21/1/23 Blues V Preston North End. Weather Loons, Or Just Loons?

Home games can become too routine. Away games are never a problem, because the whole day is different, but home games can get stale. Same pubs in the same order. Although that was never the case with the old Anchor days, that was because the pub was so good. Unfortunately, since then, there’s been nowhere that’s been as good as that place was, and as such, pre-match drinking gets boring. Before Covid, we completed a ‘rubbish pub’ crawl. Some, mainly Jinksy, had been clamouring to do that again. Although it had been fun at the time, personally, I’m in no rush to ever do it again. With the recent opening of the Wetherspoons on New Street station, a pre-match Spoons crawl was muted. All we had to do was work out the route and criteria. The city of Birmingham has an inordinate amount of branches both within the city centre and also the suburbs. They are seen by some as cheap and nasty. Some will say it reflects the inhabitants of the city and that Brummies are also cheap and nasty. Something I’d refute, but then the city does boast (As if it’s something you could actually boast about.) the world’s biggest Gregg’s inside the world’s biggest Primark. As well as having the world’s biggest Sports Direct. Maybe it’s just so we can spend the money we save in Europe’s most prolific jewellery producing area within the city. Maybe they should just rename the city Chavtown and be done with it. Anyway, however way the rest of the country want to view us, we honestly don’t care. So the idea was to have breakfast at the nearest Wetherspoons to where you live, then meet up at the Square Peg for 10 o’clock. For me, that meant The Arthur Robertson at the One Stop shopping Mall near Perry Bar train station.

“The Arthur Robertson”

The breakfast was good, but then as I don’t often have food made for me, I’m not particularly fussy. I will say that it wasn’t a patch on my Sister Val’s breakfasts, but then her’s are amazing. I then caught the bus into town and met up with Ian, Spoons (No, not nicknamed after the company.) and JK. As I arrived, Jude bid us all farewell and left us to it. The other criteria for the day, was we all had to have at least one pint of Ruddles best bitter and one pint of Doom Bar. Doom Bar used to be brewed in Cornwall by Sharp’s. It’s now brewed under licence in Burton-upon-Trent by Molson Coors, the same producer of Carling. It is then, seen as poison by the real ale drinking fraternity, and it’s avoided like the plague. (Not Covid. Although eventually the word ‘plague’ will be superseded by ‘covid’.) I decided to take the plunge and tick off a pint of Ruddles best bitter.

“The Square Peg.”

The Square Peg is widely regarded as the worst branch of Wetherspoons in the city. This is mainly to do with the clientele it attracts and the constant threat of violent incidents spoiling your drinking experience. Just after Taffy arrived and joined us, the bloke at the next table to us jumped up, tipped the table up and tipped a chair over for good measure too. All while still holding his pint. All respect to the member of staff who was confronting him though, as he stayed calm throughout. As the bloke was being walked out, he petulantly threw his pint at a wall for affect. Apparently, the bloke had been repeatedly banned from the premises but had managed to sneak in and get served. Due to the incident’s timing coinciding with Taffy’s arrival, we of course, alluded to him having said something to upset the bloke. As Ian said, we’d had the full ‘Wetherspoons experience’ and it wasn’t even 11 o’clock in the morning. To tick it off, Ian had ‘treated’ himself to a pint of Doom Bar. It was that cloudy, you couldn’t even see daylight shining through it when held up towards the nearby window. Taff had looked on his phone at the beer list for The Briar Rose, our next on the itinerary. Seeing as there was one from my favourite Welsh brewery on it, I was never going to pass it up for a pint of Doom Bar.

“The Briar Rose.”

So after having Ruddles best bitter in the Peg, I apologised to my taste buds with a pint from Purple Moose. A brewery in Porthmadog. I very rarely see a beer from the place, but whenever I do, I just have to have it. Their beer is excellent. It was in here that Ian announced that he was treating his extremely long suffering wife Caron to a meal on Valentines day. Astounded, we jumped to the conclusion that there was an ulterior motive, and given a bit of pressing, he’d reveal the real reason for the deception. After protestations, he caved in and told us what he was after. His reputation for past philandering, is never going to be shaken off, never mind how much he says “I’m not like that anymore.” We know him better, and while there’s breath in his body, there’ll be a glint in his eye. His wandering eye will always wander and as one of life’s natural flirts, he’ll never change. I know, because I’m cut from the same cloth. From the Briar Rose, we caught the tram from just outside New Street station the short distance to Broad Street. Getting off, the Figure Of Eight was first.

“The Figure Of Eight.”

Spoons used to manage the Figure Of Eight. (No, he isn’t nicknamed because of it. How many more times?) He regaled us with a story about when the glass washing machine broke down, and all he did was roll his sleeves up and stand there all night washing glasses. He could of course, got one of the staff to do it, but that’s Spoons for you. He never makes a drama out of anything, and just gets on with it. While we were in there. Steve and Paul landed. For Steve it was the first time we’d seen him since his operation, and he’d got his left arm in plaster. That’s both his arms done now, so he should be good for another 300 years. Us being such a concerning lot, maintained he’d worn it out whilst self indulging. He does wear specs, and as you should all know the old wife’s tale about it making you go blind, it is possible. The fact that he’s now in his 70s, has nothing to do with it. After having a thankfully clear, pint of Doom Bar in the Figure Of Eight, we walked to the other Wetherspoons branch on Broad Street.

“The Solomon Cutler….and Steve and Jinksy.”

With it still being January, Jinksy’s still off the beer. It means he doesn’t come out as early as usual, and the Solomon was to be where he landed.

“I think I’d rather drink cloudy Doom Bar.”

He does the ‘dry January’ detox every year. He reckons he feels better for it. The rest of us are just happier once he’s completed it. I’m not saying he gets cranky towards the end of it, but……. Personally, I’d rather be unhealthy and happy, than healthy and miserable, but everyone’s different. For me, the body is just a vehicle for the thing in between the ears. The brain is the most precious thing we possess. Healthy body, healthy mind? Nope. We do not use our brains to anywhere near its capability. What we could achieve as a species if we were to actually use even half its capacity, would change the whole world beyond all recognition, but instead, we focus on the body that holds it. It’s the equivalent of valeting a car until it sparkles, whilst totally ignoring the engine. As far as I’m concerned, as long as the engine is purring, who cares about the dents and the rust. Every year, each of us ale trailers draw up a list of celebrities who we think might breathe their last in that year. Up until this year, Paul Mason had been running it. This year, Jinksy has taken over the running of it. Yes I know it sounds macabre, but it really is just a bit of fun. Not for the celebrities who die obviously, but the odds of even meeting someone connected to any you’ll have on your list will be long, but to meet the celebrity themselves, is rarer than hitching a lift on Halley’s comet. Being that disconnected does make you a tad anaesthetised. Yes, celebrities are still human beings, but they’re 2D. You only ever see them in the newspapers, and magazines, on your television screens, on your phones and computers. They’re real people, but not real to you. Talking of phones and computers, and linking them to someone who hasn’t got either, Spoons has decided to enter this year. He ran up his list there and then in the pub. No deep research, it was just off the top of his head. I’d researched mine, and yet he’ll still probably beat me. I could choose someone who was having the last rights read them on their death bed, and they’d then make a full recovery. After the Solomon Cutler, it was back on the tram, and back to the station. We could’ve walked, it was that short a distance, but it just added to the occasion. It was to the newest addition, and possibly my favourite. More for its location than anything else mind.

“The London and North Western”

No, that’s not a redundant Father Christmas in the photo, it’s Rich. He was picking up Daryl’s season ticket as Daryl was over in Belfast. His intention had been to watch Linfield at Windsor Park, but there was to be a delay to his plane and he would completely miss the game. Daryl was not to be a happy bunny. The newest in the Brummie portfolio of Wetherspoons was extremely busy, but then given it’s positioning in the busiest railway station outside London, that was no surprise. After The London and North Western, we completed the city centre set with The Dragon Inn. Stuck on the edge of both the Chinese and Gay quarters, it’s not that good. A bit grotty, I can see it getting jettisoned from the Wetherspoons portfolio. One thing with the brand. They will move to try and turn a place round, but if it doesn’t improve, then it’s curtains. The brand hasn’t become successful through being sentimental. It is though, formulated for a reason. It works, and works well. Love em or loathe em, Wetherspoons is here to stay.

“The Dragon Inn”

Miraculously, we’d still got time for a half in the Spotted Dog before the game. Or so I thought. After leaving there for the walk up the hill to the ground, I saw Rob from the Roost. I didn’t need much persuading to join him in Dead Wax for a half. Dead Wax is one of those ‘hip’ places I don’t bother with anymore. It used to be the Wagon and Horses for many years and was a pre/post match haunt for a lot of the home support. Intrigued and not too bothered about missing kickoff I went in. Even less bothered about the game than I was, I left Rob in there. Blues were already 1:0 down.

Finding the turnstiles I usually use shut because of how late I was, I scooted to the turnstiles near the George. Getting in, I saw that Blues were now 2:0 down. I began to think that Rob had got the right idea. There’s rumours that when (If) the repairs to the ground are completed, the bottom tier of the Tilton will be safe standing. If, and as I don’t actually believe that the ground will ever get repaired, that happens, I will swap my season ticket for one in the standing section. Regardless of how good or bad we are on the pitch. Regardless of what’s happening at the boardroom level, the atmosphere at St Andrews is worse than awful. St Andrews used to be one of the most raucous, boisterous, intimidating atmospheres in the country. These days, you could read a book and not realise a game was going on. I like the people who sit round me, but I’m finding that I dread going to home games, because the lack of atmosphere is so depressing, and there was even a protest at this game. Several fans unfurled a banner in front of the executive seats. Personally, now realising that what happens at the club doesn’t matter to the owners who are never in England, let alone the ground, I feel it’s futile. The equivalent of bailing out the Titanic with a thimble. Barking up the wrong tree? We’re not even in the right forest. There was a crowd of 16,608 at this game. Nowhere near the reduced capacity the ground has. Even the biggest crowd we’ve had since they reduced the capacity, still wasn’t a sellout. Season ticket sales have dropped dramatically, so why would the owners dig into their funds to complete the repairs? Maybe had the team won away at Blackpool, got 3 or at least a point at Burnley, and had been able to carry on that momentum all the way to the playoffs and into the Premier League, then not only would’ve the disenfranchised fans bought season tickets again, capacity reached with new ones and maybe even a waiting list again like after the Norwich final in 2002, but it didn’t happen. With the drop of form and a points total becoming more and more stagnant as winter turns to spring, yet another season in the Championship is the best we can look forward to, and I can only see another big drop in season ticket sales. The malaise will just carry on. If the club was the family pet, then you’d seriously consider taking it to the vet to have it put out of its misery. Blues did pull one back, but it was too little, too late. Rob had definitely been right to stay in the pub.

Yet another defeat, I just couldn’t be bothered to go back to the pub, and headed back home.

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