Of Beasts and Beer

Another week and another long trip beckoned, this time to Plymouth. The prospect of another super early start had led Sean and Graham to head down to Devon a couple of days early, while Ian and I travelled to Bristol on Friday to break the journey.

The stopover meant we were able to catch up with friends, including the inspiration for the matchday blogs, Stedders. We started off with Liz and Mark in Small Bar, with a Bad Seed Cascade, enjoying the quiet before the hoards descended on King Street later on, then we headed to The Lime Kiln to meet Stedders and Rose, which was hosting one third of the spring beer festival along St. George’s Road (along with The Three Tuns and the Bag of Nails). I started off with a nice but not exceptional SQUAWK IPA and we settled down to discuss the end of the League 2 football season – by this point we had been joined by Matt so we had an even 2-2-2 split of Wimbledon, Pompey and Bristol Rovers fans. We resolved that we all wanted to miss each other should we be in the play-offs and moved on to Fixed Wheel’s Blackheath Stout. Pub tips were exchanged as we strolled up to the Tuns and the next of the festival pubs. It was busy and after standing outside for a bit, only to be serenaded by a couple of folk musicians, we managed to find somewhere to sit inside, where Tears for Fears and the Stray Cats on the sound system were rather better entertainment. A comparison of Arbor’s The Ego has Landed on keg and cask was interesting – both very good but the cask edged it – and it seemed a good way to end the evening.

The 9.17 Bristol Temple Meads to Plymouth

9.17 still sounds early on a weekend for many people, but it was a good deal better than 7.27 when the same train had set off from London. There were plenty who had got up at a properly unearthly hour though and many of the travelling Dons were already making steady progress through several cans of beer and engaging other passengers in good natured conversation.

The journey tIMG_2956o Plymouth, particularly the stretch that runs alongside the sea through Dawlish and Teignmouth, is one of the most spectacular on the railway network and it’s worth the trip just to look on at the stunning landscape – although, a day later, when storms led to the waves breaching the sea wall, it would have been rather more frightening than stunning.We reached Plymouth at 11.20 and wandered to the front of the station to meet Sean and Graham. A large group of Dons fans ventured out to the main road, looked around, debated and headed back to the taxis outside: unlike many trains stations Plymouth’s has no handy ‘Spoons (nor indeed any pub at all) just outside. Luckily, at this point we noticed Graham (and his trusty maps, which negated us relying on a helpful cabbie) and Sean, who was struggling to keep up thanks to a painful bout of shin splints.

The Fortescue

Graham duly produced a map and we walked the slightly hilly route to The Fortescue on the Mutley Plain. It was one of the pubs recommended by Stedders the previous night and has won several Plymouth Pub of the Year awards. As we walked in Gazza’s version of “Fog on the Tyne” was playing and we all immediately thought of Joe’s earworm before the Hartlepool game a few weeks before: was this a bad omen? Let’s hope not.

We ordered Celt Bronze and RCH’s Pitchfork and settled down at a table. Graham and Sean had spent the day before in Falmouth and we swapped tales of pubs visited and notorious (alleged) gangsters in the Cornish town.

It was a very pleasant first stop in a friendly local but we decided to walk up the road to the next pub on the list.

The Hyde Park

Just up the road from the Fortescue, standing in the middle of a roundabout, is the 150-year old Hyde Park pub. That it remains a pub after all these years is down to the community, who rallied around when it was threatened with being turned into an estate agents in 2012. It reopened in 2014, complete with microbrewery, and judging from the Saturday lunchtime trade when we visited, it is thriving.

A happy pub story then (and I very much like a happy pub story) but what of our experience of the place? The first thing you notice about the Hyde Park when walking up to it are the retro signs: Double Diamond, Toby Bitter and Tetleys are all prominent from the outside. Inside it is a retro overload: everywhere there are vintage signs: beer, Player’s and Benson and Hedge’s cigarettes, British Airways and, somewhat bizarrely, one from Lloyds TSB. Now living in Hackney I’m used to retro – you can’t move for vintage shops around here – but this was like Hackney on serious acid. The theme goes further still: the pub has sourced actual Double Diamond (now brewed for the northern club circuit it seems, at a strength of 2.8%), although the Watney’s Red Barrel pump was actually dispensing Caffrey’s (by all accounts sometimes Red Barrel is available though).

I’m all for a bit of nostalgia but neither Caffrey’s nor Double Diamond was tempting me and along with Graham and Ian I ordered a Made in Mutley ale from the pub’s microbrewery. Sean ordered a Harbour Light Ale, but more of that later. The Made in Mutley smacked your tastebuds with a massive hit of vanilla. It was odd. Vanilla in pale beers isn’t completely unknown but this was way stronger than most I’ve had – Omnipollo / Buxton’s Ice Cream Pale and Howling Hops Vanilla Ice Cream IPA are both examples of balanced beers which give that ice cream hint of vanilla without it taking over. Still, we persevered and it seemed to improve – or perhaps we just got used to it.

But back to Sean’s choice of Harbour Light, which is usually a nice session beer. Sean’s face suggested that it wasn’t nice today and he pushed it to Graham for a second opinion. Graham’s face backed up Sean’s face and “the pint of mud” went back to the bar. The staff were happy to change it and Sean returned to the table with a new pint. This one, however, was rather watery. All credit to the staff though, the woman who had served Sean came up to us and said they had realised it wasn’t right and offered another replacement. This time Sean joined us on Made in Mutley and when it was brought to him he was told that he could have a further pint on the house – excellent customer service.

We’d considered getting some food – toast in Bristol seemed a long time ago for Ian and I – but the numbers eating and potential wait (together, it must be said, with the chips in pint glasses) meant that we decided to call a cab and head to a final pre-match pub instead. I’d definitely go back to the Hyde Park, although I’m not certain the on the house pint will still be waiting for Sean.

As we finished up the taxi called to check our location, a relief after the Wycombe minicab experience, which had scarred Graham so much he had delegated calling duties to Sean.

Bread and Roses

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Interior of Bread and Roses

The decision to try a final pub proved to be a good one. Rose had recommended Bread and Roses (not just on its name) to us and Sean and Graham had also tried it out. It is a social enterprise and community pub / arts centre that was once called The Trafalgar (according to an old sign outside.) The décor meets both briefs: plants, paintings, artefacts, magazines and mismatched furniture. It had a good feel about the place: welcoming without being contrived. The beer range was encouraging too.

We ordered Rebel’s Surfbum (from Penryn) and Cornish Crown’s Red IPA (from Penzance). The Surfbum was a very drinkable session beer, though not really what I’d term an IPA. Graham found a New Age magazine advertising tantric awakening in Totnes although the idea of that being explored on the journey home later was swiftly dismissed. A final round was enjoyed of Harbour Session IPA (this time a Harbour beer without any drama attached), Firebrand Graffiti IPA (from Launceston) and Exeter’s Avocet. The Graffiti IPA was much more what you’d expect from an IPA and a tasty beer to finish on.

Another cab was called, again without any drama, and we made our way to Home Park in it.

Plymouth Argyle v AFC Wimbledon

Ian and I headed to pick up the tickets we’d ordered and as we stepped through the turnstiles heard what appeared to be God Save the Queen. This seemed an odd thing for a run of the mill football match and when we walked into the ground afterwards and found the others we asked whether we’d heard correctly. We had and there had also been some sort of prayers before it, perhaps something to do with the military, given Plymouth’s naval heritage. There were certainly some large groups of military personnel in the stand to our right, and like Portsmouth, Argyle presumably give away tickets to the forces. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I always wonder whether other public servants are afforded the same opportunities – teachers, nurses, doctors, emergency services etc. – and if not, why not?

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The disused terrace under the Grandstand

The game began with me still pondering this but before I had a chance to think too much the home team hit the crossbar with 30 second or less gone. Gulp. There were a few concerned looks amongst us as we all hoped this wasn’t about to set the tone for the afternoon. Then a drum started – as I’ve said before drums should lead to an immediate ten-point deduction for the club concerned and a banning order for the culprit – and I wondered why a club like Plymouth, which gets crowds plenty big enough to create an atmosphere, even tolerated it. There was limited moral high ground to be had though, with some of the songs from our own fans. Let’s just say that I think Tom Daley is a brilliant athlete and if he came from the city I’m from then I’d be very proud indeed.

But back to the football, Dons had put the crossbar incident out of their heads and worked well to gain some ball. The wind had become fairly strong and conditions were not the easiest as a result and it looked like hard work on the pitch. There were chances at both ends and then, after half an hour the ball was played out to Jake Reeves after a Plymouth corner. He played a sublime pass through to Lyle Taylor who slotted it past McCormick in the Argyle goal. 1-0 Dons and mayhem in the stand.

Half time came and went, and notably the bar (which sold cans of Tribute and Thatcher’s Gold) lost a considerable amount of money by only having two staff on leaving many travelling fans thirsty. The mystery of why clubs don’t plan these things better endures. Either side of the break Dons’ defence did well to resist the home side. Darius Charles is deserving of particular mention: he’s been improving in every game as his match fitness increases and it’s easy to see why he had been a summer target for Ardley. Roos made a good save just after the break, followed by one by the home ‘keeper to deny Taylor a second. The pressure was increasing though and 15 minutes in the equaliser that had been threatening came when Graham Carey volleyed into the net. Tom Hark came over the tannoy, in the way that it does at grounds all over the country. I sighed. Again, Plymouth Argyle have good support, and that can generate noise – why this unimaginative and artificial nonsense that just leads to synchronised clapping (and sounds incredibly tired to boot)?

Ardley made a double swap, bringing Azeez and Akinfenwa on for Taylor and Elliott with twenty minutes to go. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, the windy conditions meant a change of tactics was needed, but it was one of those substitutions that causes a murmur of discontent, then ultimately brings utter joy. And that joy was to come right at the death when Francomb headed to Akinfenwa, who refused to give up on the ball and managed to loop a header of his own over McCormick. There was no Tom Hark this time and there was no need for it as 399 away fans went batshit crazy. Five minutes’ injury time were seen off and then the celebrations began again. Later on we would find out that Akinfenwa’s goal had also guaranteed his former club, Northampton Town, promotion, which was a nice bonus for him.

We walked back to the station and picked up provisions for the journey home, which would be in two legs.

The 17.54 Plymouth to Exeter St. David’s

This was a through train to London but prices meant that many Dons fans would change at Exeter for the South West Trains Service. For this leg though, we had luxury: first class at £3.30 each for the hour’s journey. There were more views of the beautiful seascape, this time bathed in the soft pink early evening light. Tim Hillyer had joined us and we discussed the dramatic end to the game and the final play-off spot that Wimbledon now occupied.

The Great Western Hotel

We had just about enough time to nip over the road to The Great Western between trains and downed RCH Pitchfork (in a reprise of the first pub of the day) and Exeter’s Ferryman before running back to the station.

The 19.25 Exeter St. David’s to London Waterloo

We eventually managed to find five seats together and unloaded the provisions from earlier, enough to last us for the three and a half hour trip. The journey passed without incident (although there were some entirely understandable celebrations continuing) and most Dons’ fans got off at Clapham Junction. We carried on to Waterloo.

The Waterloo Tap

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One for the road

Sometimes, after a long day trip, “one for the road” seems like a good idea, and this was one of those times. It rarely is a good idea. On this occasion there was the added pull of visiting the fairly new Waterloo Tap, which was open until 11.30. We ordered Beavertown’s excellent Neck Oil and drank it as if it were the thickest, most syrupy beer in the world. Still, at least we’d visited the pub, which is likely to become a regular haunt when going in and out of Waterloo and has the customary excellent beer range of the Tap bars. It’s just one railway arch, so a tad bijou, but well worth a visit.

Pub of the Day: Bread and Roses

Beer of the Day: Surfbum

A Taylor made day out

After two long away trips it came as something of a relief to have a relatively local game in High Wycombe and with it a chance to sleep past 6am on a non-work day. We had arranged to meet Graham and Sean at Marylebone Station at 10.30, and Tom and his mate Andy had also joined us. After working out that the various discounts available with Group Saves, Gold Cards and a host of other railcards were all much of a muchness – not least because the first of these now discriminates against those leaving London, who get a lesser deal than those coming into town – we sorted out tickets. Necessity number one sorted, we moved onto the next: breakfast.

Gino’s

I’ve often seen the café opposite Marylebone but I’d never been in there before, however Graham recommended it (with a caveat that there were “unorthodox breakfast options”) and who were we to dispute his claim? The number of people already in the café suggested Graham may be right (as usual) and the only problem was getting enough seats together. Tom decided that we should rearrange the furniture within a fairly tight spot. What ensued looked like a scene from a farce. Shuffle. Move. Shuffle. Oops. Backwards. Shuffle. Dead end. Tom was still determined, the rest of us were getting a little embarrassed. Gino appeared, waving hands. He asked another woman to move and moved two tables together with rather less chaos. And…breathe.

We ordered breakfast. Tom apologised: “I didn’t realise I was making everyone uncomfortable. You’re all SO English with your embarrassment.” At this point Andy looked like the most English of all the embarrassed English people. “And this,” he said, “Is why you never take Tom anywhere.” Tom, meanwhile, was on a roll of national stereotypes, “And the Italians, they love rearranging furniture don’t they?”

John appeared, complete with cup of tea. “Do NOT move that table,” we said in unison. Breakfast arrived. It was as good as Graham had promised and a calm descended.

Despite all the palaver we still had nearly half an hour until our train left and so we headed to the station bar.

The Victoria and Albert

In recent years some station pubs have improved, the Victoria and Albert is not one of them. In fact, I can’t really remember it ever changing much over the years. The beer selection was less than enticing. Greene King IPA, another Greene King offering and London Pride. Everyone plumped for Pride, which was in pretty poor condition. Tommy and Joe turned up and the standard Saturday fat was chewed. Thankfully Joe had not decided to reprise his Fog on the Tyne entertainment of a couple of weeks’ previous.

11.35 London Marylebone to High Wycombe

The three carriage service was busy, as it generally is on a Saturday, going as it does to the outlet village at Bicester. As we searched for seats we wondered why Chiltern Railways never put extra carriages on to deal with the crowds, but that would be all too sensible wouldn’t it? Luckily when we got to the final carriage we found that John had saved a table: result. We pulled out of the city and trundled along to the edge of the genteel Chilterns, where the houses are large and the voters (one suspects) mainly Tory. It always seems an unlikely area for football.

The Bootlegger

Once upon a time the pub opposite High Wycombe station was called The Flint Cottage (the building is, quite literally, a house covered in pieces of the stone) and it was a pretty grotty affair. A few years ago it changed into The Bootlegger and improved beyond all recognition, with Rebellion beers on draft and hundreds of bottled beers. This season it has improved still further, with about double the number of cask beers and a new set of keg taps behind the bar. We ordered a combination of Tring Pale Four (later described as having “Fairy Liquid in the brew” by Ian) and Mighty Oak Scrambler and, as the sun was out, we wandered into the huge garden.

It was glorious: warm sun, sofas, beer and good company. What more could anyone want for a Saturday lunchtime? Well, there was one thing, or so the staff thought at any rate: what we clearly needed on the hottest day of the year so far, was a wood burning stove (or more accurately a chimenea) lit right next to us. We tried our best to point out it was quite warm and very sunny but our protests went unnoticed. The stove was lit and a cloud of smoke blew towards us. This was not in the glorious category. Graham and Andy pulled the stove away. A few minutes later they pulled it away a bit further. Then a bit more. It was bearable although heaven knows why it had ever been lit in the first place. We spotted another, discarded, chimenea in a bit of waste ground fenced off from the main garden: maybe this had happened before and previous drinkers had moved the offending stove rather further than us.

More Dons’ fans turned up and the conversation flowed from beer to games past to who would play who in the forthcoming AFC Wimbledon Hollywood film. Tom and Andy nipped off to the Chair Museum – when in High Wycombe and all that. We drank Tickety Brew, Rebellion Zebedee and Siren Pompelmocello, a grapefruit IPA which was pretty much made for the weather. Tin Tin turned up and bemoaned his marathon training which meant he couldn’t indulge in the excellent range of beers. He tasted the Pompelmocello, swooned and almost cried that he was unable to have one of his own.

Stove aside the sun, beer and huge space for everyone to socialise in was making this a pretty perfect pre-match spot. Perfect, that was, apart from one thing that had been irking me: a misplaced apostrophe on a blackboard. I’d already tried to rub it off, as every grammar pedant surely would, but it was painted on. My subsequent search for a black marker pen had proved fruitless – until Tin Tin’s arrival. He produced a marker and I set about obliterating the offending apostrophe. Phew.

Tom and Andy turned from their museum trip. It had been a disappointment, a side room to the full museum. Still, they had learned that a chair was “a stool with a back” and seen a “Champion Chair of Britain” from the 19th Century. They consoled themselves with a game of crib instead (won by Andy).

Wycombe Wanderers vs AFC Wimbledon

There was a long queue for the away end as we arrived, which Sean and Graham joined while Ian and I headed off to pick up our pre-ordered tickets. We asked a steward where we should pick them up, “Over there in that building,” he said, pointing at what looked like a modified phone box. Building was certainly an ambitious term for the tiny hut, but the tickets were there and as we picked them up we noticed that an extra entrance had been opened for away supporters with tickets. This hardly seems worth mentioning but such eminently sensible behaviour on the part of a football club is incredibly rare, so credit to WWFC.

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The collection point

We found a space (to stand, of course) and were joined by Alyson and Percy. A few minutes later Tom and Andy arrived, Tom having survived an inquisition about what he had in his pocket. When he explained that it was a crib board, a mutual love of the game was discovered as the steward exclaimed: “Excellent!”We found a space (to stand, of course) and were joined by Alyson and Percy. A few minutes later Tom and Andy arrived, Tom having survived an inquisition about what he had in his pocket. When he explained that it was a crib board, a mutual love of the game was discovered as the steward exclaimed: “Excellent!”

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One thing that any supporter in League Two will tell you about Wycombe Wanderers under Gareth Ainsworth is that they are the most cynical team in the division. You’ll likely hear the terms “dive” and “cheat” as well: it’s a reputation that has been well-earned by the club and hated by supporters of every team that plays them. So when the chants of “You’re going to dive in a minute,” started soon after kick off no one was surprised. The first elaborate fall came on seven minutes. The home crowd showed their disapproval of this clear foul (in their minds at least), we heaped scorn upon the acrobatics – and so it would continue.

Ardley had started the game with three up front and in the 12th minute his boldness paid off. Elliott latched onto a Fuller pass in the penalty area and from our view at the opposite end of the ground it looked like the Wycombe ‘keeper tripped him. Before we could finish our cry of “penalty” the ball had broken to Lyle Taylor who duly found the net – cue mayhem in the away end. Once the celebrations had died down we noticed that the ref, assistant refs and fourth official were in deep conversation near the dug outs. We speculated that maybe the ‘keeper would be booked for what seemed to have been a certain foul on Elliott, and secretly all hoped that the goal wasn’t about to be belatedly disallowed for some indiscernible reason. The clock ticked, we grew none the wiser but the players were in place for a kick off, which was promising. Eventually the ref ran back onto the pitch, or rather “a” ref ran back onto the pitch – as this was, in fact, one of the assistant refs who had replaced the original (now injured) man in the middle.

The scoreboard, meanwhile, was still showing nil-nil. “Update your scoreboard, we’re winning one nil,” urged the away end, and after several minutes the score was corrected. There were more chances in the first half: Murphy hit the crossbar, a couple of chances went over it and Taylor forced a great save from home ‘keeper Allsop but as the whistle blew for the break it remained one nil to the Dons.

In the second half things continued in the same vein: Wycombe players fell over and flashed simulated yellow cards at the ref and Robinson hit the crossbar. Then, in the 57th minute Michael Harriman hit at shot from just outside the box that evaded Roos and put the home side level. It was a blow, and an undeserved one, and even worse it brought a drummer to life in the home end. In an ideal word drumming in football grounds would lead to a ten-point deduction and a lifetime ban for the culprit.

It didn’t take too long for the lead to be restored though. Murphy was pulled down in the box and, after a considerable delay due to the inevitable Wycombe protests and gamesmanship, Taylor got his second of the day. 2-1 Dons.

What was remarkable about this game was that it took until the 72nd minute for a yellow card to be shown, and then it was shown to Dannie Bulman. Fouls in the box, simulation, constant arguing with the ref had all gone unpunished (the game ended with a yellow count of 1 to the home side to 4 for the visitors, which was equally ludicrous) – it was as if the officials were existing in a parallel universe.

As the game went on a red kite circled the fields outside – the view of the Chilterns is certainly one of the better backdrops in the League – oblivious (I presume) to the atmosphere next door. Wycombe boss Ainsworth was getting a lot of grief for his, and his team’s antics, and even he was shocked that fans of his former club at turned on him. It would be nice if that shock translated into an improvement in his team’s tactics, but somehow I feel that is unlikely.

The home side had a bit of pressure but they were unable to breach the Dons’ defence again and at the final whistle three well-deserved points were celebrated wildly by the travelling fans – who included former Dons’ Jon Main and Mickey Haswell. It had been a really good performance, with Elliott man of the match, having caused the home team no end of problems all afternoon.

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On the way out I was really pleased to bump into Shea, who was at her first game in years, mainly due to the arrival of two children in the meantime. I’d suggested earlier in the week that perhaps her trip could bring good luck and it seems it did. The campaign to get Shea to more games starts here.

The Hourglass

Views of the rolling countryside apart Adams Park has little going for it. The one road in and out through a sprawling industrial estate is inevitably blocked for an age after every game, trapping those who have risked parking close to the ground. With the bars and tents on site selling such delights as Greene King IPA we walked down the lane to The Hourglass. It isn’t the worst pub in the world but is by no means the best either. We ordered unmemorable drinks and called a cab to arrive in 30 minutes. Ian noticed a dog hiding under the table – the poor thing was presumably embarrassed at being dressed in a Wycombe shirt.

We left to wait for the cab. And wait we did. Other cabs turned up, we waited. Likely looking vehicles drove past but did not stop, still we waited. Increasingly angry calls were made to the cab company (not least because Alyson needed to get back to Grimsby – missing her train would lead to a hefty additional fare and an overnight stay). We were told the taxi was a minute away, then on its way, then (15 minutes later) 20 seconds away. Half an hour after it was due a cab turned up. Alyson made her train with seconds to spare (and only because it was late) and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Pro tip: do not book Tiger Cabs in High Wycombe.

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Tiger Cabs is removed from Graham’s list

The Belle Vue

We walked to the back of the station and round to The Belle Vue. It was one of those pubs that it’s a joy to happen upon: friendly and welcoming, with several beers and ciders on, plus a good number of leaflets announcing an anti-EDL march the following week. We ordered Adnam’s Ghost Ship and West Berkshire’s Skiff and joined Tom and Andy, who had made it rather earlier travelling by bus. They were just finishing another game of crib (Andy won again) and we shared our taxi take before they headed back to town. A band began to set up next to us, prompting us to shift to the snug, and one of the locals told us that two of the musicians claimed to have been Wombles in Mike Batt’s backing band back in the 70’s and we were suitably impressed. The snug doubled up as a gallery for local artists, bringing out our inner critics. The band started to warm up next door: “1…2, 1….2, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2” came the voice over the sound system: “It’s the score!” we chorused.

We reluctantly left for the 9.14 train home, using the handy (and previously unknown to me) back entrance to the station.

The Allsopp Arms

Also known as the “one for the road” pub that we visited (maybe) as a tribute to Wycombe’s goalkeeper. We all drank Salopian Darwin’s Origin and mulled over the trip with a few other returning Dons fans: all in all, we concluded, it had been a very fine day out indeed.

Pub of the day: The Belle Vue

Beer of the day (for me, at least): Siren Pompelmocello