Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Wigan Athletic v Blackpool: Wigan Pub Crawl

Dear reader, Wigan is quite possibly my favourite town ever. I’ve written about it at length in previous blogs but I will never run out of superlatives for it. So what if it’s always raining? The people are sunny and the pubs are brilliant. And it’s easy to get to on the train from anywhere.

The trains are direct from Blackpool North to Wigan North Western – and are £5 and 45 minutes each way. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? I head out on the 1003 and spend the short journey reading, because I’m spending far too much time on screens lately, and it’s not healthy (she says, off on a pub crawl…).

I decide to focus today’s pre-match crawl on Wigan’s breweries, leaving the pubs for after the match. I’ve never visited any of these before, so this virtual crawl provides an ideal opportunity.

Wigan Brewhouse

Formerly All Gates Brewery, Wigan Brewhouse promise ‘an outstanding range of modern beers…built on cask ale tradition.’

Guided tours of the brewery are available, with an incentive of an extra 20 minutes in the bar if you don’t want food.

Their beers are:

  • All-Nighter (black session IPA)
  • Blue Sky Tea (loose leaf pale)
  • California (golden)
  • Casino (pale)
  • Dry Bones (golden)
  • Gin Pit (golden)
  • Junction (session)
  • Kicker (session IPA)
  • Old Boston (plum porter)
  • Pretoria (golden)
  • Slider (ultra pale)
  • Station Road (traditional stout)

I’m really into my black IPAs at the moment, so I’m going for a half of the All-Nighter, as well as a half of the plum porter (which I can never resist).

I don’t fancy pizza or sandwiches, so I head off in search of pies.

Wily Fox Brewery

Wily Fox are ‘a multi award winning brewery and inventors of high quality beers.’

Their core beers are:

  • Blonde Vixen
  • Crafty Fox (‘traditionally crafted Lancashire ale)
  • Karma Citra
  • The Fox Hat (golden)
  • Prohibition APA

I’m going for Dark Flagon, which is a traditional porter with a rich coffee and dark chocolate base and a rum finish.

I’m also trying a Wry Smile Rye PA, a ‘spice bomb’, which I love the sound of.

There’s no sign of a brewery tap here – or any food – so the pie hunt continues.

Prospect Brewery

Prospect relocated from Standish into Wigan town centre in 2017. They promise ‘imaginative but traditional real ales brewed using just four simple ingredients: barley, whole hops, yeast and water.’

Beers recently available are:

  • Big Adventure (IPA)
  • Blinding Light (pale)
  • Castanea (chestnut session)
  • Clementine (Christmas porter)
  • Gold Rush (golden)
  • Nutty Slack (dark mild)
  • Pickaxe (porter)
  • Pioneer (amber)
  • Pudding Shop Milk Stout
  • Silver Tally (pale)
  • Whatever! (pale)

Ooh now this is an exciting beer list! I’m going thirds here, sampling the Christmas porter, dark mild and milk stout – none of which beer types I can resist on any beer menu. Indeed, I am salivating as I type, and realise that I’m getting nowhere near enough mild, milk stout or Christmas beers in my diet, which might go some way to explaining why I’m feeling a little low lately. It’s either that or having to relive the Nigel Worthington era for my book. I’ve even found myself listening to Morrissey this last couple of days. Talk about getting in the zone… Still, it makes for cracking material and I know you’re going to love it.

Again, I can see no evidence of a brewery tap or food, so onwards…

Mayflower Brewery

I enjoyed a Mayflower beer at the Wigan Beer Festival in 2017 – because how could I resist this magnificent pump clip?

Recent beers checked in on Untappd are:

  • Tower Hill (blonde)
  • Lancashire Stout
  • Lemon Head
  • Return of the Red Eye (red)
  • Douglas Valley (pale)
  • Dark Oak (mild)

There are so many pubs I could go at here in Wigan, but those are for another day (ok well after the match for those particularly irresistible ones).

I feel like I’ve had enough to face the match now, so off I head to the DW Stadium…

Wigan Athletic v Blackpool

I honestly don’t know what to expect tonight. We’re still injury and COVID-ravaged. There are still players in the team who have been out in the cold for weeks or months. And there are kids on the bench again, as well as our two recent signings, who we’d ordinarily bed in for at least a couple of weeks before featuring. We’ve signed Kevin Stewart this week who, as far as I can see, hasn’t played since July. This is a possible risk – especially on this dreadful pitch – but what choice do we have?

And the pitch really is rather odd. There are so many lines across it – as if the turf has been laid strip by strip – it looks like writing paper. It looks grey in the middle of the park – aided by the standard Wiganese murky weather – but, when the camera pans out to the corners, it is as if the contrast has been adjusted on the tv, as the green radiates through.

The pitch appears to dictate the play, with little action in midfield and much launching of long balls to the forwards. It’s a very open and end-to-end game from the off and the stall is set for an exciting game of football. Good. That’s exactly what we need at the moment, with us locked down indoors, persistent rain and snow outdoors, leaking rooves, flooding, digital fatigue and – I almost forgot – a global pandemic. Amen for football!

Dear reader, this wasn’t just football: it was sexy football. Gary ‘Goals’ Madine (Goal Machine) – who’s got excellent branding, hasn’t he? – delivered cheeky back-heels and even tried an overhead kick in front of goal. The football was direct but flowing once we got in the final third and Wigan gave us plenty of room to demonstrate exactly what we’re capable of. Gone was the ‘parking the tram’ five-at-the-back. This was 4-3-3 (Bez and Jez the other forwards) and we were grabbing Wigan by the throat. Some might call it meanbagging, but it wasn’t as if we were ever going to score seven.

Five, though…

To a man, the players were magnificent tonight. But it was the subs who stole the limelight. Let me tell you a little about Ellis Simms. He’s 20 years old and last week we signed him on loan from Everton U23s for the rest of the season. His goalscoring record for the U23s and U18s? 48 goals in 48 games. That’s ridiculous, right? But to look at him tonight…we could see that he has something magic about him. He oozes confidence (as you would, scoring that many goals); he looks terrifying both in terms of stature and his huge hair and beard; his positioning is inch-perfect; and he has dazzling feet. Dear reader, he came on with 20 minutes to go and scored two goals (indeed could easily have had a hat-trick) – making the League One Team of the Week. So that’s two goals in two sub appearances for Blackpool, maintaining his goal a game ratio. My God I’m excited about this player. Could he fire us into the Championship or am I getting carried away…?

Also coming off the bench tonight was young Rob Apter, an 18-year old who only signed his first pro contract in November. He came on with two minutes to go – surely a token sub to give the lad some minutes – and not nearly enough time to make an impact, right? Wrong. He fought to take a corner, almost floated it straight in, but it was met perfectly by the head of Simms. Those two players hadn’t met before last week, can hardly have trained together, but connected so beautifully it was as if they had a practically psychic relationship formed from playing together for years. There is something joyous about watching young footballers who clearly just love playing football and are excited about it. They are, in turn, exciting to watch. I don’t know why I don’t watch more youth football – especially the international tournaments. I really must.

Here are the highlights of the match, which unfortunately don’t fully reflect the comedy value of the celebration of Matty Virtue’s goal, where he wheels off in one direction and the others go off elsewhere and celebrate without him. I wonder if that was because he had COVID the other week…?

Here’s our live reaction to everything that happened as it happened – starting with little hope and ending up ecstatic, with a costume change and a lot of interruptions from Siri (including a recipe for scrambled eggs):

Phew! Now let’s go and celebrate with some more beer…

Real Crafty

A new one! Real Crafty only opened in August 2020, so I was really excited to see what this place was like.

Keg list (of 27!) includes:

  • Amundsen Christmas Morning (pastry stout)
  • Beerbliotek Cookie (imperial stout)
  • Saugatuck Neapolitan Milk Stout
  • Vault City Pear & Vanilla Sour
  • Wild Weather Damn Dead Apricot
  • Alphabet Juice Springsteen Deluxe
  • ShinDigger Mango Unchained

Juice Springsteen is one of my favourites (it’s like Lilt) so I have to try the deluxe version.

On cask they have:

  • Rat White Rat
  • Rivington The Light Grows Old

And it doesn’t stop there! There’s a ‘Beer Atlas’ of world beers, my highlights being:

  • Timmermans Peche Lambicus
  • Campervan Lost In Leith – Irish Coffee Baltic Porter
  • Northern Monk Patrons Project 26.02 / Sarah Harris / Culinary Adventures: Scarborough / Double Cone Ice Cream Pale
  • Ride Buckfast Breakfast Stout
  • Ride Tomato & Chilli Gose

Well, well. Every so often when I’m researching these blog I happen across a beer that I simply have to have. Who are Ride Brewing Co? Are they local? No! They have been ‘menaces to sobriety since 2016’ in Glasgow. Hmm. Button duly pressed on that Tomato & Chilli Gose. Oh yes!

If you want to find out more about what I’m drinking in between these crawls, you can follow me on Untappd here (wow have I really checked in over 1,000 different beers?).

Wigan Central

I always have to save Wigan Central for last, otherwise I’ll never leave. It is unequivocally one of the best pubs in the country. Why?

  1. It’s very close to the station and easy to find.
  2. There is a good range of cask and keg ale.
  3. There is a magnificent range of cans and bottles.
  4. They sell Lancashire Black Pudding & English Mustard Crisps.
  5. They have an amazing Scotch Egg menu.
  6. The departure boards are visible inside the pub, so you can maximise your drinking time without worrying about missing your train home.

Their stout/porter/barley wine menu includes:

  • Beerbliotek Eternal Darkness
  • Butcher’s Tears Monster Soup S4
  • Phantom Midnight Space Cowboy…In Space
  • Saltaire X Abbeydale When They Bring Back The Riff
  • Unbarred Stoutzilla 20 (ooh remember them from Brighton?)
  • Vibrant Forest Black Forest
  • Vocation Imperial Coconut (black TIPA)
  • Weird Beard Liquorice Tattoo
  • Wilde Child Gimme S’More

Gah! Do you see why it is so hard to leave? This is just the most amazing place – and home to many beer lovers. Indeed, it is so good, it makes me break my long-standing rule of getting the penultimate train home in case the last one doesn’t turn up. Que sera sera.

I float home, exhilarated, on the last direct train, the 2301. I plug in my AirPods and listen to Wigan band The Lathums to ensure I don’t fall asleep/pass out. I pick up new bands in all sorts of odd ways, but I was put onto The Lathums by the editor of a Swedish football fanzine.

Now I know how easy it is to get to Wigan from Blackpool, I will certainly be spending a lot more time there when I’m allowed out (and feel safe on trains/on pub crawls) again.

If you want to read more about Wigan – including a comprehensive review of its quirky pubs, please read my previous blog The Road To Wigan Beer. Warning: contains excessive rain, an aggressive Christmas tree, earmuffs and a giraffe tattoo.

UTMP.


NB Pics above are taken from the websites referenced, as this was a virtual trip.


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