being totally honest, it was only because I do this blog, that I decided to go along with it. So against my better judgement, I got the bus into town and headed to the first place, the Peaky Blinder, a place that, as the name suggests, is piggybacking on the TV programme, a place devoid of real ale. Steve was already in there, I started with Kopparberg mixed fruit, a disgusting sweet syrupy fizzy liquid, Jinksy was next in, followed by Taffy and then JK, the crawl began.
“Why oh why”
I was already regretting it. If the Peaky Blinder was bad enough, the Bullring Tavern wasn’t going to be any better, we were joined by Paul.
“Proof, let’s raise a plastic glass!”
It’s handy for the market, and it’s cheap, that’s all you can say that is good about the place, it was just after 11:30, it had bouncers on both doors, and everything was being served in plastic glasses, yes we were playing Millwall, a club whose reputation is infamous, but I couldn’t help thinking that this was an every day occurrence. I had a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruits, a drink that I don’t believe had been anywhere near any kind of fruit, let alone apple, Jinksy appeared to be reveling in the experience. The next place on the itinerary was one that I’d never been in, Cobs, before bumping into Jeff and John, who were aghast at what we were doing, we walked past the now flattened wholesale market, a place that a few of us hadn’t been past since it had been demolished, and as such, were surprised by how big the space that it left was. I had been, but I was surprised by how big Cobs was inside,
“It’s barred from selling decent beer by the looks”
They’d got both John Smith’s and Worthington’s on keg, both were quite drinkable when they were cask, the Worthington’s had gone off, though the John Smith’s wasn’t much better, I was still building myself up.
“The bloke at the bar smelt as bad as the Worthington’s had tasted”
They did have the football on, but the one thing that we all agreed with, was that the jukebox was fantastic, it had bands on it that none of us, had ever seen on any other jukebox. Once again, it was the beer that was the ultimate deterrent to going anywhere near this place. We discovered that Mikey was in The Lamp, and Taffy tried to prise him out from it as we walked past on our way to the next, but then it was a forlorn attempt, as our mission was unappetizing to say the least, especially when the Lamp is such a great pub. The Town Crier was where I felt crying, it was time to hold my nose and brave a pint of Carling.
“Sobbing more like”
The proprietor of this place is the Aunt of a lad I used to work with, I must’ve had some kind of influence on him, as there were bottles of real ale in the fridge, but it was Carling time, I bought a pack of salt and vinegar crisps to take the taste away.
“And people drink this horrid stuff for pleasure”
“Just look at those little faces”
The crisps helped, but not much, and certainly not enough. The Fountain was the last place, a place I hadn’t been in since 2002, the 17 years hadn’t improved it, Mikey and Rich joined us, though I think that was out of curiosity as to how we were getting on.
“Purely research for the benefit of this blog”
It was to be only a half in the Fountain, but I can guarantee, it’ll be the last time that hideous stuff will ever pass my lips again. I walked up to the ground with Paul, whose beating thing reminded his brain that it’s it in charge now, and needed a couple of minutes stand down. Once it was happy, it allowed Paul to carry on up to the ground.
So even with awful beer in just as awful pubs, we still didn’t make kickoff. I wasn’t expecting much from this game in terms of football, I’d watched enough Rowett football to know how Millwall would play, I knew that they’d try all the spoiling tricks to disrupt the flow of the opposition’s football. (In this case, us) how they would sit, try and suck us in, trying to find gaps in a regimented defense, before hitting us with pace, exploiting the gaps in the defence that had pushed up, a tried and tested system. Clotet has got players who are comfortable on the ball, aware of players around them that are like minded, but not for this one, it was like Rowett the evil wizard, had cast a spell on the Blues team, dragging them down to his level. Our football wasn’t flowing, rubbish pubs, awful beer, terrible football, the theme of the day was definitely set. The highlight of the first half, if you could call it that, was Mark Roberts landing awkwardly, and having to be carried off, at least we had a ready made replacement on the bench in Harley Dean. The second half was slightly better, Jutkiewicz had a chance that, had he still had Che Adams alongside him, scoring the goals, taking the pressure off him, he would’ve scored, Blues were snatching at things, Millwall, and Shawn Williams found themselves in a bit of space, and he let fly, a good goal, but it sparked a commotion in the Tilton, that I couldn’t quite make out, the news spread that it had been a couple of Millwall that had celebrated the goal. Now I’m not the brightest firework in the display, but if they thought they would be ok, celebrating in the Tilton, then I’m applying to join Mensa, the game carried on being typically attritional. If you’d have told me that the game would finish 1:0 to Millwall, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised, I just couldn’t see where a goal was going to come from, but it did, and it came from a set piece, the Chelsea lad we’ve got on loan, Clarke-Salter, met a corner, powering in a header between the Millwall keepers legs. There was still time for a piece of skill from Bellingham, whose quick feet led to him flashing a shot just wide of the far post. To say this kid is good, does him a disservice, he reads the play better than players twice his age, sees things nobody else does, he’s got great touch and is skilful, in the short time he’s been playing in the middle, he’s developing a wand of a right foot. He’s finding his voice too, you see him directing team mates, like a veteran of 400+ games, not someone who’s played less than a dozen. He’s getting stronger in the tackle, timing them better. In short, he needs carefully putting in bubble wrap, and gently placing in a bomb proof box in between games. I never saw Francis play for Blues, didn’t get to see those four goals against Bolton in 71, when he was only 16, but Jude Bellingham, who is only 16 himself, is the best player the club has produced since I started watching them in April 1979, by a long long way.
The Big Bulls Head was to be the venue after the game, entering into it, an old blue beat, ska tune was being played, in a previous life, when Blues were in the Premier League, the Quigley’s owned the St Andrews Tavern, (Though everyone still called it Black Horse) and they kept a half decent pint of Brew II in it, they had a resident DJ who played a whole bunch of it, the Quigley’s sold it to a local entrepreneur by the name of Kevin Fleming, who also had The Roost, Fleming had seen how the Quigley’s had run the St Andrews Tavern, and tried to replicate it, as fortunes on the pitch took a nosedive, the regular fan base diminished, cutting his losses, he tried to concentrate on the Roost, including moving the DJ, now I’m not sure what’s transpired in the intervening years, as the Roost didn’t have ale, and they didn’t know how to keep it properly anyway, I stopped going in, the DJ had obviously migrated to the Big Bulls Head, the pub was heaving with plenty of the old clientele that used to frequent the St Andrews Tavern/Roost. I’m not going to lie, and along with Steve, JK and I suspect Taffy, I found myself enjoying the playlist he’d assembled, along with the afore mentioned Blue beat, plenty of 2tone was played, Mikey had joined us, as did Darryl as he’d finished his shift at work, dragging in Jude, Ivar and another Norwegian mate of his, with him. I had a picture message from my Nephew, Chorley had won again, and Wrexham had sunk to the bottom of the National League, I suppose you could say that at least Wrexham couldn’t sink any further down, well, not until they start next season in the National League North. I gleefully showed Taffy the photo, who challenged me to a bet that Wrexham would finish above Chorley, it was a bet that was too good to turn down, I just hope he doesn’t make me wait once it’s been mathematically confirmed that Wrexham have been relegated, until the season has physically finished. I’m not sure anyone could hear my tastebuds screaming at me in protest, over the loudness of the music, but I needed some proper stuff, after saying goodbye to my fellow sufferers, I went to the one place in town where I knew the range was good, and quality also, although the Welly had been swelled by once a year Christmas shoppers, I found somewhere I could rest my pint, after all, I wasn’t going to bolt it down, I was going to savour it, and even with the first sip, I could sense my tastebuds relaxing, again, I’m not sure anyone else could hear them, but I swear they gave out an audible sigh of relief, before giving me a barrage of abuse for subjecting them to a day of torture. I was joined by Darryl, who couldn’t face the ordeal. With trains not running on Boxing day, we arranged to meet up to do a local Non-League game, one where we won’t be drinking anything but the good stuff. I usually drink good beer in good pubs, sometimes, wonderful beer in some amazing pubs, on this particular occasion, only the company was first class, yeah ok, some of the music wasn’t bad, but I can’t say I’ll be repeating the experience.