Wrong turnings

(or a trip to Hartlepool)

The Easter break, and with it the advent of spring, symbolises a time for new life, regrowth and renewal, or at least that’s how it’s meant to work out. In the week leading up to the bank holiday AFC Wimbledon fans could have been forgiven for thinking that the spirit of spring had been misinterpreted somewhat, as Boris Johnson decided to ignore both Merton Council and his own planning officers by thwarting the plans for Plough Lane, temporarily at least.

The news from City Hall had cast a shadow over the week for everyone so by Good Friday we were all keen for a resurrection of both our spirits and our play-off hopes as we headed on the long trip north to Hartlepool. It was (unsurprisingly) another early start, not least as the first leg of the journey involved a rail replacement bus. The omens were not good as the bus took a wrong turn, ended up doing a three point turn to avoid a low bridge (after a conflab with his colleague and map) but was unable to get back on the route proper by a “no right turn” sign. We were rescued by a second rail replacement bus, with a driver who actually knew the route, and made it to King’s Cross in time for the 8.02 to Hartlepool.

The 8.02 Grand Central Train – London King’s Cross to Hartlepool

This was the third time we’d booked tickets on Grand Central but the first that there had actually been a train to get onto: progress. When we found our seats the numbering throughout the carriage was all a bit messed up but one of our seats was opposite fellow Dons Florian and Clara and with a bit of negotiation with others (who also wanted to sit with the people they had booked with) we managed to secure a table of four. The carriage itself was an old first class one (masquerading as standard class) so we had the added luxury of extra room.

Conversations, as always on long trips, covered a multitude of subjects: Boris Johnson’s incredulous decision, Johan Cruyff’s genius, Berlin before and after reunification and snacks in the former DDR. The latter was inspired when a plastic container was produced. When opened two boiled eggs (coloured for Easter) fitted inside, along with a tiny salt shaker and two plastic spoons. This, Florian and Clara explained, was a relic of the past, when snacks were not readily available in the east and so people took boiled eggs out with them. Utter genius.

German egg-carrying genius

We carried on northwards and as we scoured Eaglescliffe for signs of birds of prey a passenger opposite explained that the local town was called Egglescliffe, but the station signwriter got the name wrong back in the 19th Century and the surrounding area eventually became known by the erroneous spelling. At Stockton-on-Tees we discussed Stephenson’s Rocket and Harold Macmillan: this was all getting rather cultural.

Finally, we pulled into Hartlepool. Wimbledon fans emerged from the carriages into the bright sun. The weather was certainly springlike, although our southern softness meant that we were compelled to survey the summer dresses, t-shirts and complete lack of outerwear of locals with horror as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive a few minutes later.

Pre-match pubs

Cameron’s Brewery Tap

Sean and Graham arrived with Joe on the train from Newcastle, where they’d all stayed the previous night. Joe was singing Fog on the Tyne, his earworm for the day, which meant that we’d be hearing a lot of it over the next few hours – when in Rome and all that. Just outside the station we found Grimsby Alyson who’d had her customary 5am start and 10am arrival. She’d spent the time waiting for us strolling around the Marina but was disappointed not to have found the statue of the unfortunate monkey (hanged as a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars). We decided to head for the Brewery Tap after a short discussion – it was Good Friday and before noon but hopefully it would be open anyway.

Our optimism paid off, the Tap was open and several locals were already in and seated. I ordered a pint of Northern Line Stout (a collaboration between Cameron’s and Portobello), Ian went for Strongarm and Sean, Graham and Joe all plumped for Gold Bullion. All were in decent condition (as they should be in a brewery tap) but the stout was generally thought to be the winner in the taste stakes. Discussion turned, inevitably, to the injustice of Boris Johnson’s decision on Plough Lane. This would be brought up again and again all day: that’s not surprising, it is the only decision with planning granted “called in” by the Mayor in eight years and his own planning officers had said that “there are no sound reasons for the Mayor to intervene in this particular case.” It is incredibly frustrating and the implications of who may or may not make the final decision (dependent on when the hearing is) were discussed in detail. There is no crystal ball of course, so for now all we could do was wait and see what the club advised fans to do (or not do).

At midday sharp the staff brought out plates of fish, chips, peas and bread and butter to most of the locals. Alyson was intrigued and managed to procure a plate for herself at the bargain price of £3. “It may have been a pensioners’ special,” she explained, but the staff had been happy enough to sell her the lunch so she wasn’t complaining (and who would?)

The Brewery Tap

The bar was covered in memorabilia from the brewery and we noticed a mention of “Hartlepools”, which led to the question of why the football team was once Hartlepools United, but now a singular Hartlepool United (but still nicknamed ‘Pools)? The answer was that the original name referred to the towns of West Hartlepool and Hartlepool, but when the two became one borough in 1968 both the “s” and “United” were dropped (the latter was restored in 1977). Who says football trips aren’t educational?

There was more to be learned too as we marvelled at the huge heads on the pints of Strongarm that the guys next to us were drinking. “They’re called bankers,” explained one of them. The impressive-looking (but ultimately inconvenient) heads are native to the north east (where sparklers are commonly used) and were, apparently, once lined up on bars in anticipation of the arrival of thirsty workers.

A banker

The Tap had certainly been entertaining but we decided it was time to move on and headed for The Causeway, which was around the corner.

The Causeway Inn

The choice of beers at the Causeway meant that we all ordered Strongarm (the other options being a Hobgoblin guest and Banks’s bitter). There were bankers all round. We stared in wonder at the enormous heads yet again. Joe took a break from Fog on the Tyne and said that all the away games he’d seen this season had been wins for Wimbledon and we generally agreed that this was a good omen. Yet more friendly locals started to chat to us and we were all encouraged to partake of the bar snacks that were brought out: quiche, sausage rolls, sausages, cheese and tomatoes. “Don’t youse get this in London?” asked one old boy. I explained that The Willoughby was pretty good on snacks, albeit the locals brought them in, but commended The Causeway on its impressive range.

Graham and I strolled around some of the other rooms in the pub, with lots of original features and furniture. The landlady told us that they had purposely left one of the rooms with its smoke-stained ceiling and walls, as well as an enormous number of pictures and posters. I love pubs like this that you could spend hours in, reading and admiring and learning – and what was really nice was that the landlady clearly shared in her punters’ delight.

The game

We arrived at Victoria Park and joined the queue at the the turnstiles. There was much muttering about the £25 price advertised above the entrance, but word soon filtered through that there was a piece of paper inside saying that the actual price was £20 (which is what the website says). This appears to be somewhat flexible though, one Northampton Town fan said that he was charged £24 recently – a figure that doesn’t correspond with any home area and as a result would be a highly dubious practice.

How much?

A minute’s silence was held following the attacks in Brussels and I found myself wondering why people would take photos (as several were) during what is meant to be a moment of reflection? I still wasn’t sure when the game kicked off and Joe’s renditions of Fog on the Tyne were replaced with some non too complimentary songs about Boris Johnson. On 21 minutes a bungled clearance led to a home goal and there we were again, losing to a team near the bottom. There were chances at both ends, the tributes to Boris Johnson continued, while the home fans (dressed, as Ian put it, in the highest density of tracksuit bottoms since Crawley) responded with something no one could understand.

Half time came and went (with some Stowford Press to dull the pain) and the second half saw a lot of Dons’ possession but little real penetration. Elliott came on for Murphy and made a difference to the potency of the attack but still there was no way through. We noticed that home substitutions were sponsored (but not the away subs) as were the officials’ details on the scoreboard – in short, Hartlepool were flogging anything they could to sponsors. Azeez and Akinfenwa came on, the possession continued, as did the lack of goals. At one point Bayo was pulled down by two home defenders, one of whom gripped him round the neck with his arm, but the sponsored officials saw nothing. It was not to be (again), Joe’s impressive away record was over, and 259 away fans trudged off having seen a pretty one sided defeat (with that one side not being the victors).

Post-match pubs 

Rat Race

We’d noticed the Rat Race micropub on the station when we arrived, but it didn’t open until 12.02 (in proper railway timetable fashion). On the way back it was open so we squeezed – quite literally – in. We stood in what we thought was a queue until the landlady told us to sit down wherever we could and came around to take orders. We all went for the Mordue’s Amarillo, which was pretty tasty and like every other pub we’d visited incredibly cheap (especially when you are used to London prices). Sean mentioned that a Hartlepool manager was once rumoured to have paid ten pounds and a box of kippers for a player – we didn’t doubt that was possible. The pub had a capacity of 24 but a decent selection of beer and quirky details like old train seats for the customers to use.

The landlady added more colour, at one point shouting out: “If anyone’s getting Grand Central it’s in,” to which some wit replied, “What strength is it?” The arrival of the London train saw most of the Dons’ fans (including Joe and Alyson) disappear, with a few of us waiting for the slightly later Newcastle service.

Northern Rail – Hartlepool to Newcastle

A journey only memorable for providing us with some much needed toilet facilities.

The Split Chimp

As we walked to our second micropub of the day the Boris Johnson songs emerged again. Newcastle needed to know about the vile man. The pub itself was housed in a railway arch, it felt almost like being in Hackney. It was quiet for a Friday night, with just a couple of locals in but they, like almost everyone else we met, were incredibly friendly and the place had an instant warmth about it. We ordered Three Kings’ Ring of Fire and Tempest’s Cascadian, both of which were good. We chatted to the locals about football and beer, then Graham and I had a game of Connect 4. I won. Graham suggested a best of three. I won again. “Best of five?” suggested Graham. He won. 2-1 to me. We played again. I got the all important third victory. SCENES.

Prepare for defeat

After all that excitement Ian and I thought we’d better check in to our hotel, The Premier Inn where Graham and Sean were also staying. Or so we thought. When we arrived the receptionist explained that we were actually booked in to the brand new hotel up the road. She called us a cab and we all piled in. I told the cab driver where we were going. “There’s no hotel there, there’s only a cinema.” He replied. I showed him the address and explained that the hotel themselves had directed us (and him) there. He made a noise of disapproval and said that he wasn’t allowed to go there as a minicab. This seemed odd, it was in the city centre, but when we were just down the road he refused to go any further. Google maps got us where the cab couldn’t – or wouldn’t. We checked in and got another cab out to The Cumberland Arms in Byker (cue Ant and Dec gags).

This cab didn’t seem much better and after directing him towards our destination he stopped at the end of a road and declared he couldn’t go any further.

The Cumberland Arms

We trudged up to the pub, which had a beer festival on over the Easter holiday. We joined a queue of ten or more to get to the bar. It didn’t move. We waited some more. No movement. We decided to give up and head to The Free Trade Inn down the road. The beer and pub looked nice but long queues aren’t much fun.

The rather busy Cumberland Arms

The Free Trade Inn

We’d hoped to catch up with Dons’ fan Newcastle Tim (and Hugo the sausage dog) here but by the time we arrived it was past Hugo’s bedtime and they’d had to leave. The Free Trade Inn is very well known on the Newcastle beer circuit, and its reputation has been well earned and maintained. Well kept beer, great staff, comfy surroundings and a pub cat called CraigDavid. What more could you want?

There was the remnants of a London beer festival going on (brilliantly illustrated by “Boris bad, beer good” posters) but we avoided the southern ale and ordered Fyne’s Jarl and Roosters’ Roots, Rock, Reggae. The latter is a tropical (pineapple and grapefruit) IPA, but well balanced and not too sweet. The people on the next table got up to leave and as they left handed us a pile of beer mats and told us we must look after them. We agreed, and indeed I still have the beer mats – but for what reason I have no idea. More beer was ordered and I tried North Riding’s Black Horizon, an Imperal Stout which was perfect for the late hour.

The pub was emptying and as it was Good Friday we presumed it was closing. I called a cab from a number the barman gave me and he said they were still open until midnight. “Even on Good Friday?” I asked. “It’s a Friday isn’t it?” came the reply. Marvellous.

The Newcastle Arms

Our final cab of the night took us to the final pub of the day, The Newcastle Arms. It was quiet but friendly. We drank Sonnet 43’s Bourbon Milk Stout and discussed our day out. A fine one, we concluded, despite the football.

Local football fan in the Newcastle ARms

Pub of the day: a tough decision between The Split Chimp, Rat Race and The Free Trade Inn but The Split Chimp edged it.

Beer of the day: Northern Line Stout



In search of butter pies

It was one of those things that came up in conversation, as these things do. We were discussing Stedders’ blog of football trips and someone (Sean?) said: “We should do a blog of our trips.” So here it is: a trip to Morecambe, or, in search of butter pies.

The 7.30 London Euston to Lancaster

It was an early start, all of us up by 5.30 to make the 7.30am train to Lancaster. There was some reasoning behind this, it was cheap, very cheap, and plenty of Dons had the same idea. The younger fans were loaded with crates of booze but we decided we could wait for a few hours, there would be plenty of time for beer later on. We had bumped into Sean and Graham on the concourse at Euston and when the train was called we found a table in a fairly quiet unreserved carriage.

Peace was soon shattered when some more lads laden with booze staggered down the carriage: “I’m Leeds United,” shouted one to his mate in an accent that suggested he had never set foot outside London, “I’m not sitting in a two seat.” We felt smug at our table and relieved as they carried on in search of what they seemed to think was their god given right into the next carriage. The rest of the journey passed fairly uneventfully. We kept Graham amused with a moving Google map on an iPad and thick fog was good enough to descend and obliterate a certain city from view. I waxed lyrical (apparently to the point of obsession) about the possibility of finding a butter pie on our trip. I love a butter pie, surely somewhere in Lancaster would sell them? We arrived before ten and headed to the local ‘Spoons for breakfast.

Pre-game pubs

The Sir Richard Owen

This was a breakfast stop before the pub crawl proper but Sean, Ian and I all felt that it would have been rude to ignore the Salopian Darwin’s Original. We were rewarded in our choice although Graham’s “Punk is dead” from Vale was in rather less impressive condition. We were joined by Northamptonshire Richard, whose journey had involved a similarly early start, a bus and three trains. Just as we were leaving Tim Hillyer, who had travelled on the same train from London as us, turned up having first gone to the other Wetherspoon’s in town, which was closed for refurbishment. Notable by her absence was Grimsby Alyson who had decided that crazy golf in Morecambe was a better prospect than a pub crawl.

We left the pub and turned left, following Graham to our first pub, The White Cross, which Richard particularly wanted to visit. Graham is the king of maps, so this made sense. But then a moment of controversy. “We need to go right,” said Richard. Gasps all round. “I definitely went right the last time I went there.” Graham produced his map. There was a discussion. Google maps was consulted. We continued to follow Graham who was outraged that Richard had called his map reading skills into question. Sure enough, in a few minutes we saw The White Cross’s sign ahead of us. “That’s not the pub I meant,” said Richard. A collective sigh. It turned out Richard had meant The Water Witch along the canal and his directions would have taken us to it. Still, we were where we were so we trooped to the door of the pub. It was locked. Richard and Graham fumed, their collective research had said the pub opened at 11am. We encountered one of the staff who explained the pub opened at 11.30, “Your website says 11am,” said Graham. “Really? It’s always been 11.30,” came the reply, “I’ll get it changed.”

The Water Witch

Map comparison, Graham style

We trundled along the tow path and arrived at The Water Witch, which did open at 11am. “I will always love you” was blaring out. Five pints of Kirkby Lonsdale Monumental were ordered, which was generally declared to be very pleasant indeed. The landlord brought us over some pub maps of Lancaster, which Graham immediately compared with an earlier version he had. The website of The White Cross was checked and it stated that the pub opened at 11.30. A rare mistake from Graham, although Richard pointed out that the Good Beer Guide app was wrong and gave the opening time as 11am.

“Careless Whisper” came on. Followed by “I will always love you” followed by “Careless Whisper.” Sighs all round. Eventually the music changed, but not for the better. “Music that makes you want to stab your eardrums out,” noted Graham. He wasn’t wrong and, while we were enjoying the beer and the pub, we drank up fairly quickly. As we were leaving the pub Tim Hillyer turned up. This was getting to be a habit.

After we explained the music situation Tim decided to join our crawl. We strolled into town. I noticed Pound Bakery, a place given legendary status by my friend Gerald: think Greggs but with multiple items available for a pound. Or, on one case six sausage rolls for £1.10. This upset Graham who thought the place should change its name to the Pound Ten Bakery. I still craved a butter pie and there were none, for either £1 or £1.10, in the bakery. 

We made plans to wander through the market after the next pub where there were rumoured to be local food stalls. We were heading to The Tap House and another disagreement about directions broke out. Richard pressed Google map’s claim, we followed him and there was the pub. Graham 1- Richard 1.

Our mapwars duellists

The Tap House
A collective sigh of relief as we walked in and found the pub free of bad music. Two of us ordered Hardknott’s Brownian Motion, a salted smoked porter, while everyone else went for the Hawkshead Pale. The Brownian Motion was a little salty but not overpowering and worth trying. Tim made an announcement: he was no longer going to tick beers due to all the special variations being produced for festivals and the like. It’s an interesting point, although I rather like trying specials – I’m never going to drink every beer out there and if tasty beer comes out of it then that’s a good thing.

We enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in the Tap House but there were butter pies to find and other pubs to visit so we moved on. We passed Greenhalgh’s bakery, a place I’d also found online. They sell butter pies – but with cheese in. Now, I love cheese but a butter pie is not the place for it and this would not do. We walked down Market Street but there were no stalls of interest. Graham bought a pork pie from a Cornish stall but nowhere in this part of the market sold Lancastrian delicacies much to my disappointment and Richard’s – he’d been hoping for Lancashire Sauce and potted shrimps.

The Sun

We headed to The Sun to cheer ourselves up. Richard and I went for an Early Grey IPA from Lancaster brewery but as I was on table seeking duty I failed to note what the others had. The pub was much busier than the others we’d been too, where we had been pretty much the only customers, but some old boys left and we squeezed into a space partly built into a wall. The Earl Grey IPA was nice, if perhaps lacking the bergamot hit I’d been expecting.

The Three Mariners

  We decided that there was just about time to fit in a final pub and get a taxi to Morecambe so we took a brisk stroll to The Three Mariners. We were glad we’d made the effort, the historic pub, near the River Lune, was welcoming and comfortable. Ian and I went for a customarily good Oakham Citra, to much tutting from others who declared it too southern for the trip. They went for a Derbyshire beer (which I forget now). Richard ordered cheesy chips, only to discover when we found a table that he could have had potted shrimps had he seen a menu before ordering. We enjoyed what we thought would be the final pre-match drink before the taxi arrived.

Morecambe FC bar

The taxi was pretty quick and we found ourselves arriving at the ground with time to spare. A swift half of Cross Bay’s Sunset Blond and we trundled around to pay the £21 Morecambe were demanding.

The game

The £21 entrance was a moot point. Morecambe have a terrace that away fans can use but they choose not to open it for most games, instead forcing supporters into the more expensive seats. This is within their rights but it leaves a bad taste. In the week preceding the game I’d emailed Morecombe FC about this, as had others. The answer we received was a stock one that suggested we complain to the Football League if we thought they were breaking rules (we knew that they weren’t – this is a moral issue). AFC Wimbledon always offer away fans both seating and standing accommodation, as do several other clubs who have the option, regardless of how many they bring – it would be nice if others could do the same. As it is, short term gain seems to be Morecambe’s goal, failing to realise that this may stop fans returning in the future.

As we made our way to the back of the seats (where we stood, of course: that extra £4 was well spent) I noticed a steward at the end of the unoccupied away terrace. Even though this wasn’t being used there were stewards in the area (granted, not as many as there would have been otherwise, but the saving was probably no more than one or two stewards.)


The empty terrace…with steward

The game itself was another frustrating one. New signing Rhys Murphy started and while he looked understandably rusty, he managed to get the ball in the net (albeit disallowed for offside). I fully expect him to start to make a big difference when he gets a bit more game time under his belt though and he could yet be important to our injury and suspension ravaged side. Half time came with the game 0-0. I tried in vain to procure a butter pie (Morecambe are famed for their pies but they only had two options and neither was butter) and merely ended up with some Carlsberg that I tried to pass on to anyone that would drink it.

The frustration continued in the second half with ten minutes ultimately deciding the game. The defensive frailties seen in recent weeks led to Morecambe’s first goal and then Lyle Taylor immediately hit the post. It was reminiscent of the previous Tuesday when Dons’ had a chance cleared off the line at 2-1: crucial moments were going against us. Just like on Tuesday it got worse too. Sweeney conceded a penalty and was dismissed (the correct decision – although he had little choice we felt) and suddenly it was 2-0 and 11 against 10. The much maligned (not by me) Francomb pulled one back at the death but it was not to be. A second loss in a week and we were out of the play off positions.

Things are by no means over yet and a first midweek without a game in a month or so will be welcomed by a squad of pretty tired and jaded players. With Sweeney out on Saturday we’ll have to hope that the centre-back that Ardley has been targeting comes in on loan to shore things up in defence.

Final score: Morecambe 2 Wimbledon 1

Post-match pubs

Merchants 1688

We’d pre-booked a taxi back to Lancaster and planned to try one of the two pubs nearest the station. First up we walked into The Robert Gillow but a couple of dozen elderly women setting up music stands was enough to put us off and we hot footed it to Merchants 1688 instead. Set in the cellars of an old wine merchants this is an atmospheric pub full of interesting spaces for punters to congregate in. We spotted some of the northern Dons and conversation flowed: “It’s like The Willoughby [our usual home pub] away,” someone commented. And it was. Sure, the football is what we travel for but the company and conversation is what makes it a good day out. These two things also meant that I completely forgot to note down what anyone drank: I am a poor ticker.

The 6.41 Lancaster to London Euston

There was a procession from Merchants to the station just up the hill. The team were also on the platform and seemed to be having a bet about where first class would be, with half one end of the platform and half the other. The group nearest us lost out and had to troop past us, we encouraged them with comments about there still being plenty to play for.

We managed to get another table in an unreserved carriage with room for Richard across the aisle. There were more Dons throughout the carriage and several songs were sung. Conversations continued with Graham declaring that egg mayonnaise sandwiches “are akin to a rubber fetish.” We supped Red Willow’s Tilting Ale (produced for Virgin Trains) and generally put the world to rights. A trip to the toilet produced some rather unexpected “entertainment” as giggles, a hand dryer turning on several times and a voice shouting “get your foot out of my face” suggested that there may be more than a single occupant. I banged on the door in my best train guard manner and nipped down to the next carriage.

People departed at various stations. Lyle Taylor got off at Wigan and gave us a wave and a smile (Grimsby Alyson will be most jealous), Runcorn Simon was next at Warrington and Richard left us at the place that shall not be named, accompanied by a loud chorus of uncomplimentary singing up and down the train. We carried on to London where Sean decided to head home after a long day. Ian, Graham and I carried on.


Alternative seating…why do away days end like this?
Williams Ale and Cider House
The venue was host to a double birthday party for Orient supporting friends. The O’s fans were all in good spirits after a 1-0 win at Oxford and we were pleased for them: who doesn’t have a soft spot for Orient? We drank Lagunitas and chatted football, trains and politics until exhaustion took over and we left to get the 26 bus back to Hackney.

As Sean said the following day: a good day out ruined by 90 minutes of football (and the lack of butter pies).

Pub of the day: The Three Mariners

Beer of the Day: Brownian Motion