Sunday 18 September 2016


It was around 10:30am when the PRATSmobile pulled up outside Fuggles abode. It was a mild day but the wind had the potential to cut through you; so jumpers and cardies were the order of the day, Autumn is upon us. FA cup day and a shortish trip up the M6 to the Black Country to Rushall. We were within spitting distance of Walsall when that old joke reared its ugly head. Here we go, a police car pulls the driver over, the driver winds down the window. The officer asks the driver, What’s your name? Goodall. Where have you come from? Walsall. Where are you going to? Rushall. What sort of car is this? Vauxhall. What have you got in the boot? nothing. Hopefully, that horrendous attempt at humour can be put to bed for another couple of decades. We arrived outside our first watering hole at around 11:45am, we were early the Black Country Arms didn’t open until noon. There were, what looked like a couple of parking spaces, other cars were parked here, but we weren’t sure if this was a proper parking area. We asked a local chap about parking the PRATSmobile. Well, he scratched his head, then set off on what can only be described as a high toned wailing recital. He pointed up the hill and gestured around the corner, he turned around and pointed up another hill and around another corner. We all said thanks, three of the PRATS looked at each other and shrugged their collective shoulders. We hadn’t got a clue, fortunately Citra used to live around these parts so he repeated it all again for our benefit. Parker, Pharp and Fuggles looked at each other and shrugged their collective shoulder, we still hadn’t got a bloody clue. So we took the car to the ASDA car park. We hung around outside the pub looking like desperate vagrants waiting for it to open. Then a couple of Walsall fans arrived, they started to talk to us, we nodded. We managed to deduce that they were playing Bolton Wanderers, and low and behold a few minutes later a group of Notlobians arrived, they started to talk to us, we nodded, said “yes” occasionally, but respectfully altering the inflection to give the appearance we knew what they were talking about. Fuggles looked at Citra for guidance, he shrugged his shoulders and said “dunask me”.
At Last the pub opened and the twenty thirsty throng thrashed through the slightly ajar door, bowling over the diminutive apron adorned maiden who was opening up. Fuggles slowly walked in after the rest, giving the appearance of complete control, pretending not to be gagging for an ale. In the bar, the barman asked who’s first, like clambering school kids the thirsty throng all hollered “me sir, me sir”, waving their folding money in the air trying to catch his attention, it looked like the stock exchange floor. Here’s a question, have you ever heard a Brummie or Black Country accent spoken in a deep tone? Why do they all sound as though they’re wearing a pair of underpants three sizes too small. There is a person at the Poppies, who lives out by Dudley way, we won’t reveal her identity as we might get sued. She is from god’s chosen town and generally speaks with a ‘Ketrin’ accent but occasionally drifts off into a Black Country lilt and every time she does her voice goes up a couple of octaves.

At last we got ale, Fuggles and Citra went for Black Country Ale (BCA) BFG, nothing to do with Roald Dahl, BFG stands for Bradley’s Finest Golden, and before you ask, no we haven’t a clue who Bradley is. As the name suggests it is a golden ale with a tight white head clinging to the glass. It’s very clear and refreshing, quite citrusy coming in at 4%, very nice. Pharp went for the BCA’s 4.2% mild, Pig On The Wall, deep brown colour, when asked, Pharp described it as “like licking a field of almost burnt stubble”, quite! I’ll leave you to work out what that means, but next time you hear Jilly (hollyhocks) Goolden use it to describe the finest Chablis, you’ll know where you heard it first. Parker went for the old classic M&B’s BrewXI. Bloody hell we haven’t seen this for years, it used to be brewed in the Cape Hill brewery which was situated just down the road, now I believe Brains knock it out under contract to Milson Coors. It was a session ale in its day, brewed for the men of the Midlands. 3.8% golden amber ale, it doesn’t say a lot but it will satisfy many palates, it looked in good condition.
Whilst supping the first pint Citra and Pharp scanned the menu and duly ordered the faggots, creamy mash and mushy peas, we rejoiced in the knowledge that this was a short trip, very little time for fermentation. The snaffle arrived, all very symmetrical, 3 ice cream scoops of mash down one side of the square plate, 3 faggot swimming in onion gravy down the opposite side with a green lava flow of mushy peas down the middle, it certainly looked wholesome. More beer, Citra stayed on BFG, Fuggles went for Whiter Shade of Pale brewed by Bad Company, close. Coming in at 3.2% Fuggles was not going to get inebriated on this, it was OK with very little taste, it was in decent enough condition. Pharp decided to try Bartrams Black Forest Porter, as you would expect with a porter loads of chocolate, but with the name you would also expect cherries and you wouldn’t be disappointed. Dark and rich with a good tight head coming in a 4.5%, lovely. Time to move on, we trudged back to the ASDA car park, passed a couple of boarded up buildings. if it wasn’t for the droning accent coming from the shoppers you could easily believe you were in Merthyr.

Just a couple of miles away to the ground, we parked up in the club’s car park. We decided to walk to the pubs just down the road, no more than 200 yards away by the canal. As we left the car park a coach arrived full of vagrants, ne’er do wells and Eli, the supporters bus was here. As we approached the pub the first thirsty Poppies lout raced passed us, it was Captain Kirk’s boy Dick. A couple of seconds later a rather tall young lady followed in hot pursuit. She looked desperate, Pharp shouted “are you chasing Dick”? she waved back, which was nice. We were all surprised, we didn’t realise Carla only had a middle finger on her right hand. We arrived in the Boathouse, to be followed by the miscreants who appeared to get preferential service. They all got served before we could get our order in. Just 2 ales to choose from but not too bad, Citra and Pharp went for Marston’s New World Pale Ale, a very nice refreshing ale, using Australian hops which will always bring out a zesty citrusy flavour, at 3.8% it has become a very popular addition to the Marston range. Fuggles went for York brewery’s Guzzler, a 3.6% blonde ale, very nice quite refreshing, easy drinking, a little bit of grapefruit in the aftertaste. In good condition. Parker settled for a coffee.
We only had the one pint, but whilst we were guzzling in the Boathouse, Poppies radio, in the guise of Companion accompanied by Oswald were lubricating their vocal cords just down the tow path in the Manor Arms. Said to be one of the oldest pubs in the country, been around since 1105 and they’ve held a licence since 1248. A unique bar, there isn’t one, just an open serving area. We asked Companion for his opinion, “marvellous” is all he said. Sounds like we may have gone to the wrong pub.

Time for some footy, Dales Lane stadium is OK, portacabins painted white make up most of the buildings, the clubhouse opens up into the ground. A long covered terrace down one side with two stands, one on each side but as far away from the clubhouse as you could be and still be in the ground. One of the stands had an ‘Evolution’ sign running along the top. The pitch has a very steep slope from side to side and clearly affected the play, the Pics must be able to make home advantage count with a slope like that. The game well, we worked hard and were 2 up by half-time. The second half we were made to work even harder and eventually scraped home 2-1. Our cup run goes on and we add two more goals to our FA cup goals tally.

Time for home, we decided to go to the Fountain in Walsall, the Weebles went in here before the game and described it as a bit of a Forest Gump. Unperturbed, we went anyhow, a pleasant back street town pub owned by Backyard Brewery, and as such their ales were available along with a few others.  Fuggles and Citra kicked off with Backyard Blonde, Pharp said he just to know one of those. A nice fresh tasting ale, loads of citrus fizzing on the palate, in very good condition. 4.1% and a decent price at £2.60. Pharp settled for Backyard’s Hoard, 3.9%, another golden blonde ale but with more malty notes. Once again in good condition. By now the pub was filling up, live music from 8:00, I think the band were in the Snug with us, there was a group of people all wearing bowler or cowboy hats and they were all wearing waistcoats. Just time for one more ale, Fuggles went for just a half pint of Marinka IPA, a whopping 5%, very nice, you could taste the strength with plenty of fruity bitterness. Citra had another Blonde, that was it for the day. Time to go home, Pharp was now percolating inside, the odd rumble was there, but we got home relatively unscathed.

With a win today we won’t be going to Merthyr on the 30th, which means a Tuesday night in November, shame really, the PRATS may not make the trip this season, it’s always a good day down in the valleys.

Thursday 15 September 2016


It’s FA cup time again, this week we are off to Rushall Olympic, in the West Midlands not far from Walsall. Walsall that brings back memories of handbag Harrington ripping a few new anal passages in the Walsall defence.

We have a few decent boozers nearby, but one we must aim for is the Black Country Arms in the centre of Saddlers country. Blessed with 16 hand pumps we are bound to find something we like. No doubt they will have some of their own brewery’s ales available, along with other local breweries, Backyard, Holdens, Kinver and Sarah Hughes. They also do some decent snaffle here, but there is a great fear amongst some of the PRATS, in the menu on the list of Black Country Specialities is Black Country faggots in rich onion gravy with creamy mash & mushy or garden peas. Do not let Pharp see that, I’m not too sure about the grey peas & bacon with a warm crusty baguette either, both potential master blaster fuel.

No Poppies away FA cup day would be complete without the Poppies horde thronging into the local boozer nearest to the ground or the clubhouse, you can’t beat a good throng. Throng, not to be confused with the apparel Citra and Pharp wear when they are gracing the beaches of Skeggy or Frinton on Sea. A throng is a ‘thong that is wrong’ and in Citra and Pharp’s case it is wrong, very wrong. It puts a whole new meaning to the term beach bum. If Pharp let’s rip whilst wearing his gonad hugging silk hankie with the bootlace chaffing deep into a place when no man has gone before or indeed would want to. The pitch is so high that it is inaudible to humans but all the dogs are whining and howling away in what sounds like strangled agony. On the odd occasion when Pharp has been for a dip, you don’t get the high pitch, it’s more like a Duane Eddy thwang.

Anyway, back to the Poppies throng, there are a couple of boozers near the ground, both within easy walking distance, firstly the Manor Arms which has 6 ales available, Banks’s ales and any of the plethora of ales that come out of the Marston’s portfolio, Hobgoblin, Ringwood, Wychwood, Jennings etc. could be available. Just along the canal-side is the Boathouse, a couple of ales here, it looks more like a family pub. There is a clubhouse, not sure if they have any ale available.

Where will we go on the way home?

Sunday 4 September 2016


Here we go again, it’s FA cup day, hopefully the first of many. What a difference 5 days can make, on Monday we were bathed in bright warm sunshine, today it’s persisting down, damp and not at all warm. We are going up north to Leek, and today we are without our usual chauffeur Parker, he is otherwise engaged. Today we are being conveyed to our destination in the retro rocket propelled Pharpmobile, the only vehicle in the country that has both internal and external combustion engines. The driver’s seat has a special chamber beneath it which is directly connected to the fuel tank. It was just before 11:00pm when we drifted out of town, travelling through a constant shroud of grey mist and car spray, not a pleasant journey. As we left the A14 and joined the M6, Pharp turned on his satnav and asked which way are we going. Citra pointed to the horse bolting up the M1. Pharp the Navigator is renowned for knowing every short cut in the country which just happen to be a bit longer than first expected. It’s no coincidence that Pharp’s favourite band Supertrump were playing on the radio ‘Take the long way home’, don’t worry we will. After a couple of hours of virtually continuous downpours, the fear of the game being called off descended upon us. We are now so conditioned that any amount of rain, let alone the deluge we were driving through brings out this fear. But as we enter outskirts of Leek, there is a cessation in the persistence. Not exactly clear skies but just enough to bring forth some hope. It wasn’t long before we were parked up in the town centre, we were on the roof of Wilkos. Walking down to the street level we went down the steepest pedestrian slope possible, Eddie the Eagle went flying passed us on a practice run.

Leek is blessed with an inordinate number of pubs, with only a couple of hundred yards to walk to get to the first one. Through an alley from the car park and we were on the main street and there before us was two pubs, the Cock Inn on the left and directly across the road was the Roebuck. First port of call was the Cock Inn a Joules pub. A nice typical town centre, quite smart with a long restaurant area towards the rear. Cumfy leather chairs and wooden stools around the tables, all very nice. 5 hand-pumps graced the wooden panelled bar, 2 guest ales, Draught Bass and Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild, plus 3 ales from Joules Brewery, Pale Ale, Slumbering Monk and a new seasonal ale No1 Stone Ale. Joules are now based in Market Drayton but they were originally in Stone, so this ale is brewed to celebrate their heritage. Pharp went for this, beautifully clear with a good head, this is brewed with 2 New Zealand hops so will be quite bitter. Fuggles and Citra went for an old favourite Joules Pale Ale, it had a slight haze but tasted fine with a good head, an easy drinking ale coming in at 4.1%. In the bar snaffling down the extremely good value for money food was Petit Chemise on his way home from a camping break in Wales. In tow was Chemise’s better half Petit Pantalon, wearing a replica Poppies shirt, marvellous, clearly well trained. Pantalon was duly introduced to the PRATS, it was clearly perceptible that when it came to Pharp’s turn, a grimace slowly spread across her face, you could see her step backwards. Pharp’s infamy preceded him, was he walking backwards? There were a couple of Scottish chaps sitting in the corner chatting away in their broad accents. It was difficult to understand what they were talking about, it was either football or duck walking, something to do with the Waddled Cup. Time to walk across the road to the Tudor looking Roebuck.
This pub is owned by Titanic Brewery and just to prove the point the bar was adorned with 10 hand-pumps with 8 of their own ales available, plus a couple of their craft beers. Another nice pub with food forming a large part of their business. With so many ales to choose from it difficult to know where to start so Pharp went for Steerage, a 3.8% easy drinking golden session ale. Quite refreshing with a good balance of malt and hops. Citra and Fuggles settled for Iceberg, a pale zesty ale coming in at 4.1%, very much up Citra’s street. Both ales were in excellent condition perfectly clear with good tight heads. Only time for one ale as time was moving fast. On our way back to the car park we spotted the Leeky Tap tucked away in the corner, bah humbug! not enough time we had to get to the ground.

Harrison park is a very nice ground, the pitch looked perfectly flat and green, apparently it’s had £100K spent on it. Nice high stand, the game always looks better when looking down onto the pitch, there’s covered terracing on three sides. All around are adverts for EsterChem just to annoy the chemical works across the road, they make Formates, Acetates, Agitates and Irritates.

The game, well it was just what you hope for in a cup tie. End to end stuff, the Poppies were moving the ball around well but Leek also had their moments, it was one each at half-time. The second half was just as intense, at two each the Poppies missed a penalty to win the game in extra-time. But no cup tie is without drama, step up the penalty villain to blast home a Poppies winner in the 93rd minute. General jubilation amongst the Poppies supporters, the Leek supporters decided to give the ref a bit of stick. Marvellous!

Time for home, we decided to go for pot luck and made our way to Ashbourne. So with the trusty I-phone looking for pubs on the Whatpub app we plumped for a new pub the Artisan. We eventually managed to get parked up in the town square which is surrounded by pubs, tea rooms and chip shops. It was just a short walk to the Artisan, this pub only opened in June this year and is housed in a former hairdressing salon. Quite an old building, the bar area was quite small no more than half a dozen tables. All the furniture looked as if it had been knocked up from recycled wooden planks with some wrought iron legs thrown in for good effect. There were 4 hand-pump on the even smaller bar area. The cat in the back yard had bandages all around it’s head, someone obviously trying to prove a point. The bar staff we wearing radio-active blue polo shirts with hair colour to match. On offer was St Austell brewery’s Cornish ale, Dark Star’s Dark Star ale, Bristol Beer factory’s Milk Stout and Hanlons Yellow Hammer. Pharp went for the Milk Stout, as you would expect in a stout, chocolatey sweetness and coffee bitterness coming in at 4.5%. Very clear, rich and dark brown with a very tight head, it looked delicious. Fuggles and Citra enjoyed the delightful Hanlons Yellow Hammer, a lovely 4.2% golden ale packed with zesty bitterness. In the bar was a small group that were dining on what looked like a delightful platter of crusty bread, a selection of cheeses and some home-made scotch eggs, with a few olives and pickles thrown in for good measure. Mmmm, it looked most convivial, should we have one? Maybe next time we’re up this way. With no seats available down stairs we climbed the rickety stairs to the lounge, another small room with some more home-made tables and benches on a very uneven floor, clearly a very old building. In the corner was a group of young chaps and chappesses, talking and laughing very loudly and having a jolly good hoot, back to university in a few weeks I suspect, OK yah? All in all, a very nice pub, well worth another visit one day.

That was it, we’d had enough for one day, time for home. An excellent day out, a good game of footy and some decent pubs, what else could we ask for. We have started on the FA cup road today, where will it take us this season.

Thursday 1 September 2016


It’s FA cup time again, so far this season goals have been hard to come by, will the Poppies add to their record breaking goal tally? This season we start our hopefully long campaign in Staffordshire taking on former Conference side Leek Town, although they were only in it for two seasons 97-98/98-99. We won 3 and drew one, hopefully we can keep that trend going.

Leek town centre has a loads of decent pubs, just like last season at Market Drayton we will get the opportunity to sample some Joules ales in the Cock Inn
just along the road about 20 yards away is the Titanic brewery owned Roebuck, loads of ales here. A pub crawl is on the cards with far too many good pubs to go in them all, maybe we could try the Cobblers, 6 ales available here. Leek have a micro-pub the Leeky Tap, it only opened a few weeks back with 5 ales available all served on gravity. If you fancy a taste of Belgium then the Den Engel
Leeky Tap Micro-pub
might be the place for you. Owned by Titanic Brewery you will get a couple of good old English ales, but they also have over 100 bottled beers and 10 foreign ales on tap for you to choose from. There’s more, no town centre with this many pubs could get away without having a Red Lion, owned by Hydes Brewery. Then we could try some ales from the Whim Brewery so it’s off to Wilkes Head. All these pubs are within a 6-minute walk and we’ve walked past a few. How many the PRATS will frequent is difficult to know, maybe half a pint in each. Maybe some before and some after the game. The good news is that the footy ground is only a 15 minute walk from the town centre, the bad news is the weather forecast. The rains of Ranchipur have followed us up the M6 from Latimer Park, bring your Pacamac you’ll need it.