16/10/21 Southport v Altrincham, F.A.Cup 4th Qualifying round, A Cup of Port Goes South.

So why Southport? I vaguely remember Southport dropping out of the Football League in 1978, failing to get re-elected, they were replaced by Wigan Athletic. I also had a holiday with Trudi and the family, at the holiday camp, just outside the place. We went into Southport a couple of times, but ever since I’ve wanted to do it properly for myself. With Trudi, I never really got a say with what we did, and I just went along with anything and everything. Unsurprisingly, I was feeling the effects from the previous afternoon and evening, when I got up, left the flat, and caught the bus into town. It was the Edinburgh train I caught up to Wigan, and I’ve got to say, I was feeling a bit wistful with it. Mrs McHitler, Nicola Sturgeon has pushed through the requirement to show proof that you have been fully vaccinated if you’re attending a sporting event in Scotland, where the crowd is likely to be above 10,000. As Hearts have 14,000 season ticket holders, I’d need to have a Covid passport to visit Tynecastle. The pressure to be vaccinated is immense. So much for free will. I live in a very densely populated area of the second most populated city in the country. I work in a factory. I’m still here. At first, I followed all the guidelines, I was on furlough from work, I saw the point. I was called back to work, and at the time, it felt like I was just a bio-bot. Existing to just fill the bank accounts of the owners of businesses. Work, rest, there was no play. Nothing that made life feel like it was worth living. A virus, any virus, will mutate. The original strain, was very much weaker than the current strain. We’ve now got something that is supposed to work against it. We’re hanging on to the idea that it’s the golden ticket out of this. Thing is, it’s not actually working as well as they’re making out. None of the measures that they’ve put in throughout the pandemic, work all that well either. I don’t bother following any of the guidelines anymore, and haven’t for over 12 months, I also don’t believe I need to get vaccinated. Why? Well I’m still here, still living in the same place I was before all this, still working in the same job. You will have seen, or you may have, that I was in a very packed away end on the 7th of August for Blues’ first game. It’s now 21st of October, and I’ve been to 17 games around the country. That’s a lot of travelling, and it’s all been on public transport. It’s not just me getting off a train, going straight to a game, and then immediately returning back home. I like to ale trail, on average, I visit around 8 pubs around the actual game itself. That’s an awful lot of close proximity to a lot of complete strangers who, in turn will be in contact with roughly as many people as me. The chance of catching the virus has been great. That’s without meeting up with fellow ale trailers who in turn, will be in a similar contact with a similar amount of people. Hey, guess what? I’m still here. We’ve all got to die at some point. If I catch whatever strain of Coronavirus and it kills me, then so be it. It’s pointed out that it’s a horrible, painful death. Well first of all, unless you choose to end your own life, you have no idea of how you’re going to die. Both of my parents died differently and in great discomfort. I have heard stories of the pain and mess my Dad was in as he faded out from life due to cancer, and I saw the pain in my Mom’s eyes, both physically and mentally, as she succumbed to her kidneys giving up on her. I honestly don’t care when I die. It’s all about the living for me. I’m still here, and I don’t want the vaccine, I don’t see the point. I’m not against the vaccine, but feel extremely oppressed that my hobby is suppressed by politicians who are following health advisers who haven’t a clue how to tackle this pandemic. We will eventually at some point, come out of the other end of this pandemic. Will I still be here? Who knows, who cares, I don’t. Least I got to watch Hearts Nicola, you can never take that away from me. I’ve been to Wigan several times with Blues, but I’d never had to change trains there. Touching down, I walked the ridiculously short distance from Wigan’s North Western station, to its Wallgate station. Wallgate is run by Northern rail, so I wasn’t expecting a lot. Sure enough, a grotty, ramshackle train arrived to take me the last bit to Southport. Imagine my surprise then, when sitting down on this rickety train, I noticed an abundance of USB portals for use by passengers. Just out of pure courtesy, I plugged my phone in to change. Touchdown Southport, it was on to the first on my itinerary. Unlike the advertised opening times, it was shut. ‘Here we go’ I thought, ‘It’s out of holiday season’. The next on the itinerary didn’t look open either, but then I saw a couple of people through the window, pushing at the front door, it opened. I was on. A range of three ales and all fairly local, the one I had, cleared the cobwebs a little. The Peaky Blinders in Southport is so much better than the hole with the same name in Brum.

“I can’t remember seeing Tommy in Southport, in the TV series though.”

I decided to go back and try the first place that had been on my itinerary next. Sometimes I will completely miss out the one which wasn’t open, sometimes I’ll manoeuvre it in somewhere else. The Phoenix is somewhere that’s been in the GBG. Much like the town of Southport itself, it’s seen better days. It’s tatty, well worn and that’s just the carpet. A carpet on which it’s not advisable to stand for too long in the same place, mainly because you’ll be stuck there for eternity otherwise. It’s got a stench of depravity, a place where you wipe your feet on the way out. Having alluded to it being not the nicest of pubs, the beer was excellent. Something of a surprise given the signs of it being a haunt for the Carling brigade. A good range and very well kept. For the beer alone, it’s worth its GBG entry. For everything else, it needs a damn good clean and a little bit of TLC. Would I go back there? Yes I probably would, I just wouldn’t stand in one place for too long. The next place was a total contrast. The Guest House, (Yes, it really is named that.) Was not what I was expecting in the slightest.

“Hang around, there’s a good chance that you’d encounter a ghostly apparition anyway.”

I can’t praise this place highly enough. I’ve only taken one photo, but I probably should’ve taken several more. Ornate to say the least, it was partitioned into multiple rooms, each one as beautifully preserved as the last. If that in itself wasn’t enough to draw you to the pub, the range of ales was both big, varied and well kept. Was there anything wrong with the place? Erm…..no. not a thing. it was one of those perfect pubs that every town and city in the country, should have. Whilst supping my pint, I couldn’t help eavesdropping on a conversation coming from the next table. Like me, middle aged, the four lads, (You’re always a lad, whatever your age if you’re male.) were discussing the latest antics of Toyah Wilcox. I remember her being a Hell raising punk when I was a kid. It seems that she’s growing old just as disgracefully. Listening in, the antics made me smile. Well done to her. Fading out of life is boring. Shake it for all its worth. The Tap and Bottles is a micro pub in one of Southport’s many little shopping arcades, each one draws you like a magnet.

“It was like looking in a mirror”

Tap and Bottles, has a good and well kept range, but has that ‘hipster’ feel about it. Maybe it’s just my own paranoia, but couldn’t help feeling that they were looking down their noses at me. Like I’d wandered in by accident and was looking for Carling, Stella or Foster’s. It was nice after all the Scouse accents I’d heard, to hear a proper Manc one, on a bloke of a similar age to me in there though.

“I didn’t see Spoons signature on it mind.”

Watching people walking past, I saw a little girl in a full Liverpool kit holding her Mom’s hand, they were followed closely behind by the Dad and the girls older brother, sauntering along in their Everton shirts. I could just imagine the banter going back and forth over family meals. I’d got just enough time to take in the last on my itinerary before walking to the ground. Baron’s Bar is a Tardis of a place. Bigger on the inside, blah blah blah. They had 6 different Moorhouse beers on, but nothing else. It wasn’t, a ‘bar take over’ apparently though. I like beer from Moorhouse’s, so had two different halves. Both good, both well kept. Not only bigger on the inside, the Bar was much more quaint than I was expecting. One sure sign that a pub is struggling, is that it will have a radio station on the television. It shows that they can’t afford the sports channels, and can’t afford to have a music system or jukebox. It was though, smashing out 90s tracks, so I was happy. Mind you, that also says I’m getting old. Not exactly current music is it? It was onto the ground. I’d been warned by Steve that it was a bit of a walk. He wasn’t wrong. At one point, I was so convinced I’d missed the turn off for Haig Avenue, l had to check on my phone. Amazingly, seeing as my sense of direction is hopeless, I hadn’t gone wrong. It wasn’t like there were any fans heading the same way either. it was only when I got to the turn off for Haig Avenue, that I saw anyone at all that looked remotely like they were going to the game. To be honest, it was a relief to not only see the yellow and black scarf round his neck, but then see the floodlights towering over the ground too.

Southport aren’t having a great season, Altrincham are. It was though, the F.A.Cup and the prize was a place in the 1st round proper. A game for heroes. Usually, I highlight an awful coloured kit, if there’s one on show, but I can’t let Southport’s go without praising it. Its only downfall was that the manufacturer of it, is the same as the kit of that club which shall remain nameless. What I liked, other than the round neck collar and colour, is that the replicas they sell to their supporters, are embroidered just as the playing kit is. Take note Nike, Adidas and every other kit manufacturer who palm off ironed on club and maker’s emblems. After the game, I even had a quick look in the club shop. Their entire range is embroidered. That includes training kit too. It shows class. It shows they care about their fans. I’m jumping ahead. The home side came out of the traps flying. Putting Altrincham on the back foot, they were belying their lowly standing. Before I go any further, I should add some of the photos I took of the ground.

“Home end”
“Main stand”
“Away end”
“A closer look at the Altrincham fans, just to prove I’m not telling porky’s”
“Nope, not controls for a drone, but a transistor (Tranny.) radio.

Right, that’s the photos done, back to the game. Just as I was queuing up for a burger, Southport deservedly took the lead. Burger bought, I found a place to stand and went to start on my new purchase. Nope, Southport bundled the ball in the net for a second. Disallowed. As I’m trying to take notes on my phone for this post, Altrincham equalised. By the time I’d got round to starting on my burger, the polystyrene box that it had been served in, had turned the bun to inedible mush. I made do with just eating the meat. Least the meat was good. If the equaliser had been harsh on the Sandgrounders, Alty’s second just on halftime, was even harsher. I suppose had Southport taken even one more of their many chances in that first 15 minutes of the game, then they would’ve been going into the break in a very healthy position. As it was, it was the team from the Division above, that were showing why they were. The second half and Altrincham could afford to control the game. Southport kept pressing. With no league points at stake, they could do that. Unfortunately, they were missing that little bit of quality. It was almost inevitable that the away team would pick Southport off. Making it 3:1 and effectively, game over. Southport though, weren’t prepared to throw the towel in, and carried on chipping away. It was nothing less than commendable and they thoroughly deserved to reduce the deficit. 3:2 and game back on. Altrincham though, defended, their now, slender lead well. Much as Southport toiled to create that unmissable chance, they fell short. It was Altrincham who would wait to see if they would have the chance to claim yet another League scalp.

Coming out from what was a great game and that visit to the club shop, I checked the other results on my phone. If there were puzzled looks to my reaction to seeing Hearts last gasp equaliser at Ibrox, it was nothing to me seeing that Wolves had beaten ‘them lot’ with a added time winner, after being 2:0 down. Happy days. Like I’ve said far too many times before, I love how the mind plays tricks on your perception. The walk back into town didn’t feel half as long as the walk to the ground. Most of the time, I tend to head back to the pub I liked the most before the game. Southport was to be no different. Any guesses? Yeah yeah, The Guest House. It just had to be. It was just one of those perfect pubs. Repeating the journey up to Southport, but in reverse, I got myself some chips in Wigan. What’s with polystyrene and food? How on earth does it appear to turn food inedible? What’s wrong with putting chips in paper? Paper doesn’t turn chips into cardboard. Polystyrene does. Next time, I’ll be asking what the chips are served in before ordering them. I did enjoy a bit of kip on the train home to Brum though.

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