Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Chasetown v Basford United & Gillingham v Blackpool: Pubs of Rochester

I really enjoyed my visit to Gillingham last year. It had a micropub, a cat, a quest and dinosaurs. Who could ask for more than that on an awayday? And yet it was suggested to me afterwards that, on my next visit, I should go to Rochester. Dear reader, I’ve never been to Rochester, so I’m heading there this weekend on my virtual pub crawl. But first…

Chasetown v Basford United: FA Cup Q1

This iFollow malarkey is all well and good, but you can’t beat going to a match, can you? When I saw that Chase were in FA Cup action midweek, there was only one place I was going to be: The Scholars Ground. Chase have a strong FA Cup history – beating Port Vale to become the lowest-ranked team to ever reach the third round in 2007/08. This season they had already beaten former manager Scott Dundas’ team Kidsgrove Athletic in the Preliminary Round. Tonight they were facing Basford United, from the league above, in Q1. Fun fact: I went to Basford once and was force-fed a chip barm.

We drove down the M6 on Tuesday evening with a carful of sweets that Lee had secured for the journey (have you SEEN the sweet aisle at Home Bargains?!). Despite travelling at (the time formerly known as) rush hour, traffic was light and we made good time, the journey taking a little over two hours (it would have been quicker had we taken the toll road for one junction, as the sat nav suggested).

I worked as Match Secretary at Chase for a couple of years until my heart pulled me back to Blackpool last summer. I hadn’t really wanted to leave, but I cannot be in two places at once on a Saturday (little did I know Blackpool wouldn’t be letting me in before the year was out). It was lovely to see so many familiar faces again – although challenging not to be able to give them a hug. Cue lots of elbow bumping. There was Dave the Kitman, John the Gateman, Mick the Chairman, Lauren the Programme Editor, Paul the Press Officer, Brian from the FA, Niall the Referee…not to mention the fans, the players, the volunteers…the football family. It really was wonderful to be back.

Lee went about his business filming interviews while I headed to the clubhouse. The one-way system took some getting used to – but was very cleverly designed. On entering the clubhouse, you have to walk to the back of the building to the club shop (Trevor), where you are customarily accosted for money. I had a go on the football card (Blackpool was available) but resisted renewing my membership of the supporters club. I then continued towards the bar. There was no cask beer tonight – I usually have the Banks’s Mild here – but I was pleased to see a selection of bottled beers. Alan was standing at the bar and offered to buy me a drink (such a friendly bunch here). I was served a bottle of Thwaites Wainwrights.

I learned that the club had received a sizeable grant from the FA to cover COVID-related costs, which was nice to hear. It is by no means easy for clubs at this level to stay afloat at the best of times. They are also required to maintain their ground to satisfy ground grading criteria. Recently they were required to increase the size of their dressing room facilities at a not unsubstantial cost. There are grants available to offset part of these costs but clubs need to fund the rest themselves, which can prove very challenging. Gate receipts don’t even cover the wages, so sponsorship, merchandise, bar takings and fundraising are crucial to clubs’ survival.

I spent most of the night circulating and catching up with friends, but the match was a corker too! Chase went down to ten men when keeper Curtis Pond was sent off just after half time, but they scored quickly afterwards and came out 2-1 winners, the goals courtesy of Joey Butlin and Ryan Winter. They’ll now play AFC Telford United in the FA Cup next Saturday.

I won the football card but it felt wrong taking money off Trevor (his guilt trip also contributed) so I donated the £20 back to the club.

I chatted with Dave while Lee conducted his post-match interviews. My eyes were drawn to the clear night sky. Lee and I have taken to looking to the sky during lockdown in vain search for the Starlink satellites. The light pollution in Blackpool sadly means we don’t see too much from where we live. We can see Venus and The Plough but not much else. The Scholars Ground is quite remote – on the edge of a national park – and the skies were much clearer here.

‘What’s that over there? Is it a planet?’

‘I don’t know. It looks an odd colour.’

‘Yes. It looks red. I wonder if it’s Mars?’

We’ve just finished watching Away on Netflix (recommended – excellent), a drama about the first manned mission to Mars, so this was very much at the forefront of my mind. It couldn’t possibly really be Mars, could it?

I promptly forgot all about it and it was the next morning before I remembered to look up the visibility of Mars. Indeed, the Red Planet is visible at the moment – and it was what I saw. It is also sufficiently bright – just after sunset – that it is even visible from our house. On Thursday night I dragged Lee out in his slippers to see it on my return from the pub (Dunes – exciting new menu).

Here’s Lee’s video of our night out at Chase:

We were exhausted when we got back home from Chase just after midnight. I’d forgotten how these midweekers take it out of you. To think I was doing journeys twice the length of this twice a week at the start of this year. It’s going to be hard to get back into that routine, but I don’t suppose I’ll have to worry about that for a while yet. Meanwhile these virtual pub crawls are suiting me very nicely…

Rochester

It’s now the weekend and time to turn my attention to the Blackpool match. We’re away at Gillingham and I’m heading down on the Friday night to break up the journey. The drive would take 4h40 so I’m going on the train, which is actually quicker at a little over four hours. I’m changing at Preston then London, where I’ll stroll from Euston to St Pancras and take a train to Rochester. I set off at lunchtime and I’m there for teatime, by which time I’m ravenous…

Eagle Tavern

In ‘normal times’ I’d be heading here tonight. Real ale, homemade curry and live bands on a Friday night. Perfect, right? Only these days they close at 6pm and I don’t arrive until half past. I’ll be back tomorrow. It looks like a ‘proper pub’ (none of this poncey wine bar/gin parlour nonsense) and I know I would feel at home here.

Coopers Arms

Oh Rochester – you’re just teasing me now! The menu here looks AMAZING – but the pub’s website indicates that food is not currently being served due to Coronavirus.

I’m attempting to revert to the Slimming World diet at the moment. They won’t officially let me join because I’m technically a healthy weight, but I would like to lose a few pounds and start eating healthily again. I am therefore delighted to see a diet-friendly section in the menu here:

I am, however, technically on holiday when I’m on my awaydays – especially overnighters – so I would be having this instead, because it’s something I am unlikely to see on a menu elsewhere (and it sounds ace, and I’m starving, remember):

According to WhatPub, the Coopers Arms has guest beers and three regular beers

  • Courage Best Bitter
  • Tonbridge Coopers Ale
  • Young’s London Special

However, if there is no food on here at the moment, I’m just tormenting myself. I’m going to refer to TripAdvisor to find the best place to eat in Rochester.

Thai Four Two

Well, I like a pun and I don’t eat enough Thai food, so I’m here! This is the top-ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor that is (a) located in the centre; and (b) open.

I’m viewing the menu in advance because there is no time to waste tonight, as the country is on a 10pm curfew. When I’m perusing a Thai menu, I cannot help but imagine the words spoken in Klingon (TORD MAAN PLA) and it always makes me chuckle.

GINGER is one of those words that always leaps out at me from a menu and finds my eyes unable to move away from it. Words that have a similar effect are CURRY, BAKEWELL and COCONUT RICE (I’m also having the latter here).

It is impossible that I don’t enjoy the food here. I am happy to be rushed, as I have things to do, places to go, beer to drink…

1050 From Victoria

I’m getting a taxi from the restaurant straight to the ‘best pub in Medway’ (I’m apparently in Medway) because it’s only open 4-9 Fri-Sat at the moment (4-7 Mon-Thu) and I’m not missing out on this!

According to WhatPub, the 1050 offers two regular beers (Grainstore Ten Fifty and Kent Session Pale) and five guests. It was Medway CAMRA and CAMRA West Kent Pub of the Year 2019.

As pubs kick you out before 10pm these days anyway, I’m not bothering to hunt down another pub before closing. I’m having an early night. I’m not used to this travelling, I’m tired from the journey and content after a good feed and a nice nightcap. Plus I have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow…

Rochester Castle

Dear reader, you know I like a good castle on a weekender. I’m up early after a good night’s sleep and head out to Rochester Castle. The interior is closed at the moment for maintenance purposes, but the castle gardens are open, so I have a mooch round and breathe in the fresh air.

Rochester Cathedral

Rochester Cathedral, which dates back to AD604, is free to enter, which gives it bonus points over Lincoln.

Rochester does seem quite badly affected by COVID in terms of places being open. The Cathedral Library is closed, as is the Cafe in the Crypt, which looks magnificent.

You can take a virtual tour of Rochester Cathedral here.

There is much more culture to be had in Rochester but I have to be selective on a football weekender. I do, however, concur that Rochester seems a good place to visit when we play Gillingham, so I suspect more culture will be enjoyed on a future visit. Meanwhile, a (virtual) pub crawl awaits…

Who’d Ha Thought It

Obviously this is going to be a great pub, with a name like that! It has a pond, a ladies ukulele group, is dog-friendly – and is in the 2020 Good Beer Guide. I’m so there.

On arrival, I am immediately excited by the pub sign.

Can anyone top this?

In terms of beer, their website confirms they ‘have 3 hand pumps and like to have a mixture of strengths and colours with ales locally sourced from Kent breweries and from all over the country’.

This pub is out on a limb slightly compared to the other pubs, but I cannot resist visiting.

The Two Brewers

This is Rochester’s smallest pub – and has featured in the Good Beer Guide since 2012. It is a Shepherd Neame pub and seems to favour their beers, although does offer guests, too. I pop in here for a flyer.

The Flippin’ Frog

This micropub has recently changed hands and appears to be undergoing a refurb, so isn’t open for my virtual visit. It has a sister pub, though, which I’ll be visiting later…

Rams Micropub 12 Degrees

Sadly, it looks like this pub hasn’t reopened post-COVID, but I’m giving it a mention because I hope to visit when I finally get to Rochester in person. It has amazing reviews and I cannot resist a micropub at the best of times.

The Dead Pigeon

When it comes to pizza, I’m a bit picky. I don’t like them too dry or too stodgy. Wishbone in Walsall do them just the way I like them, but I don’t live there any more, so it will be a while before I have another one from there (if I ever do). I am partial to a Chicago Town microwave pizza because they are just the right size, moist and not stodgy. But I should avoid cheese, as it’s a migraine trigger for me, so I shouldn’t really have pizza at all. Only sometimes I can’t resist. And this place – the sister pub to The Flippin’ Frog – has a very exciting pizza menu…

I wouldn’t be able to resist this one. They also serve chocolate pizzas!

Burgers are also on the menu. Now I do like burgers – Aberdeen Angus burgers are often on the menu at home. But I confess to being terrified of them sometimes. I’ve never even attempted a Big Mac because (a) McDonalds makes me feel dirty; and (b) it simply looks too big to fit in my mouth. When I see photographs of ‘dirty’ burgers online I simply cannot see the attraction. This one on the menu at The Dead Pigeon scares me to death…

I need a sit down and a drink now, so I’m pleased to see Tiny Rebel Clwb Tropica (née na) on tap. I take a look in the bottle shop and find some very interesting offerings from ORA: Limoncello IPA and Icarus, a Lemongrass & Bay Leaf Saison IPA. But – oh! – what’s this? Leviathan Number of the Feast, a Feast Ice Cream Milk Stout (6.66% abv). One of those please! I daren’t look any further down the drinks menu – nor do I need to. I don’t think I’ll be finding a more exciting beer than that this weekend!

Gillingham v Blackpool

Onto the match! Dear reader, I wish I’d stayed in the pub… Despite dominating possession once again, Blackpool failed to score and lost 2-0, Gillingham scoring at the start of each half. Perhaps early goals leave us a bit shaky? Our passing was certainly below par at times today. We had a few decent attempts at goals but frankly not enough. We need to be more lethal and decisive in front of goal. Possession is all well and good, but we need to DO something with it and make it count.

I have every faith in Neil Critchley. He is young, keen and reflective and I know he will have the boys working hard in training to fix what is going wrong. This was something that I expected of Larry* last season but did not see – but then he did seem tired and disinterested and this rubbed off on the players.

*Dear reader, would you permit me an ADHD moment? It was only recently that I said to Lee that I might now be ready to watch season one of ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ – which of course features Larry. My subconscious, however, seems to vehemently disagree. Indeed now, whenever I hear – or even type – the word ‘Larry’, I hear Spit the Dog spitting directly afterwards. I don’t know where this has come from, but it seems I’m not quite over the horrors of last season quite yet…

One big positive from today’s match was that we weren’t able to travel to watch it – and hence need not suffer the long journey home from Gillingham, which was bound to take (or at least feel like) eight hours. We hosted a watchalong, which is what we do now, and you can watch us suffer the match here:

The diet went out of the window tonight. When we lose, I crave a curry. I dug an Asda Lamb Rogan Josh out of the freezer and put some rice on the hob. That went down very nicely – but I still felt empty afterwards. I went to the Naughty Cupboard and found these:

They were a bit sickly, if I’m honest. I could only manage four. Why mess with a winning formula? Normal Jaffa cakes are magnificent.

Next, I tucked into two (small) bags of popcorn. What I really wanted was Lime & Chilli Mini Cheddars, but I’m on a Mini Cheddar ban, as I was becoming addicted to them (one or two packets a day) and it was not good for the diet.

The evening did get better, though.

Tonight was gig night! The Lancashire Hotpots were performing their second full online gig. What a wonderful distraction from this afternoon’s disappointment. Watch this, sing along and smile…


As I didn’t physically go to Rochester this weekend, the photos have been taken from the websites I have provided links to above.

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