Originally, I’d got a ticket for Blues’ game away at Stoke. Stoke-on-Trent is close enough to Brum for there to surely be some way of getting there and back by public transport and still have enough time for a decent drink in Newcastle-under-Lyme, if so happened either or both, the RMT and ASLEF were to call a train strike for that day. A strike was indeed called and so it was straight onto the tinternet to work out how to get there by bus. The combined efforts of us ale trailers, drew a blank. I hit the Website ‘Non-League Matters’ to see what other games I could get to. Our secret source when it comes to all matters of the rail strikes, informed us that the strike for Saturday would be called off. It was indeed called off on the Friday afternoon. Many rail franchises then released disclaimers stating services would still be severely disrupted due to the lateness of the announcement. Sorry, let’s get this straight. What it actually shows, is how badly different rail franchises are actually run in this country. Whoever has been running the country since the railways have been privatised, and I include both Labour and the Conservatives in this, have given out contracts to franchises whose management are disgracefully inept. Do I feel that under either the current government or the current Labour leadership if they were to ever get into power, will correct this situation? Absolutely not. Anyway, mini rant over, the initial announcement raised my spirits that I would get to do Stoke after all. Straight on the tinternet, still no trains to Stoke. I could get to Stafford by train and then get a bus to Stoke, but the return was looking doubtful. However, I had faith that the situation might get better over night. Turning up at New Street station, it wasn’t looking so. Before getting a return to Wolverhampton, my first question for the booking clerk was a forlorn enquiry about trains to Stoke. “None”, was the reply. At least I could get a train to Wolverhampton and with my tickets bought, I went to the Welly. I was a bit surprised to see Daryl arrive, even knowing he’d got a match ticket too. We chatted about the train situation, and that even getting back from Wolverhampton wouldn’t be cut and dried. I left him to his day of pottering around town, and headed back down to the station to get the train over to Wolverhampton. Unlike the previous week when I went to Willenhall, Wolves were at home. The city (I almost wrote town again.) was busy. There was even several Irish Wolves over from the Emerald Isle. Again. I’d only bothered doing an itinerary for Wednesfield, but I had got one pub in Wolverhampton I’d not done for a while. The Wheatsheaf is a Marston’s owned pub and usually I do tend to steer clear of them. However, in Wolverhampton, it does mean that you’ll see Bank’s beer on the bar. Again, ordinarily I’d give Bank’s beer a wide berth, because it’s not a drink that travels well for some unknown reason. Any of their beer that travels over 3 miles from the brewery tends to be awful. Within those 3 miles, the beer’s ok to quite nice. The Wheatsheaf falls within that three mile radius.
A good barmaid can make a pub, and the Wheatsheaf has the right kind of one. Feisty, bubbly, and buxom. The holy trinity of barmaid credentials. You can believe that to sound sexist if you want, but it pulls the clientele in and makes them stay longer, thus spending more money. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. From there, it was to the Lych Gate. (There you go Taffy. I’ve spelt it right this time.) Apologies to anyone who went in search of the Lynch Gate and found the gardens of either Mick or Bet instead. Apologies to either Mick or Bet for the unwanted, unexpected attention too. I will say though Taff, I’m right about Wolves fans liking their real ale mind. The pub was rammed full of the gold and black adorned. Fortunately I found a seat, I wasn’t so fortunate with the Great Western. I did manage to treat myself to a pint of Batham’s Bitter in the G.W though. Well I was in the Black Country after all. Checking on the time, it was off to catch a bus. What happened next, took the wind out of me. I may have been to Wolverhampton hundreds of times, but I’d never seen the hospital that my Dad was in. Bridgnorth Infirmary simply didn’t have the facilities to treat Cancer in the early 70s (It’s not even a hospital now.) and he’d been transferred to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton. Back in those days, kids weren’t allowed to visit.
“Even one as cute as this”
“And yet I still ended up this ugly”
It’s half a century since that photo was taken, so half a century since my Dad succumbed to the disease, yet here I was on a bus going passed a place I’d never seen, never mind been in, choking back tears. Wow, I’m being enveloped by an empty sadness just writing this. Right, enough of that. I got off the bus in Wednesfield and went straight in the Royal Tiger. No, not a curry house. It’s actually a Wetherspoons. It was really only for a quick half though. The place I really wanted to go in was next. The Vine is a Black Country Ales pub in every sense. A proper locals pub.
“With proper food”
They even had horse racing on the telly. It just needed a couple of whippets attached by a piece of string to someone to complete the image. It almost felt wrong to leave the pub, but leave I did. I had a game to go to.
‘Obligatory photos of the ground’
Remember me writing that Sporting Khalsa bought their ground off Willenhall Town? You do? Seriously? Would reading the terms and conditions of your house insurance policy not be far more interesting than this garbage? Surely you’ve better things to do. Even cleaning the grouting in between the tiles in your bathroom is better than wasting time reading this. Anyway, up until the 31st of May this year, they were sharing Wednesfield’s ground. If you really haven’t got better things to do, then compare the two grounds. Whereas Sporting Khalsa keep going from strength to strength after buying their ground off their landlords, Willenhall Town are presently close to disbanding, as lack of funding has led to the suspension of activities. Such is the fickleness and fragility of football. Watching football this low in the Non-League pyramid, you truly appreciate the players commitment. It’s not so glamorous. Yes, it’s still semi-professional, and that eludes to payment of some kind, but it’s certainly not a huge amount, and certainly not enough that none of the players haven’t got a main job elsewhere. As for the crowds at this level, I’ve seen bigger crowds for Sunday League games. Looking around, I really did feel like a proper ground hopper. Least I haven’t gone full on weird yet. Contrary to popular belief that I’m already weird, of course. To the game itself, and the first thing I had to work out, was which team was which. Something I’ve fallen foul of before. At this level, some clubs produce a programme, some just a teamsheet. I’d got there too late to get a teamsheet, and I’m not entirely sure that it would’ve stated which team were wearing what colours anyway. I had to rely on listening to the players accents. Yes, I know I could’ve asked someone, but I was trying to keep up appearances that I wasn’t a total nutter. A man is allowed to be content with his delusion, isn’t he? I was just thankful that the two teams weren’t both from the Black Country, and there was a difference in the accents. Once I’d worked out who was who, I settled down to watch a game played on quite a strange pitch. Half the pitch was completely flat, but then it sloped up from the halfway line towards the other goal, like some kind of gigantic sun lounger. The uniqueness was something that Haughmond managed to capitalise on in the first half, and they took the lead with a well taken finish. Keeping my eyes on how Blues were getting on, the away team were winning there too. Jealously never came into it. I was just glad Blues were winning. I say this a lot when I go ground hopping, it was a good game and there were chances for both sides. Obviously Wednesfield have learnt to adapt to their bizarre pitch layout, but they’d got the measure of their opponents too, as on the stroke of halftime, they equalised through a grubbed free-kick. I went to produce some Carling and then after, got myself a burger. The pitch definitely came into its own in the second half, and Haughmond struggled with climbing the hill towards the home goal. Wednesfield on the other hand, made good use of it and put pressure on the away side. That pressure told, and after taking the lead in the first half, Haughmond now found themselves behind in the match. Wenny (That really is the only nickname they could come up with.) sat on the halfway line at the bottom of what must’ve felt like Everest to the travelling side by the end of the game. A game that was capped by a third goal to Wednesfield. I’m not going to say I was more interested in how Blues were doing, because I wasn’t, but the fact that Blues were winning 2:1, did have me checking my phone more often. I don’t know specifically that Blues were worth their win, but Wednesfield definitely were.
Knowing that getting back to Brum wasn’t going to be easy, I didn’t hang around and went to get the bus back into Wolverhampton. I would’ve loved to have gone back to the Vine, but at least I didn’t have the surprise of emotion to deal with as I went back passed the hospital. I was ready for it this time. Unfortunately, as the wait for the bus had been longer than I would’ve liked, I arrived back in Wolverhampton too late to get either the last train or the last tram back to Brum, as their union too is in industrial dispute with their employers. It wasn’t even 6 o’clock in the evening. So it was to be the X8 bus. Even if you get the all stations stopper, it only takes 34 minutes by train. The tram takes 40 minutes and obviously stops more. The bus took 1 hour, 19 minutes, and that’s standard. To say I was glad to get off back in Birmingham, is an understatement. The bus back to where I live was a joy compared. I can now officially claim to be weird, because you’d need to be weird to put yourself through a bus journey like that, if you really don’t need to. Oh, and the Wolves lost 3:2 to Brighton.
Footnote:- Yeah yeah, I’m fully aware that Bet Lynch is only a character in a soap opera, and that character doesn’t physically exist. At least give me some poetic license, will you.