22/1/22 Stratford Town v Tamworth, Southern League Premier Central. Upstart Sheep.

Like legions of school kids throughout the last 100 years, I had Shakespeare foisted on me. Way back when I spent most of my days daydreaming out of the classroom window, I didn’t understand England’s greatest ever playwright. As I’ve grown older, wiser and much more emotionally and mentally rounded as a person, I still don’t. No doubt the archaic language used has a lot to do with it, but probably more to do with the fact that so much importance is put on his plays. Going back to my school days, both English language and literature were compulsory exam subjects for me. Language I could understand the point of, but literature is down to personal taste. I’m rebellious in nature, I don’t like people telling me what I should or shouldn’t like. I’ll make my own mind up, thank you very much. What I completely missed, was that the teacher was just attempting to get us to analyse and appreciate whatever we were actually reading. Towards the end of the two year course, we were allowed to choose a book of our own to cover. Unfortunately, the Shoot annual 1983 was deemed inappropriate. Knowing that Kevin Keegan’s favourite food was steak and chips and his favourite music was Diana Ross, wasn’t ‘in depth’ enough analysis apparently. What I do find extraordinary about Shakespeare though, is that he was born and died on the same date of the year, and that it happens to be 23rd of April….St George’s day. For me, I like the symmetry of being born and then dying on the same date, and I like the ‘Englishness’ of it being St George’s day. Romeo and juliet? Taming of the Shrew? Meh! “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Blah blah blah So what? I’ll just stick to being a pleb, it’s easier. I caught the train to Stratford upon Avon and went in search of the first on my itinerary. It was shut. I really aren’t having much luck with pubs at the moment. However, at least the Phoenix was shut because of holiday and not some planet stopping virus. The One Elm though, was pretty much what I was expecting most of the pubs to be like in Stratford to tell the truth. They had two ales on, but as one was from Purity, I was only ever going to have the other choice. Fortunately, the Timothy Taylor Landlord was well kept. As I headed to the next on my itinerary, I felt compelled to have a look at a market that had been set up. I just felt it might be a bit different to the norm. I was right. I spotted a stall that had a selection of old football programmes. Parting with far too much money, I was now in possession of some more to be added to the growing collection. Looking at them and around at my surroundings in the Queens Head, it made me realise how much life really has been put on hold because of Coronavirus. Stratford upon Avon is usually teeming with both Japanese and American tourists. Neither were in evidence. How much revenue has been lost, is anyone’s guess.

“This bloke won’t have been able to watch his club in the flesh, that’s for sure”

I usually start at a Wetherspoons with my itinerary, but the Golden Bee was more to pad it out. As I was queuing to get served, I got chatting to a woman from Blackpool. She’d got fed up of not being able to go anywhere and losing patience, had booked a weekend in Stratford upon Avon on a whim.

“Henry V 1969 Stratford looks like one tasty derby game”

The Old Thatch Tavern was again, exactly what I was expecting. Geared towards the hungry tourist and not the thirsty ground hopper. It was though, a Fuller’s pub and so, at least not as bad as Green King or Nicholson’s.

“A night on the straws anyone?”

The next and final place before heading for the game, was to be the best place for beer in Stratford. The Alehouse is a fantastic little micro pub. If I’ve got any criticism about the place, it’s that it doesn’t open until 1 o’clock. It’s just cruel that it doesn’t open earlier.

“That’ll do for now”

I just wish there’d been more of these beauties in Stratford to be honest. I’ve grown to love micro pubs. I wasn’t too sure about them at first. That’s because I’m a traditionalist, I love an old pub. But I’ve found that the vast majority of micro pub owners try to source beer from local microbreweries. Not only do they lovingly keep the beer well, but the micro pub itself is always unique in decor. It maybe the only micro pub in Stratford, but it certainly doesn’t let itself down. I was going to get the bus out to the ground, but the service I was going to catch from the stop I was going to catch it from, had been moved to somewhere else. Not knowing Stratford well enough, I decided to walk. Not only did I not see a bus as I walked to the ground, I made it quite easily. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fair walk, but it was no Leamington.

The distance from the train station and town centre, had been enough to have put me off watching a game at Stratford Town before now. However, Stratford Town had played Shrewsbury at home in the 1st round of the F.A.Cup this season, and Val and John had managed to get tickets. After hearing how bad the ground was, I just had to see for myself. I’m not the tallest of blokes, but I’m still a lot taller than my sister Val. John on the other hand, is a good deal over 6 foot.

“Unless over 6 foot or right at the front behind the fence, I’d have defied any Shrewsbury fan to have been able to see much”
“Least the home terracing had a roof, just not much actual terracing”
“Maybe the money they got from the Cup game, will enable them to improve the ground a little”

Apparently, they’ve held Champions League games at the ground. They were of course, Women’s Champions League games. If you can ascertain from this that I wasn’t exactly impressed with the ground, then you’d be right. I’m an advocate of Non-League clubs being able to hold F.A.Cup games against League teams at their own ground, but sometimes I have to concede that a ground is just not suitable. This is one of them. Val was right with her condemnation. As for the game itself, I’ve watched some really good Non-League games this season. I suppose you could say I’ve even been spoiled with some of the games I’ve watched. However, this game was truly not one of them. Both clubs are hovering around mid table this season. This was football that befitted that status. Stratford played a long ball game, and a not very good one either. it reminded me very much of how Dagenham and Redbridge play, just not quite as accomplished. I’d really like to say that there was good pieces of play, I’d like to mention that there was a fair bit of skill on show. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any of that. Probably the only thing you could say about the first half, was that the two sides were well matched in mediocrity. It really wasn’t much of a surprise that it ended how it started….0:0. Could the second half lack of quality live up to the first? Yup. Stratford did manage to score, so at least I got to see a goal, but however much I willed another goal for either of the sides, nothing was forthcoming. I’m glad I went to the game for a variety of reasons, but it’s certainly not one that I’ll spend too much memory on. ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’ Who cares mate, just get on with it.

The walk back into town wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting, and didn’t take as long as I thought it might. I was even able to go back to the Alehouse before getting my chosen train back to Brum.

“Go on then, one last photo”

Touching down, I wandered out to the White Swan. Had the Anchor still been being run by Gerry, I’d have gone back there and met up with all the rest of the ale trailers. No one goes in there anymore, and as I didn’t fancy walking all the way out to the Spotted Dog, I settled on the White Swan instead. Andy and a couple of Jeff’s crew were in there, but it was JK that first joined me, to be followed shortly after by Jinksy. They filled me in with the protests that had been held at Blues that afternoon. With the restrictions being lifted this week, I can see me joining in with them at the next weekend home game. I might even have something worth writing about. Oh, and Blues actually won.

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