18/12/21 Curzon Ashton V Alfreton, F.A.Trophy 3rd Round Proper. No Curse On Alf This Time.

Nope, not doing a lateral flow test. I really can’t be bothered messing around every single game. When I’d decided not to do the game at Blackburn, I was still determined to travel up to Manchester as planned, and had looked up a ground hop somewhere in or around Mancland. It was F.A.Trophy day and this fixture stood out to me. Twenty ground hops earlier, I’d done Ashton United v F.C.United of Manchester. This was an opportunity to complete the set. Out of the two clubs in Ashton-under-Lyne, Curzon are currently the more upwardly mobile of the two. They’re relatively a new club and they’re definitely in a new ground. Two things that don’t really appeal to me, but the desire to complete the set, was an itch I needed to scratch. Besides, the cream just wasn’t working. Walking into New Street, I spotted Daryl, Spoons, Ian and a Jude, who was seeing Spoons off. Spoons had been to have his booster at the NHS station that had been set up in the real station. He’d even got a ‘brave boy’ sticker as proof. Ian went and got the train tickets on our railcard and I gave him the money back. JK was leaving it late, and then Spoons messed up the tickets when he got his and JK’s from the ticket machine. With fully 3 minutes left before the train was to depart, Spoons was able to sort their tickets out at the ticket office. Like one of Ian’s greyhounds, Daryl was straight out of the traps and off down to the platform. An uneventful train journey up to Manchester was still full of the usual diverse conversation. I’d done a little research, but not enough. The first choice wasn’t open as advertised. Maybe I should join Facebook and Twitter. (Nope, just thinking about it has sent a shiver down my spine. I’ll carry on taking my chances thanks.) We went in the Wetherspoons in Piccadilly Gardens. Personally, I prefer the Piccadilly Tavern. It’s much more ‘rough and ready’ than the Wetherspoons granted, but the bar staff seem to be just that little bit more competent and I’ve never actually had a bad pint in there. Bottom line though, pre 11 o’clock, there’s not a lot of choice, and the Wetherspoons in Piccadilly Gardens is really no worse than any of the branches in Birmingham city centre. We walked down to the Micro Bar in the Arndale indoor market. This place was somewhere that since learning of it, I was desperate to go.

“What a gem this place is”

If nothing else, it’s a place where you can take food in to have with your pint. Had I not already eaten before leaving the flat that morning, I would’ve either joined Daryl with having a curry, or Spoons and Ian with a square pizza. A square pizza wasn’t a concept that Ian was entirely happy with. For me, it showed ingenuity and an economic use of box space. He believes they could use a round box, if they want to save space. Having worked in corrugated fibreboard skillet manufacturing, I knew how unviable that was. Yeah, you can have a round box. That’s if you want a box that costs ten times more than the pizza itself, and would soon put you out of business. The other four were off to do an ale trail in Darwin, before landing in the ale desert of Blackburn for the actual game. Bidding them farewell, I left to drop in one of my favourite shops in the world. Ok, I know I haven’t been abroad and haven’t got a passport, but even if I had, I’d still rate this place. Empire Exchange is a treasure trove of a place. You could easily spend a month’s wages in there, and still come out wishing you’d got the money to buy so much more. I only wish we’d got something similar in Birmingham. After coming back out £10 lighter, but extremely happy with my purchases, I decided to go back to my first choice. I’m glad I did. Flok is a cool place, typical of the vibrant scene that Manchester has.

“It’s just a shame it wasn’t open earlier”

knowing that I still needed to get the Metrolink to Ashton-under-Lyne for the game and how long the journey would take, I really wanted to take in my favourite pub in Manchester. With it not being too far from the tram stop I needed, I walked to the Grey Horse. I know it’s a Hyde’s pub, it’s tiny and it’s an extreme rarity that they have a guest ale, but I like Hyde’s beer, and it’s not the beer I actually go in there for anyway. It’s the friendliness. It’s a proper Manchester boozer, inhabited by proper Mancs. I don’t think I’ve ever been in there without sparking up a conversation with someone. This time, it was a Manchester United fan of a similar age, who also watches F.C. United of Manchester too. I revealed who I supported, what I do, where I was off to, and why. He assured me that I’d like Curzon Ashton, with it being a friendly club. At the time, the preconceptions I had, weren’t convinced. I drank up, wished him a ‘Merry Christmas’, and went to catch the tram. Touching down, I’d timed it right and amazingly, didn’t get lost on the way to the ground.

“Yep, West Ham and England’s 66 hero Geoff Hurst was born in Ashton-under-Lyne”

What surprised me even more with the statue in the photo, was one of the figures represents an Italian player who was also born in the town and played for Italy in 66. Although I was quite a regular attendee of Telford United games when I was a kid, my memories are nowhere near as good as the ones I have with Blues. I know I went to several F.A.Trophy games involving my local side, but don’t ask me who they were against, let alone the score. In fact, I couldn’t tell you for definite what the last game was. I think it was a final replay against Enfield held at the Hawthorns back in the late 80s, and I know Enfield won, but that’s about it. Back in those days, both clubs were amongst the best of the Non-league circuit and the competition still held a certain relevance. These days, much like both the League Cup and F.A.Cup have been devalued by the self importance of the Premier League, so the F.A.Trophy has dropped due to the clamour to get promoted to the EFL. So, this game was a ‘toe dip’ to find out how low the competition had fallen. After taking a couple more of these things below.

I found somewhere to watch the game. Looking around at the sparse crowd, I checked to see what the average attendance was at Curzon this season. It’s not a huge amount, but it was still bigger than what was at this one. I even took to doing a head count so few had bothered to turn up to waste their Saturday afternoon. Pre Covid lockdown Christmas shopping and hastily arranged parties may have been a couple of reasons, but I don’t think they were the only reasons. I gave up with my head count halfway round the ground, but only because I’d worked out that the crowd would’ve numbered less than 200 once finished. I kind of felt sorry for the players, it can’t have been much of a motivation. The games first real chance fell to the away side and resulted in the home keeper clawing a shot onto the post. It was pretty even after that. It wasn’t electrifying, but wasn’t as bad as some of the football I’ve watched this season. Just before halftime, Nash scored with a sweeping move. During the halftime break, I went back and had a better look at the club shop. I enjoy visiting club shops around the Non-League circuit. I was to particularly enjoy visiting the one at Curzon. After sorting out some old programmes to add to the collection, I spotted a box with a Hearts one lying on the top, behind the table that served as the counter. It was an opportunity too good to pass up on. I went through the whole box and ended up with a substantial pile involving the Gorgie club. Payment was by donation. Looking at what I’d assembled, I happily parted with a £20 note. I wandered back to where I had stood first half. The second half carried on like the first had ended. Curzon had a glorious chance to double their lead. After a great save, the rebound was blazed over the bar. It was to prove a turning point in the match. With less than a quarter of the game left, Alfreton scrambled an equaliser. Momentum tipped in the away side’s favour. A corner led to the only black player on the pitch, putting Alfreton in the lead with a header. 80 minutes into the game, and it had taken me that long to realise that there was only one black player on show. I’m so used to seeing total integration with many more black players, that I just hadn’t noticed. I’m from a time when seeing a token black player was still a novelty. Now, that’s rightly a rarity. There’s still racism within the game, but except for the ignorance displayed by certain protagonists on social media, it is largely getting better. It’s still there, still needs stamping out, but it’s not being allowed and ignored like it was. I’d like to think that if I was embarking on a lifetime of watching football now, I’d feel much more safer if I was black or Asian than I would’ve back when I did start. For the record, the player in question, wasn’t the best but wasn’t the worst, he just fitted in. It wasn’t the colour of his skin that I’d noticed, but the colour of his playing kit, and what he did. With me when watching football, it’s only ever about shirt colour and performance. In life, it’s exactly the same. We are all just people. Nash pushed for an equaliser of their own. Alfreton exploited the continent sized gaps and countered. 1:3, game over.

Leaving the ground, finding the tram stop proved to be just as easy as finding the ground from the same stop in the first place. It was just dark, and had dropped cold. Waiting for the tram back into Manchester city centre, I checked my phone and found out that Blues had lost 4:0. I’d made the right choice. Touching down, the plan had been to meet back up in the Marble Arch and then do a few more pubs from there. I like the Marble Arch…. Well I used to. Even before BoJo announces ‘new’ old clampdowns on life, the pub had self-righteously decided on imposing table service and mandatory mask wearing on any intrepid Covid restriction weary drinkers who venture in there. Much as I like Marble Brewery beer, and the impressive Victorian/Edwardian pubs tastefully preserved decor, I wasn’t prepared to put up with restrictions that don’t work, and definitely not until the government bows to health ‘advisor’ pressure and makes it all compulsory again. I certainly wasn’t going to put up with it, when I could just walk the short distance to a much better pub in the shape of The Angel. Will I go back in the Marble Arch? Not until this rubbish is over. I fear it’ll be a while. The Angel is similar to the Grey Horse in that it’s always inhabited by Mancs, and it’s so relaxed in there. I probably should wish the people at the Marble Arch luck in their draconian quest, but I won’t. Instead, I recommend that if you enjoy the social aspect of drinking in a pub, then avoid the place. The rest of the day’s Bluenose ale trailers, touched back down in Manchester, and came and joined me in the Angel. The range of ales wasn’t as good as I’ve known it before in the Angel, but after the Marble Arch experience, I’m going to say that it was extensive anyway. After swapping stories of our respective days, we went to one of the Blackjack Breweries’ outlets, in the Smithfield. I’ve been in the pub before, and drank several of the breweries beers. I like both them and the place, but neither really stand out. JK and Spoons headed off to Piccadilly and a train home, me, Daryl and Ian had other ideas. The first was a pub I hadn’t been in before, but it’s one I wished I had, and will definitely do again. An eclectic mix of beer, decor, jukebox music and clientele makes for an intoxicating ambiance.

“No, Ian isn’t picking his nose, and no one in there had just suffered flatulence either”
“This bloke may have, but Ian’s sence of smell isn’t that acute”

After I’d been impressed with Fringe, we went to Port Street Beer House. Again, another place I’ve been in before, and again, a good place for beer.

“A hybrid of Marvel comics and Coronation Street”

Daryl had gone. I wasn’t going to be far behind. Daryl’s one of those people, who goes from perfectly fine to drunk within a drink. It’s like someone flicks a switch. He was determined to do the Piccadilly Tap before the train though, so we moved on. We’d got just enough time for a quick half, and for me to go and produce some Carling. Catching the last direct service back to Brum, I jammed my earphones in and listening to my playlist, drifted off to sleep. I was to be abruptly awoken at Stoke, by Clacker who had stopped there for a beer or 5 on the way back from Blackburn. Getting off back in Brum, I bid T’ra to everyone, before going off in search of a bus home. It had been strange travelling all that way across the country, and then taking in a totally different game to Blues and my fellow Bluenose ale trailers, but kind of good strange.

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