Now normally I would’ve been looking forward to a Blues away trip, but QPR truly is a trial of patience. Firstly, the away end at Loftus Road is cramped to say the least, (I’ve been in bigger suitcases.) and the sightlines are by far the worst in the league. By that, I mean the whole of the EFL and not just the Championship. That in itself is a reason for not going there, but both the stewarding and policing is seriously oppressive too. Before now, I’ve likened both to the Gestapo and Nazi Storm Troopers because it’s that bad. On top of all this, the RMT had called a strike that would coincide with the fixture. We would be then, facing the daunting prospect of a journey to and from our capital by National Express. The idea of being squashed up on a coach with strangers, their screaming kids and their overspilling hand luggage, did not appeal in the slightest. Here’s the thing though, National Express also runs the vast majority of the local bus services in the West Midlands, from Wolverhampton to Coventry and everywhere in between. Their drivers and maintenance engineers had been threatening to strike over pay. Something that given their unsociable hours and the nations rate of inflation, I could totally agree with. With this specter hovering over my local ground hopping options, I was limited to one. However, a last minute offer from National Express, had led to a brief postponement of the scheduled strike action, and my options had been expanded. So I headed out of my hovel of a flat, safe in the knowledge I’d got a guaranteed new ground hop to do. At the point of postponement, I’d even toyed with the idea of getting the tram to Wolverhampton for the Wolves versus Leeds game, things had been looking that desperate. I did though, have the chance for an early pint at the Welly before getting the bus. Supping my pint at our usual table, I couldn’t help over hearing a group of seven or eight (I didn’t count them, but there were around that many and they all knew each other.) middle aged blokes chatting about different grounds and games they’d been to in the Midlands, and more specifically, the West Midlands. It was very evident that they were seasoned football fans. Now there wasn’t any indication as to who they followed. No colours, not even a badge. Going by accent alone, I deduced they must’ve been Bournemouth fans, up for their game at the Cesspit. As I left, I went to wish them good luck against the Vile. How wrong was I? It turned out that they were Leeds on the way to Wolves. There was not one single accent from north of Watford, never mind north of Sheffield. I then caught the number 9 from Colemore Row, to Halesowen. The first and last time I caught the bus to Halesowen, a group of us went to watch them versus Sutton Coldfield Town. The group included Dingle Dave, and plenty of alcohol induced fun. I’ve got to admit, I felt quite wistful travelling on the bus. Not least as it also conjured up memories of when I was with Trudi and we spent a lot of time travelling back and forth to her eldest son’s flat at Quinton. Although I miss Dave greatly, I don’t miss Trudi whatsoever. When we split, I was an emotional and mental wreck. To say I’d been chewed up and spat out, doesn’t really tell the whole story. In one sense though, once I’d rebuilt myself, I made sure I was much more robust. I don’t wish ill of Trudi. Far from it, I only wish her well. It was a period of time that has ultimately helped shape who I am, and I actually quite like who I am. Touching down in Halesowen, I had a quick look around the place. Not much of one, but enough to get the sense it was just as run down as Dudley is. It does though, have several decent real ale pubs. Unfortunately, none of them open up before 12 o’clock, hence the reason for the brief look around the town. The Wagon and Horses was my first port of call. A Black Country Ales pub, and run by a woman who is very obviously working hard to make a success of it. Listening to and joining in on the conversation she was having with a couple on the next table, it’s clear she’s got good ideas in how to achieve her goal. Given the financial restraints on our forever dwindling spare money, pubs need to continue to be creative just to keep their regulars, let alone entice more people in.
“Was a time when features like this were enough.”
If it hadn’t been for an itinerary and ground hop to go to, I would’ve stayed in there, but it was time to move on. The King Edward VII, is another pub I’d been in before, and it’s not only unchanged, but still as good.
“As you can tell.”
“The most famous son of the Black Patch”
From the King Edward VII, it was on to unknown territory. I’m still learning about the Black Country if I’m being completely honest. Even after venturing over there so many times this season, I probably don’t know it as well as I should. Mind you, had it not been for the continuing rail strikes, I probably wouldn’t have ventured over there as much as I have, and so my sparse knowledge would be even worse. Anyway, I’m digressing as per usual and I really should get back to my account of the day. The next pub was a little bit off the beaten track of the number 9 bus, but worth seeking out. The Hawne Tavern has a knot of loyal, friendly locals. One of which, a yappy four legged variety, took to the stranger in their midst, and found me very intriguing. I really do need to find a pet repellent aftershave. Any recommendations will be greatly appreciated, thank you.
“Every estate should have one of these”
After making friends with Archie the dog, I retraced back to the number 9 route, and carried on to what would be the last place before the game. Just as I got to The Whiteley, a coach beat me to it, and it’s contents of passengers unloaded straight into the pub. At the time, I first thought that they may have been supporters of Shepshed Dynamo, as the were playing Halesowen Town, and the Yeltz were at home, but I was to quickly discover that they were nothing of the sort. I don’t actually want to say this, as it implies that the pub chain is formulated, but the Whiteley is a Black Country Ales pub and anyone who is familiar with their pubs, would’ve been able to tell it was one. The reason for the reluctance, is because they are so really good. In fact, within the real ale drinking fraternity, there’s not only relief when another one opens, because their standard and choice is so good, and it means that the original pub isn’t lost, but also an excitement and clamour to go and visit it. Here’s the thing. The chain is forever growing its portfolio, and now has enough pubs to set a ‘challenge’. It’s purely promotional, but to be honest, it’s a win win situation for all involved. The time determined challenge is to have a pint in 25 different pubs within the two months that the chain puts the promotion on. Little booklets are produced with photos and details of all the pubs that are within the chain. The idea is then to get 25 of them stamped and on completion, the successful candidate can claim for a commemorative polo shirt and case of beer. Now back to this coach and its passengers. I suspect that they were attempting the challenge, as they had a woman organising them. I say organising them, as she was going about her task with the gusto of a teacher who was in charge of a school outing. She was walking round making sure that every single one of them had a pint, and was drinking them. She even wore a whistle around her neck, that she used to signal that they needed to get back on the coach. After she’d used it, she even did a sweep of the pub to make sure none of them had left drinks and no one was missing. They were then ushered back onto the coach like a flock of sheep. I even looked to see if there was an attentive border collie sat next to the door of the coach. With the announcement that it was onto “Walsall next everyone”, they filed out. I can’t believe they were attempting 25 in one day, but the enthusiasm they’d all had when they’d signed up for however many they were doing, was definitely on the wane. I know I and the rest of the ale trailers visit a lot of pubs before a game, and there’s usually an itinerary or itineraries floating about, but it’s certainly not regimented in the slightest. I’m sure if one of us was to turn up with a whistle, they’d soon find themselves walking gingerly like they’d just ridden a horse, whilst involuntary whistling with every step they managed. I somehow felt sorry for the passengers on that coach. Judging by the growing dissension amongst them, I sensed a mutinous end to their trip. Although I didn’t need anyone with a whistle to tell me when to leave, I still needed to complete my own particular challenge and tick another ground off. I’d just be leaving the whistling to someone dressed in black.
“Oh, how I just love Non-League.”
“The obligatory photos of the ground.”
“And one of the match officials.”
Now I’m not saying that the match officials were on the large side, but one of them was late to the buffet, whereas the other two were late to leave it. I’ll allow you to delete where applicable. Going into this match, Cradley were in dire need of the points due to being dangerously close to the relegation zone, but as the first half developed, you wouldn’t have known, as it was they that looked the most likely to take the lead. In fact, it was almost like they were trying their hardest to miss the gilt edged chances they were being presented with. The same couldn’t have been said about Blues at QPR, as they’d gone 1:0 up. I consoled myself with the knowledge of how bad trying to watch a game at Loftus Road is, and that it was so early in the game, that I would’ve definitely have missed it anyway. Turn up at that ground 15 minutes before kickoff, and the game will still be 10 minutes old by the time you get to your seat. (Yes, it really is that bad.) After such an entertaining, but one sided goaless first half, I looked forward to more of the same but with the addition of a goal or two. It wasn’t to be. Copsewood tightened up more. Now given the areas proud nickname, it does allude to a built up sprawl of concrete and brick all covered in soot.
“That perception couldn’t be more wrong”
I’ve been vociferous about gamesmanship before on here and believe it desperately needs eradicating from the sport. I suppose though, there is actually a level of skill involved in its dark art, because when it’s deployed by amateurs, it really is truly embarrassing. There’ll never be any Oscars awarded at Midland Football League Division One level, but an ongoing spat between a Copsewood centre half and the Cradley number 9, was ended when the centre half decided to audition for a part in the next series of ‘Casualty’. After throwing himself theatrically to the floor, the referee flashed the red card to the Cradley striker. Personally, I think he should have sent the Coventry defender off, as his acting had been that bad, but nevertheless, the home side were now down to 10 men. Not that it was anywhere near a rabid baying mob, but the home support now turned on the away side, and let them know that they weren’t happy with what had happened. The expulsion also seemed to galvanise the remaining Cradley team into a cavalier approach to the rest of the game. It did then, feel kind of satisfying when the home side grabbed the winner. For me, it’s always great to see when cheating doesn’t prosper.
I had one last place on my itinerary and after getting caught in a heavy but short shower of rain, I headed for it. The Crafty Pint is one of those excellent community micro pubs that have been springing up.
“Another Halesowen haven”
I still like the old traditional pub, especially if it’s been tastefully restored, or lovingly kept. There really are some great examples around the country, that transport you back to another era, but I’ve grown to like micro pubs every bit as much too. They may not have the features that say the Wagon and Horses has with its fireplace, but they have individual stamps on them. Sure, I’m not a fan of the wine bar look and feel. They’re too nondescript for me, but micros are almost always in shop units and as such, are blank pages. The decor is down to you and the boundaries of your personality and imagination. I don’t know who dreamt up the idea of a micro pub, and whether it’s an adaptation of the cafe/bars of the continent, I’m just glad they’re around. Leaving the Crafty Pint and yet another good example of a micro pub, I headed back to the bus station and got a bus back to Brum. Touching down, I went to get the bus back to where I live. Observing the growing queue at the bus stop, it was evident that there’d be a scrum for the next service. Cutting my losses, I decided on one final pint in the Post Office Vaults before getting the bus back home. Even with Blues winning 1:0, I still think I made the right choice to miss the trip down to London.