29/8/22 Alfreton Town V Chorley, National League North. It’s No Chore Watching Non-League.

A Bank Holiday, and a full fixture list. Well it was in Non-League pyramid anyway. I could’ve stayed at home of course. Do something that the domestically chained do, but I’m single, live on my own, and my life is my own. Staying in when there was a choice of Non-League games to go to, wasn’t an option for me, and this particular fixture shone like a full moon on a cloudless night. It was just a shame that my Nephew Dave couldn’t make it. A happy and contented resident of the small Lancastrian town, it’s his fault that Chorley are my Non-League team. For the second time that weekend, I caught a train that was stopping at Derby. For the second time that weekend, I was on a train passing through my nearest station. For the second time that weekend, I had the satisfaction of passing where I work, knowing I wasn’t having to go to work there. Least not until the next day anyway. Instead of changing at Derby this time, I decided to stay on to Chesterfield. With having to change at Chesterfield for Alfreton anyway, there wasn’t any benefit to getting to Chesterfield earlier. Getting off in Alfreton, the first thing that caught my eye, was a Chorley shirt worn by a fellow passenger who was also getting off. I did think about engaging him in conversation, but my knowledge of the Chorley team is rubbish due to not having been to watch them for 3 years, and thus a tad embarrassing. As he was walking with a purpose, I decided to follow at a distance, as he did have an air of someone who had been to Alfreton before. Alfreton railway station is quite a way out of the town. Having an itinerary, I still consulted it to confirm if I’d got it right. After all, I have got a history of going the wrong way and getting lost. I’m actually glad I did, because at one point, he took a wrong turn, and had to double back. I was quite proud of myself for not doing the same. Once on the main high street, I left him to it, and followed my itinerary instead. The Blue Bell was first place on the list. I wasn’t expecting much from the place, and I wasn’t disappointed on that score. The choice of real ale on the bar was Doombar or Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire. So in other words, it was Spitfire, Spitfire or Spitfire. Alfreton is an old mining town. A profession I’ve not had experience of as a job. A few weeks ago, I watched a detective drama called Sherwood, where the storyline dealt historically with the coal strike of 84/85. It highlighted the divide between miner’s who had gone out on strike, and one’s who hadn’t. It put whole communities against each other. Eavesdropping a nearby table of locals older than me, it was remarked with glee, that Nottingham Forest had been beaten the previous day. For the record, Nottinghamshire miner’s refused to strike, whereas Derbyshire miner’s fully supported it. None on the table were Derby County fans, so I believe it’s fair to say that the wounds the strike caused, still run deep and raw. From the Blue Bell, I moved onto Alfreton’s Wetherspoons. One of the chains pub takeovers, similar to the Banker’s Draft in Eltham, The Waggon and Horses had at least, a decent ale selection. I was starting to think that the inhabitants of Alfreton are bit ‘strange’. They’re definitely ‘different’ there. In that sense, I was extremely relieved to see a load of Chorley fans land in the pub. It seemed, two family car sized loads. At that point, I was thinking that there maybe a decent sized Bank Holiday crowd. From the Spoons, I moved onto The King Alfred. In one sense, I wish I hadn’t bothered. First of all, I had to wait several minutes for service. It was not because the pub was overly busy, but I was to learn that the barmaid was having to deal with an exploding keg of Guinness as she’d gone to change it. She wasn’t hurt, but was now covered in the stuff. On a personal note, worse was to come. My choice of beer had turned to vinegar. I couldn’t believe my bad luck. At this point, I hadn’t taken any pictures. In all honesty, there’d been nothing worth photographing. Quaint, Alfreton is not. Least I would actually get to photograph things. With time kicking on, I headed towards the ground. Here, my luck changed. Well, sort of. Crossroads Tavern is a micro pub that’s usually shut on a Monday, thanks to the Bank Holiday, they’d decided to open. I even saw a different beer but from the same brewery as the one that had turned to vinegar in the King Alfred. That’s where that particular piece of good luck finished. Again, the beer had turned to vinegar. I was starting to get paranoid. Beer swapped, my taste buds sighed with relief from a great beer. One thing I’m beginning to learn, is that Chorley fans love their real ale.

“Not that you can tell from the pics”

From the micro, I followed a group of Chorley girls to the ground. I say girls, they were four middle aged women, but as it was football, they were ‘girls’. It was just nice to see really. You don’t tend to see groups of middle aged women watching football. A legacy of the Lionesses? I don’t think so. By the way, l wasn’t following them in some kind of perverted ‘weird stalker’ thing, if that’s crossing your mind. Ugly, single, middle aged bloke who lives on his own, spots opportunity. Yeah yeah, I get it. Nope, I just wanted to get to the ground, and they looked like they knew where they were going.

“Don’t you just love Non-League grounds?”

Don’t worry, there’s more to come.

“That should do”

North Street is a quaint, old ground. There are still a few in Non-League that still retain their charm, and I’ve got to admit, whenever I enter one, I’m enveloped by a huge dose of nostalgia. I picture generations upon generations of fans watching football in times gone by. Thing is, I can’t tell you much about the first half. No, I didn’t spend it gawping at the Chorley ‘girls’. No, I didn’t get comfy and fall asleep. I had found my version of retail therapy. Whilst wandering around the perimeter of the pitch and taking in the views, I happened upon a bloke selling badges from of a trestle table. The said table was covered with badges from far flung and obscure Non-League clubs. One in particular caught my eye. No, he didn’t throw it at me. Just as I was paying for it, I spotted, through a doorway behind him, piles and piles of programmes. I excitedly enquired if I could have a look. Yes, was the reply. I was in Heaven. I then spent the entire first half and halftime, searching through hundreds and hundreds of programmes, looking for, and finding a fair few Blues programmes. I was especially happy with finding a couple of programmes from games I’d been to, but not got in my collection. “How much?” I asked, as I handed them over for him to tally up. “Four pounds fifty” I gratefully handed over a tenner, and told him the keep the change. I had tried to keep an eye on the match. Chorley were attacking the goal I could actually see from where I was, and the oohs and awws from the home crowd, indicated whenever Alfreton went close. I hadn’t missed anything. Being hungry, I bought a cheese burger. Now I get that catering for large numbers of people is never easy. I get that Non-League clubs have to be a little economical with supplies. But freezing and thawing out bread products does nothing for the composition. Bottom line, the bap that the burger was served in, had lost its taste, and crumbled as you tried eating it. Now I’ve got to admit here, although Chorley are the Non-League club that I follow the most closest, I hadn’t a clue who was actually playing for them. I was a bit of a fraud. In mitigation, the fixtures didn’t fall well for me the season before Covid, nor did they last season after Covid either. As far as I’m concerned though, that’s still a poor excuse. Like last season, The Magpies had started this, quite slowly. The difference being, that Andy Preece had taken over as manager. Although I hadn’t seen much, if any of the first half, Chorley were out to put pressure on the home side in the second half, and although a little fortuitous, they deservedly took the lead. A valiant attempt by the home keeper wasn’t enough, and the ball looped up and fell into the net off him. The Mags smelt blood and chased a second goal. They hit the post, the follow up was saved, but then the rebound was swept in. 2:0 to Chorley, the points were heading back to Lancashire

I happily left North Street, to go and get the train back to Brum. Yet another bonus was in store for me though. As I walked down Prospect Street, I noticed that the Wicked Pissah micro pub was open. Another place not usually open on a Monday. I’d enough time for a quick half.

“Don’t usually get a pool table in a micro pub”

The half, drunk, I headed back to the station.

“Not before taking a photo of this though”

If the journey to Alfreton had been fairly straightforward, the journey back was anything but. First bit to Chesterfield was OK, after that…..firstly, the train that should’ve been finishing at New Street, was terminated at Derby. Anyone trying to get to Birmingham, were advised to get a train to Coleshill Parkway. It was on that train that I discovered JK was in the same predicament as me. He’d been to Notts County to watch Solihull Moors and was now on the same train heading to Coleshill. As the whole train emptied at Coleshill Parkway for rail replacement transport, the last leg to New Street, I caught up with him. Rail replacement transport is simply the worst thing on this country’s rail network. I look at it this way, if you want a bus, you catch a bus, but if you want to catch a train, then you catch a train. As far as I’m concerned, if for any part of your journey by train, you are forced onto a rail replacement bus or coach for whatever reason, then you should be reimbursed with the whole fare. At least I now had JK to keep me company. If it was an absolute ‘free for all’ at Coleshill, it was nothing compared to the poor souls who were having to wait for the double decker buses we were on, to carry on their journey. It was somewhat of a relief getting off at New Street, knowing that was it. One thing me and JK had discussed on the bus, was where we were going for a beer, when we got off. There was a period of time, when us away day ale trailers, would go straight in the Post Office Vaults, when we touched down back in Brum, so we’d decided to go in there first. I say first, because from there, we went in the place we tend to use now, The Colemore. Strangely, the pub was empty. We got chatting to the barmaid, who told us about her leaving her bar job at the Colemore, and subsequent plans of studying Architecture at Uni. A field of work, JK had a fair knowledge of dealing with. Although I chipped in every now and again, I just listened and learnt. It was a far cry from the minion type job I do for a living, and I’ve got to admit, really interesting because of it. Leaving her with our best wishes and good lucks (Not good looks, there’s nothing good looking about me.), we went for a pint at the Welly, securing ‘our table’, we continued to talk about all things Blues (I believe that’s the euphemism for talking rubbish these days), before JK left to get a ‘proper bus’ home, and eventually I did the same.

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