After getting passed the vegan carrot munchers in the last round, we had our fingers, toes and everything else we could cross, crossed for a good draw. It wasn’t to be, we were given the equivalent of a pair of socks at Christmas. Blackburn away. I’m not saying Blackburn is the worst for real ale, but it’s definitely in the bottom one. In fact, the only ones of us ale trailers that could be bothered to make the trip up there for the league game, were Steve and JK. They had though, made an excursion to Darwen and had come back enthused. Not only with Darwen, but with how accessible the buses had been between Darwen, Ewood Park and Blackburn Station. It became then, a much more an attractive proposition. With only a tenner for match tickets, it only enhanced the appeal. (More of that later if you’re still awake with reading this coma inducing rubbish.) I met up with the usuals but without Steve and Jinksy. Instead, Malc and Rich made an extremely rare appearance. The train up to Manchester was packed with Blues heading to East Lancashire, and after a statement issued by the club informing the media that someone was ‘in talks’ with Vong Pech with regards selling his shares in both the club and sole ownership of the ground, the atmosphere was a fairly positive one. After the collapse of Maxco, and the proposed staged takeover, there was though, reservations amongst us all. Something of course, is better than nothing, but however way you look at the deal, it screams flimsy at best and downright lunacy at the worst. They say it’s the hope that kills you. Well as I feel hope is a ridiculous thing to cling on to, I’ll just look on with interest, but without any belief whatsoever that the deal will be completed. That’s not because I’m a pessimist by nature, but because the web of control that holds Blues has been spun so tightly that it’s impenetrable. The person or people with true intentions of wrestling control of Blues, need to be extremely rich, extremely patient and also, completely insane. However way you look at it, it’s the equivalent of digging a 12 foot deep hole, throwing all your money in it, and then seeing it buried in concrete by someone in a JCB, while a faceless, suited team of lawyers hand you a teaspoon to get it back out with again. I have no doubt that there are many potential investors out there that are looking on with interest, but that’s all it is. Rich people don’t become truly wealthy by being stupid with money. They retain and increase it by being thrifty. The ownership situation will resolve itself eventually, but when and how, is anyone’s guess. During the week, the RMT had held a rally at Horton’s. Ian was obviously in attendance, and was full of praise for the place. I’ve only ever been in there once, so I might take another visit in there. The upshot of the rally, was that he didn’t feel there was going to be any further strikes until mid March. Both Watford and QPR away games are mid March, and Watford is a night game, so I’ll not lose any sleep over it. Drinking in London isn’t a problem, but QPR is the worst away ground in the division by far, due to the way it’s policed and stewarded. Coupled with the layout, access and facilities of the stand itself, it makes for a horrible experience. After touching down at Piccadilly, and with Malc and Rich heading off to do their own thing, Steve and his nephew Joe were waiting for us. I like Joe, and it had been a while since I’d last seen him. It would add to the day. Before heading to Darwen, and with it still being early, we went in the Wetherspoons off Piccadilly Gardens. It’s actually called the Manchester and County, but nobody really knows it as that. It is though, renowned for serving beer in plastic beakers on a match day just as a precaution. After there, we moved on down to the Arndale centre and the micro pub in there.
“An unknown gem of a place”
Although restricted to the centre’s opening times, I love the place. I haven’t yet, and we hadn’t the time this visit either, but you’re welcome to buy food from the myriad of eateries in the centre, to have while you drink your beer. I only wish we had something like this in Brum. I’d be a regular in there for a home game. I don’t specifically know how we got onto the subject, but me and Joe chatted about politics. It surprised me to learn he’s a Tory, but a disillusioned one. Probably as disillusioned as I am with Labour. Us Minions are getting more and more squashed, and ignored. We then migrated down to Victoria and got the train to Darwen. Nothing is standard anymore. Each train franchise has its own ways of doing things and equipment to do it with. It makes for an interesting but sometimes frustrating time. Like Ian, I long for our country’s rail system to return back to British Rail. You knew where you stood because everywhere and everything was the same. All the network needed was proper investment. Not for foreign ownership to siphon money off our government to prop up their services. I’m digressing into politics again, but it’s difficult not to given the current climate. Apologies for it, but in mitigation, I did say this was coma inducing rubbish. It’s your own fault for reading it. There must’ve been something better you could be doing. Maybe watching cats doing stupid things on YouTube or Tiktok, or even rearranging your sock draw. Maybe even watching your cat rearranging your sock draw. Touching down in Darwen, the ‘Disco busses’ had already got there and the town’s Wetherspoons was doing a roaring trade.
“That was only a few of them”
After a quick chat with the Noonan’s outside the Spoons, I caught up with the rest again. The first on the short itinerary was Number 39. No, that’s not someone’s house, and it’s not some TV programme either. A micro pub that has bands on. Although I could imagine it being a bit squashed in there, I could also imagine it being a really good atmosphere too.
“I wouldn’t want to listen to that lot on the left making a racket though.”
I couldn’t pass a cake shop without taking a pic of this fellow below.
“Now if I could only get a superman outfit to fit me. Even if there is nothing sweet about me.”
From Number 39, we moved onto another micro pub called Bird in Th’hand, but not before passing another micro called Loom and Shuttle. Unfortunately, that one wasn’t due to open before 2 o’clock. Too late for even us to try and attempt before getting the bus to Ewood.
“Now that’s how to decorate spindles on a staircase”
Wigan away was discussed with it not only being the town’s annual beer festival, but it also being Spoons’ 50th birthday weekend. He’s got a lot planned for it. I never celebrate my birthday, never mind the important milestone ones. My 50th came and went without any drama, and whether I’ll reach 60, remains to be seen. To be honest, I’m not at all that bothered if I don’t get there. Life happens, make the most of what little you get. The last before the bus was the Darwen Tap, or as Ian informed us, Darren, as that’s the way it’s pronounced. He told of a kid he was at school with called Darren Dawen. Were his parents fans of Duran Duran? If the poor kid had grown up in Blackburn, then he’d have really had a good excuse for being a messed up adult.
After watching the Disco busses go passed, we drank up, crossed over to the stop right opposite the Tap, and travelled the short distance to the ground, on what is a surprisingly regular service.
Back to the £10 tickets. (See, I hadn’t forgotten.) There was a time long, long ago, when I was a kid, and televisions ran on steam, that the F.A.Cup was important. The final itself was that important that both the Beeb and ITV devoted their entire morning’s schedules to programmes dedicated to the final and the two teams competing in it. Oh, and it was a 3 o’clock kickoff on a Saturday too. Such is the self-styled importance of the Premier League, added and abetted by the hype falsely generated by Sky, the F.A.Cup has plummeted like a stone to a mere inconvenience. A blip on the fixture list that nobody is interested in. The anomaly in the equation is that the competition’s rules stipulate the number of tickets that have to be made available to the away club. Bizarrely, although nobody is bothered about attending a home game, the 3rd, 4th, 5th and even 6th rounds still attract a certain kind of ‘Cup fever’ Away ties become ‘must go to’ games. To entice a disinterested home support, cut price tickets are offered in the hope that they’ll attract a bigger crowd. However, because of the competition’s rules, the cut price tickets have to be offered in the away end too. It means that an already predicted big away support is swelled to a huge following. Obviously I couldn’t take photos of the away support, as I was in it, but I took some of the rest of the ground. Bearing in mind that the attendance for the league game was 14,902, the attendance for this game was 13,687. When I was a sprog, the F.A.Cup would’ve put at least an extra 2,000 on the gate of the average league attendance.
“So there were a few Blackburn fans there. Just not many”
Given that Blackburn have designs on gaining promotion to the Premier League gravy train, and Blues haven’t the biggest squad anyway, both sides made changes, but in our case, not many. In came the consistently unreliable Neil Etheridge, George (nobody’s) Friend and the unofficially retired Gardner Sister, Gary. Up front making his full debut was the on loan Reda Khadra in place of Scott Hogan. Khadra continued where he’d left off at Ashton Gate, and scored the opening goal. Had us ale trailers done the usual, and missed kickoff, we’d have probably missed Khadra’s goal too, as it was ridiculously early in the game. All we had to do was keep kicking it high up the back of the stand that had been closed, for the rest of the game, and we’d be in with the chance of getting something better than just a pair of socks in the draw. (No, not the rearranging of the sock draw I wrote about earlier.) However, that would’ve been a far too simple a task to complete. It’s Blues, nothing is that straight forward. The lead did last for half an hour before Blackburn equalised, but you could sense it coming. Not because the home team were showing why they deserve to be where they are in the league, it’s just the fragility of Blues at the moment. You could grab the next eleven blokes you meet, and they’d stand a good chance of beating Blues. It wouldn’t matter how old or young the blokes were, whether in a wheelchair or still in the pram, and you wouldn’t have to bother about a team talk and tactics. I’m not saying that Blues are that bad, more that they’re not that good. I could site reasons, but they’re increasingly becoming excuses. You can’t defend the indefensible, and Blues just can’t defend. Within a minute of the restart, any dreams of a trip to Wembley, or even being in the 5th round draw, were rapidly vanishing. It did look a good goal from where we were at the other end of the pitch, but I can count the times I’ve applauded a goal against Blues on the fingers of one hand, and still have every single one of them left. That’s not because I’m a bad sportsman, it’s just that I can’t gather up enough enthusiasm to clap. As the game was drawing to a finish, and the board was put up indicating how much time was going to be added on, I left to get the bus back to the station. As I was walking through the away carpark, a roar went up from inside the ground. My initial thought was typical, 3:1. However, one steward turned to the rest, and announced it was an equaliser for Blues. The others were already waiting at the bus stop, and they confirmed it. Jordan James had scored. It was bittersweet, but mainly sweet. We were in the draw, albeit still needing to win the replay.
The bus dumped us right outside the train station with just enough time for the train back to Manchester. Had I seen the goal, I’d have missed the bus, had I missed the bus, I’d have missed the train. Touching down back at Victoria, the idea was to go to the Angel. The Angel is one of my favourite pubs in Manchester…..well it was. Me and Daryl were first in there, and having one look along the bar at the many pumps without clips, we turned on our heels. The Angel was renowned for having an excellent and extensive range of ales. It appears those days are gone. Instead, we went in the Smithfield. A tap for the Blackjack brewery, it’s card only now. From there, we moved onto another pub that is rapidly moving on up in my estimation. Bar Fringe is my kind of pub. It’s got an eclectic, bohemian feel to it, and it attracts a mix of both young and old alike. The buzz in there is always a friendly and happy one. After sticking on a couple of tunes, on the old school Jukebox, a group of young girls (Well they were younger than us anyway. Mind you, that’s not actually saying much.) asked us our opinion on who we thought the various life sized cutouts represented. After much discussion between us all, we’d worked out who they all were. (That’s the cutouts, not the girls. We’re not that predatory…….honest.)
“Now that was skillful parking.)
I’m starting to become loathe to leave the place, so the pub must be good. Leave we did though. We did still need to get back to Piccadilly Station after all, but not before we took in the Port Street Beer House on the way. A little back street gem of a place. Another fantastic range of great ales in a wonderful environment, with a decor that shows the pubs sense of humour.
“Well worth seeking out.”
I love Manchester, and I never like leaving the place, but at least we had enough time to drop in the Piccadilly Tap before the train. It was in the Tap where we caught up with Jinksy and Nat. Limiting myself to just a half, I wanted to give myself enough time to go and get something to eat for the train back to Brum. Catching back up with the rest, we converged on Rob from the Roost, on the train home. Rob’s an old scooter mate of Ian’s, although they both admit to being too old to get on the back of one these days. In fairness to Ian, his confidence has been depleted somewhat since he had a bad accident on one. We’d actually been talking about it as we were on the train down to Bristol from Gloucester. With psychotherapy, he would be ok, and he knows that, but the desire has to be a lot greater than it is now. Never say never though. Back in Brum, me, JK, Jinksy and a Rangers mate of his from Tamworth, went in the Post Office Vaults. A perfect way to end the day.
Footnote:- Because of both Blues’ and Blackburn’s league games being moved for Sky coverage, the replay was brought forward from the usual 10 days, to just 3 days after the original tie. Even that was a blast from the past. With the winners facing Leicester away in a seemingly now customary midweek 5th round schedule, Blues went out to a solitary extra time goal. I can’t say I was disappointed. More of a book token than a pair of socks, but still meh.