Unsurprisingly, after last Saturday’s performance, I was chomping at the bit to get to another Blues game. Obviously there’d been a game in between, but that was just the League Cup and with a second string team. In other words, much as a win against Fulham would’ve been nice, I wasn’t really bothered. It was in the Championship that mattered. Blues had been so dominant at Luton that I’d allowed myself to be lulled into a false position of expectation. There was a spring in my step as I walked to the bus stop. I wasn’t the only one getting the bus though. I’ve mentioned about my own depression and also about others anxiety issues. One form of mental illness I haven’t written about, psychosis, is something I’ve not suffered with, and thus don’t understand. It’s also the most volatile of mental illness. Simply put, I find myself giving it a wide berth. Observing others reactions, I’m not the only one. There was a passenger waiting to board who was suffering from the condition. We both sat on the top deck. As we’d been waiting at the bus stop, a wasp had been eyeing me up as potential prey. After a brief dalliance, it had decided that it didn’t like the look of me, and had flown off. I hadn’t seen the thing manage to hitch a ride with us on the bus, but it found its way underneath the bloke with psychosis’ clothing. The bloke jumped, yelping with pain. He dealt with the winged assailant before spending the rest of the journey swearing and blurting out the mantra, ‘Dead anyhow’ repeatedly. I may have been giving the bloke a wide berth whilst keeping an eye on him, but the striped assassin hadn’t shown the same respectful discrimination. Dead anyhow. Who? Delete where applicable. I was on my own for this one and so, could do my own thing. I also had to do my own thinking. Not always a good thing. Earphones were jammed in, the blog for Luton was fine tuned until satisfaction, before posting, and the paper I’d bought was read on the way up to Sheffield. Saturday morning trains between Brum and Sheffield are subject to a different route due to some kind of engineering work. Not forgetting a substantial wait at Derby. It’s all tied in with the timetable. Even with explanation, you still feel like the train is delayed getting into Sheffield. It wasn’t, it was actually early. On my way round to the Tap, I bought my return ticket to Barnsley. I’d got the idea of doing a couple of pubs in the city of steel, before getting the train to Barnsley and doing a couple there, including a new micro pub. First though, like I’ve said, it was the Tap first. No trip to Sheffield is complete without doing the Tap, it’s just rude not to do it. Chatting to the barman as I was getting served, it came apparent that he helped on the brewing side of things. We discussed the problems that supply chains were having due to the virus. Nothing hasn’t been effected by it.
The one place I was looking to try, wasn’t open as advertised. Shame, because it looked good, something different. I’m just going to keep it in mind for a future trip. It meant I had to do a bit of thinking. Most real ale pubs open at 12 o’clock. I had the Banker’s Draft near by, but having not been impressed two weeks previously, it wasn’t an option. I hurriedly tried working out somewhere else that didn’t completely wreck my plans. I settled on the Bessemer. I’ve got to admit, I’ve never been attracted to the place. It’s got the sort of ambiance that I usually steer clear of. Had it not had any ale that took my fancy, I would’ve probably have walked back out. It had Abbeydale’s Moonshine. Even then, I wasn’t expecting it to be kept well. In fact, I expected the beer to be kept too cold and the pipes to be not very clean. I was pleasantly surprised. I held the pint up. There was nothing floating in it and the glass wasn’t covered in condensation. It was just the taste test to complete. Taking a sip, I was pleased to find that it was perfect. Not wishing to seem like a total beer snob, the condition of the beer, bellied the decor and clientele of the pub. Chances are, I’ll never visit the place again, but at least it was an awful lot better than I was expecting.
I made my way back to the station, just as a train had arrived from Brum. Making my way to the platform, I bumped into Bryn and Craig. I gave them a report of where I’d been and why I was heading to Barnsley already. Carrying on, a lot of Blues that had come off the same train as Bryn and Craig, were now catching the same train as me. That included Clacker and sons. Sitting there on the train to Barnsley, it was wonderful listening to that old Blues banter and spirit. It’s strange what makes you tick, what gives you that lift. Shapes who you are. My sister Chris was texting me about the Test match between England and India. In life, I’m a complete pessimist until it comes to cricket, when I become the exact opposite, a total optimist. Chris is the other way round. It’s bizarre how it’s happened, but I love teasing her over her pessimism. As soon as England had skittled India out in the first innings and then posted a huge lead, it was all over as a contest. Not for Chris, she expected the worst to happen. The more the gloom and doom, the more I waxed lyrical with bravado. Daft thing is, as she text me after each fall of wicket, I sensed the excitement. For me, it was flat, for me, it was a full gone conclusion. If this is what optimism feels like, I’ll stick to being a pessimist. Touching down in Barnsley, I slalomed round the rest getting off, and headed for the Jolly Tap on the Arcade. A little micro pub I’d visited before and been impressed with.
“Poetry for those who like that sort of thing”
The other place I wanted to go to, Mikey had posted a photo of on the WhatsApp group. Amazingly, I found it quite easily. I found out that Heaven & Ale had only been open a fortnight. Well first of all, thanks Mikey for posting the place on the group, had you not, I wouldn’t have known about it, and I wouldn’t have visited what is a great little place in the making. It’s good now, but as long as it gets frequented, and I really can’t see any reason why it won’t be, it’s just going go from strength to strength.
I sincerely believe this place will be a success. The beer was well kept, it was spacious enough, and it was friendly. Not something you always get in Barnsley. It was nice seeing the surprise on the face of the owner, when he heard my accent and realised I’d made an effort to seek the place out. I suspect that I won’t be the last ale trailing football fan that finds it, and is impressed by it as much as me. I’ve not just missed the obvious, but it’s the little things too. Things you hear, things you see, things that are unique to Blues fans. I can not overstate enough, the differences in fan base. The things that make Blues different, are the things I’ve missed most. It made this weathered heart of mine, swell with pride.
Bold type, must mean it’s time for the game. I’m still scanning the Blues crowd for familiar faces. Still saying hello to fans that maybe, I wouldn’t have normally said hello to. You could even say that we’ve been given another chance. The appreciation of things we’ve not been allowed to do, is palpable
I knew we wouldn’t do as well as we had versus Luton, I still thought we might, almost expected it, the performance had been so good. The rational side of me, pointed out that Barnsley had got to the playoffs last season. The irrational side of me pointed to last week. It was fresh in the memory, and Blues are a much stronger, better team. However, a bit of sand must’ve found itself in the petrol tank, This wasn’t the smooth, fluid performance of last week. To continue with the analogies, Dean and Roberts experimented with using computer code to communicate, only for it to freeze on them. Barnsley capitalised whilst the IT department rebooted the system. It was a decent finish and in all honesty, i’m quite happy if we only concede one goal every three away games. As the game wore on, it was evident that our range was out. Sarkic’s kicks weren’t finding their mark, Roberts throwing was as woeful. The passing was off the pace. There’s a difference about Blues this season. A difference that meant that the poor start to the game wasn’t going to last long. Under Karanka, we would have capitulated and lost the game. In the after-match press conference, he would’ve shrugged his shoulders and blamed everyone else for his ineptitude. We battled back. Composed ourselves. The chances started to happen. Jukiewicz worked one for himself and took it with aplomb. We were level and finished the first half the much stronger of the two sides. Before the end though, a rarity in professional football happened. The shock was not that it happened to a Blues player, but who that player was and that it wasn’t for his trademark throw. Mark Roberts was penalised for a foul throw, it was a short throw at that. Second half started very much as the first half had ended, Blues were in the mood for a winner. This was against a team that made the playoffs last season and they were struggling to compete with us. The only problem was, we’d only got 11 men. The ref was making Barnsley’s numbers up to 12. As football fans, we feel that the referee is against us most games, but there really are games that it’s painfully obvious that the ref is against a team. I’ve watched games where Blues aren’t involved and I have no allegiance to any side, where the ref has been biased towards one side. The referee was giving the major decisions to Barnsley. No matter though, we were working and moving as a unit. We were making chances, restricting and closing Barnsley down whenever they did get the ball. That thing with the throw in, happened again. Bizarrely to the same player, for exactly the same type throw. It was things like that, that pointed to the referee’s stance. A good near post cross was headed wide by Hogan. It wasn’t going to be his worst miss, that was to come. The once again, impressive Chong, was clattered as he broke away, the loose ball ran perfectly to Hogan, who only had the keeper to beat. 2:1, points heading back to Brum. Nope, he missed. Bowyer is happy that Hogan is getting in the positions to score. He can’t have been that happy though, because he hooked him off, and replaced him with Aneke. Chucks Aneke is a physically powerful player, to put it in footballing terms, he’s a handful. The only way Barnsley could to see to stop him, was to manhandle him, ably assisted by a referee who was more than happy to turn a blind eye. It wasn’t just Aneke who was being targeted, bad challenges on Blues players weren’t getting punished by cards. One particular challenge that put our player into the seats at the side of the pitch, got just a yellow card. It should’ve been a straight red. Had it been the other way round, I would’ve expected the perpetrating Blues player to have received his marching orders. At one point, Aneke was being wrestled in the Barnsley six yard box. The melee and resulting action from the referee, took that long, that Roberts who was going to take a long throw, decided to sit in an empty block of seats and wait. If Hogan had gone close, then they were nothing to how close Aneke went. In a mad scramble, he hit the post from close range, he somehow contrived to put the rebound over the bar. 2:1 would not have flattered us, 3:1 wouldn’t have. On another day, we’d have won by 4. On another day, we’ll play worse and win. A 1:1 draw it was, and I walked away from the ground wondering how, even with the biased nature of the referee, we hadn’t won. Blues will do well this season. There’s a spirit, a togetherness about the team. It’s a team that goes in search for goals. It’s a team that looks a tight unit at the back. There’s a flow to us. I find myself drooling over some of the things we do in the middle of the pitch, and how we move the ball. It’s a team that could easily make the playoffs, with only a couple of days to go till the transfer window shuts, it’s now unlikely we’ll sign that talisman that will take us over the line. A player that galvanises the team, the club. A player that pushes us, will make automatic promotion a possibility without the playoffs. Watch this space.
I walked back into town, and went to No7. It sounds like a bus doesn’t it? What happened to the first 6? I don’t know, what I do know, it does decent ale. It’s the tap for Accorns Brewery, and it just seemed rude not to have at least one Barnsley Bitter. It would’ve tasted sweeter had Blues won, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been moaning at just getting a point. It was a point away from home. A good point in context. I got the train back to Sheffield, but not before having to walk round a bunch of obnoxious kids. Were we really that bad? Probably. I’m getting old. Touchdown Sheffield, there was only one place I was heading. No, not the Tap, the Rutland Arms. There’s so much I like about the Rutland. Much as the Tap is a special, must visit place, the Rutland is Sheffield’s answer to what Brum’s Anchor used to be like. If I lived in Sheffield, it would be my local. If you ever needed to find me, I’d be in there. One of the many things I like about the place, is the jukebox. I stuck money in it. Another thing I like about the place, is its friendliness. I got chatting to a group who turned out to be Sheffield fans. Not Wednesday or United, although one was United, but they shared a love of Non-League football. For those who don’t know, Sheffield F.C. is the oldest football club in the world. It’s a club that’s on my list of ground hops I want to do.
“One day, I’ll get there”
it was both interesting and relatable. I didn’t brag about how many grounds I’ve done, mainly because I don’t actually think it’s that impressive but also because I know of people who have done a lot more and so that’s why I don’t see it as that impressive. I’m still only scratching the surface as far as I’m concerned. It’s for other people to be impressed by how many I’ve done. I peeled myself away, I needed something to eat. I’d seen a chippy on the way to the pub from the station, and ducked in there, on my way back. I wish I hadn’t bothered. The cheese burger and chips were flavourless. Halfway through, I gave up on them. The burger was akin to eating a soggy cushion, the chips, like the kind of packaging you throw out after Christmas. I won’t be going back there again. I arrived back in Brum with plenty of Blues stragglers. Our 100% away win record, broken, but at least we remained unbeaten.