The first game of the season is a bit like the first day back at school after the summer holidays. The fixture list is a bit like a new lesson schedule, new players are a bit like having new teachers. Now if you’re thinking that’s a bit far fetched, then how else can you equate it to? Your classmates are the friends that you go to games with. Like the summer holidays from school, you don’t tend to see your friends in the close season. Same as school was that structure that bound you and your classmates together, so following a Football club binds you together. It’ll be the same with rugby fans too. To a lesser extent, as with cricket. I say lesser extent, as there’s an overlap of football fans going to cricket matches, for something to fill the time with during the summer. The 20/20 format in cricket has been enthusiastically embraced by football fans. Ironically, although I love cricket, I can’t stand 20/20. Cricket is a relaxing game. I like the strategies and nuances involved in the longer formats. Both Test cricket and the County Championship pits brain against brain. A kind of physical chess game. 20/20 is rushed. Too rushed. For me, it’s got too much of an American, razzmatazz feel to it. Anyway, I’m digressing. Well it is the first game of the season, and besides, would you expect anything different from me? It’d actually only been 55 days since the last game I went to. That’s less than sticking two February’s back to back. It had still felt an age away though. Even if I’d not been able to get a ticket for the away end at Luton, I’d have gone somewhere. Not something that would’ve been easy, as certain rail companies had been targeted by strikes by ASLEF. The on-going strikes by both the RMT and ASLEF, are something I wholey support, even though it will disrupt my football attending. Last season we landed on St Albans for our pre-match ale trail before our game at Luton. That was something that because of strikes, wasn’t going to be viable. Instead, it had been a dive into the GBG to work out somewhere else. We’d decided on Wellingborough. Somewhere none of us had ever been before. It meant several changes to get there, but that can add to the fun, and conversations. So I met up with Spoons, JK, Jinksy, Daryl. Steve and Ian at New Street and we caught the train to Leicester. Ian through his connections in the RMT and also with being on the same railcard as me, had secured us free tickets for a huge chunk of our journey back and forth to Luton via Wellingborough. That was a good start to my day, and was very much appreciated. Getting off at Leicester, Spoons wandered up the platform to where he knew there were sidings full of diesel locomotives. Diesel trains are a passion of his. I might not have the deep knowledge that both he, Daryl and Ian have, but I still love trains.
The two almost identical engines next to each other in the photo, are from a class of locomotive nicknamed ‘Spoons’ and they are how Rob got his nickname. I’m sure you’ll agree, ‘Spoons’ is a much more interesting nickname than just plain Rob. Nicknames are easier to remember than proper names, and good or bad are also more personal, more original. What’s the chances you’ll ever meet someone else nicknamed ‘Spoons’? There’s plenty of Roberts though. Same as ‘JK’ or ‘Jinksy’. John and Steve are common names. With Steve Whalley, it’s more an age thing. There is more so now, but there’s not many Steve’s in their 70s, let alone still fit enough to drag themselves round the country ale trailing and watching football. I know I wouldn’t have the energy to do it. I’m knackered enough as it is. From Leicester, we caught a train to Kettering.
Finally from Kettering, we touched down in Wellingborough. The first place we went into was to be my favourite of the day, but there was to be other good ones. The Little R’ale House is very obviously an ex station building. It’s true use went much further than just being a utility building though. During World War II, it was used as a ammunition store for detonators to be used in the event of invasion. The idea was to blow up the rest of the rail network that the German luftwaffe hadn’t already ruined with their bombing raids. It’s run by a lovely Zimbabwean lady who used to work as a nurse in dementia. You could actually say there’s not much difference. My memory after several pints of the good stuff is sketchy at best. Yeah, I know it’s something I shouldn’t be making fun of. I couldn’t even begin to understand how someone copes with the disease, whether as a victim or carer. I don’t possess a huge dose of intelligence as it is, but to have that eroded would be horrendous. It was bad enough coping with the affects of the bleed on the brain. My cognitive response was hugely knocked backwards, and I know I was one of the lucky ones. Whether it’s a good thing or not, I’m completely recovered and am now back to how I was before going head surfing down the escalators at Vauxhall station. One little personal tradition that Steve upholds, is buying every ale trailer in the days crew, a pint, in the first pub, at the next away game, after his birthday. It’s nice of him to do this, but having a birthday during the close season, I haven’t really been able to return the service. I decided after he did it away at Peterborough, last season, that I was going to start doing it at the very first away game of the season. As the next World Cup is in Qatar, they’ve created a gap within the season and brought the start of the season forward. So I suppose technically, as it was still in July, it was still relatively near enough to when I turned 54. I think this may have been the reason why Sheila (I really hope I’ve got that right.) gave me my pint for free.
It’s rare us ale trailers have a second beer in a pub before moving on to the next place. This was one of those rare times. Much as I’m glad we did go to other pubs, this place was fantastic. To a man, every single one of us could easily have spent the day there. Like the Sheffield Tap, so close that you could watch the trains come in and out of the station, and like all micro pubs, it had its own little personality. A personality that makes you want to go back again. Wellingborough may have given me the idea of being a tad nondescript before my visit, but I was to be surprised and impressed. The Little R’ale House has a sister pub called The Little (wait for it) Ale House. Again, I’m being flippant, though definitely not funny. Firstly, the place was the first micro pub in Wellingborough, and if they hadn’t have been brave enough to apply for a licence, open up, and make a success of the place, it wouldn’t have inspired Little R’ale. Even the people who run the ‘wine bar’ style micro pubs, I applaud. Both the service and quality is excellent. They didn’t have to, but they dished us all out with pens with the bars name on. I hardly ever, if almost never, benefit from being in the position to get anything free, so to me, when I do get something, I’m always extremely grateful. No, I’m not ‘touting for business’. No, I’m not even ‘hinting’. That’s not my style. I just do what I do, and say it the way I see it. No hidden agenda. After the two micro pubs, we moved onto The Queens Head. After the two micro pubs, it was a bit of a comedown. That’s not to say it wasn’t still ok, but that’s all it was. Daryl was itching to ‘tick off’ Wellingborough’s Wetherspoons. Had it been one of their many more tasteful, imaginative conversions, I may have been a bit more accommodating to the idea. The one in Wellingborough is the usual standard shop conversion. Instantly forgettable. Not really worth the effort. I suppose in hindsight, we could’ve actually missed out the Queens Head, and done the Wetherspoons instead, just to tick it off, but Meh, no loss. Maybe, maybe, had the Red Well been in the GBG, we’d have all been lured in, but it’s not. The next place was though, and rightly so. Many times, I state that I wish I could pick a pub up, and take on future trips for when the town lacks any decent real ale pubs. This pub wouldn’t be out of place in the really good towns.
Not only was the decor pure eye candy, but both the range and quality of the beer was superb too. With time kicking on, we needed to get taxis back to the station. The first taxi turned up quite quick, the second one, not so quick. I was in the second. It was touch and go whether we’d make the train. First game of the season, and I was having to run. I was out of practice and age is not your bodies friend. It’s certainly no friend of mine, anyway. I’m fast arriving at the realisation, that these days, the only time I ever run, is for football related, public transport. Early morning run just to keep fit? You must be joking. I don’t play sport, I watch sport. My knees may have been screaming at me, but I still made the train, and that’s all that mattered. We made the short journey to Luton and had enough time for one in the Bricklayers. Luton is poor for real ale, last season, it was St Albans, this season, the alternative, because of the trains, was Wellingborough. Not as good as St Albans, but much better than Luton would’ve been, and a lot better than what I was expecting. Would I do it again? At least it’s an option. I wrote about the Bricklayers in my account for Luton, last season, so other than saying that they told us that they really shouldn’t have served us as we were ‘away’ fans, but still did, I won’t say much more, except thanks for realising that not all football fans are lary, ‘coked up’, hooligans, and ale trailing away fans, are only ever after harmless fun. Will they remember us in the Bricklayers next season? Well they should do, that’s two successive seasons we’ve been in there, and two successive seasons where they’ve not had any problems. If nothing else, Spoons is not the kind of character you forget.
So here we were then, and what’s been happening at Blues? Well firstly, Lee Bowyer finally threw the towel in. I say finally, only because I was expecting it after Blackpool away. I’m going to say I’m numb to it all now. I’m Blues through and through, will go anywhere and everywhere watching them, will celebrate like a absolute mad man when we score and win, but after that, I couldn’t care any less. Have things got to change at Blues? Yes. Can I do anything about it? Nope. Are Blues worth worrying about? Nope. I still scour all the usual suspects for any scrap of news about the club, but as for speculating on anything concerning the club or the team, it’s a complete waste of time, energy and effort. There was a time when I used to be a lot more emotionally attached, but not any more. It’s been squeezed out of me. Like a broken relationship. The love’s still there, the loyalty is still there. The trust has gone, along with the respect. The physical attraction is on the wane. Quite simply, Blues just aren’t sexy anymore. Right. Ownership issues. Been a lot of noise but no action. I’m not going to bother to go over all the details, because you can read up on it. As this is my blog, this is my opinion and both hold no credence. I don’t trust our owners, or the HKSE, and I don’t trust the EFL. As for either of the two parties that have been banging pots and pans, expressing that they’re the ‘saviours of Blues’, I don’t trust them either. Wow, I don’t even trust the bloke who runs the ticket office. There’s that much rot at the club now. That it needs raising to the ground. In fact, as speculation is all we’ve got to cling on to, I’ll say I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the main stand was burnt down, just for the insurance claim. Sensationalism? No worse than what’s been said. Do I actually believe what I’ve just written? Out of the mouths of children. I am just an insignificant minion after all. A name on a list, a statistic on a chart. So with the/a takeover moving slower than an asthmatic snail, with a breeze block built shell, climbing the outside of the Rotunda, to deliver a months worth of food shopping to the person who lives in the very top flat, I’ll go back to what’s happening on the playing side. With the door still swinging shut after Bowyer’s exit, John Eustace (who?) came through it. He’s one of those out of the ‘promising young coach’ draw. It’s basically a football speak euphemism for, none of you plebs know who he is, and he’s cheap. It’s a ‘win win’ situation all round. Unless, he fails miserably, and we get relegated. It also means that the people who hold the purse strings, can keep them tight. Do I think he’ll fail? I don’t know, don’t care. I wish him luck with injuries, and luck with inept officials. The rest will be down to him. Believe if you want, don’t if don’t want to, but every game from now on, I take face value. No expectations. So the game itself then. It was 0:0. Didn’t lose, didn’t win. Forget what happened last season, different set of circumstances, different in every way.
The one big plus for me, was free signing, John Ruddy having a solid debut in goal. Not something I wasn’t expecting, but with the only alternative being the less than impressive, Neil Etheridge, it was heartening. We defended as a unit. Each player looked like they had a job to do, and they stuck to it. It was regimented. Attacking wise, it was bereft of imagination, speed and skill. 0:0 may have been a fair result, but after the anticipation that builds through inactivity, it felt like getting a book voucher for a present. You’re desperately searching for the plus points to take away. 55 points will be enough to starve off relegation for another season. So there’s 54 to go. Least I was back to watching Blues, least I was able to see and catch up with some of the old faces. Micky, Daz, Rob from the Roost, Rob n Leo, and there were others I simply can’t remember.
We had just enough time for a pint before getting the train back from Luton, so we ducked into the Great Northern. Was not a great range in there. None of us were expecting better, but at least it wasn’t just Doom Bar. I noticed a West Ham fan, around the same age as me near the bar. I don’t know where he’d got it from, but he was wearing a retro shirt from the 60s, with embroidery commemorating West Ham’s contribution to England winning the World Cup. I couldn’t help but remark on it to him, and we briefly chatted about both Bobby Moore as a character, and that Geoff Hurst has a reputation for being stand offish. I never got the chance to meet Bobby Moore, but he always came across as a bloke you’d enjoy having a pint with. Hurst comes across as a person that if I was given the opportunity to meet him, I’d turn it down. Some people are humble, some people have a too high opinion of themselves. Nope, I don’t know why, either. Beats me. Other than having to change at Leicester and deciding not to go for a pint in the place, the journey back was uneventful. Onwards and upwards? Well the season’s started anyway.