It was to be my first venture into the Non-League scene this season, but I know it won’t be my last. The last Bank holiday of the year, isn’t used by either the Premier League, or the E.F.L. There is though, a full fixture list in the Non-League pyramid. I’d got the day off from work and I was always going to make use of it by going somewhere. This fixture, although not the only one, stood out for me. I knew after being nomadic for the past few years, Gloucester were back at their spiritual home, albeit much changed from before they embarked on their own version of ground hopping. Flooding had done for the ground, and it had taken a while to get finances in place, plans drawn up to raise the ground itself so it wouldn’t be susceptible to future flooding, and the physical aspect of the rebuild itself. If nothing else, the rebuild had to contend with Lockdown. It wasn’t deemed essential building work and thus, was mothballed. (They have big moths in Gloucester.) So I headed off down to the city that the West’s called home and created their very own cemetery in. I know Bank holidays are supposed to be laid back, but it never ceases to surprise me by how much. Somewhere in my subconscious, I just feel that it should be a normal Monday, even though I’m not working myself. I’d only ever visited the city once before, and I’d got there by car. Getting off the train, I had no recollection of any of it. In my flimsy defence, it had been around twenty years ago. I had, of course, written an itinerary. As it was before 11 o’clock, the first place was a Wetherspoons. The Regal, as you can probably ascertain from the name, is a converted cinema and as with Wetherspoons policy, it’s incorporated as many of the original features as it could. They draw the line at usherettes shining touches for late comers and selling ice cream and popcorn. They have though, decorated these conversations with cinematic themes.
“For once, I wasn’t the ugliest thing in the pub……ok,ok, I still was”
The time had passed enough for me to start on the Good Beer Guide entries, and I duly went off in search of the first on my itinerary.
“Nope, that’s not the new football ground. That’s a place for egg chasing”
The Pelican was shut. it was a Bank holiday mind. That sort of thing puts me on edge, I was now concerned that my meticulously constructed itinerary, was going to end up as confetti, strewn across the middle of the road. It was with much trepidation, that I approached The Fountain. My fears were without foundation. The pub was open. If you love old traditional pubs, ones that just ooze history out of every nook and cranny, then the Fountain is a must visit.
“No idea what a wassail is, and I’ve got to say, it sounds ominous”
With a nod to Gloucester’s past links to royalty, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a troop of Cavaliers enter and take over the pub. Not sure what they’d have made of the 60s soul classics that were being piped round the place, or come to that, the carpet and the strangely dressed clientele, but you get the picture. By contrast, my next port of call, Angie’s Bar, was anything but traditional. A tiny bar with only 2 handpumps. Disappointingly, both from the Marston’s stable. I settled on Bank’s Sunbeam, and I only bothered to have a half. Even more disappointing, Angie wasn’t in situ.
Although Angie wasn’t there, her able replacement at least had a sense of humour. A couple of Gloucester fans, the football version, not the egg chasing nonsense, came in. With their recent move back home, it seemed appropriate to engage them, and their feelings. (They didn’t settle on a date for the wedding however. Seems to be a touchy subject.) Judging by the beer clips that adorned every available wall space, I’d got my timing wrong, but the Sunbeam was actually nice. In all honesty, I hadn’t had the beer since seeing The Selector live in Wolverhampton and it had been good then too. Sometimes less really is more. I moved on though, leaving the two Gloucester lads to argue about date for their nuptials. I definitely believe the one with the beard will look ‘glowing’ in a flowing white dress. The Turk’s Head is a visual assault on the senses. One where your smile becomes such that it wouldn’t be removed by hammer and chisel, or even, for that matter, a blowtorch.
Wow, what a place. Despite its name, and the feel that it had been there for a couple of centuries, it is in fact, a micro pub, and a damned good one at that. I now had a choice of three places to go back to after the game. The biggest shock was the price of the beer. I was glad that I had seen sense to bring a good amount of money with me. £2.50 is a lot of money to pay for a pint. No, no, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Two pounds fifty………for a pint. Yes, a pint. The only thing that singled it out as a micro pub, was the beer, and cider (I can’t forget to mention the range of 10 different ciders.) Was kept on a stillage. Other than that, everything else screamed traditional. After peeling myself away from the friendly atmosphere and conversation, the visual delights of the decor, the decent music and of course, the excellent beer, it was on to the next on the itinerary. Once again, contrast. Only this time, I wasn’t so impressed. Tank is in the docklands area of the city. Was a time when it wasn’t advisable, unless you were built to fight your way out of the inevitable tricky situation, to visit the docklands of any city. These days, most, unless they’re still a working port, have been ‘cleaned up’ and are now intent on attracting ‘well to do’, families, the affluent, or better still, affluent well to do families. It looks pretty, but there’s a falseness to it all. It’s not for the undomesticated like me. I’m not your attractive 2.4 nuclear family that enjoys wasting a soulless afternoon in IKEA. Tank is one of those places where you pay by card, plastic in more ways than one. Although the beer was good, it was clear i didn’t fit in. I’d wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time. I found myself sharing a table with a spotless looking family. All the faults were on the inside, just under the veneer of respectability. It was apparent that they were playing at it. Commendable, but ultimately futile. The cruel thing, they didn’t even realise they were trying too hard. It would be better if they were to cut their losses, and give up now, but it was obvious that it would run its course, one that would lead to destruction and an acrimonious split. What d’yer mean cynic? I’m only stating what I see. I don’t actually care. I’m just glad I don’t have to drag myself through that emotional malfunction.
It’s time for the bold bit. Move along if you don’t like football. Go and pour yourself a cup of tea or something. 2007 (No, that’s not the year when the original ground was decimated by flooding.) It was the attendance. I was obviously not the only one making use of the Bank holiday. Beats trawling round B & Q, looking at wallpaper that you really don’t need to spend money on.
“It was good to be home”
I love the feel of Non-League football. It tries harder than the professional game. It’s inclusive, not exclusive. It’s taken a lot of determination and dedication to get football back in Gloucester. Yes, the ground had that feel of Salford’s ground, with its use of shipping containers, but didn’t have that cheap feel that Salford has got. As I spent time adjusting to my surroundings, ie:- gawping at the ground, I did actually watch the football too. Kettering were taking the game to Gloucester, putting pressure on the home side. They looked more assured on the ball, looking to make an early breakthrough. There was little bits from Gloucester, but not enough of it was linked together, and certainly not enough to trouble the Poppies defence. Kettering were in charge, though they struggled to create anything of note. Chance wise, Gloucester went in at halftime having produced nothing. It wasn’t for the want of trying, but Kettering had kept them at arms length, even when the home side did manage to get the ball somewhere near the opposition goal. Second half started, and I just wanted to see some goals. I did see the Gloucester lads I’d been chatting to in Angie’s Bar. We acknowledged pleasantries. A great save from the home keeper, clawing it out of the top corner, kept it 0:0. But it wasn’t to last. Good sweeping wing play led to the first goal, despite a valiant attempt to defend it. It went to…….the away side. I would’ve liked to have said the home side, although I’ve nothing against Kettering, I just felt that Gloucester were very much the underdogs. The home support wanted a reaction from their team, and they got one. A curling shot was palmed away for a corner. Nothing came from it. The game relaxed back into its rhythm with Kettering on top. The second when it came, wasn’t a shock and it was nothing that the travelling support didn’t deserve. A through ball was finished in style. 2:0. It wasn’t to be the last action. Howls of derision greeted Kettering getting a free-kick. A clear cut chance for a third for the away team, wasn’t taken. That would be that. Well not quite. The referee found 6 minutes to add on from somewhere. Was there trouble at home, some domestic strife? Did he just not want to go back and face his other half? (I know wife rhymes with strife, and I’ve resisted the urge to pair them up in some kind of cynical oxymoron. I’m also not falling into the trap of using homosexuality as a slur against referees. It just not big and it isn’t clever. Well maybe just a little.)
Although both The Fountain and Angie’s Bar were good, I was really only going to go back to the Turk’s Head and get another fix, before getting the train home. I don’t know if they’d been in there since I left before, but a couple that I’d joined in the conversation with earlier, were still in there. There weren’t inebriated enough not to remember me either. Do I really make that much of an impression on people? So much for inconspicuous anonymity. They did leave before me mind, although I did find out that their names were Kayleigh and Craig. Drinking up myself, I wandered back to the station. They were not only there on the platform, but caught the same train. I spent an enjoyable journey back to Brum, chatting to Craig, as Kayleigh drifted in and out of sleep. Turned out that he worked on the railway and knew Ian. After I’d described Daryl, it dawned on Craig that he knew him too. Getting off at Brum, we split, they were still to travel their last leg to Bletchley. As with life, chances are, we’ll never bump into each other again, but I’ll look out for them. I got home to find out that Blues had signed Troy Deeney. I’d got that signing I’ve been waiting for all summer. On the pitch anyway, everything’s in place. The talisman cometh.