Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Market Drayton Town v Chasetown: So Close Yet So Far Away

Chasetown don’t have many local matches in the Evo Stik West. Last Saturday we played at Market Drayton Town, one of just four local teams. So how did my journey there end up taking five hours (NB that’s an hour longer than it took to get to Kendal)? Read on and weep. 

The previous night I’d been out with the girls to a beer festival at our friend Brendon’s pub, Inn on the Green in Acocks Green. Having sampled the two beers on tap that leapt out at me (Black Iris Chocolate Vanilla Porter and Tenby I Am Raspberry), my eyes wandered to the fridge (never a good idea), where I spied Amundsen Dessert in a Can – Coconut Choc Chip Cookie. Dear reader, how could I resist that? And it was everything I wanted it to be (and more, at £9 a can!). It was only when I was ordering my second can (it seemed the carriage charge was at least included in the price) that I examined the can and realised it was 10.5%. Oops! And thus it came to pass that, despite being sensible in heading home at half past seven, the strength of that (absolutely delicious) beer meant that getting up at 0430 the following morning did not appeal…

But why was I getting up at 0430 to go to such a local match, I hear you ask. In short, because I’m an independent woman and I can make my own way to any match in the country without actually driving myself. After all, I did it for over 20 years watching Blackpool. What I was not factoring in here though was the remoteness of non league grounds. This was going to be a four bus job today (or so I thought…). 

My alarm went off seemingly as soon as my head had hit the pillow and I crawled into the shower, making sure Buckcherry were blaring out some rousing tunes through my shower speaker (hang the new neighbours – I’d had to endure their yappy dog last night). I always end up singing along in the shower because I’m always awake by then and looking forward to the day ahead. I’d even been organised before the 10.5% happened and had a bag of food in the fridge to accompany me today.

The first leg of my journey was the bus into Walsall. That was early, so it’s a good job I was too. I had some tight connections to make today, so this was a good start. At Walsall Bus Station (recently revamped but I still miss the Princess Diana statue), I waited impatiently for the 51 into Birmingham. Five minutes after it disappeared off the departure board, showing no signs of materialising, mild stress began to surface, so I had Uber on standby. The bus did turn up, though, and the driver put his foot down so we arrived in Birmingham earlier than scheduled.

As I trotted into Digbeth towards Birmingham Coach Station, eyes to the ground, as I was a little fragile and needed to check where I was putting my feet, I spied a penny on the pavement. 

Find a penny, pick it up, 

Then all day long you’ll have good luck. 

So I picked it up, pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t glued to the pavement, like the shrapnel outside one of the B&Bs in Blackpool – the source of much amusement for the landlord. 

By now I was I need of the bathroom (to spend the penny I’d just picked up), so headed for the toilets on the coach station. It costs 30p to use these facilities, but I picked up another two pennies at the turnstile, so felt a bit smug that technically it had only cost me 27p. Who doesn’t love a bargain?

I was waiting to board the 0715 National Express coach to Manchester (NB this was the only route offered by Google Maps to get me to Market Drayton). Whilst the coach arrived on time, the driver took the longest time imaginable to board the passengers. I honestly almost fell asleep standing in the queue – and I’m now on Christmas card terms with the people either side of me. When I finally got to the front of the queue and showed him my ticket, he looked at it blankly and said, after some deliberation:

‘You’re going to Manchester.’

‘No, Stoke.’

‘Hmm. I’m getting too old for this.’

Now I had a five-minute connection time at Hanley Bus Station (Stoke) for my bus to Market Drayton. Given that we were over five minutes late departing Birmingham,I was not at all confident of making this connection. When the driver proceeded to make unscheduled stops to turn the heating up, then down at passengers’ requests, I began to abandon all hope, whilst drafting a text message to National Express complaining about this slow coach (not really intending to send it, because I’m British, after all, and one simply doesn’t complain about anything). 

I spent the journey catching up on last night’s Corrie, regularly checking that little blue dot on Google Maps and the estimated journey time from where we were to Hanley Bus Station. This didn’t make for pleasant reading and I found myself drifting off I can’t remember where to spare myself the stress. By the time I snapped back into reality, I checked the little blue dot – and it was quite definitely north of Stoke. Dear reader, I hadn’t drifted off so far as not to have noticed the bus stopping at Stoke – the driver simply hadn’t stopped there. Note our conversation above: ‘You’re going to Manchester’ wasn’t a question, was it? I leapt to my feet and stomped to the front of the coach. 

‘I was meant to be getting off at Stoke!’

‘Oh. Well I’ve missed the turning now….’

(I’m turning green and bursting out of my clothes at this point). 

‘Well are you going to turn round and drop me at Stoke?’

‘Er…yeah…’

Now, sure, I felt a bit guilty about all the other passengers off on their hollibobs to Manchester Airport, with flights to catch, but you know this really wasn’t of my doing. As I finally alighted at Hanley Bus Station (a stunning new construction, by the way) – THANKING the driver, because I simply can’t help my Britishness sometimes (and he was clearly having a bad day) – my guilt was assuaged by the sight of a dozen passengers waiting to board the coach. What would have happened to them if I hadn’t asked the driver to turn back? 

Now around 20 minutes late (I’d stopped checking the time at this point, as there was no point), it was Uber to the rescue; Mohammed was with me within three minutes.

‘Where is it you want to go?’

‘Market Drayton please.’

‘Ah! Market Drayton! My favourite place!’

He wasn’t even joking, as he went on to enthuse about how he had driven in to work there with a smile on his face every day for six years. 

On arrival I took a little stroll around the town centre. It’s a lovely quaint little place. I looked around for a cafe where I could take breakfast (my bag of food remained untouched, save a few cherry tomatoes, as I’d been too busy being livid with the coach driver). I couldn’t find a cafe but I did find a pub which was open early, so I entered The Crown, now again needing to powder my nose. 

‘Where are the bathrooms please?’

‘Are you a customer?’

(Seriously, don’t pick a fight with me right now). 

‘Well I will be in a minute – I just need a wee first.’

‘Ok – they’re through there.’

Five minutes later I collapsed into an armchair with a big mug of tea and reached for my phone to ping off that complaint to National Express, now I had my Uber bill to wave under their noses (a £23 expense I wouldn’t have incurred, had the coach been on time). My draft text (to the number specified for feedback on the coach) had duly vanished, as I’d received another text in the meantime. I could have left it – and rarely complain about anything – but this was a repeat offender this morning, plus I had a headache. I prepared and submitted a complaint via the company’s website before putting my phone away. I clutched my mug of tea with both hands and snuggled back down into the armchair…just as ‘It’s All Right Now’ came on the jukebox. I found a smile creeping onto my face. It was as though the pub was giving me a big cuddle. And it was indeed all right now. 

Next stop was the excellent Red Lion Inn, Joules Brewery Tap House. Again, I wasn’t drinking here because I was working the match shortly, but I could still appreciate the magnificent building, which has won the CAMRA/English Heritage Design Awards. Diet Coke in hand, I strolled around the pub, enjoying its quirkiness and nooks and crannies. I’d like to come back here. 

Now it was time to head to Greenfields Sports Ground, home of Market Drayton Town FC. Past the rugby and tennis clubs, the football club appeared deserted, until Kitman Dave appeared. We admired the new and improved dressing rooms and chatted awhile before hunting down a cup of tea in the Boardroom. Now I’ve noticed a disturbing trend amongst NPL West clubs, whereby visiting match officials are offered biscuits pre-match, whereas visiting club officials are not. Dear reader, if I wasn’t on a diet, I would be quite upset about this. As it was, I still wasn’t hungry anyway, so I sunk into the sofa with my tea, only reluctantly climbing out of it when it was Teamsheet O’Clock (2pm), before resuming my position straight afterwards. 

At 2.55pm I made my way to the opposite side of the pitch and positioned myself by the away dugout before starting my stopwatch on the referee’s whistle. The match itself wasn’t the most enthralling – neither side having anything to play for – but MDTFC celebrated like they’d won the cup on their 93rd minute winner (Will Whieldon having skied a penalty for The Scholars five minutes previously, which could have reversed the 2-1 result). 

After the morning’s public transport debacle, I was glad to have secured a lift back to Stoke after the match. Hanley was to be my home for the evening – and I was determined to enjoy it, as it was about time my day picked up. I checked into my hotel, quickly researched local points of interest and headed almost immediately for BottleCraft. And my what a delightful little hostelry this is! The staff were warm and welcoming, the punters were amiable too (I engaged in Tiny Rebel Newport chat with a man who was thinking of visiting and told him he absolutely must) – and the beer wasn’t bad either! After a Thornbridge Brock on cask, I made a point of keeping a good distance between me and the fridge after the previous night, instead opting for a couple of beers on tap: Wild Beer Fruitbooter and Lervig Orange Velvet IPA (who can resist a Lervig?). I could have stayed here all night, but the next level of entertainment was calling me from round the corner. 

My final port of call for the evening was The Sugarmill, where The Lancashire Hotpots (my favourite band, as you well know by now) were performing, supported by the ever-funnier Stu Penders. The evening was, as always, a total hoot and a couple of Hobgoblins completely drowned all memories of the morning’s stresses (what stresses?) as well as enabling me to endure the grotty toilets. I sang and danced and chatted with friends old and new.

Dear reader, I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow back at the hotel. The next morning I was, of course, famished, having only picked at my portable buffet throughout the day (as well as helping myself to a good handful of Jaffa Cakes in the Boardroom at half-time). I headed to Toffs for breakfast, fully intending to tuck into a full English (hang the diet) until I saw oatcakes on the menu. When in Stoke… I couldn’t decide between the fillings, so had all four: bacon, egg, mushrooms and beans, washed down with a pot of tea. I spoil myself sometimes (well every weekend, truth be told). And mercifully my journey home was trouble-free and I was home before I knew it. It had been an action-packed wacky weekender – but I’ll tell you now I’ve already had a refresher driving lesson so I can get back on the road and avoid all this nonsense next season. Don’t worry, though – you know I’ll always find adventures somewhere…

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