Or:The longest pre-match session of the season
Unlike many fans in our Division I look forward to a game at Milton Keynes. Regular readers will know I lived there for many years and relish spending a few days with old friends and seeing how things have changed since I was last there. The disappointment of the game being in midweek was tempered by my old mate Ray offering a place to stay for a few days. This pre-match session was 16 hours long and combined a chance to catch up with return visits to pubs long unvisited.
Ray of the high Commotion
I arrived at lunchtime and after a quick check that the old boy was fit enough to walk between pubs we set out for Stony Stratford. Ray is seriously old but remarkably able to move when a beer or two is available. The number 6 bus was our conversation room as he went through his recent international football tours (Ray likes to take in Spanish Second Division football).
Pre match Pubs
Fox and Hounds Stony Stratford.
This is our usual starting point when we stroll through Stony. This is the best town within Milton Keynes. The pub has two separate rooms, a wide range of real ales from national lists, a Northants Skittles table and is well known for occasional folk music. The Purity Mad Goose (7) was the obvious, and taken, option as we mapped out our plan. We had an outrider checking out the opening of a new craft bar in Central Milton Keynes and a visit there was one option still to be discounted.
This is a famous real ale bar, of late, rarely recognised by CAMRA. The Bass here (7) is legendary and well sampled. Tim, an old teacher mate, wasn’t there so our usual chat wasn’t on for this day. We settled to tales of visits to country pubs from the Vic where Ray would organise coach trips and an itinerary. As he was in full flow it was more of a case of my sitting back and feeding the lines for him to let it all out again.
Old George Hotel
Great Oakley Gobble (6) was one of three on offer in what is by historic reputation, the oldest and most expensive pub in the town. Now it was my turn to recall late night beers here. It had hotel status when pubs closed at 10.30 so it always offered that option of an extra one or two to this desperate pub crawler of the 80s.
I was now boring Ray so it was good that an old friend wandered in to the bar. We were sat at a window seat so saw him walking towards the pub door and in true Cheers style, as if were Norm, we let loose with “’arry”. He hadn’t seen or heard us so we let out another shout of “’arry ‘arrison”. No reply, perhaps it wasn’t him? We asked the lady with him if it was ‘arry? “No” she said “his name is Dave”. He was getting in the beers and still oblivious to our curiosity. “We’re so sorry, we thought it was our old mate ‘arry ‘arrison”. “That’s funny” she said. “His surname is Harrison”. With that he turned up to join her and a small bit of his past was exposed in full glory to his prospective third wife. ‘arry ‘arrison was a Charlton fan but now, like so many local football fans has taken up the watching of Dons. I did suggest he didn’t need to change his name just because he had given up on the Addicks. He was out with his prospective wife (no. 3?) and she was up for a disappointing time while we were chatting of past exploits and new ones to be sorted. We rescued what could have been a disaster for ‘arry when he mentioned they were staying in Bath for the return fixture in a few weeks. The final plan was to meet again in Bristol on the 18th of November by which time DAVE could fill her in with what she really needed to know about these two old boys from his murky past.
It was time for a taxi to Bradwell Village.
Victoria Inn Bradwell
Ray is the person responsible for ordering the beer for this well-loved village local. He had been in touch with XT brewery and we had three numbers from which to choose. My choice over the next few hours was a Numbers 6 (7) and 15 (8). We are guaranteed old mates as company and first to get going was our scout for the day. Andy (Fulham fan and Weatherspoon ticker) had been in the City Centre and was back with his beer and pub report. The Draft House had opened that lunchtime. It had no real ale, this will apparently come later. Where have we heard that before? The cheapest beer weighed in at £4.80 for a 3.8% keg. Most were over 5% and £5. Andy was not happy. He strolled to the alternative “festival pub” only to find the usual response of “you can’t have those beers Sir until we have sold those”. He was not impressed to find the usual staples with the famous not even turned round pump clips. His research had saved us from similar disappointment tomorrow and for that we were grateful.
We were then joined by Shane and Debbie. These two are regular fans of the Dons and go with Ray to home games and decent away trips. So it was that the numbers for the November the 18th game were swelled as we did a full tourist information job on Bristol and the virtues of a weekend away. To be honest it didn’t take much to persuade them. It was just a question of balance between pubs and sight-seeing opportunities.
It was getting past Ray’s point of no return so we decided to order the usual take away and get back to sleep in front of the Liverpool – Man Utd. bore fest. We awoke sufficiently to have our usual political fallout. I blame his northern upbringing, he my southern softie attitude. Call me what you like but I would rather be a caring softie than a hard-nosed daily mail apologist. (Don’t worry he won’t read this, no one does).
As we had to change our plan for the day we needed time to sit and plan. I decided we should invest in a Super Sausage. This biker’s café on the A5 towards Towcester is a café of severely serious reputation. It never fails to deliver. The full English comes in three descriptions and I went for the middle of the road “double” option. This is a good “30 minutes to eat”, two of everything, feast. The lightweight Northerner went one lower in reputational scale. I should have broken my rule and taken pictures of the food. No, forget that, you should put that thought away Stedders. Just take it from me that both meals were large and perfect for the day ahead.
We thought about a pub crawl of Bletchley, looked up the reviews and quickly retreated from that idea. I suggested we take advantage of the car before lunch, have a little siesta and then head by train to Fenny Stratford and then on to the game. As always I had my way.
The Navigation at Cosgrove
This pub opens at 8 but thankfully we had a better breakfast option. The pub has had a lot of money spent on an excellent refurbishment. The consequence for the person who wants a pint (London Pride 5) however, is that the best tables, with Grand Union Canal view, are permanently laid up for food. Drinkers are hidden away near the toilets and the bar with a view of the staff scurrying to and from the kitchen. The alternative, not for this day, was to sit by the canal in the tarted-up garden. I left disappointed. The dining classes of MK will love this place as the food awards testify.
We took a country lane route to:-
The Boat Stoke Bruerne
This is another classic canal side pub but it does have a more practical and welcoming aspect to beer drinkers. Barges tie up at the pub door. We settled to tables near the pub supply shop. We felt the hot breath of customers who arrived and saw us in their preferred best spot and the vacuum created by our departure was one of Rolls Royce wind tunnel proportions. The Marston’s Dark IPA scored a (6) but lost a point for the oxymoronic clash of Black and India PALE ale.
We retired for our snooze and time enough to rush off the Telegraph Crossword. I have given up reading it since I no longer care to know what the Tories are up to. It was a surprisingly easy so after just 20 minutes I was likely to be involved in round two of the discussion of last night. My solution? “Let’s get the train to Fenny”. Normally we would take the bus or taxi but the little hop from Bletchley to Fenny Stratford would, I know, be of curious ticking attraction to Ray.
No. 6 Bus Train to Bletchley change for train to Fenny Stratford.
We were on a scouting mission for Ronnie and Bob and any others who might care to join us later. We took the hit for the team with a mightily dull first hour
Bull and Butcher
The beer, Marston’s Wychwood Hobgoblin (7) was good. The obvious refurbishment looked good and contrasted with my long memory of this old ABC pub. The rag ruts running around the back room were not good. The landlady was insistent that their own dog shouldn’t go in the restaurant area. I wish she had applied this to her children who bellowed and whined for the 20 minute duration of our beer.
Our heads ventured around the doors of the other pubs.
Maltsters Arms – it advertised an excellent real ale at £2.50 a pint. Doom Bar? No thanks.
Swan – Two pumps in a state of semi dismantlement. The universal sign of pulling an imaginary hand pump produced an oh-so-universal shrug of a shoulder by the landlady and giggles from the customers who had no doubt seen it so many times before.
Chequers- The biggest disappointment of all. Closed on first approach. No real ale on the second. This has recently been the Milton Keynes outlet for Vale brewery. Not now.
By now we knew that the chaps were nearing their hotel in Fenny and we texted to confirm they should go to the Red Lion.
The Junior division
We had been beaten to the pub by quite a gathering of the younger pub visiting Gaheads. A table of six may well have been reading my posts because they said they knew I would be in. Indeed it was good to chat with them about the beer pub and football aspect. My choice was based on catching up with Guy the Landlord. In his usual witty style, when introduced to my mates and asked what I taught, he responded with “badly.” The numbers were growing. We were joined by Lord Powell who had arrived by bus, walked around Fenny and reported to us that there wasn’t much else to visit. Our gang was in the snug. The younger chaps were in the main bar and pool table area. It was a pretty friendly early evening session and we made it a one pub stop. The beers were Bath ales Barnsey (5) and Wadworth Horizon (7). The taxi was sorted for 7 and arrived on time. By 20 past we were queuing for a non-existent pasty at the food less outlet in the ground.
Milton Keynes Dons 3 Bristol Rovers 3 Attendance: 8,366 (1.008 Gasheads)
It has been a long time since we all could agree on a first half performance. It was shockingly poor and Rovers were lucky to be just two down. The midfield were overrun to such an extent that at times Matty Taylor was playing as an extras left back. Tactically they played the wide areas really well and stretched our team on what appeared to be an increasingly large pitch. Half time was somewhat bizarre. Not so much meeting with old school teacher friend Rob Angell. Nor old school mate Martin Wislon with his wife. We agreed that the one thing that shouldn’t be discounted is that this Rovers will get better in the second half. No, it was looking up from my hand washing space in the extra palatial loos to find myself next to the chairman of the club. He was being surround by well-wishing Gasheads. It was not the obvious place for a hand shaking session so I left them to it.
Things did improve with an instant Taylor shot and goal. MK were still the better team and went 3-1 up from another bit of mazy wide play and shot. They then went in to assassin mode. They stopped playing and decided, it appeared, that they could do the league a favour by getting a few players sent off. The ref went into comedy mode as well. What followed was 20 minutes of slapstick that was anything but funny. Dives were mistimed by players to such an extent that there was daylight between said assailant and assaulted diver. The linesman joined in by giving goal kicks when the ball barely crossed the six yard box line. The screams of the MK players could be heard all over the stadium as some mysterious shot gun was fired from empty strands and players fell to the ground with pitiful regularity. And to cap it all Lewington decided to try and finish off the Beard with some play acting worthy of an old pantomime dame. For all his over enthusiastic play, the one thing to really commend Stuart Sinclair is his refusal to retaliate. In doing so he made Mr Lewington look like a “very silly boy.”
We just knew they would come back. Two goals in the last 10, of course. A winner? No that was too much to ask and would have been undeserved. We didn’t play well but this result was a prime example of how a team can have everything going for them and lose the plot. MK got everything they deserved. One mention of the Chelsea youngsters. Colkett made a difference especially in setting up the second goal. Clarke – Salter looked a bit lost at times but has some neat and calm heading ability.
Rovers Rating /10
Roos 4, Roberts 4, Lockyer 5, Clarke – Salter 4, Brown 4, Sinclair 6, O. Clarke 5, Lines 6, Bodin 4, Harrison 6, Taylor 7, Subs, Montano 7 Colkett 7 Gaffney 6
Man of the Match: Taylor
I wasn’t particularly happy of the thought of meeting up with Ray. Surely he would be in a foul mood? Not at all. He has become resigned to the ineptitude of the manager and his excuses for their poor discipline. We had time for a quick beer in his bar. The Red Zone offered bottled options. The four of us were staying in Mk and had no need to rush. The chaps then committed the sin of dividing their attentions away from the bar to the results on the big screen. Three London Prides were ordered individually and at considerable intervals and I didn’t have the heart to ask the steward to go back and get a fourth from the same fridge. The beer of my choice will for now remain a mystery. It provoked a photo opportunity for Ronnie but as a leading engineer at the cutting edge of the Aerospace Industry he hasn’t yet mastered past and send an attachment of s.m.s. and a mystery it will remain
Best Beer: XT 15 in the Victorian Inn Bradwell
Best Pub: Victoria
Beer choice 4 (out of 5) 3
Beer Quality (average score of beers chosen, out of 5) 4
Staff and service 5 (Out of 5) 4
Total 11 out of 15
Next up: Oldham Away Saturday 22nd October