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Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Coventry City v Blackpool: Chips with (Almost) Everything

What a treat it was to have a match on my doorstep this weekend! With Coventry playing their home matches at Birmingham City’s St Andrews Trillion Trophy(!) Stadium, this was pretty much a home game for me.  I took full advantage of this and headed to the pub on Friday night, knowing I could have a lie-in the following day.

I started at the Uxbridge Arms, which is the nearest pub to Chasetown’s Scholars Ground.  The pub has a pool room, a dining room and a pub lounge with a painting of a naked lady on the wall.  It’s quirky (as are all the pubs in Chasetown) and I like it.  They do good food in here and always have four beers on.  Historically I have stuck to my diet in here (beer notwithstanding), opting for the jacket potato with beans.  Tonight, however, I went for the beef madras with half chips and half rice.  The highlight of this dining experience was the discovery of my new favourite condiment – Heinz Firecracker Sauce.  Wowzers, this is amazing stuff!  It was fierier than the curry!  This certainly brings your chips to life.  Got to get me some of that!

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Next stop was the Jiggers Whistle, a micropub on Brownhills High Street.  This is such a warm and welcoming pub (I am always greeted by name) and the beer is always magnificent.  Tonight I was on AJs Ales Stuck In The Mud, a delicious mild brewed in Walsall.  Happily the pub sofa was available tonight my friend and I collapsed into that for a couple of hours whilst chatting and drinking.  A man sitting in front of us at the bar came over after about an hour and placed two packets of ham on the table next to me.

‘I’m just putting that there. Now don’t go eating it, will you?’

I have absolutely no idea why he put the ham there.  There was a lamp on the table, so it wasn’t a particularly cool spot.  The fridge might have been a better place.  I love pubs and their people and their quirks!

By half past ten I was done for the night.  It was a struggle to fit the beer in after my big tea. I collapsed into bed so I could be fresh for the day’s vlogging at the match tomorrow.

***

I woke at 7am and blasted out Buckcherry to get me going for the day.  I was feeling pretty fresh this morning and I bounced out of the house at 9am (I always make a full day of even local matchdays).  I hopped on the bus into Birmingham, making sure I bagged the front seat on the top deck (the best seat for vlogging).  I enjoyed the view from the bus window, which I don’t normally get to enjoy, as I tend to have my head buried in a book or am busy writing.  It’s interesting to watch people and wonder where they are heading out on their own adventures.

On arrival in Birmingham, I took a walk around the town to do some filming for Lee.  I have spent a lot of time in this wonderful city over the last 18 years and wanted to share some of the highlights.  I took in the bull at the Bullring, the wonderfully old school Moor Street station and the contrasting brand new shiny Grand Central (the complex surrounding New Street station).  I had contemplated venturing out to Paradise but it is challenging to get there in recent years (both on foot and in a car) as they have basically demolished the whole area and are extending the tram line down Broad Street.  I’ll show you when it’s finished!

Now you know I like my chips – and I have been searching in vain for 21 years to find the perfect chippy tea in the West Midlands.  I did find a chippy in Birmingham City Centre that I settled on briefly (despite the fish being too watery and the chips being a bit thin) but sadly that closed down.  More recently, Awesome Chips popped up.  This place smells amazing and offers a huge variety of accompaniments to its chips…

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…but no gravy.  Hence I’ve never been in.  I was even offered a free sample once and refused (for dietary reasons, not in protest at the lack of gravy).  I’d have popped in today for research purposes (and to enquire about the possibility of gravy) but sadly it wasn’t open yet (it was 10am). After the amazing Firecracker Sauce experience the night before, I’m more open than ever before to trying out different accompaniments to chips, so watch this space, dear reader…

As I passed the Odeon cinema, I stopped dead in my tracks at this:

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Now Lee and I had seen these advertised in the Lakes on our way back from the Barrow match, but sadly the shop there was closed at the time.  But the Odeon was open now – and I simply had to have one of these for breakfast – hang the diet!

I had a slight pang of guilt now, so headed to Tesco to stock up on healthy snackage for the afternoon (Mango, Lime & Coconut Chicken, salad, banana and cherry tomatoes).  I know that doesn’t cancel out the ice cream but every little helps!

The video of my pre-match tour of Birmingham can be found here:

It was now half past ten and the Pub of Choice – The Wellington – opened at ten, so I made my way there.  It was too early for beer, of course, so I ordered a Fentimans Ginger Beer.  The Welly has been a real ale haven in the centre of Birmingham for many years and I am a huge fan of this pub.  In recent years, during Birmingham’s regeneration which has been built round the revamping of the station, many more decent beer houses have popped up.  Still muscle memory takes me to the Welly. And why not, with a beer board like this…?

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The pub was almost empty at this early hour and I heard the tinkling of a bell and some scampering to my left.  I looked across and saw three kittens playing football in the middle of the pub.  Ooh I’d forgotten there were pub kittens here now!  For years, Welly the cat has hosted us in the Wellington, but she has now retired from active duty and lives upstairs.  Now the next generation have arrived with a vengeance in the form of Hops and Malt – with their sibling Chip visiting on loan from sister pub The Woodman.  I stooped down to give them a fuss and play with them – and soon found myself under attack.  It has been many years since I had kittens (Flo, Ella and Benjamin were born during the 2002 World Cup and narrowly avoided being named after Brazilian footballers).  I had forgotten how much of a handful they are!  They were playing with my dress and my coat, were climbing in my handbag after my chicken – and one was pacing about on my shoulder for a good while.

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As the pub began to fill up with Seasiders and other drinkers, the kittens were either distracted or relocated and we could get down to usual pre-match business of chatting and drinking and laughing and eating and generally enjoying each other’s company.  It’s so lovely to be able to do this again.  I forgot how much I missed it.  It feels like home.

I got chatting to a Cov fan, who said they were treated better by the staff and stewards at St Andrews than they ever were at the Ricoh Arena.  They had been happy at Highfield Road.  Their current situation is so sad.  Having been through hell ourselves these past few years, the plights of other clubs seem so much more tangibly painful now.

We caught a cab to the ground (it is walkable but it is a good walk) and, as we approached, I recalled our visit here in the play-offs, when I tried to disguise my skipping back into town after getting to Wembley.  Neither Seasider I was with remembered ever playing Blues in the play-offs, so I had to look it up to prove I wasn’t making it up.  It was of course in 2012, when we went on to play West Ham in the final.  Perhaps the lads had erased that campaign from their memories.

I was frisked on the way into the ground – the security did seem somewhat over-zealous, but this is the home of the Peaky Blinders after all (indeed they were even selling Sadlers Peaky Blinder ale in the ground, which was a nice touch).  I do like a good frisk and missed out on one at the airport on my last holiday (being scanned by a hand-held device instead) so this was an unexpected treat.

And oh what an atmosphere there was in the away concourse! 

The Pool fans were singing their hearts out (it is like this every week and it is quite wonderful) and I was greeted with a big hug from a friend who lost her pie in the process but didn’t seem to mind.  I headed for the refreshment kiosk for a bottle of water (which was decanted into a cardboard vessel) and was tempted by the Wine Gums.

I barely had time to settle back in my seat before Sullay Kaikai opened the scoring for Blackpool.  Wow – what a start!  I love it when we go at teams from the off like this – indeed it got us the three points against Oxford, when they proceeded to batter us thereafter.  But today, despite going 2-0 up, we let our lead go, going in 2-2 at half time – and losing it right at the death, when we were down to ten men, The Fonz having gone off injured.  Coventry were value for the win – their passing put ours to shame.  Are we guilty of resting on our laurels when we go ahead so early?

There was some banter between the two sets of fans during the match (some a little harsh, I thought) – but my favourite chant of the day was the Cov fans singing:

‘We’re supposed to be at home.’

They of course joined in with our new chant about the EFL…

After the match I asked Google Maps to direct us to the Spotted Dog, a cracking boozer in Digbeth that has the best beer garden ever (as well as great beer).  Alas Google let us down on this occasion, directing us to the other Spotted Dog (there were two) which had now closed down.  By now very thirsty and almost back in town, we continued our hike back into Birmingham.

At length we arrived at the Head of Steam, a wonderful addition to the Birmingham pub scene – and I consider this to be the best pub in Birmingham now.  It has everything: a great range of cask, craft and bottled beers and lagers, cocktails (including beer cocktails – Tiny Rebel Stay Puft with marshmallows was out of this world!), wines and spirits.  There was football on the big screens and the pub was serving food until 9pm.  What’s not to like?

I bustled my way through to the cask pump clips and ran my eyes along the row.  I asked for a taste of the salted caramel beer – which I always worry about as a potential migraine trigger – but then my eyes lit up as I saw the Thornbridge Melba. Well that was dangerously quaffable at 5.2%!

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I’m so enjoying the post-match in the pubs with fellow Seasiders. This is something I’ve not historically been able to do, as I’m usually darting off to catch a train home. But not tonight, with me living just a bus ride away! So I enjoyed a few pints of this lush peach beer, which was not quite soaked up by some Big Time Fries (‘Hand cut fries with vegan mozzarella, jalapenos, coriander, spring onions.  Topped with your sauce of choice.’).  The fries were good – although I have no idea what my ‘sauce of choice’ was, as someone else placed my order.  Jalapenos are a good accompaniment to anything, though, so that was a treat.  I could barely eat half of the portion, though, as I was full from beer.  I must learn to get this balance right!

On the bus home – whilst I was watching Coronation Street to ensure I didn’t fall asleep and miss my stop (this has happened once, when the friendly bus driver turned round and drove me home!) – I received an invitation to New York for the launch of a poetry magazine which features one of my poems.  Exciting stuff!  But the launch clashes with a Blackpool match.  Hmm decisions, decisions.  Do you want me to take you to New York or Bloomfield Road, dear reader?  Let me know, because I honestly can’t decide which way to go…

Meanwhile next stop Bloomfield Road next Saturday.  UTMP.

The video memory of the day can be found below.  You can subscribe to these videos via Lee’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCohyWZEokbt9OOssfv2j5TA

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