Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Huddersfield Town v Blackpool

I woke at 0930. Hmm. I had already calculated that we needed to set off at 1030 and I hadn’t found a pub for lunch yet. I contemplated researching on the move but I do like to be organised. Also I wasn’t ready to get up just yet.

I opened the Good Beer Guide app and researched from bed. This app is a revelation. It now includes non-GBG entries and you can search solely on pubs that serve food, which was just what I needed right now. I really really wanted to go to the Grove – my fave in Huddersfield for Fierce Beer, Kendal Mint Cake liqueur and jerky reasons – but alas there was no suitable food. The Rat & Ratchet sounded ace (Rat microbrewery, two permanent dark beers and pinball) but again no menu could be found. Grr. But then I found a pub that sounded just the ticket. And they had just posted on their Facebook page that they had availability for lunch today between 12 and 1. I messaged them immediately to make a reservation and they replied instantly with confirmation. Sorted. Now I could get out of bed!

My current morning music of choice is Black Lace. I find myself dancing to Agadoo in the shower and it’s brilliant. It really gets me in good spirits for the day ahead. You may recall I saw (and danced to) Black Lace at The Big Bash in Manchester earlier this month and hope to be doing the same next year.

I had asked Alexa the previous day about the weather in Huddersfield but I hadn’t liked her answer so I asked her again this morning. She confirmed 1C with a high of 2C. That’s not high, Alexa. That’s Birmingham levels of cold. But I was going to be prepared this time.

I forgot to add the thermal fleece-lined trousers, which are a must for a cold day. I was delighted to find these were now loose around the waist (now I’m 15.5lb down thanks to SlimmingWorld) so I secured them with a belt.

As it was Sunday (usually grocery delivery day) we had little food or drink in the house. I grabbed a couple of Alpen Light Chocolate & Fudge bars and a bottle of Cherry 7-Up for the journey and we set off for the relatively short trip to Huddersfield (estimated journey time 1h15).

Now we’ve finally figured out how to set the volume on Waze in our new car, we can actually hear the sat nav. To keep things interesting, we change the voice delivering the directions and today we had a ‘cat nav’, which kept us amused. As we pulled in to to get petrol, she purred:

‘Turn left – towards treats, hopefully.’

I stuck a couple of random Christmas albums and playlists on today and we were pleased to pick up a few new Christmas songs, including this one:

Crossing the Pennines was a little tricky, with snow and thick fog slowing us down at one point. At which point the cat nav grumbled:

‘Ugh! Just wake me up when we get there…’

But at least Lee knows where the fog lights are on the car now. We learn something on every trip!

As we approached Huddersfield, Lee observed a strange golf-ball-like building and enquired what it was (I am expected to know everything). On conducting a quick search on Google Maps for clues, I couldn’t find what I was looking for, but I did spot this.

Ooh another chapter for the Robin Hood story to follow on from our Nottingham trip! I made a note to factor this in for when we do our Football Tourist’s Guide to Huddersfield (which we weren’t doing today as it wasn’t practical, being Boxing Day).

As we turned off towards our lunch stop, we approached a roundabout.

‘Take the third exit. Miaow, miaow, miaow.’

Oh how I loved that! I miaowed at every exit until we reached the right one. What a great way to navigate roundabouts!

We crossed Colne Bridge and soon arrived at the pub I had hand-picked for lunch.

‘Now let’s get inside so I can rub my head on a few things.’

Royal & Ancient

So, why had I selected this place for lunch? Well, to be honest, mainly because of this review:

I had also checked the menu and found it to be SlimmingWorld friendly (i.e. steak/gammon featured, which is my standard pub fayre).

First impressions on arrival were good.

We were greeted at the entrance and directed to a choice of two tables in the middle of the pub. There were menus on the table that reminded me that it was Sunday.

Ooh what a treat to have a Sunday lunch in a pub! Sundays for me mainly involve writing, doing the laundry and unpacking groceries and I rarely get a roast dinner made for me. This would be two in two days! Plus this was SlimmingWorld friendly food (or so I thought!). I ordered the Roasted Yorkshire Stripline Beef and asked for no mashed potato (in case it was made with cream or something), no Yorkshire Pudding and the gravy on the side. I have no qualms about asking for changes or omissions to my food orders when eating out these days. It is clearly a successful strategy for my diet, as I am managing to eat out around twice a week and have a good session on the beer once a week and still lose weight.

As I ordered from the table, I neither saw nor photographed the pump clips. Of the selection of beers (this was a Marstons pub), Wainwright was the most appealing, so I ordered a pint of that. The others were also ‘vanilla’ beers, along the lines of Timothy Taylor Landlord and Pedigree.

We got chatting to the new landlord (Danny, according to the sign outside), who told us the pub was about to have a big refurb. I was shocked by this, as it’s a lovely traditional pub, but he set my mind at rest when he said it was ‘mainly outside’ and the more modern room at the back was being brought back to fit in with the rest of the pub. He also pointed out some trees that actually formed part of the pub’s interior.

Danny also said they had had 20 cancellations today because of COVID, which was heartbreaking. Indeed there were few others in the pub at the time of our visit (1230).

This is, of course, a terrible time for the pub industry but (I’ll say this quietly) as a customer I have always preferred an empty pub. I have never felt comfortable in crowded spaces and I can look round more without people in the way. For instance today I was able to photograph this giraffe in the window.

Was this a tooth on the Christmas tree?

And then, dear reader, our food came. Oh. My. Word.

I’ve included Lee’s in the background so you can see the size of the Yorkie.

Now there were a couple of very special components to this meal, so I can overlook the meat being a little undercooked for our liking (it was actually very tasty, although we usually like our meat charred).

First of all, the roasties were the best I have ever tasted. Only once before in my life have I enjoyed roasties and that was around 18 years ago before a London match in a pub at the end of one of the bridges (I wish I knew which one so I could go back!). These roasties today surpassed even those. The flavour was divine and they melted in my mouth. Lee, too, was transported back to the roasties his mum used to make. I felt compelled to ask how they were cooked. The key? Goose fat. Okay, so maybe this meal was not quite so SlimmingWorld friendly after all but, quite frankly, f*** that right now. This was a little taste of heaven right in front of me and these roasties were getting demolished!

I had asked for my gravy on the side in the hope that I could ignore it completely, as gravy can have a syn value on SlimmingWorld and I am trying to avoid it when I am eating out (note I haven’t been to the chippy since starting this diet 11 weeks ago). However I was impressed with the size of the gravy boat and it was such an imposing vision that the imp on my shoulder (summoned by the beer in my belly) was imploring me to try ‘just a bit.’ And bloody hell it tasted incredible! I hadn’t tasted gravy this good since Steels in Cleethorpes (where I make an annual pilgrimage every summer for the best fish, chips and gravy in the world). And I don’t give accolades like that lightly. Of course I poured more on. The combo of these roasties and gravy was quite simply heavenly.

This was the best pub meal I had enjoyed since The Clickham Arms in Penrith on the way home from Carlisle. Probably better than that, even.

‘Do you want another drink?’ I was asked, in the middle of my throes of gravy ecstasy.

‘Yes please.’

Well I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb (whatever that means) now my diet was out of the window. I was playing with fire having two flexi syn days in one week – with weigh day looming tomorrow (only half a pound on, it turned out, which I was pleased with – my first gain in 11 weeks).

This was a truly tremendous pub and, frankly, I didn’t want to leave. But we did have a match to get to. I conducted some parking research as I quaffed my second pint of Wainwrights – and the Huddersfield Town website was less than helpful.

Honestly, what even is the point of that? They’re basically saying: ‘There are two car parks that you can’t park in. There’s another one you can’t park in unless you’ve pre-booked. There’s no street parking. We’ll find you somewhere if you’re disabled, though.’ Well a fat lot of use that was!

I thanked the pub staff for an excellent visit and we made our way out to the car. As we started the engine, landlady Tara came running towards us waving frantically.

I’d forgotten to pay!

I apologised profusely, immediately went in to pay and whipped my emergency fiver out of my handbag by way of a tip to apologise further. I’m so used to paying at the time I order in pubs but of course we had had table service all the way today, so it completely slipped my mind to pay at the end. That’s the last thing they needed after all those cancellations today.

In summary, please do visit the Royal & Ancient for a delicious meal on your next visit to Huddersfield – and remember to pay before you leave!

We did manage to find a small car park for a fiver quite close to the ground. But I’d just given my last fiver as a tip in the pub! I dipped my hand into my coat pocket and was mightily relieved to find coins in excess of £5 in there. Phew!

On the short walk to the ground we spotted another car park with added extras.

A valet! This is a far cry from ‘giz a fiver and I’ll make sure your hub caps don’t get nicked.’ I do love Yorkshire.

Huddersfield Town v Blackpool

Foolishly, I’d forgotten to nip to the loo before leaving the pub, so I was dancing as we approached the ground. This running water didn’t help.

Not quite a Hull standard bridge but still quite nice

But oh now what’s this?

First of all, kudos for the name Deliveree. How Yorkshire is that? We had to pop in for a nose.

It was a nice thing to have – everything like this helps to ease congestion on concourses and I’m all for it. We’d just eaten, of course, so weren’t tempted by the luxury hotdogs or pizzas. We did meet some friendly Huddersfield Town YouTubers who stopped us to be interviewed for Lee’s vlog.

We asked a steward where the away end was and got the customary answer (unless you’re at Birmingham, where they tell you to ‘get back on your donkey and f***off back to Blackpool’)), which everyone knows is ‘it’s right round the other side of the ground’, which was the last thing I wanted to hear when I was dancing.

Dear reader, it got worse. The queue up the steps to the away end was longer than any queue I’ve ever seen to get into a football ground. As I approached the back of the queue, I could see it was continuously getting longer with a stream of Blackpool fans arriving from (presumably) the coaches. I nipped in at the end of the stationary queue and resigned myself to a long wait. Somehow I now found myself amongst a crowd of people before I’d even got into the ground and I wasn’t comfortable. If I hadn’t had those two pints, though, I’d have been much more anxious.

I distracted myself by baulking at the lack of socks on the man in front of me in the queue.

The forecast was 1C. What was he thinking?!

Maybe 20 minutes later I was at the top of the steps showing my COVID pass to a man who didn’t seem that interested in inspecting it. Then finally I was at the turnstile, which was very retro, with a woman tearing a strip off the tickets as you walked in.

This had been the first ‘new’ stadium I ever visited but it was looking tired and rusty now, like the bridge outside. I will always have a soft spot for it though, as I remember being so impressed with it on my first visit, despite it only having three sides completed at that time (who needs four permanent stands anyway…?).

One thing I particularly like about this ground is that the concourse is outdoors, behind the stand, as opposed to being enclosed underneath the stand, where I can often feel claustrophobic. It was packed today, though, and I still had to battle my way through a crowd to get to the toilets. There was a bouncer on the door and I was told this was the exit door and I needed to go to the other door. I inadvertently ended up in the shorter queue for the accessible toilet, which was in between.

Whilst queueing (again), I met Jo, who joined me in the queue and we hugged and chatted while we waited. Ian popped over to inform me that I was in the right queue because the ladies toilets were blocked, although it seemed to have been sorted now. Finally I was in and this is what I found in there.

Bonus reading material might also explain lengthy queues

Right! Now to locate my seat. I asked a steward if we needed to find our specific seat or could sit anywhere and he confirmed the former. I checked my ticket and headed purposefully down towards the front of the stand. Partway down I was greeted by a man on the end of a row.

‘I told you I’d see you at Huddersfield!’

Dear reader, I played a lot of cards as a child (I’m particularly skilled at rummy) but for some reason I never learned how to play poker. This is probably just as well because, when I encounter someone and I don’t have a clue who they are, it must show quite obviously on my face. I did wonder why people explained where they knew me from surprisingly frequently when I was selling fanzines.

‘You’ve got no idea who I am again, have you?’

Er…

‘The girls have just gone to the toilet so I’m just waiting for them and then we’ll go and sit down the front.’

By now I’d realised that this was Sonny Carey’s dad, Neil, who I’d now failed to recognise on two successive days, after they’d ambushed us at Christmas dinner yesterday. Of course this offered a great opportunity to apologise for not recognising them the previous day and thanking them for taking the time to come over and say hello and raving about how much we love Sonny (who was starting for Blackpool today). Which of course is nothing like what I actually said.

‘Oh they’ll be ages. The ladies toilets are blocked. I’ve just had to go in the disabled ones.’

What is the matter with me?

Neil did actually message me the following day to say ‘next time I jump out on you I’ll have an “I’m Sonny Carey’s Dad” badge on to save any confusion’. What a legend.

I made my way down to my seat, deposed the person already occupying it because it was a good seat and it was mine and I wasn’t battling to try and find another one to risk being booted out of it by someone else. I wanted to take my seat and occupy it for the next two hours without interruption, thank you very much. I’m a bit possessive of seats like that (on trains, too).

I surveyed my surroundings. This was the John Smiths Stadium these days (I can’t keep up) but there was also sponsorship from a local craft brewery.

Their taphouse, which I have visited previously, was ruled out today because of its dirty food menu.

We had to stand up for the duration of the match today because apparently that’s what we do at away games now. It’s fucking annoying but at least our bodies are starting to get used to it now. Back in the days of terracing, I always did find standing for two hours hard at the start of the season but gradually easier a month or so in. Although there was an extra level of annoyance today when the man in front of us put his son on his shoulders to kindly block our view of the goal.

The match itself started in the most perfect way possible, Jerry Yates opening the scoring for Blackpool within a minute. Yahoo! Blackpool are back on form! Could we finally get a win on Boxing Day after so many miserable Christmases?

Huddersfield equalised while we were still celebrating. Hmph. Well we were still level pegging. Let’s just start again.

Boom! Gary Madine put us back ahead on 18 minutes. Damn this was a great game of football with plenty of chances at either end. We were really enjoying it – and it wasn’t cold, either.

And – importantly – Josh Bowler was playing. I love love love watching Joshy play (have I mentioned?). He’s just so exciting and things happen when he gets the ball. God he’s a special player.

I was in my happy place. What a great day this was so far: amazing gravy, good beer, not cold, both our strikers scored, Joshy running down the wing and Blackpool winning.

Can I just leave the match there? I am in charge of the narrative here, after all…

On the plus side, it didn’t get cold at all (that or I was dressed well enough for the weather). I should mention for the record (and for future me, who will have forgotten) that there was a long concussion injury in the first half for Huddersfield, which led to ten minutes injury time, Jordan Gabriel was later sent off, Huddersfield then scored twice, Sonny Carey went off injured and we lost. Of course we fucking lost, it was Boxing Day. Standard.

We saw a badge man on the way out. You don’t see many of those these days.

Now back in the car and on our way out of Huddersfield, I chuckled at a barbers’ sign with one missing letter making it sound far less appealing. GRAND BARBERS now read GRAN BARBERS.

We also passed a wild west themed cafe that I noted for our forthcoming Football Tourist’s Guide to Huddersfield.

The cat nav was starting to get annoying (miaow miaow miaow) so I switched the voice to Headspace to try and calm Lee down as he drove home. And it actually worked!

We were home by 1900. Lee immediately began work on his match vlog, which you can find here (worth watching just for the gravy):

Meanwhile I heated up a beef bhuna from the freezer and cracked open a couple of beers.

Now the diet was definitely done for the day, I also tucked into one of my orange Toffee Crisps.

Very strong orange on the nose and aftertaste. Thinner and less chewy than I remembered. I understand why they come in four-packs because it would be feasible to eat four in one sitting. The 15.5lb heavier version of me would have done that without a second thought.

And that, dear reader, was my Boxing Day.

Next up: Who bloody knows with COVID? Middlesbrough at home? Hull at home? Hartlepool away? I’ll be somewhere (or I won’t be).

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