When the fixtures came out, I booked the night off from work. I also booked a hotel room, and then bought advanced tickets for the trains up and back when they were released. And all that was before I’d even got a ticket for the game. That’s when the rail strikes put the break on. Wednesday, the day of the game, was penciled in for industrial action. I now had to revise my plans. Should I take the hit on the advance tickets for the return on Thursday, and cancel everything else, or find another form of transport up to Boro? Well obviously, I decided to find alternative transport, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this, now would I? Firstly, I got my match ticket. Secondly, I applied for, and got a refund on Wednesday’s advance tickets for the rail, and then thirdly, went and spent almost all of it on a ticket on the National Express. If you’re thinking, ‘Well that was easy enough’, then that was just the start. Here we go again. Firstly, I now had a 45 minute change over in Leeds. Secondly, I now had to start travelling earlier, and I’d be arriving in Boro, later. Originally, I would’ve been on the 12:03 train from New Street. Not much, but I would’ve been able to get a little sleep before I got myself ready to travel up to the North East. Night shift doesn’t do your sleep pattern any good as it is, without trying to go without it for around 30 hours. I now had to try and get some sleep on the coach. Something that isn’t as easy as sleeping on a train. Plus, you’re much more scrunched up on a coach. As you’ll be beginning to understand from all this whinging, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. So why do it then Sid, you Muppet? Two reasons, I like the people of Middlesbrough, and it’s not too bad for real ale, but also, if you stay over for a midweek night game at Middlesbrough, you earn instant respect from fellow fans. Not that I feel I need respect, but it’s still nice to receive it. So I finished my night shift, got home, got cleaned up, got my overnight bag ready, and headed into town. It did actually feel strange catching a coach instead of travelling by train. Without wanting to sound like a snob (Maybe, but you still do Sid.) the people who travel by National Express, aren’t quite as well off as the people who catch the train. I’m going to try and be as diplomatic as I possibly can. No, can’t do it. They don’t tend to be as diligent with their personal hygiene as perhaps they really need to be. Personal space that is already at a premium, seems to be totally ignored, and consideration of others whilst on the phone, just doesn’t exist. Pulling out of Birmingham Coach Station, I jammed my earphones in, and tried to get as comfortable as I possibly could. I also set the alarm on my phone, with the wild delusion that I might, I just might, oversleep. Until we hit the motorway, I was too interested with the view out of the window, but once on the motorway, I shut my eyes and tried to let myself drift off. Amazingly or really not due to having been up for so long, I did actually get to sleep. 40 minutes later, I was awake again, but surprisingly, felt refreshed. It might have only been 40 minutes, but it had been a deep sleep. It seemed strange pulling into Sheffield Coach Station, so soon after knowing that both Steve and JK had gone through it for the Sheffield United game. Luckily for them though, they were getting off. From Sheffield centre, it was a short hop to Meadowhall. There was no way I was going to get back off to sleep, even if I’d been shot with a tranquilliser gun. It was a relief to get off at Leeds, just so I could stop my joints from seizing up so badly, I’d have needed to be crowbarred out of my seat. Remember when we used to queue orderly in this country? Those days have vanished into the vault of distant memories.
Least I was able to get something to eat at Leeds. I’d got time to do that, but not enough time to get to a decent pub to stock up on some Dutch courage so I could face the second leg up to Middlesbrough. Thankfully, the second leg took half the time as the first. Unfortunately, the bloke I sat next to, had absolutely no concept of personal space. I reminded myself that I’d got this far, and so I just ignored his constant elbow knocks. Finally arriving in Middlesbrough, I almost got down on my hands and knees, and kissed the ground. I only stopped myself, because they’d have needed to call the Fire Brigade to help me back up. It was now to find the digs I was going to be stopping in. Middlesbrough hadn’t changed. In fact, it may have become even grottier. Without doubt, Newcastle is the jewel in the crown of the North East. The problem is that the rest of the crown has turned rusty. Except for Newcastle, the surrounding places in the North East have been neglected. Forgotten even. It’s probably why Geordies have this elitist attitude to them, and other North Easterner’s are friendlier. I found my hotel for the night, and checked in. The room was ok. Nothing special, but then it hadn’t been expensive. In reality, I wasn’t expecting five star, and didn’t need it anyway. I just needed somewhere to sleep that wasn’t a park bench. After I’d emptied my overnight bag and put it all away, I headed back out to start my evening. First on the itinerary, or would’ve been, was Devil’s Advocate. Walking in, it was like an ‘After school club’, with several still in school uniform, and it wasn’t some kind of retro 80’s party either. What sealed it though, was no real ale. The pump handle was covered by an empty glass. I walked back out and on to the next place. The Bottled Note was much more like it, and had changed A bit since the last time I’d been in the place. The layout was exactly the same, but the decor had changed. Not only had it changed, but I was captivated by it.
There was also a wall dedicated to the Middlesbrough born famous, but it was the wall that commemorated the town’s football club’s history that grabbed my attention. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for any football memorabilia. There really are times when a navy faux fur hooded, rain resistant parka and a pair of National Health glasses with obligatory sticking plaster, wouldn’t go amiss on me. My enthusiastic curiosity for the wall, coupled with my accent hadn’t gone unnoticed, and I happily chatted to the three blokes who were in there. I could’ve easily have talked for hours. The beer was good too. I moved on though. Twisted Lip was next. There’s three streets of terraced houses side by side in Middlesbrough that have been given over to cheap rent for start up businesses. There’s an inordinate amount of solicitors and financial advisors, mixed up with bars and restaurants. It’s breathing life into what would’ve been an extremely rundown area. The Twisted Lip is one of those bars. It’s got an unusual feel to it. It’s got that pub/living room kind of vibe.
“And the piped music was ragtime. It just added to it”
After the Lip. I headed to a place that had impressed me the very first time I went in there. Back then, it had not long opened and was being run by proper real ale enthusiasts. Wow, what a disappointment. The only thing that remained, was the name. Sherlock’s on the account of it being in Baker Street. From being a bar for real ale drinking Boro fans, it had changed completely. I can only think that they’ve given up and gone back to their office based professions. Unforgivably, the real ale pumps were all covered by empty glasses. With it being a night game, and having chatted to one of the Boro supporting owners that first time, I know they wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Turning on my heels, I left as quickly as I’d entered. Thankfully, the first micro that was opened up in Middlesbrough, Infant Hercules, is still the same, and continues to go from strength to strength.
After a fantastic chocolate vanilla stout, I headed to a place that had been given an excellent review on the Whatpub website.
Christie’s Brasserie is supposed to be an undiscovered gem. Meh. Not only was the selection disappointing, but my half was served in a lager glass. Had the review been even half right, I’d have been happy, but it hadn’t. Maybe I’d just chosen a bad day to visit. I really don’t think I did though. It didn’t give me any indication that it would get any better. I then followed the crowd to the ground.
I’d missed the game last season. I’d gone down with flu during the week leading up to the game, but felt well enough by the Friday night to attempt it. I’d even set my alarm with the intention of travelling up for it. Standing there in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, my stomach decided to start churning and gurgle. With wide eyed realisation, I raced to get my head over the toilet bowl. If that wasn’t enough, I had to quickly turn round immediately after I’d finished psychedelic yodelling, so my rear end could explode. Montezuma had well and truly had his revenge. Had it just been one end, I would’ve still travelled, but not both. The risk had been too great. So I missed out on a fantastic 2:0 victory for the boys in blue. After two successive away wins at Preston and Buggies, and a draw at Sheffield United, I was quietly confident of getting a favourable result. Although they’d just sacked Chris Wilder after an inauspicious start to the season, I still didn’t think we’d fall for the ‘new manager bounce’ type thing that regularly happens.
It obviously wasn’t the first time I’d watched Blues at The Riverside, and it wasn’t even the first night game I’d done there either. Although still a ridiculously small turnout by Blues, there were still more in attendance than the last night game I went to at Middlesbrough. Even for a midweek night game, there’s no excuse for a poor turnout by Blues. As far as I’m concerned, we should’ve sold out of our allocation quite easily. As I’ve said before, Birmingham is located in the centre of the country and has by far the best transport links in the country too. To whinge that “It’s too far”, is an absolute disgrace. As the game settled down, it was apparent that Boro were there for the taking. Missed passes and mis-control was a common occurrence from the men in red. Unfortunately, Tahith Chong took it upon himself to be rubbish in the first half. I’m going to say this very quietly, as what you say can trip you up and jump up and down on your head, and very often does, but the Blues defence is looking quite solid. Oh good grief, what did I say? I’m sure I’d said it quiet enough. Oi, stop jumping up and down on my head. Mind you, it is improving my looks. Anyway, Chuka Akpom was on hand unmarked at the far post to lash the ball high into the roof of the net. It wasn’t a lead that was deserved, and even given Chong’s first half ineptitude, we were creating enough chances to equalise. We didn’t though, 0:1 halftime. Second half, and Blues stepped it up considerably. Had we approached the first half like we were the second half, we’d have been comfortably in the lead and the second half would’ve been a gentle leg stretching exercise. The home side continued to look poor at best. We spent most of the second half camped in their half of the pitch, creating enough chances to not only get an equaliser, but grab the lead too. Even Chong was performing at his usual standard. At times like these, you just know that you’re going to fall foul of that sucker punch. Incredibly, it didn’t arrive. We did get a couple of pitch invaders from the home end though. As they ran around, evading a motley crew of stewards, you could only think they’d had too much of Colombia’s finest, heavily cut dust. As always with these things, the fun was never going to last and they were captured, but not before they’d made the stewards work for their money though.
Heading out into the night after the game, l just needed to work out my bearings and get back to the hotel, I was shattered. I really do need to take some kind of orienteering lessons though, because I got horrendously lost. I got so lost, that I eventually gave up and retraced my steps back to the ground. Mentally berating myself, I stopped short of physically kicking myself, but only because I just hadn’t got the energy. In the end, I happened on the way back. A tad relieved, I even took this.
Just managing to put one foot in front of the other, I got back to my digs for the night, and crashed out.
Sleep works wonders for the body. Even at my age. Don’t get me wrong, physically I was still a wreck, but then the older I get, the more the body disintegrates anyway. However, my brain was refreshed, or at least what passes for a brain, was refreshed, and so I could function at the usual, just below average, level. I could have had breakfast at the hotel, after all, it was included in the price, but I fancied a pint with my breakfast. All hail to the Wetherspoons, is what I say. Swatter’s Carr is the best of their two establishments in the town, and it’s there where I headed. Each branch has independence, depending on how much the management is trusted. A good manager has more freedom. This includes the range of real ale. Just by chance, the beer that took my eye, was the ‘manager’s choice’, and was being offered at the discount price of 99p. Believe me, it certainly wasn’t the price that took my eye, it was the brewery and beer. I did though, anticipate it to have turned to vinegar. It hadn’t, it was as gorgeous as the description on the pump clip. Breakfast and pint finished, I wandered down to the station, buying myself something to read on the train, on the way.
I got the train to Darlington, before getting the connection back to Brum. For what was a weekday service, it was unexpectedly rammed. It was standing room only, and I actually felt sorry for the guard as he battled through, checking tickets. He did though, inform me that a lot were getting off at York, and I would be able to get a seat. To be honest, after travelling up by coach, I was actually happy just to stand. Sure enough though, I was able to get a seat and so was able to enjoy the journey back to Brum in comfort. The only problem, was the dread of having to return to work that night.
Footnote:- For those who were alarmed by the subheading, it refers to a song lyric. Back in the 90s, there was a fairly successful band named Divine Comedy and they released a track called National Express. In it, the lyrics states ‘Take the National Express_when your life is a mess’. Being born in the family I was, I’m mischievous in both nature and nurture. It’s solely for the born worrier in our family. So Chris, don’t go being all concerned and phone me up in a blind panic. Everything’s fine Sis. It’s just your youngest brother having a bit of fun at your expense. That’s what brother’s are for, it’s my job.