Sleeping with the Enemy by Man in a Hat.
If you need reminding of the plan regarding my trip to Hednesford, please read the preview I provided before the trip.
On the Thursday before the game, I gained some insight into the potential movements of the Blue Army, when I bumped into Phil in Brinny, who advised me that his crew would be on the 08:35 train.
Perhaps they were going to get off at Cannock (the stop after Hednesford) in order to get breakfast at a Wetherspoons called the Linfield Arms (which is in the Good Beer Guide)? Apparently not, straight to Hednesford to check out the Mining Museum!
As far as I’m aware, all there is in Hednesford is a Tesco, a Bingo Hall & a new drill hall for the local Army Cadet Detachment. No Mining Museum, so what are they going to do for an hour & a half before the pubs open?
My 2015 Good Beer Guide arrived Friday morning (CAMRA Membership has its privileges) which confirms that I’m heading into a real ale wasteland. Just 2 pubs in the Good Beer Guide within a 10 mile radius of Hednesford, the Cross Keys (where I’m staying) & the Wetherspoons in Cannock (which Phil’s crew will be ruing they declined by the time they read this).
The Guide also informs me that the Cross Keys was local CAMRA pub of the year yet again in 2013, making it 3 years in a row.
Bumped into some of the Blue army at Stockport Station (Mouse, Mr. Wilks, Ed etc.). Forgot to take a photo! Doh! They all get on the 09:35 to Bournemouth. Have I missed a trick?
I was booked on the 09:43, in Coach A, Seat 01. Fears that this could mean me having to drive, were quickly allayed by the Train Manager. Fair to say that he didn’t think it was very funny. Probably been up since the early hours I guess.
Signal problems just outside Stoke, mean I’m 14 minutes late, leaving just 3 minutes to get my connection to Rugeley, but no problem, as both trains are using the same platform, so I arrive safely in Hednesford at 11:23, bang on time.
This means that I’ll be able to get to the Cross Keys in plenty of time to ensure I’m first to the bar & waiting for the Blue Army when the doors open at 12:00.
On my way from the station to the Cross Keys, I pass no open pubs & no Mining Museum.
When I arrive at the Cross Keys, the doors are already open & a reception committee awaits. [pic 1] I’m outraged! I demand that these imposters be escorted from the premises until after I’ve checked in.
No dice! My plan is in ruins.
Anyway, I calm down, check in, remove the rubber sheet off the bed, lay out my PJs & return to the bar.
In fairness to the Landlord, he’d opened up early for the Blue Army. Presumably, grown men crying outside the premises isn’t good for business?
The Landlord at the Cross Keys is Chris Miller, a former Hednesford player & current Assistant Manager.
Chris, who kindly posed wearing my hat, behind his well-stocked bar, scored the winning goal at Wembley for Hednesford in the 2004 FA Trophy Final. Pictures of this historic event adorn the wall of the pub. [pics 2 & 3]
The locals are nowhere near sick of hearing all about it, I can assure you.
Chris, who also appeared in FA Trophy finals for 2 other teams, informs us that Hednesford have so many injuries, that they are there for the taking today.
On hearing this, I enquire as to whether it would be worth booking in for the play-offs, but Chris advises not as Hednesford won’t make it.
Something else I’d overlooked (pointed out by Lancs) was that County would be winning the Division & therefore wouldn’t be in the play-offs either.
Phil informs me that the imaginary museum they visited was very good.
In a rather disturbing development, one of the Blue Army, declares that should County win the Division, he will run across the EP pitch completely nude! A beer-mat is commandeered to record said declaration, which the would-be naturist duly signs.
[pics 4 & 5]
According to Hedgegrower, there are no pies at Hednesford, so I’m pleased to hear good reports regarding the chippy across the road. I will therefore procure pie on the way to the game.
Many ales later, the chippy is shut & I’m feeling well sorry for myself. I’ve blown my only chance of pie! So it’s off to the game, tail between my legs.
Upon entering the stadium (probably only 2nd to EP in this Division?), I traipse unenthusiastically towards the burger bar.
But what’s this?
The best pie of all - unexpected pie!
And, it’s the king pie of all pies - CHICKEN BALTI!
Ok, so it’s lukewarm, but I just don’t care.
I seek out Hedgegrower & accuse him of subjecting me to unnecessarily mental cruelty, but I suppose all’s well that ends well?
After the game, its back to the Cross Keys for the post-match debrief. This also provides me with the opportunity to wave off the Blue Army before I explore darkest Hednesford.
The Hednesford supporters we’ve been chatting to offer to give me a lift into town in order to kick-start the tour.
Next thing I know, I’m in Woody’s Music Bar with Ryan, Paul, Jimmy & Dave.
Loose arrangements are made for me to return the favour when they visit EP mid-November. I secretly hope that they’re planning to stay a few nights, as it’ll take at least 3 nights to even just scratch the surface of the excellent real ale scene in Stockport.
Next up it’s the Hen House, where we bump into some Walsall fans. I never cease to be amazed as to the genuine affection other supporters have for our Club. I tell them how much I enjoyed their match-day hospitality one Boxing Day many years ago.
As it was Non-League day, I chatted with Villa fans, Wolves fans, etc. & all to a man bemoan & sympathise with our current plight, fondly reminiscing about their various trips to EP in years gone by.
Everyone has also been mercilessly slagging off the Prem!
I’m left to my own devices, but not before directions are provided to a real ale pub called the Bridge, which proves to be well worth the effort.
A shame I can’t say the same about the restaurant I ended up in - India Red.
The frustrating thing is that the chilli pickle I had with Thursday’s popadoms was probably the best I’ve had since I lived in Leicester. The rest however, was very tame & disappointing. Not as bad as Leamington mind. Give me the Monsoon any day.
I turn the wrong way when leaving the restaurant & end up back at the station. No matter, I could do with a bit of sobering up.
Let me give you some insight into the way my mind works.
The sensible thing to do would be to go straight back to my room & go to bed. I can get to my room without the need to enter the Cross Keys, so I could easily do this without offending my host.
And this is what I do.
However, then I start thinking. Supposing there is some new ale on to try? I mean, blimey, the pub is just the other side of the car-park. Perhaps some of the Blue Army have also decided to stop over? What am I missing?
So, before taking my shoes off, I decide to pop back over to the Cross Keys.
IF, there is no sign of the Blue Army, & IF there is no new ale to try, I will simply turn around & go to bed.
Upon entering the Cross Keys for the 4th time today, there is clearly new ale that needs testing. AND, Chris wants to buy me a drink anyway.
2 hours later, I finally get to bed. Thank heavens there is no breakfast I need to get up for.
So there you have it, my first stop-over trip following County this season, combined with my never-ending search for great real ale, is over.
I think I’ve ticked most of the boxes: wore my hat; got pictures of the Blue Army; got a bit lost & imbibed real ale.
What I forgot to do was: put Chris straight about Dick Turpin (hopefully he’ll read this Blog though) & find the Trafalgar. Never mind, there’s always next time.
Barring any interesting ties in the FA Cup, my next stay-over will be Chorley, so look out for my preview early November.
Man in a Hat.