2/4/22 Bridgnorth V Dudley Town, Midland League Division One. Past My Best And Growing Mouldy.

Stop rubbing your eyes Sis, they’re not deceiving you. No, not a delayed April Fools day joke either. I’d been planning to do this for a long while now. In fact, ever since the day before the game. Seriously though, it was a combination of remembering Shrewsbury Town fans going to an EFL game at Kidderminster Harriers via a coach to Bridgnorth and then the Severn Valley Railway heritage line to Kiddy, and myself dropping into ground hopping round the Non-League scene. Covid hadn’t helped of course, but neither did train timetables for the SVR or the Blues fixture list. So in reality, I’d been wanting to do this for around 5 years. For everyone who isn’t family, have you not been reading my blog? If you have, then you’ll know I was born in Bridgnorth. It may have happened over half a century ago, but it still happened. You’re probably right though Sis, you should’ve kicked up a fuss the night I was conceived. Like it seems to be every year, after a gorgeous spell of heat and sunshine, the country regresses back to being cold again. This year, it’s really been a sharp contrast. 10 degrees difference. After thinking I could put my winter coat away, I had to dig it back out again. Not my idea of fun. I hate the cold. I dislike it so much that it beats me why I put myself through going and watching football. I could be sat at home watching the telly (Under the duvet because no one can afford to have the heating on anymore of course, least of all me.) After using the national rail network to get to Kidderminster, I then went next door to the Severn Valley Railway.

“None of the usual plastic, boring, sterile stuff you get on the national system”
“A proper diesel”
“As they bash the kettle ready for the next service”

Dr Beeching had already swung his axe by the time I came along, and I had already moved with the family to Wellington before I actually got to use the SVR. Much as I like trains, I can’t ever claim to be an enthusiast in the way that Spoons and Ian are. Impressive though I thought it was, I couldn’t tell you the engine that pulled the train to Bridgnorth. For me, it was just a way to get to the place of my birth. For me, it was a trip down memory Lane. Is it an age thing? Probably. A life that feels like it belonged to someone else.

“Now the inside of a pub interests me greatly”

I may have been in Bridgnorth, but seeing Batham’s Bitter on the bar of the Railman’s Arms, was too much of a temptation. Memories play tricks on you and the body isn’t kind as you grow older. Walking down Cartway passed the house we lived, made me realise how steep the road is. As a kid, I used to run down it. As a kid, I used to try and run up it. How, I have no idea.

“It didn’t look like that when we lived there.”

There’s a Monty Python sketch where a group of Yorkshiremen are comparing how bad their childhoods were. We had an extremely loving upbringing, but we were dirt poor. The lack of money has put me in great stead in my life, but if I was to describe the conditions, you really wouldn’t believe me, and so I won’t. In all honesty, the only people who ever believe us when we describe the house in the photo, are each other. We lived it.

“Yup, long before us, but the house in the photo was a pub”

We were more or less banned from going in the Black Boy in Cartway. It helped that I was well under age, but Mom had a way of not letting you forget that it wasn’t ‘The done thing’. Dirt poor we may have been, but Mom had strong opinions and principles.

“Even now, Mom would screw up her nose if she knew I’d been in here.”

Bridgnorth isn’t the place I remember as a kid. It’s much more gentrified and geared up towards tourism. A trip down memory Lane it might have been for me, but it was teaming with people visiting the place because ‘Isn’t it quaint?’. As a kid (Aren’t you bored of me putting that yet?) the only time I went on the Cliff Railway was if either of my Sisters paid for us to go on it. Otherwise, it was walk up to High Town. Like they did because they had jobs, I can now afford it, and so I went on it. I’m not actually too sure that my knees wouldn’t have stopped working on me anyway. I didn’t take any photos of it. I’ll leave it up to you to look it up, but it’s the steepest inland vernacular railway in the country. I couldn’t help myself, but I had to take a photo of this place though.

“Don’t worry, there’s a reason for it”

I know I don’t take photos of churches. I know I keep saying that I’m not religious, believe me, I’m not, but It’s my trip down memory Lane and there’s a reason for it. I’ll start by saying that it was designed by Thomas Telford, and because he was a Templar Knight, the church’s footprint isn’t the usual cross. Right, that’s the history book bit, now for the personal family bit. Both my Sisters were married here. Chris in August 1978 and Val in September 1980. Amazingly, both marriages have stood the test of time. I only say amazingly because of my own chequered history of failed relationships. I can’t even imagine being with someone for a decade, let alone four of them. My parents were both religious and Sunday’s consisted of traipsing along the Castle Walk to here for the weekly ‘Holy Communion’ service. I have to admit, I even got confirmed into the Church of England by choice. It was only after becoming more worldly wise, did I discover that all religions are a waste of time and are just about ‘mind control’. Here’s the thing that will probably have you in fits of hysterics, I was also in the church choir. Yep, I was a choirboy. A choir that gained a reputation for being quite good at singing too. No idea what went wrong with the voice, but I don’t miss the religion side. I do miss having the boundless enthusiasm and energy for playing football with a tennis ball in front of the church in the photo though. Now football is what I class as a proper religion. It must be. How else can I have faith that things will eventually get better at Birmingham City? I needed another pint, so went round the corner into West Castle street to the Old Castle. It would be the first of a few pubs I was to go in that I was to feel I didn’t fit in. As I’ve said, Bridgnorth has become gentrified and is now geared towards the tourism sector. I was the only one in there who just wanted a pint. Everyone else in what was a busy pub, were eating meals. Don’t get me wrong, it did smell nice, but it wasn’t for me. Nor was the next place either. The Shakespeare now belongs to the Joules portfolio. It had been tastefully refurbished since the last time I’d been in the pub, but then I hadn’t been in there for well over twenty years. Again though, it was set up for serving food to legions of hungry tourists. The next place I was to try, wasn’t open for business, so my steep descent down Railway Street to it, was in vein. Thankfully, The Bell and Talbot was not only open, but it was also more my style.

“And looked like it hadn’t changed much since we moved away from Bridgnorth either”

Chatting to the woman who was running it, it was evident that she’d had to be inventive. Not only is the pub not positioned for passing trade and so it wouldn’t be worth doing meals for tourists, but they’d realised that they needed to look after their repeat business. Other than looking round at the buildings of Bridgnorth, there’s not really anything to keep your interest. The owner had realised that by putting entertainment on, she could make money. I must admit, I liked The Bell and Talbot. I felt comfortable in there. I moved on though, but not before being surprised that the ‘Flicks’ were still there.

“Now this was a sight for sore eyes

The next place was back to the pub/restaurant thing that I never really like. Mind you, when you call something ‘The Stable Bar’, it’s always only ever going to be a place that is dominated by a food menu. I moved on as soon as I’d drank my pint. Anyone who has read this rubbish, will know that I like to tease my eldest sister as to where I am. I’d been sending her photos to try and confuse her. She’d actually got it almost bang on, with her very first guess, so I’d had to be a little more sneaky with what I’d sent her. One photo I sent, was taken within twenty yards of our old house. (She didn’t recognise it.) Another photo was of a view she’d have seen many times whilst idly looking out of the office window where she worked. (She didn’t recognise that either.) Just for the interests of this blog, I took these two below.

“The Town Hall and The North Gate, in that order”

Right, back to my personal trip down memory Lane.

“Exiting these very doors for the very first time, was when the trouble started”

The 6th of July, 1968 was a bad day for the world. Back in those days, a woman having a baby in their late 30s, was the equivalent of them having one in their late 50s now. My poor Mom went through a dietary Hell when she had me, and how she kept her hands from around my throat as I then preceded to be a ‘picky eater’, I don’t know. Let’s put it like this. If I’d have had me as a kid, I’d have waited until I was asleep, before smothering me to death with a pillow. To say I must’ve tried her patience to the extreme limits, is an understatement. So you’ve seen where I lived, though not the structural state of it when we were there, also the church that played a big part of my life in the town, and now where I was born. Now for the education side. (Yes, I did go to school. My Mom would’ve killed me if I hadn’t have gone.) By the time I started school, Dad had succumbed to cancer and had died. Mind you, I’m still not convinced that it wasn’t as a protest for what was to come. The next three photos are in reverse order. Not of preference, but in timeline.

“Bridgnorth Endowed”

No sniggering please. Endowed has only innocent connotations here, thank you very much. The school was an ex-Grammer school, and still held an ‘elitist’ view of itself. An oik like me was never going to fit in properly, and I must admit, I didn’t like my time at the school.

“To the right and at the end, was St Leonard’s, primary school”
“Bridgnorth Infants”

Well, they were. Not anymore. Again, it’s probably out of either protest after having me through their doors, or compulsory closed down because they’d actually had me through their doors. I was bright, but also obnoxious. I had this air of superiority that was down to me being bright, and it rubbed the teachers up the wrong way. Even at Infants school, I felt I was being held back. By the time I got to Secondary school, the damage had been done and I was destined to just be factory fodder. Right, time for the game.

I had been to watch Bridgnorth before, but as I couldn’t tell you who they played and in what League, I couldn’t really tick the ground off. More importantly, it hadn’t met with the criteria I use now. Back when my brother Les took me to watch them win 3:0 to lift whatever championship they’d been playing for, the ground wasn’t enclosed and so it was free to watch. The fact that it was ‘free’ will have been significant at the time.

“This is it, nothing else”

After getting a pint of real ale in a plastic beaker, I stood to watch the game. Like I’ve said, I don’t know what level Bridgnorth were playing at, when I was a kid, but the Crown Meadow now has floodlights and a a small stand along the side of the pitch. It’s now the sixth level of the Non-League pyramid. Not far up and a club that resides in a fairly substantial town. It is a town that isn’t too far from Wolverhampton and so a huge amount of fans that might have been attracted to watching Bridgnorth, travel the short distance to watch Premier League football at the Molyneux. It was actually Wolves who sent a first team loaded side to play a friendly for the ‘turning on’ of the floodlights. No idea with the opening of the stand, but I suspect that was the Wolves too. The game if I’m being honest, passed me by a little. I was in the state that Liam had been in when we were refused entry to Wimbledon. I’ve got to say that I’ve drunk more before a game, and not felt the effect, half as much as I was doing. I can only put this down to the emotional side of the day. The trip down memory Lane had got to me more than I was expecting. Bridgnorth tried, but they weren’t making any good clear cut chances. I do keep my eye on how Bridgnorth are doing from time to time. Much like I do with Telford. Neither club have had a good season and have struggled. Coming into this game, Dudley Town had been doing a lot better. This game epitomised the league standings. Going into the second half, it was 0:0 and all to play for. Both teams needed the points for opposite reasons. Playing up the slope seemed to agree with Dudley Town a lot better than playing down hill did to the home side, and they picked Bridgnorth off. 3 goals without reply. 3 points to Dudley, none for Bridgnorth.

Still feeling the effects of the alcohol, I got the bus from Bridgnorth to Telford. A trip I did regularly back in the middle months of 1981. Memories kept flooding back. Not memories that I’d locked away to block them, but memories I just hadn’t revisited. Even the bus driver was a regular driver that I’d remembered from my time in Telford. Getting off at Telford Town Centre, I’d got ideas of going to Oakengates to revisit more memories and at least a couple of real ale pubs there, but by the time I’d got to Telford train station, I’d remembered how much I hated Telford, and all I wanted to do was get back ‘home’ to good ol Brummigen. It had been a good trip down memory Lane, but one I wasn’t expecting to be so full. Bridgnorth has changed. I realise that it’s been over forty years ago and obviously everywhere changes, but comparing the vivid images in my mind to what I was seeing, was a contrast I probably wasn’t completely prepared for. The Bridgnorth I remember, the one I lived in, isn’t the one that the tourists see, are impressed with, and enjoy. To me, Bridgnorth wasn’t a quaint, picturesque little place geared to accommodate visitors from outside the town. It is now, but wasn’t then. There were factories, there isn’t now. There were functional shops you could buy what you needed, not ‘knick nack’ souvenir shops and restaurants. The tiny hospital that I was born in, is now a care home. Even the Infants school I attended is now a nursery. As a family, we did the correct thing with moving out of the town. Looking round, I know I’d have outgrown it at a time when I’m convinced I would have gone ‘off the rails’. I can’t say for definite, because it didn’t happen, but I reckon I would’ve become a regular ‘person of interest to the police’ and probably well before I’d finished my teens too.

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