Tunnelling to victory

One of the things about lower league football is its never-ending ability to give you the opportunity to visit places which you would be unlikely to set foot in otherwise: Stevenage is one of those places. It may well be a town that serves its residents well, being within easy commuting distance of London while avoiding the capital’s cost of living, but a tourist destination it is not. Neither could Stevenage be called a beer destination with any hint of credibility, but on Saturday it did mark AFC Wimbledon’s last away game of the season and, with it, a chance to secure a play-off place (even typing that seems odd, who’d have thought it?)

We arrived at King’s Cross just after 11 to find the place swamped with supporters arriving for the annual Army vs Navy rugby match at Twickenham. While Waterloo naturally bears the brunt of the travel chaos on this day, every major station has thousands of fans arriving in the morning.

I made my way through the crowds to find tickets and train beer while Ian headed to The Parcel Yard to find Sean and Graham who had arrived a few minutes earlier.

The Parcel Yard

This Fullers pub is one of the most welcome improvements following King’s Cross station’s facelift, much like The Mad Bishop and Bear was at Paddington before it. Both replaced previous hostelries which were of the dingy, unwelcoming and distinctly lacking in decent beer style once so common on London’s train stations, and while the rose-tinted nostalgic may remember those bars with some affection, the truth is that they were pretty grim.

When I arrived in the pub, train beers and tickets in hand after a quick trip to Sourced next door in St. Pancras, it was heaving with the aforementioned Army and Navy supporters. I bumped into Tommy, who directed me to the bar where Sean, Graham and Ian were just about being served – by all accounts the number of rugby fans had been even greater a few minutes before.

I had a pint of ELB’s Jamboree, which was decent if not outstanding, and we found a seat. Joe had also arrived and joined us, along with Tommy and, a few minutes later, Charlie. Joe, Tommy and myself were discussing Untappd, the beery social media app, and the various badges that could be won by checking in different ales There were accusations of beer geekery while Graham suggested that with the badges “It’s like the alcoholic version of Cubs.”

We were all getting ready to get the 12.22 train when some fans across the pub shouted out it had been delayed. A further check showed that the train was so late it was no longer stopping at Stevenage so we made a collective decision to wait for the 12.52 rather than catch a slower service. Sierra Nevada was ordered and drunk (earning the Untappd NC Beer Month 2016 badge), and conversation turned to politics, the forthcoming mayoral elections, and the toxic campaign being run by Zac Goldsmith. Somehow this led to Joe telling us how his father had shown him an Observer Sunday SupplIMG_3206ement in the 70s (or 80s?) featuring Tottenham’s most famous Marxist Keith Flett in the bath. I’ll leave that one with you.

A slightly different picture was painted when some Dons’ fans on the annual PISA final away game of the season day out passed by. This year’s theme was golf and as you’d expect there were some serious outfits about: colourful plus fours, pastel jumpers, golf caps…and Ali G. If you didn’t know that Ali G was a big golfer then you weren’t alone but with a tap on the nose Ali undid his shell suit just enough to give us a glimpse of his Masters (or was it Ryder Cup?) polo shirt. Clever Ali.

The 12.52 London King’s Cross to Stevenage train

We lost a few and gained a few on the journey up as Joe, Tommy and Charlie ended up in a different carriage while we found Collette and Dom. Train beers were consumed: Magic Rock Salty Kiss for me, Beavertown’s Neck Oil, Wild Beer Fresh and Five Points Pale for Ian, Graham and Sean. Conversation turned to the end of seasons’ past and, not for the first time to that game at Bromley. “The Ryan Hall goal was the first time that I used the word cunt in front of my dad,” confessed Graham.

We decided that as time was getting on we may as well get taxis straight to what would now become the only pre-match pub. And then we got to the taxi rank. No taxis but several people waiting. We looked up the rank, no taxis in sight. A bus pulled up on the opposite side of the pavement to the taxi queue. Someone noticed that it was a football shuttle and all paid a pound (return) and piled on; first (and only) stop The Lamex Stadium. As we got off Drive explained that the return bus would leave ten minutes after the final whistle and depending on numbers it may come back for a second trip. Dom went off to get his match ticket and the rest of us headed to the pub where he’d meet us later.

Our Mutual Friend

Insect porn 

For a pub within walking distance of a football ground, and in Stevenage to boot, this is a very decent option: it has several ales on at any one time and is friendly for away fans. I ordered a Dark Star Hophead and others ordered an Oakham beer (the name of which I failed to note). In the outside area we found several Willoughby regulars and the usual pre-match discussions about tactics, possibilities and that crazy thought of the play-offs began. Then something strange happened. Graham started staring intently at the side of the table we were stood at. He pointed something out and Collette joined in. We moved closer. “It’s insect porn,” Graham explained, indicating two copulating ants who were seemingly unaware of their audience.

Stevenage Borough v AFC Wimbledon

By the time we got into the ground it was pretty full and we ventured to the furthest block to try and find some space to stand at the back. We managed it but all around us were people intent on sitting – yes, SITTING – in their actual numbered seats. Graham decided to push through to the middle while the rest of us stuck it out (for now) as the game was about to start. It was one of those days when much of the travelling support had one eye on live score updates on phones and the other on the game being played out ahead of them, all while maintaining an impressive vocal support. We all knew the permutations (equal or better Cambridge United’s score and we’d make it) and the need to see what was happening elsewhere was great as a result.

On the pitch there was early pressure from Wimbledon, with Elliott and Taylor both causing problems. Stevenage came back into it and forced Roos into an excellent double save but neither side could break the deadlock. Jake Reeve’s injury just before the break was a concern; you had to feel for him, picking up another knock so soon after his last enforced lay-off.

During the break we all shuffled along at the speed of tortoises towards the exit (and, crucially, the toilets). With only one way out and an away following of over 1100 this was a very slow affair indeed. When ten minutes had gone and we’d only made it halfway I gave up and having spotted Graham at the back of the central block abandoned the toilet idea and went to join the livelier section of the crowd. Joe and Charlie were also there, as was Alyson, and Dom joined us, together with several PISA golfers. Those who continued to the toilet (Ian, Sean and Collette) fared rather worse and found themselves in the front row when they returned.

The noise levels grew as Dons were urged on. Chances came and went, notably to Rigg, and then we heard that Plymouth had scored at Cambridge United. The celebrations in the away end weren’t far off those reserved for our own goals. Akinfenwa came on for Taylor, following the earlier replacement of Elliott by Azeez, and more chances were created and spurned.

We were fairly relaxed about this until to my right Dom suddenly said: “Cambridge have equalised.” A sharp intake of breath. Then, almost immediately, to my left, Charlie looked at his phone: “They’re winning, it’s 2-1.” Anxious glances were exchanged, phones were consulted, we saw that it was true, that Cambridge United had scored two in two minutes and we roared encouragement to the team while simultaneously willing Plymouth on. The final whistle grew nearer, there was no way through for Wimbledon. This was going to the last day of the season wasn’t it?

Suddenly someone, I’m not even sure who, saw it on their phone: an equaliser for Argyle. We erupted with unbridled joy again. The game finished, Cambridge United and Plymouth Argyle played on and on and on (had we known there was eight minutes added time there would have been a meltdown.) The team had come to our end of the ground to applaud the away support and then they started celebrating – was this it? We presumed it was and celebrated some more, and while it’s debatable whether the other game really had finished at that point, it would eventually finish 2-2 securing, yes, that unbelievable play-off place. There were hugs, high fives, limbs everywhere and probably a few tears too. We saluted Neal Ardley and the team below and made our way, still in a state of disbelief, to the exit.

Getting out was a repeat of half time and it was several minutes before we emerged to find the others. We decided that the football shuttle would be long gone and with no idea whether it would do a second run we decided to walk to the Old Town, naturally following Graham and his trusty map. We went down subways and out the other side, down the next subway and through a seemingly never-ending grey, unloved and unpopulated outdoor shopping centre. Still we followed Graham like his trusty disciples, down yet other subway and then, finally, we heard the sound of leather on willow: if a cricket match was going on then we must surely be in civilisation?


At this point a few of Graham’s followers asked if we were near the station. There’s a lesson to be learned from this: always ask the person you are following where they are going. We pointed them in the right direction and made our way to the pub that we could see in the distance. On closer inspection the words “Greene King” became visible – surely Graham hadn’t brought us all this way for a pint of Greene King IPA? He hadn’t and inside we found a range of other beers and ciders. Ian and I went for cider – the sun was out after all – while others chose some of the non-Greene King beers.

The plight of the greyhound in the Stevenage programme

In the garden we found the golfers again. Small footballs were produced, kicked and predictably lost over fences. There were some impressive attempts to climb over and under to retrieve one ball, which were ultimately unsuccessful, leading to a “can I have my ball back?’ exchange with the pub kitchen. Somehow I ended up wearing some golfer hair, which Graham dubbed a Lady Di look.

The events of the afternoon were replayed again and again. Songs were sung. Alyson, as only Alyson can, called me Dad and then, twenty minutes later John was Dad. The sun started to disappear and we worked out how the patio heaters to keep warm. There were more songs and more lost footballs.

Eventually we decided that it was time to head back, well, bar Graham who stayed with the golfing community. We found another subway, asked someone for directions, went through several more subways in this national capital of urban tunnels and then, in the nick of time, came across the train station. A sprint across the bridge and we made the train with seconds to spare.

The Parcel Yard

We had come full circle and ended where we began. We found seats in one of the many rooms with the remnants of the Army and Navy rugby crowd. “Army,” I called out to one group, “what was the score?” “29 all,” came the reply. “Army won,” came another. “Navy won,” came a third. We gave up and went back to enjoying our own moment, together with some English tapas (crisps, nuts, pork scratchings) before slowly heading home.


This would have been the last blog of the season but now there will be another, from either Bristol, Accrington or Oxford. That there will be is testament to a truly amazing season that has surpassed the expectations of most – and full credit to the players and management for that. From now on everything is an absolute bonus.


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

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?

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

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.


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.

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!”


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.


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.

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


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