Time to put the Brakes on?

Leamington Spa offers up enough opportunities ale-wise to justify a single night stop over, but certainly not 2. In fact, when I came to do the detailed research (after booking the trains & B&B I would add), I was rather alarmed to find that 2 of the 5 Leamington Spa pubs in the Good Beer Guide are Wetherspoons.

Nothing against Wetherspoons. I Like Wetherspoons & plan to try them both. But, when a local CAMRA branch has to resort to putting forward Wetherspoons as their Good Beer Guide entries, it is usually a bad sign as to the general standard of ale in the area. I still haven’t gotten over Hartlepool (Rat Race Ale House aside of course).
Yes...it really does exist.....Rat Race Ale House

So, this is a rare example of when my expectations of County were actually higher than my ale expectations.

The plan was a work of sheer genius & military precision. Early train Saturday morning, arriving at Leamington 11:37, leaving just enough time to check into the B&B & get to the first pub (the Windmill) by 12:08, thereby avoiding getting the pint that had been sat in the pipes overnight.

Then, one further stop off on the way to the New Windmill Ground, before heading into the Brakes Bar at the ground. A 5km walk in all! Do you know why Leamington FC aren’t called Leamington Town? Well, it’s because they’re way out of town. Leamington Outskirts or Leamington Periphery would be ok I guess.

I’m supposed to meet up with one of Hedgegrower’s cronies at the Ground, or at worst in Wetherspoons back in town-some guy called And . Hard core party animals one & all apparently. Fame? Never heard of him myself, but I am here to please.

The evening will then be spent trying to find various boozers in Leamington, culminating with a curry with Andy & his mates.

Sunday afternoon involves trying to find the pubs I couldn’t find the previous night, before returning back to Stockport on the 16:15, probably in desperate need of some decent ale.      

The only good thing about having to get up early on a Saturday is that sometimes, Naga Munchetty is on BBC News. 
Naga Munchetty.

Sally Nugent! Pah! I switch to Al Jazeera.   

The first excitement was when a young girl on my bus into Stockport got the shock of her life (to date) when a bloke old enough to be her great grandfather sits next to her & proudly announces that he always sits next to the prettiest girl on the bus.

He wasn’t using his indoor voice, if you catch my drift, & certainly got her attention. Earphones were removed & mobile device deactivated. He was way into her “half” of the seat (well, she was only little).

She could taste the grape she ate for breakfast, smell the years lingering on his battered flat cap, hear his attempts to make polite conversation whilst trying (& miserably failing) not to inadvertently use double-entendres & she could see that there was no escape.

No, it wasn’t me, I promise. I wear a Topper as you well know *. Everyone else on the bus is going to work, a timely reminder of how lucky I am.
( Editors timely intervention:...err....not strictly true MIAH....see the following candid snap taken pre match at Leam . I think I quote you correctly " Where`s the bar?".....)
MIAH....hat less !

A bit surprised to see the young girl get off in Brinnington really, considering she was wearing an Asda uniform. Thought Asda was in the town centre?

Anyway, as she gets off, Mr. Wilks gets on. He informs me that many of the Blue Army got the 8 ‘o’ clock train. He’s on his way to get the Peels of Wheels coach.

Eventually, the bus swung past the Plaza, where all of the wrinklies were waiting outside, eager to get their weekly Plaza Cafe fix. I’d like to say waiting patiently, but no. Have you ever noticed that old people just don’t do queuing?
( Editors note : err.....must reprimand MIAH soon as....for rampant ageism.....)

Anyway, a rapidly deteriorating situation is quickly remedied when one of the waitresses gives them all a good hosing down from one of the first-floor Cafe windows. Order is restored. No-one wants to lose their crumpet privileges. “Don’t make me come down there” she hollers.

No Plaza Cafe for me today though as my train leaves before the Plaza opens. Rather than waitresses in Victorian dress & very decent coffee, I’m faced with Andy in the station buffet on platform 2. This is now run by Starbucks (spit - - definitely part of the axis of evil).

It’s not all bad though, as Andy is a huge County fan always likes a chat about County’s prospects, which is something you just don’t get in the Plaza Cafe.

Andy always spots County colours & confirms to me that some of the Blue Army did indeed board the earlier train. I’m sure he’ll be very familiar to Supporters who regularly use the train.

The station buffet is very busy & yet no-one uses the 2 spare seats at the table I’m using. This partly because I’m obviously a football supporter & they are the scum of the earth, but I also realise that the chocolate swirl I’ve being trying to eat isn’t really very beard-friendly.

Even after I’ve tidied myself up, 6 serviettes later, people would still rather stand than sit with me. I even smile nicely & pat one of the seats in encouragement, but no dice.

A sign “Thank you for using Starbucks”, greets my departure to the platform. Take it or leave it - some choice!Meanwhile my table has already attracted more attention now, than the first seller to open their boot at a Bank Holiday Help the Hatters car boot event, as I head for the door.

“Don’t get too drunk” Andy shouts after me. Perhaps I should revise my plan? No. No, the plan is sound. I board the train. Probably in the third wave today. Some will have stayed over Friday night. Then the 8am crew & now me.

It’s standing room only, so I’m very glad I booked a seat. The usual disapproving looks as I take my place at one of the tables for 4. Just going to sit here quietly reading my book for 2 hours. That’ll show ‘em! Quiet coach my arse! I dread to think how noisy the other coaches are if this is quiet.

Train is 20 minutes late, so by the time I arrive, the plan is already in tatters.

12:33 before I get to the New Windmill. Should be 5 ales on, but there are only 2. In fairness, the beer is fine, but this is very much a restaurant that does a bit of ale, as opposed to a pub that does food. It starts to fill up with old people & children. I’m off.
Windmill Leamington

The housing estate behind the pub is where the ground used to be. The new ground is a good hour’s walk away. Still, I’m sure someone did nicely out of selling the ground, so that’s ok isn’t it?

Can’t see County liking these southern conditions. Far too hot for a bobble-hat & unpleasantly bright to boot.

Heathcote Inn next. 1 ale (should be 4) & 1 drinker - me. The Landlord has only been in a week, but hails from Belfast, so I bore him with tales of my various trips to NI.
Heathcote- Leamington

I’m not on my own long though.

Enter Richard & Mark of yellow army fame, with sons Rickie & Harry in tow, both of whom have played for Leamington Brakes Under 14s earlier. There are teams from every age group from under 10s up to under 15s, all playing competitive football under the Club’s banner, in various local leagues. Impressive.

I was going to walk to the ground, but am persuaded by my new chums to get the free bus with them. When I see that there is no pavement, I realise I’ve fallen on my feet yet again. Had the train not have been late, I wouldn’t have bumped into the locals & would surely have been run over trying to walk to the ground.

Apparently, Leamington is affectionately known locally as Leam. Typical lazy southerners, don’t know their born. End up next to Froggy on the bus, who is staying over in Coventry. Useful updates on the ale he’s tried so far in Leam (get me, I’m blending in with the locals) ensue.

£11 in. A helpful steward gives Liam permission to bring his drum in & even helps get in over the turnstile. However, as soon as Liam is in, another more senior steward confiscates the drum. Not allowed. Noise pollution.

Noise pollution? We’re in the middle of bleedin’ nowhere. Absolutely ridiculous. Even the yellow army plead for Liam to be able to keep the drum, but no, the local wildlife must not be disturbed.
(Editors note: We sent Nigel Farago up in the blog helicopter to get a pic of the NWG( above) and  MIAH `s remarks on its remoteness to Leamington centre are confirmed!)

Need pie.

No pies.

I alert the Blue Army, who were queuing to get into the ground, as to the lack of pies. Still they stream in, all heroes to a man. Yet another game will have to be endured in a pie-less environment. The sacrifices we make.

Off to the Brakes Bar. Bottle of Brake Fluid, a local real ale brewed especially for the Club. Not bad. Would be better draught of course. More chatting with the locals. Still no sign of Andy.
Brakes Fluid !

Having a browse through the excellent match day programme. The fact that Leamington even exist is a credit to all those involved. You really can’t see the join between the Club & the community it serves.

Smallest pitch I’ve ever seen.

Youngest liner I’ve ever seen.

“Past your bed-time liner?”

No response. Perhaps he didn’t hear me.


Oh, I see, he’s ignoring me. How deflating. In hindsight, I’m not proud of myself.

The Blue Army are gathered on the open end, which County are attacking. Let me qualify that, the end County are supposed to be attacking. First half is total rubbish.
Blue Army

But, supporters are being allowed to switch ends for the second half, which will place the Blue Army under a roof. Surely this will effectively hand the game to County. Should be very noisy & lift the players. And our away following can’t help but be cheered up by being moved out of the sun. What’s more, the covered end is where the bar is!
Blue Army + roof!

As I change ends, someone shouts my name. It’s Stevie B of Hyde Hatters fame. Steve tells me that he now lives near Leam having left Hyde. He’s also married a local lass. I know County haven’t been great Steve, but a bit of an over-reaction that, if you don’t mind me saying.

Into the second half. County look awesome & deservedly take the lead. My theories are being proven correct. But not for long. A sense of déjà vu descends. County can’t defend a lead. Even one of the stewards looks strangely familiar. Very disturbing. 
Stewards !

With 5 minutes to go, the drum is duly returned to Liam, conditional on him not banging it.

The drum is banged.

Didn’t see that coming.

The drumstick is confiscated. Is that what you call it, a drumstick? Not sure? Anyway, upon chatting with the steward at the end of the game, I realise that she’s had a complete sense of humour bypass. Liam will not be welcomed back.

In fairness, I guess that having to supervise the Blue Army is a bit different to looking after the half dozen or so from North Ferriby. The crowd is announced as 1,038, nearly 200 above the previous best of the season when Alty visited.

Here’s Andy! We retire to the Brakes Bar for more Brake Fluid. There are free buses back to Leam at 17:40 & 18:00. Local advice is to get the 17:40 if you want a seat. A Leamington player nicks my chair whilst I’m in the toilet.

Back in Leam, it’s straight down to business with Andy & his party animals, Jason & Craig. I’ll get the beers in at the Jug & Jester while they check into their hotel.

What’s this? They need an hour’s rest!

I start to realise that perhaps they’re not the hardened drinkers I was led to believe they were.

Anyway, no problemo. There are other members of the Blue Army to hand, all staying over of course.

It’s Fletch & his mob. Now this is a coincidence. We met in another Spa Town earlier this season, Harrogate, where I marched them so far in the wrong direction (down the Leeds Road as I recall) in search of a great boozer called the Swan of the Stray, that we had to get a bus back into town. I’m not allowed to forget this unfortunate incident - with good cause!
Here it is....Swan of  the Stray.

Andy & Jason show up, but Craig needs a further half an hour to recuperate.

One of the locals has a real issue with people from Warwick. He’s on about burning down the bridges to stop “them” getting into Leam. What’s that all about? My theory is that the Warwickians raided Leam in years gone by, & not only nicked all of the pies, but also all of the recipes for pies, leaving Leam completely pie-less, a situation that has remained to this day. No wonder he’s angry!  

Fletch is moving on & arrangements are made to meet up again shortly in the next pub.

We can’t find them.

Fletch - if your reading this, it wasn’t my fault, I took no part in navigating the group. I know you don’t believe me, but I didn’t.

Anyway, Andy & the chaps want to eat at this secret Indian place called Fusion, which was highly recommended by some locals earlier.

We can’t find it.

Reckon the locals were just yanking Andy’s chain personally. Perhaps they were mischief makers from Warwick trying to sully the good name of Leam?
The Kayal

We head for the Indian that we had originally intended to try. Craig describes the experience as a load of pretentious nonsense. He got that dead right. When did Indian food get this complicated? Furthermore, everything we order has the consistency of soup & the naan breads are all like pancakes. Simply just not fit-for-purpose. The flavour is very nice though. I drink mine as I would a soup.

It’s game over. We make a loose arrangement to meet in the Benjamin Satchwell (Wetherspoons) in the morning.

Sunday ablutions. Flushes through very nicely, taking with it all that went before. What happens in Leam should stay in Leam, so at least that’s mission accomplished.

5 newsagents, no NLP. So much for Leam being a football town.

10:52 - the Benjamin Satchwell to see if there are any of the Blue Army left standing.

Andy & his lot are heading back to Brum for the Villa game. I try to goad him into a swift pint before he departs, but he’s too busy admiring the local architecture. Come to think of it, he kept going on about it last night.

The weather is much nicer today. It’s a lot cooler & there is a steady drizzle, the sort that gets tangled in your beard. I’m glad I have 4 hours before my train as there is much to do.

Leam is a student town due to being close to Warwick University. There is therefore plenty of TNT (top-notch-tail) to admire through Wetherspoons’ window as I plan out my route. In years gone by, I remember that John also referred to TNT as FGF.

Start with Somerville Arms as that is the furthest away. Shut. Says 12:00, now 12:30. Shut. This was my top target & where we should’ve met Fletch last night. I’ve blown it! I’ll be ratting them out to CAMRA. At least I’ve tracked down the NLP in WH Smiths.

To the Clarendon. 4 ales (available, not consumed). An eye-watering £3.40 a pint.

Off to the White Horse. THREE EIGHTY!
White Horse

I might have to cut down or even give up. Think I hear my liver cheering. Them’s rugby prices!

Star & Garter £3.50 - best pint of the weekend though. And what’s this, a picture of my dad on the wall?

Leave the NLP there with the Sunday Times for others to enjoy, having noted that my home town team, Sutton Coldfield are still in the hunt for a play-off spot.

Everywhere busy. No recession in Leam then?

THREE EIGHTY in the White Horse. Chunter, grumble, moan, gripe etc. Nowhere near London. And there is hardly a beer mat to be seen. Good job I carry my own. THREE EIGHTY. No beer mat, & you have to give the glass back!

One of the locals advises that there has been a serious shortage of beer mats ever since the main beer mat distribution centre just outside Warwick burnt down in mysterious circumstances. And what are the authorities doing to bridge the gap between beer mat supply & demand? Nothing. Not a damn thing! Unbelievable!

THREE EIGHTY! GRRRRRRRRRRR...... No more stop-overs south of Stockport. Hate the south so much. Revenge soon. Suppose I could come back next season & just drink halves?

Off to the Cricketers. I appear to be invisible. Perhaps you need a password to get served? A local sat at the bar helps me get served, boasting he’s had 4 pints already this lunchtime. Lightweight! Perhaps he knows Andy?

The guy serving me is the love child of Russell Brand. Why would he have to work behind the bar? Perhaps Russ has cut off his allowance? Hold on, I’ve got it. It must be hard for Russ to keep track of all of them mustn’t it?

Sausage roll or scotch egg? Better try both. £2 a throw. Hold on, is this scotch egg even better than the ones available at the Three Fishes in Shrewsbury?

I am going to say it.......... Yes.

City have won the League Cup. YAWN! Well, another hammering for the bookies I suppose & at least it proves that resources rule, which is sort of reassuring.

Train home is packed. Dozing off nicely. On time!

Tipping it down upon arrival back in Stockport. Proper rain. The sort of stuff that bounces off your beard. It’s great to be back.
The excellent Crown Inn Stockport Viaduct.

Re-acclimatise in the Crown under the magnificent viaduct. £2.80 a pint. I hand over a quid too much by mistake.

Diddly diddly.

Quick chat with Mike who works there, although I’m probably not making that much sense by now. Do I ever?

Next stop-over North Ferriby. Pie guaranteed. Surely?

THREE EIGHTY!!!!!!! Why you little.............


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  1. MIAH - cannot believe you packed so much into the Sunday. Great effort !


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