Sheffield United Away: 27.9.16

Or: A day of ego-boosting Social Media

The Journey

We had a prompt 12.29 departure from the agreed bus stop outside the centre of the U.K. Hi- Tech Industry. Ronnie and Bob were in good spirits. No doubt the works canteen had been in good order and from the stationary cupboard they had requisitioned pencils sharpened to perfection. Ronnie then told us his new car. He has bought a boy racer, furry dice draped, ghetto blaster enhanced, souped–up to sport setting, hyper sensitively clutched, BLUE Ford Fiesta. It has so many new gizmos and gubbins that it took the time for us to get to Gloucester on the M5 before he finished his description. We spent the rest of the journey looking out for examples of his pulling machine on the motorway. When we couldn’t find any we had to agree he had chosen a mighty fine car, so rare and specialised that we should perhaps go to a game in it. He then told us of the bucket seats and low slung roof rendering the likelihood of my getting in as good but of my chance of getting out virtually non-existent. I now suggested we couldn’t find examples of his car because most were conveniently parked up awaiting a ritual burning on every sink estate in the country. Harsh I know, but I was hurt.

This morning I had finished and posted a blog for 1988. This retold days of teaching in Milton Keynes. Every so often a comment would come through on my phone so by the time we reached our Tamworth coffee stop I had to have a Social Media check. I should point out that we arrived just as the Rovers team were heading back to their coach minus Rory Gaffney. He had been trapped by Ronnie in the toilet and enlightened by tales of Blue Fiestas and soft top alternatives. He emerged rather bemused to also find the lads gone. I made the last bit up but I was still smarting.

We arrived by 4.15 and I did a few circuits of Heeley to find the best parking spot for a quick getaway after the game, i.e. just outside our first pub.

Pre match Pubs

Sheaf View (10)

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In the Sheaf View

This is a classic pub of the Real Ale Revolution. It offers a wide range of local brews plus interesting swapped beers from further afield. The pub has expanded a bit and now has more space and a lighter feel to the rooms. We ventured out towards the back and sat in what is a conservatory like room with views out to the patio and train line beyond. Among the 9 beers on offer was one marked at 3%. I normally shun these but the barman helpfully offered the required sample along with his recommendation that it was pretty good. So it was pretty good. This meant the others could sit and enjoy a few while I practiced being Mr Sippy for a change. By this time we had established that Ron had deliberately left his phone in the car and that the others in the usual crowd could not be contacted, nor would they contact me. They seem now to know not to phone me when I am driving to a game. The Lord, Geoff, Tangent Tim and Paul would be coming from Leeds by train and obviously drinking in the city centre.

By now some ex pupils had commented rather positively to my blog on Facebook. I felt I should keep this to myself as the comments were rather glowing and I might look a bit big headed should I show them to my mates. I sat, strangely contented, smiling to myself while supping, very slowly, a 3% Redemption Trinity Ale. Sad or what? I was happy in my own little bubble for a few minutes. Reality soon returned and we decided to move on down the hill.

White Lion (11)

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In the White Lion

The White Lion has improved massively since my last visit. That was during its difficult times when its future was rather uncertain. Now the pub has an impressive beer range and has benefited by a refurbishment that promotes its finer features. One such aspect is the small snug that we used for our chat and sup. We soon found that where we sat was important. In this case we had arranged ourselves around a table used as part of a Blade group’s pre-match ritual. They were keen to let us know we were sitting in their seat but we were in happy mode and saw it as an invitation to talk with them rather than move somewhere else. All was fine, we were in Real ale and Football land when travelling fans are welcomed in the true spirit of beer drinking and fandom. Ron and Bob ventured that the extra atmosphere generated by our happy conversation meant this one just tipped the Sheaf View for best pub so marks were duly allocated to reflect that assertion. Few could recollect the last time we played each other in Sheffield. The late eighties? In fact 1988. Spooky or what? Again a notification message flashed on my phone with tales of my teaching systems theory in 1988 by a bogey analogy. I couldn’t hold it any longer and shared the post with the others. I opened myself to ridicule from them but no, all was sweetness and light, as they imagined days of me in elbow padded jackets and chalk dusted rooms.

It was now 7.10 and we had a brisk 10 -15 minute walk to the ground.

The Match

Sheffield United 1 Bristol Rovers 0 Attendance: 19,196 (833 Gasheads)

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Gashead to the right of me

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Gasheads to the left

There was a fine upper tier view for our travelling band. Unfortunately our usual groups were difficult to locate. No doubt our City friends who went to Sheffield a few weeks ago to watch at Wednesday wouldn’t have that problem but we took significantly more on a Tuesday night and this created its own issues. Not that we should compare such things but big club, no fans, springs to mind.  We dominated the first half hour. Then they sat back a bit and lost some control. It was regained and we carved out the best chances (Easter, set up by a deft short pass from Harrison somehow put it wide). We had debated in the pub about the problems of putting an undoubtedly good but new and very young centre half in to a team. Ronnie thought their goal was down to ill thought out substitutions. I, alternatively, thought that it was a case of a new player, only meeting up with team mates the day before, not being sufficiently trained in the way we do things. This left Chris Lines of all people to get a crucial defensive header. We all know that that scenario has only one end result and sure enough the Lines quiff was duly parted and Chapman nodded home. Immediately from the kick off Easter completed his 15 minutes of inadequacy and we were down to 10 men. We had more chances, but so too did United. In the final minutes, in the very far distance, the ball bobbled around, hit hands, smacked into defending dives and was cleared off the line, so a draw eluded a deserving Rovers team. They left to a standing ovation. There was not a hint of patronising comment from Blades walking to their cars. They had been outplayed for much of the game. We commented on a Wilder job done well and to get used to his cheating diving, abrasive style of football. Talking of which we are off to Northampton next week. Oh the joy!

Match Entertainment: 4

Sometimes the best team loses a game.

Rovers Ratings /10

Roos 7, Lockyer 8, J. Clarke 7, Clarke-Salter 7, Brown 6, Leadbitter 7, O. Clarke 8, Boateng 6 Lines 7, Harrison 8, Easter 6. Subs Bodin 5, James 4, Moore 6

Man of the Match: Ollie Clarke

Best Beer: Redemption Trinity in the Sheaf View

Best Pub: White Lion

Score

Beer choice 4 (out of 5)

Beer Quality 3 (average score of beers chosen, out of 5)

Staff and service 5 (Out of 5)

Total 12 out of 15

The scores are reported as I wasn’t drinking alcohol but was in the pub.

The Journey Home

I have a beef. I know this may surprise you but we all agreed in the car over this one. As the M1 was roadwork heavy I decided that the best route home would be A38, M6N, M5.M4, and M32. A quick check on google maps, all traffic was clear. We made good time to Birmingham’s Gravelly Hill arriving at 12 ish. A diversion said the slip road was closed. No problem, follow the yellow signs and we would be on the M5 in no time. The yellow signs soon stopped appearing. We went back to the Aston Expressway. As we ventured around the slip road we noticed the sign “M6 Junctions 7 to 10 closed, Expect Long Delays”. We were on the slip road, there was no alternative route. This was our first indication of a problem. We got to Junction 7 around 1.30 in the morning. The air was bluer than blue. Why could they not have told us earlier? Why close a road at a junction with only one alternative when the country’s most complex, and therefore most alternative offering, junction was the very one that gave us the first hint of a problem. I got home, after dropping the others at their respective homes, at 3.20. I was however, still smiling at the Facebook ego massage.

Cheers Nikki and Arfur.

Next up: Northampton Away Saturday 1st October

Port Vale Home: 24th Sept 2016

Port Vale Home: Saturday 24th September 2016

Or: Micro Pubs and mini lists.

The Journey

Ron had a plan for us all. He and Bob would meet for breakfast at the Knights Templar Wetherspoons. They would then travel by local train to Clifton Down Station. I would arrive from Severn Beach at the same time coming from the other direction. We would then spend half an hour in the pub before going on to the first of the two micro pubs in Bristol. It seemed not to matter that I now tend to get the bus in to town or that Bob would spend most of his morning wandering from bus stop to station and onwards. Or that Bristol City fans would be leaving for London while they thought of having their quite breakfast in the pub. Nevertheless we duly met at 11.25 at Clifton Down Station. Ron was like an excited schoolboy having used a local train. “It was just like an away trip without the away bit” proclaimed our Coventry friend.

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Swindon Town Away: Or the power of soup in a flask

Swindon Town Away

Tuesday 20th September 2016

The Journey

The day was a rare one where I could get some County Cricket in to a match day. Gloucestershire were playing Sussex and, as only they appear to do at this time of the year, playing as if the season had finished last week. They had recovered a bit (from 68 for 6 to 143 for 7) when I left at the tea interval. Of course once I did leave they rallied and the final session saw a hundred run partnership. It was an odd that feeling as I left several Gasheads behind at the game.

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143 for flipping 7

They stayed becaise they were part of the boycott of this particular match. You may not know the details so I will explain the events leading to this action. A few weeks ago we played the Swindon away game. In fact we saw 61 minutes of the game before a thunderstorm forced an abandonment. Unlike the events of Wycombe a few years earlier, no one was particularly surprised by the abandonment. The pitch flooded as we watched the rain come down. No doubt it would be dry by the time we got home nut the pitch was unplayable when we trudged back to the car. We had the following message ringing in our ears. They said clearly ”HOLD ON TO YOUR TIOCKETS AS THEY WILL BE NEEDED FOR ANY CLAIMS FOR A NEW TICKET OR REFUNDS.” We had seen 60 minutes of play for our £25 ticket. The poor unfortunates on the uncovered terrace paid £19 to be drenched in an open air power shower.

New tickets became available but only for £25 in the stand. No reduction, no compensation, no chance of a refund for the missing 30 minutes of football. The chairman of Swindon nailed his colours to the money grabbing flag of arrogance and expected all away fans, and more bewilderingly, all non-season ticket holding Swindon fans to pay full price. I sort of expected having to pay say £15 or so for the rematch or have an option to watch for a reduced amount on the open seated terrace only. I wouldn’t boycott the game myself. I resolved to go and make sure I spent not a penny more at the game. I took a flask of soup with me so that I wouldn’t need my normal match day catering. I ignored the glossy new programme at £3 and reckon I saved my £10 in doing so.

On the subject of boycotting games. I didn’t go to the Checkertrade trophy game against Reading Boys. I was glad others also did so but I think the football fraternity has missed a trick here. We should be highlighting our objection to the academy teams playing in the league trophy. I think we should be encouraged to go to the normal games between league clubs. If Rovers were to offer £5 tickets for the games we should stack the ground out. For the academy game the club should charge £25 a ticket and hardly anyone would turn up. It would then be blatantly obvious that the feeling was anti the academies rather than the competition itself. At the moment the League can argue that all attendances are down bur not significantly less for the academy games when compared to games between league clubs.

I picked up Bob bang on time at 4. You know what is coming here. Ronnie strolled up five minutes late and so we had to do a bit of car parking adjustments and move on just as he reached for the door to get in. My how we chuckled to ourselves as he ran the extra ten yards, then ten yards more.

Pre match Pubs

The plan was to get to a pub for 5 and the game by 7.15. I dropped them off near the Weighbridge at 5.20 with full instructions of how to get to the Glue Pot and then on to the ground. I moved on to the cricket club next to the ground. I checked where the £5 fee went. The cricket club benefited from the charge so I also took to the bar and downed a coke. The bar in the Cricket Club pavilion does a pint of Arkells on super craft style so I didn’t miss out.

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The view from the not so far pavilion

When the boys turned up to the game they reported that the Weighbridge had some impressive beers brewed on site making it one for the future. The Glue Pot was as it always is. Good but on this occasion just o.k.

The Match

Swindon Town 1 Bristol Rovers 2 Attendance: 6,760 (approx. 400 – 500 Gasheads)

Roos 8, Leadbitter 7, Lockyer 7, Clarke J  5, Brown 6,  Clarke O 8 , Bodin 5, Sinclair 6, Lines 7, Taylor 6. Gaffney 5 Subs Colkett 6, Easter 8, Harrison 6

Entertainment Value 3

Man of the Match: Ollie Clarke

Apart from the first 15 minutes this was the complete away performance. Swindon were reduced to trying to buy free kicks in and around the penalty area. We played a midfield that had Lines and Ollie Clarke sitting fairly deep and Sinclair and Bodin working behind and wide of the front two. Ollie Clarke had one of those games that show his real value to the team. He set Lines off on runs in space. He filled in the gaps when wide players went forward. He tracked runners deep into our defensive corners and timed late runs in to the penalty area when space became available. He isn’t quick or particularly creative but tonight he barely misplaced a pass.

Jermaine Easter also made a significant improvement when he came on for the last 30 minutes. He too rarely lost the ball in close spaces. He won the penalty and drifted into areas that Bodin didn’t even see in his time on the pitch.

Our watching team was pretty limited. Of the usual crowd only we three, Marc the Putt and Peter de Meteor made the game. The club obviously used the extra revenue well by drafting in far too many police than could possibly be needed. We noted vans from Hampshire, the Met and Wales alongside local Wilts and Avon and Somerset. Our 400 strong crew of mostly season ticket holders left by Rovers paid coaches and cars while they supervised non-existent riots in the town centre between the ground and station. What a total waste of our over spent money.

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Where the missing 1200 might have been.

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Space saved for our imaginary friends.

Post-Match pubs

None. I drove straight home. One consequence of leaving the chaps to themselves was that we had to get something to eat. They had taken beer at a Gastropub, and walked through a town centre, past dozens of outlets, yet neither had the gumption to take on some food in doing so. So it was that at 11 on the M4 home I had to turn the radio to full volume and mask the sounds of munching and chewing in my left ear. I had left my ear plugs in my coat pocket.

Next up: Port Vale Home Saturday 24th September

Bradford City Away: Saturday 17th September 2016

Bradford City Away: Saturday 17th September 2016

Or: A Birthday weekend stroll about town.

The Journey

Sunday was my 58th Birthday. Not a  greatly significant number but it did merit a weekend away. Rose and I hit the route north around 3 aiming to be in Bradford early evening and in the pub (Fighting Cock) before 8. Our route became a glorious tribute to the quality of routes available once you give up on motorways. So we visited the following towns:- Chepstow, Monmouth, Ross on Wye, Alcester, Stratford, Coventry before joining the now free from traffic M69 and M1 North.  It was well after 9 when we arrived so it was a whisky and room service sort of Friday night.  There was a full contingent of play mates arriving for the next day. Many were staying at the New Beehive, more locals by train from Leeds. We were in the Jury’s Hotel, where they have rubber breakfast eggs, hidden parking charges and very comfortable rooms.

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Game 2: Southend Away

Game 2 Southend Away

Saturday 20th August 2016

Or: Two down, 21 to go

The Journey

An 8.30 start from B.T.M. sounds easy. Indeed should I have tickets in hand then stress free travel would be guaranteed. This was not the case as Rose dropped me off at the pre-arranged meeting time of 8 at the ticket barrier. By arranged I mean I made the error of assuming Ronnie only needed to be told once. I should have known when on Wednesday he had already declared no knowledge of my tickets in his own wallet because The Lord and then Coventry Bob hadn’t penetrated the miasma of the Ballinger brain and told him the extra thick wedge of tickets included those meant for me. For me there was no leisurely stroll to get a breakfast bap and spending cash before the train. No, they had gone for their Weatherspoon’s monster mash and I was left hungry, grumpy and cash light waiting for them to turn up sheepishly at 8.25 with my tickets in hand. Now, as you know, I am not one to bear a grudge, and I did get a cup of tea and some cash, but It was not the start to the day I had envisaged. Then again, I appear to have told similar tales at the start of my trips before now.

I should also add that missives for this season will concentrate on away trips. To be honest you know the home routine. Meet somewhere in Bristol, go vis taxi to the Drapers Arms and crawl somewhere on the Gloucester Road after the game before Rose takes me home to either watch or take part in Casualty.

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The Lord with pad

The journey took us via Paddington, the London Underground (Bakerloo, then change at Oxford Street for the District Line) to Liverpool Street. In the past we have dawdled around the station but today we were on a mission. The Lord had a new notebook. He was in keen tickers mode and Rochford in Essex was to be our first proper beer visit of the year. Can you feel the anticipation in my description? No, neither can I, we had done this so many times before.

Pre match Pubs

It was 10 to 12. In my mind the lord had failed to factor in the arrival at Rochford rather than Southend. So Ron, Bob, Mumbles and the Lord were left wandering the streets of this once busy market town. Mileys wouldn’t open till 12, we dawdled deliberately until at 12 we entered the already busy first pub.

Golden Lion 9.5

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The list that bears no relation to what is on offer.

Beer:

Bellhaven 80 Shilling 3

Bank Top Old Slapper 2

The locals are always friendly in this pub. It is one of its strongest selling points. The chap at the bar was happy to tell us the much needed updated info on real ale pubs in Rochford. I knew the Horse and Groom had changed hands and he confirmed it wasn’t worth the walk to try it this year, He said of course that the Golden Lion was the best but he would also go to Mileys or at a push, the Marlborough Head. I don’t think the Landlord bought him a pint for his loyalty but the choice of the pub was seriously let down by a less than average Bank Top beer. In my opinion he had just been in too much of a hurry to get another beer on and could well have left it a few hours before exposing it to our critical eyes. We settled to the back of the room and other, generally older Southend fans came in for their pre match pints. We were quizzed at one point by the oft wondered question. In what County is Bristol? This prompted an also often stated Ronnyism to do with cities that have Lord Mayors and the demise of Avon and all it represented. I of course had flash backs to school days and punching teachers over the City and County of Bristol Conundrum. I recovered in good time to heed the five minute warning and we plodded on to Mileys.

Mileys

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A team photo

Beer:

Brentwood Blonde 3

Brentwood Bobby 4

Mileys was good. We settled outside to the windy embraces of a smiling Andy, so much better than having said smile inside a confined space. The juke box was encouraging Ronnie into song. This was far too early in my thoughts but we were apparently happy. Pints were blown over in the stiff breeze. The barmaid smiled contentedly to herself as we chuckled over rubbish chat of nothing in particular. I fancied a game of table tennis but it would have been nigh on impossible in the Essex Fohn blowing up the Roch Valley, Not that that was stopping Mumbles creating his own version of wiff waff.

The Match

Southend United 1 Bristol Rovers 1 Attendance: 6084 (approx. 500 Gasheads) It appears they are not bothering with match reports on the Rovers web site any more so I am left to guess.

Rovers Ratings: /10 New for this season. Players with more than 7 or less than 5 will get a comment as to why.

Mildenhall 6, Leadbitter 5, Lockyer 6, J. Clarke 6, Hartley 6, Brown 5, O. Clarke 6, Lines 6, Sinclair 6, Harrison 6, Taylor 5. Subs Gaffney 5, Easter 6

It looks a bit like I am copping out of this one but they were truly average against a truly average Southend side. If they hadn’t played three games in ten days then perhaps they might have found the extra yard to get a second. The penalty against us was very harsh and should he ever see the video again I guess Mr Ward would probably admit to a cock up. It was a guess on his part. I am not sure he was even looking in the direction of the offence when it happened. We have become accustomed to winning games like this over the last few years. Today we didn’t and we left somewhat resigned to a flat result for once. It has been a long time coming.

Entertainment Value 2

Left and right under the magnificent barrelled roof.

Rovers fans were generally in good spirits. Some were very disgruntled at the manner of the Chelsea ticket allocation. It did seem somewhat lacking in intelligence to put a limited number on at two different locations when history of Rovers fans buying tickets would suggest they would sell within a few hours. The Hartley Jam song brought a chuckle from our group. The crass “I want to go home” song brought only our thoughts of We’re one nil up (at the time) why would we want to go home? We had to explain the words of the Matty Taylor version to our harder of hearing friends at half time. Where did Gashead originality go as we now have to do versions of every other clubs droning dirges?

Man of the Match: Peter Hartley. Just because he barged Adam Barratt out of the way to score the goal.

Post-Match Pubs

They were a long way from the game. The train took us via Liverpool Street towards a plan of going to the Mitre at Lancaster Gate. By now the boys were getting a little fractious. We were joined by Darren who was subjected to serious coercing to sign the Lords Powell travel pledge. Ronnie was getting in to bickering mode and the Good Lord was dithering over where we were headed. I decided not to get involved and sold the team a dummy at Oxford Circus. The chaps were already in two different and both crowded carriages so it was simplicity itself to wave goodbye from the platform in the style of an escaping spy in some B movie thriller. I left them to the Swan and the Mitre (Two different pubs). My choice was the….

Mad Bishop and Bear 9

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Aaaaaaaah: Peace at last

Beer:

Fullers ESB 4

I wanted and got some peace and quiet along with cod and chips and a single guaranteed good pint. It was good to watch the world go by and read the programme in some simple solitude. I was being selfish and enjoyed being so

We managed to catch the 8.00 train. Normal service was resumed. I got the full range of comments over my apparent desertion. They all settled to chomp in my ears for the first ten minutes and then turned their attention to fully recruiting our new convert. .He appears to have fallen of the romance of the spreadsheet and will be appearing again on our trips soon. All that is left is to get the nickname sorted for the newbie to earn full membership. This tale to be continued no doubt very soon.They also reminded me that I only had 21 more games to endure to the end of the season.

Best Pub: Mileys 10.5

As Best Pub for the day it scored

Beer choice 5 (out of 5) 3

Beer Quality 3.5 (average score of beers chosen, out of 5)

Staff and service 4 (Out of 5)

Total 10.5 out of 15

It did not beat the leading Pub of the year so far which is the Sheffield Tap, Sheffield with 11.5 but was the best of the day.

Best Beer: Fullers ESB at the Mad Bishop and Bear

Next up: Chelsea Away Tuesday 23rd September. Picking up Ronnie and Bob at 1 at Rolls Royce. Parking up near Ealing and catching the tube with oyster card to the game. If you are reading this Ronnie you might want to remember your Oyster Card and 1 O’clock meeting time.

Match 1: Scunthorpe Away

Or: Here we go again: A long weekend watching sport.

The Journey

A 6.15 Train. I must say this twice because I still cannot believe we left B.T.M. at 6.15. I can only think that the Dear Lord was desperate to get started and wanted us to share his excitement at being able to get back to his core travel organising function with a surer  alarm. My clock was of course set at 5 to make the 6.15 from Temple Meads courtesy of a kinder than kind lift from the overly tolerant Rose. All I therefore needed on the journey up was recovered sleep. Fat chance of that. The team members of Peter de Meteor, Mumbles and myself had slumber potential to die for. Martin, however, had sheets to fill and detail to confirm plus sadly, the energy to do so. We arrived at Sheffield at 9.15 with an hour-long onward journey to confirm and time to kill. The more sensibly timed travellers, Bob and Ronnie arrived from their overnight, post test match, stay in Birmingham.

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