11 Days Away in Search of Promotion...and the Odd Beer- Part 2 by Man in a Hat

THE STOCKPORT COUNTY SUPPORTERS’ SAGA

The Stockport County Supporters’ Saga is faithfully reconstructed from the records created by Man-in-a-Hat during his epic 11 day mission to discover whether Stockport County could escape the clutches of regional football.

So, while you’re waiting for the fixtures to come out (Noon Wednesday 3rd July by the way), let me help you relive the final moments of last season through my experiences.

EPISODE V - A NEW HOPE

Not that long ago in a regional football league now far, far away…..

Stockport County had blown the chance of automatic promotion and were hurtling towards the play-offs.

We join Man-in-a-Hat as he wakes up in Chorley the day after the disastrous defeat at Victory Park.

Never Drink to Try to Forget (Sunday 21st April)

I’m very flat this morning (flat in mood, not flat in carriage).

Last night’s maudlin was alcohol induced, but this morning’s maudlin is born of cold hard facts. Due to their superior goal-difference, Chorley need just 4 points to win the Championship. It’s out of our hands for the first time in a very long time.

The Snooker World Championships are underway at Sheffield, where I’ll be heading post-Curzon, so I watch a bit of that to take my mind off things.

I pop to reception to book a taxi into Chorley, to be given a free Easter Egg by the lady on duty, who’s dressed up as a giant rabbit. If Thumper from Bambi was a 1 and the rabbit in Donnie Darko was a 10, this would score about a 9. Very disturbing indeed. The main difference is that she has a nice voice, way less menacing than the one in Donnie Darko. 






All the newsagents seem to be shut. Why would I want a copy of the Non-League Paper anyway? I’ll already ready to top myself, particularly after that rabbit incident!

Anyway, this provides time to pick off the Crown. Yet again, we’re supping before midday. Even finding a nice dark mild from Black Edge doesn’t cheer me up. It’s going to take a full blown beer festival to improve my mood, so it’s off to Bamber Bridge.

It’s takes a train, a rail-replacement bus and a taxi to get to the Sir Tom Finney Stadium, where Bamber Bridge from the Evo-Stick League ply their trade.



Every year they hold a beer festival to raise funds for the Club, and very good it is too. £2.50 a pint. No food until later on though. Shouldn’t have skipped breakfast!



Bamber won 4-2 yesterday to ease relegation fears. Permission is granted to put out a few Stockport Beer & Cider Festival beer mats, well, you never know.








Stafford comments that he feels like he’s been away for a fortnight. It really does, welcome to my world! Everything seems to have slowed down considerably.

Live music from the Champagne Nippers, a guitar saxophone combo.

Eight different beers and a chicken curry later, we’re done. The best in my view being the Hoof, from Farmyard Ales, a silky smooth milk stout infused with coffee.

Taxi back to Preston as we want to try out The Old Vic which is next to the station and has a departure board inside the pub. How civilised. Must suggest that to Steve at Ye Olde Vic in Stockport. 




This is nothing like Ye Olde Vic, in fact it’s almost the complete opposite. A huge generically styled venue with very average beer (relative to Ye Olde Vic you understand).



However, the opportunity is taken to sample the infamous Wobbly Bob from Phoenix and the Saltaire Blonde, before heading back to Chorley. We had to stay for a second beer after discovering (thanks to a kind regular) that the train we were planning to get didn’t stop at Chorley.

Wrong Side of the Tracks

Back in Chorley, we’re onto the final leg, the pubs on the wrong side of the tracks, starting with the best boozer in Chorley, the Malt ‘n’ Hops. Always guarantees not only a stout, but a milk stout, and also a dark mild.

As tomorrow is a Bank Holiday, it’s standing room only, not ideal for Stafford, so we eventually end up sat in the beer garden.

Irwell Works Marshmallow Unicorn Milk Stout (oh yes, that works!) for me and Bank Top Dark Mild for Stafford. Both excellent.

We realise that we’ve blown the chance to use some CAMRA Wetherspoons vouchers in the Old Vic, where apparently they are acceptable currency.

It’s pretty loud, even in the beer garden, so we head to the final stop of the day, the Railway. I always think there is something a bit weird about the Railway. The quality of the ale is superb, somehow completely out of kilter with the venue. Someone here really cares for the ale.

The Marston’s 61 Deep matches my high expectations.

We end up entangled in jukebox wars with one of the regulars. Everything he puts on is rubbish, unlike our brilliant selections. Modern music? Pah!

Upon returning to the hotel, I find that a further rubber sheet has been fitted to my bed, meaning that I have to try to remove it after a day out on the lash.

The ridiculous thing is that the original rubber sheet, which I removed way back on Friday, is still sat there on top of the wardrobe in full view. 

Redemption! (Monday 22nd April)

The weather continues to be rank. Way too hot.

However, stuff happens that you can’t do anything about. It’s how you respond that’s important. I choose to recognise that the sunshine seems to make other people happy, so I try to piggy-back on that.

Your football team doesn’t always play well, doesn’t always win, well unless your club has access to unlimited resources, but that’s just a perverse anomaly.

It’s how you respond that matters. No, let me go further, it’s how you choose to respond.

Your team might have just blown the chance for automatic promotion. Boo the team off the pitch, or try to lift the players by supporting them even more? On Saturday, the Blue Army chose the latter, and surely this must have had a positive effect on the players?

You might have inexplicably missed an open goal, a goal that may have secured the point County needed to win the division. How do you choose to respond? Forget the “what if”, you can’t go back in time, it’s done. Dust yourself off and get on with it. Choose not to feel sorry for yourself.

I’ve also made a decision. I choose to wear the hat during the play-offs. I abstained at Chorley and what good did that do? Hold on, weren’t you wearing the hat when County blew it in the play-offs last season. Shut up, shut up, shut up….. Stupid brain!

I already feel lifted by my decision, despite the doubts being raised by my unruly mind.

Following breakfast in Chorley, there is plenty of time for a swift half in the Crown (why is this place open?) before catching the 11:06 back to Stockport for today’s game against Curzon Ashton.

We’re first in Ye Olde Vic. Disgraceful!

We’re last to leave Ye Olde Vic. Disgraceful!

How County only managed to score two is unbelievable. Any faint chance of goal-difference becoming a factor should Chorley draw one of their games is now long gone, even given we’re playing Nuneaton in the final game, who have perfected the art of conceding goals.   

Now, I’m not a fan of social media, in fact, I opted out from day one, but what happened next will long live in my memory.

From the spontaneous reaction right across Edgeley Park, it is clear that Chorley have fallen behind at Spennymoor. This quickly communicates to the players, most of whom seem to forget that our game is still going on. Never mind, we can afford to concede one, which we nearly do.

Then a massive cheer across the stadium as it becomes clear that Chorley have lost! I’m not allowed to swear in these blogs, so insert your own expletive here.

In a split second, we’ve gone from the total despair of being thrown into the lottery of the play-offs, to just having to beat Nuneaton in the final game.

Nuneaton! Already relegated Nuneaton! The worstest team in the whole wide world!

Ecstasy! I can’t take much more of this! Surely this isn’t good for your health?

Somehow, I manage to lose Stafford in the after-match melee, but find him safely ensconced in Ye Olde Vic. Disgraceful!

Everyone is very excited. I stay long enough for the conversation to get around to all of the reasons why County won’t beat Nuneaton, and set off for Sheffield.

County are now also guaranteed second place and therefore home advantage throughout the play-offs, so come what may, there will be no trip to Brackley, which would surely have been worst case scenario.

I check into the Hillsborough Hotel in Sheffield, the real-ale pub I’m staying at for the World Snooker Championships. Later I meet my family in Sheffield for a few beers. I have parents, siblings, nephews, cousins and various other hangers-on (in-laws), all here for the snooker, so there will be no let up. At least you’re not allowed to take beer into the actual Crucible Theatre.

I might just yet survive this trip?

What’s that, 9am breakfast! Oh No!

Fast Forward

Let’s fast-forward through Sheffield. Suffice to say that despite the fact it was mostly watching snooker, I still managed to squeeze in 16 real-ale pubs, 10 of which are in the Good Beer Guide.

The best ale was imbibed at the Shakespeare, the magnificent Glass Half Empty from Pentrich.

I am very disappointed not to find any Stockport Beer & Cider Festival beer mats in Sheffield, particularly at Stockport CAMRA had been touring the city just last weekend. I do what I could to rectify the situation.

As you know, you can find all of the pubs I mention on the excellent CAMRA website www.whatpub.com


Man in a Hat.

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