Football in June, and it doesn’t involve an international competition. Any reader (Victim.) that puts up with this rubbish, will have garnered by now that my world revolves around football. The fact that a football is round and I’m not, should really mean that I should revolve around it. That would just be stupid as I would just become too dizzy and end up falling in a heap. People that are closest to me will say that I’m dizzy anyway, but again, that’s beside the point. The point is, once the season is over, if I’m being totally honest, I struggle to fill the gap. I’m in limbo until the start of the new season. Limbo is really not a good place for me to be in, as being in a state of limbo is what triggers my depression. Thankfully, I worked that one out a long time ago and developed the coping mechanism that I required. For a change, I’m actually going to give myself a huge metaphorical pat on the back for that, as I’ve never sort for, or received help for depression. Anyway, before my head grows too big, and I can’t get it through the door, I’ll return to where I should’ve started with. So now I’ve stopped whinging and feeling sorry for myself, I’ll get on with writing this account. Solihull Moors have had a really good season. An amalgamation of two now defunct clubs, Solihull Borough and Moor Green, Solihull Moors haven’t been going all that long. In fact, where the ground is, not only used to be a golf driving range, but the old main stand was cobbled together from what they used to hit the golf balls off. Since then, they’ve grown bigger and bigger, and are now competing in a league with a host of clubs that have been relegated out of the EFL. Most of support has been made up of fans of other clubs in the West Midlands. Mainly Blues due to proximity. There’s an old saying round these parts that goes something like, “It’s made in the Black Country, sold in Birmingham, and talked about in Solihull. In other words, Solihull is deemed to be ‘posh’. The ones doing the talking, are obviously the bosses who have the salaries to go with it. The funniest thing, is that one of the most deprived and some would say depraved areas of Brum, Chelmsley Wood, is now under the jurisdiction of Solihull council. Anyway, I’m digressing as usual. With the Moors now standing on the cusp of getting promotion to the EFL, they now have their own fans. It’s the bigger clubs in the West Midlands that are now the second teams, and not Moors. I’m first and foremost, Blues. Hearts runs them second, and then it’s Chorley and then it’s Solihull Moors. To try and put it into some kind of context. Solihull Moors finishing third, is like Leicester City winning the Premier League. The difference being, there’s more chance of the Moors repeating the achievement. If you’re not into football and don’t know anything about it, (Yes, I’m talking to you Chris.) 12 clubs out of the 23 in the National League have plied their trade in the EFL in the last 25 years. In my football supporting lifetime, 6 of them have been as high as what is now the Championship (The league Blues play in Chris.) and Notts County have been in what is now the Premier League. (Even you know what that is Sis.) If you’re still not impressed, then remember that Solihull Moors are only actually 14 years old. They were viewed as a bit of a novelty at first, and I don’t believe for a second that anyone thought the project would actually work. They’ve now got their own fanbase, albeit young, but it’s growing. When I say it’s young, it’s because most of the support were still in nappies when the club was formed. Looking around at the Solihull support, an awful lot will have ditched the blue and yellow of the Moors, for school uniforms when they were to return to their desks. (Or is that laptops? Are kids even taught how to use a pen these days?) I’m jumping ahead though. I don’t know, if I’m not digressing, I’m jumping ahead. Eventually, I’ll learn how to construct an article. Note to self:- Beginning, middle, and an end. Stop messing them around. Right, here goes. After Blues’ season had finished, and every other league had finished, it was playoff time. Not for Blues, obviously. As Solihull were due to play their semi final against Chesterfield on a Sunday at 12:30, I was never going to do that, but 3 o’clock on a Sunday? Now that appealed. In the event that Moors had been beaten and Wrexham had gone through, I had already sounded out Taffy about getting a ticket for them instead, but as it was, Wrexham got beat by Grimsby and the rest you will have learned from the heading to this tosh. So Jubilee weekend it was then. The company that I work for, had shut down for the week, and I’d been on holiday. Lizzie, bless her, had now been on the throne for 70 years. Not a minor achievement in itself. No other King or Queen has lasted that long in this country. It’s different in this day and age mind, but it’s still part of this country’s history that won’t be repeated for a while yet, and maybe never will be again. Anyway, 70 years or not, it had been decreed as a Bank Holiday, and you know what that usually means? Yep, rain. Yes, I know football is a winter sport, but come on. It’s June for pittys sake. Just because it’s football and a Bank Holiday, it doesn’t have to rain. I should’ve been in a T-shirt. Not three layers of clothing and thinking maybe I should’ve dug a woolly hat out. I met up with Jinksy and Ian Lake at Moor Street station and we traveled down to Marylebone. Stopping at Solihull, an already healthy number of people obviously heading to the match in East London, was swelled by at least three times as many as was already on the train. The only absentee for the day by this point, was Nat who hadn’t been able to get his head off the pillow. Match ticket prices had put some off, balking at the minimum £40 plus additional booking fee for an adult ticket. Some could argue that it was a final, but it was still a Non-league game, and as such, realistically given the economic situation we’re in at the moment, even £25 would have been a lot to fork out. The journey down passed by with reminiscences of past games and grounds. That included trips to Cleethorpes to watch Blues play Grimsby. For those who don’t know, Grimsby play, and to my knowledge, have always played in Cleethorpes. Oh go on then, bad joke alert. Why play in Cleethorpes? Smells a bit fishy to me. Another topic of conversation was if any of us were to have to move to London, which club would we follow. Ignoring that Brum is near enough to London, and with excellent links to still be able to get to almost every Blues game, we offered up different clubs. I knew that Jinksy would plump for Millwall, even before he’d said it, and very much for the same bizarre fondness that I have for West Ham. Both are very much working class clubs, with as barmy support as Blues have. What puts me off, are the colours obviously, but also the ground and the spivs that own them. It was bad enough putting up with them at Blues. For various reasons, I’d probably go for Leyton Orient. I’ll come back to those reasons later. Don’t hold your breath with anticipation though, the reasons aren’t that earth shattering. Touching down and exiting Marylebone, I heard my name shouted. I turned to see Andy from the Spotted Dog/White Swan. As we walked towards Baker Street tube station, we chatted about what pubs we were doing. He was heading to the Met Bar first, and so we parted ways. King’s Cross and the Parcel Yard was to be our first destination. A Fuller’s pub off the station concourse. Well it was when we eventually found it. Somewhere, my memory had lost a chunk, as I couldn’t quite remember exactly where it was. Even though I’d been there at least twice before. After at last finding it, I kicked myself for not remembering, as we climbed the steps to the place. (No mean feat.) Although expensive, I do like the Parcel Yard for its unique interior, and its ability to surprise.
As I said though, it is expensive, so we were only ever going to have one in there. It just made a change from the Barrel Vault Wetherspoons at nearby St Pancras. We hit the tube to Liverpool Street and then the Central Line to Leyton. The timing was almost perfect, and the short walk meant that the Coach and Horses would’ve just opened when we got there. Low and behold, it had. It also had the England v New Zealand Test match on it’s big television. We just caught the winning runs hit by Joe Root. The day was going well.
Now to my reasons for wanting to follow Orient, if I was unfortunate enough to ever have to live and work in London. Firstly, it’s a proper working class club without all the razzamatazz that goes with a club in a higher division. Secondly, it’s got simply the best supporters club, bar none. The only bone of contention I have with the place, is that it’s not open enough. Something that I totally exonerate, as it’s solely operated by volunteers, but it truly is excellent. It regularly walks off with the Camra club of the year award for the London area and unsurprisingly, has even won the National award. I can not recommend a visit to the place highly enough. My only advice is to join Camra so you can get in, or join the Leyton Orient supporters club and have a fixture list handy so you can work out when the club is playing at home and the supporters club is open. Needless to say, I had looked to see if it may have been open, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. Thirdly, and something I only recently in the last three years, discovered. Along with Hearts, no other club in British football contributed to the First World War effort as much as Orient. 41 players and staff joined up to fight for King and Country and as with Hearts, many more supporters too. Although Orient were fortunate not to suffer the loss of as many players as Hearts were to, it was still a fantastic contribution from them. Every year, both Hearts and Orient exchange wreaths to commemorate remembrance day. As much as I failed to find a decent angle to take the photo due to the light pouring through the window, I just couldn’t not take one to highlight what those in the framed photo did for our country and our freedom. Thanks lads. You’ll never be forgotten.
After the traditional of the Coach and Horses, it was the not traditional of the Leyton Technical. The Technical is a place I’ve wanted to do for a long while. A pub that is situated in the old Leyton Town Hall. Although the beer selection wasn’t as good as it was pre Covid, it was superbly kept, and the visit was worth it just for the interior alone.
We were talking of trips around the country and why, and Ian entertained us with a story of an anti IRA march in Liverpool he’d been on during the 80s and at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland. At one point, there was a ‘heated standoff’ shall we say, and missiles were thrown. A lad from Manchester announced that they needed to go in a shop and empty it of potatoes. Much to the amusement of his fellow protesters, he then proceeded to go in and buy up as many 5lb bags of spuds as he could and then started to hand them out. They of course, made perfect missiles to throw. When confronted by the Ol Bill, the excuse was his missus had sent him out to buy potatoes to go with their dinner. Amazingly, the ruse worked, and he got away with it. The end to this story was that the coach they’d gone up on, had still managed to have its tyres slashed, even though the vehicles had been guarded. After the pubs in Leyton, we got back on the tube to Stratford and then headed on the overground to Hackney Wick. Hackney Wick I’d done after Blues’ F.A.Cup game with West Ham, and before heading down to Crystal Palace later that day for their Cup game against, ironically, Grimsby Town. It’s funny how there’s strange little symmetries to life. After negotiating the always confusing Stratford station and getting off at Hackney Wick, the first I’d got planned was the Brewery Tap. Hackney Wick is extremely ‘hipster’. It’s what Digbeth in Brum is trying to be, and achieving. If I’m being honest, it’s not really for me, but then I am a dinosaur and I am getting old.
It was also apparent that the Moors were outnumbered, and that different bars had been loosely designated to each club. Not that, that’s ever bothered me. From there, it was a short walk to the next hip and trendy place on the itinerary. A place that I’d been in before, though whether I’ll go in again, will remain to be seen. Don’t get me wrong, Howling Hops is good, I just somehow don’t think, unless I make a conscious effort to visit, I’ll get the opportunity.
So it was onto the ground and definitely the last game of the season. I absolutely hated it the last time I visited, but time had passed and that was to watch a heavily policed Cup tie between two of the worst clubs in terms of reputations for violence. (Or best, depending on your viewpoint.) Although there wasn’t anywhere near the amount of constables on show, they were still in evidence.
Even for a Non-League game, they still had the customs style scenario where you were subjected to a weapon search, even before you got anywhere near the turnstiles. Ian pointed to the area that the ground is situated in, as the reason for the over zealous nature of it. Having visited many grounds up and down the country, and been to high profile games. I would say it’s more because it’s not actually a proper football ground. It’s primarily an athletics stadium that’s being rented out, on the cheap, to a football club whose fans have had, and still do have, a penchant for the odd bit of aggravation down the years.
So to the match itself. I’ve watched some pretty poor football from Blues this season. Watching the Moors switch the ball round in the midfield and creating chances they should really have scored from, was a polar opposite. Not for the first time, it had me wondering why I bother putting myself through the trauma of watching Blues, when I watch better football from clubs a lot lower down the ladder. Other than the social aspect that goes hand in hand with watching Blues, I honestly don’t know. I couldn’t tell you even if I tried. Maybe that’s why it tastes so much sweeter when Blues do actually win and play good football. It’s just too little and too far between. Just before halftime, Solihull justifiably took the lead with a header from their 6’9″ striker, Kyle Hudlin. I think he may have had to bend down below the crossbar to head it in, he’s that tall.
During the interval, I went down to produce some Carling and join, Jinksy, Ian and a later train catcher, Nat. Nat had very nicely bought a round of beers from the bar underneath the stand. Unfortunately, it was Heineken. Out of pure courtesy, I made a valiant attempt at drinking the horrid stuff, but just could not manage it. To be honest, even when I was drinking the fizzy rough stuff, I hated Heineken. It definitely hadn’t got any better. It was during halftime that it actually dawned on me that Solihull truly were on the cusp of getting promoted to the EFL. Even after winning the playoff semi final, I wasn’t convinced it could happen. In fact, right up until halftime, I still couldn’t see it happening. With only 45 minutes to hang on to, or increase their lead, I finally ‘felt it’. It was then that I thought of being able to visit the grounds in League Two that I haven’t yet done, and actually doing it with the Moors. A local derby with Walsall and even another visit to the brilliant Leyton Orient Supporters Club was just within touching distance. 45 minutes can be a long time in football. A good halftime talk can produce results. Good substitutions likewise. Grimsby had had to endure extra time in both their quarter and semi final matches. Instead of looking tired from their exertions, they appeared much stronger for it. It was the supposedly fresher Solihull that were starting to wilt. Grimsby equalised with 20 minutes left, but by then, you could sense it was coming. A winner in normal time was not forthcoming though, and so for the 3rd game in a row, Grimsby would have to drag themselves both physically and mentally through extra time yet again. However, it was the Moors that were looking ragged and running on empty. The winner for Grimsby when it came, was inevitable, and so the dream of League football was over for another season. It’ll be interesting to see if Solihull can pick themselves up, dust themselves down, and go again. Playoff finals can truly knock the stuffing out of a side. Expectations can increase and patience becomes shorter. Well done to Grimsby Town. Just for the sheer ‘never say die’ attitude, they deserved it. Well done to Solihull Moors though, as they’ve come a very long way in a very short space of time.
Disappointed, we forlornly walked back to Stratford station, and through whatever kind of tin pot system they have for crowd control. Then got the new Elizabeth Line back to Liverpool Street, and the Circle Line back to Baker Street. Part of me was surprised at the amount of Grimsby fans that had left the ground when we did, to head home, but as much as celebrating might have appealed, I could understand that it wasn’t exactly easy and quick to get back up to Grimsby. Besides, some will have felt that they shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. Playing in the National League is a far cry from the heady heights of playing in what is now the Championship. It’s why Everton fans celebrated escaping relegation so much. Playing the likes of Luton and Rotherham at home isn’t like taking a trip to Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. (No disrespect to Luton or Rotherham of course.) Football fans have a certain amount of snobbery about them. We all believe our club’s are better than all the rest. It’s an unfounded inane sense of superiority of course, because in truth, we’re just uniquely different to one another. Nothing more, nothing less. At Baker Street, we went for one last pint in the Allsop Arms. They were showing the Wales versus Ukraine World Cup Qualifier. The winner got a place at the finals. The losers get to watch it on television. I’m going to be controversial here, and say that I wanted Wales to win. I wanted Scotland to win a few days previously too. The controversial bit, is I don’t buy into all the outpouring of sympathy towards the Ukrainians. Not because I believe it’s right that Putin and the Russians should’ve invaded the Ukraine, far from it. I just believe in the integrity of sport. It’s why I don’t like cheating in sport, whether it’s performance enhancing drugs, or the taking of bribes to ‘throw’ a match. I like honestly. It’s one of the qualities that was instilled into me from a very early age. For me, allowing the Ukrainians to win and so compete in the World Cup finals, would’ve been the wrong thing to do. If they had beaten Wales like they had beaten Scotland because they were the better team, then that’s fair enough, but to be ‘given’ a place just because of what’s happening in the country, is inherently wrong. Anyway, back to the beer I had in the pub. In the past, I’ve dropped in at the Allsop, because of the ale range and quality. However, the very last two times I’ve been in there, both have been substandard. So much so, that my pint was as undrinkable as the Heineken in the ground had been. I will give the place one last go, just because of its proximity to Marylebone station and the fact it shows football on the telly, but if it claims its hattrick of bad beer and poor selection, then it’s going to be back to the Met Bar for me. Thankfully, Wales won and my faith in sport could carry on unabated. I really must be getting old, because I wasn’t prepared to stand like both Jinksy and Ian were going to have to for the entire journey back to Brum. Instead, I caught the next which was only 15 minutes after, and although just as rammed by the time it departed, I was at least able to get a seat. Earphones jammed in for the last time, I settled back on the final journey home. The 2021/22 season complete.