Jane Stuart – Writer

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

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Coventry

It was an early start to Cov on Tuesday morning – an 0700 departure – as I had an action-packed day of beer tourism planned. I started the day on one-hour’s sleep (c0430-0530) as I’d had a coffee (which I am not used to) at 1900 on Monday. This was a schoolgirl error I would not repeat. Would I get through this long day without falling asleep?

Southbound

We managed to get away on time today (shock horror) as we didn’t have to load up the car for an overnighter.

The workmen were beavering away on the new junction for the M55, which is really starting to take shape now.

Our new car is magic, in that it picks up my playlist where it left off from when I was in the shower (Apple CarPlay witchcraft). However a change in tunes was required because (a) Lee is not a fan of Buckcherry, so I couldn’t subject him to them while he was driving; and (b) I like a playlist that sets the scene for the day ahead. Today I would have loved to have visited The Coventry Music Museum; however my opening time research revealed that this is only open Thursday to Sunday – and today was Tuesday. But I wasn’t going to miss out on those Coventry musicians! I banged on some tunes from local artists King, The Primitives and Hazel O’Connor as well as these boys.

I was getting through my bottle of pink lemonade like a demon, so called for a wee pit stop at Stafford Services, which was a new one to review for the blog.

I spotted this in between the vibrating rings and the condoms in the machine in the Ladies.

It’s very disturbing that this even has to be a thing. I have made a point of taking my drink with me to the toilet in pubs since I was spiked 20+ years ago. I do it from muscle memory now and sometimes the people I’m with think it’s odd but, sadly, it’s just one of a long list of things that we women do to protect ourselves on a daily basis.

I am always looking for football-related things for you, dear reader, in this Football Tourist Guide – and I spotted this on my way out.

Finally, as I was waiting for Lee in the doorway, I perused the tourist literature for inspiration for future trips. There was a flyer for Lightwater Valley in Ripon, which reminded my of the day my headmaster fractured my collarbone. I was intrigued by Monkey Forest, which might feature in the forthcoming Football Tourist’s Guide To Stoke. But my favourite was The Museum of Cannock Chase (I know, right?), which offered these fun activities:

Whilst researching parking, I had discovered that Coventry’s bin men were currently on strike. As we drove into Coventry, we noticed a lot of people had their bins out. Were they just being hopeful? Were they too smelly to keep in their gardens? Or was today the day that the private company had been drafted in to empty the green bins?

It was around 1030 by the time we arrived and parked up at Bishop Street Car Park. As Lee headed out to do the pay and display thing that I don’t understand (technically I can drive, but parking remains a mystery), I advised (more than once) that we needed five hours here. Lee came back and announced that he’d paid for four hours. I sighed. Two ears, one mouth and all that.

Coventry Transport Museum

This is Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the turbojet engine.

As we paused outside the museum to film our intro for the video that will accompany this blog (see Lee Charles TV on YouTube), my mind was blank and – as Lee handed over to me – I couldn’t think of anything to say. In my defence, I had only had one hour’s sleep, so I thought I was doing well to be awake at this point. God knows how I’d be at the match, after a big tea and a couple of pints…

I’d booked tickets for the museum online and there was a QR code on my email but I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. I stuck my phone in the ticket scan thing at the ticket barriers but that seemed to want to access Apple Pay and I wasn’t paying again. I queued and asked the woman behind the counter for help and she opened the barriers for us, directing us to the Women In Motorsport exhibition on our left.

I got to sit in the driver’s seat from a racing car.

‘Adjust the seat so you can reach the pedals’ said the instructions. Dear reader, I tried – but my little legs could hardly reach! I just about managed to operate the clutch but that was with my tiptoes at full stretch. And just like that, my dreams of being a racing driver were shattered. On the bright side, it would only have got in the way of my drinking and I know you’re here for the beer…

At least I get out of doing these exercises now.

We moved through to the exhibition on the evolution of transport – and its production in Coventry – and I wondered if this fine tangerine specimen was a good omen for our match tonight.

Look at this five-seater bike!

We learned how transport evolved to transport the troops during the war, during which Coventry was badly bombed.

Daimler Armoured Car.
Queen Mary’s Daimler. Magnificent beast.
This was my favourite section of the museum.
I was pleased to see this after missing out on the Barnsley table football recently.
Remember these ticket machines that bus and tram conductors used to have?

Aside from the Coventry FA Cup bus – which I had been pre-warned was here – I was also looking for evidence of a Blackpool connection. I was aware that the Blackpool supporter’s club – The Armfield Club – had some sort of transport connection. I was therefore delighted to find a whole corner dedicated to William Lyons, whose Swallow Sidecars business operated out of the club on Bloomfield Road.

A Swallow Sidecar.

There was even a statue of the man himself.

Thank you, Coventry, for memorialising this famous son of Blackpool.

The final exhibition was on the history of the land speed record. It was fascinating to follow the timeline and see some of the vehicles that have broken the record.

Finally, you know I like a good museum shop, so I can’t leave without showing you something from there.

No, it’s a barmcake…

We could easily have spent 3-4 hours here but, as always, we were working to a schedule today. It was important that we ate at noon in order to be hungry again pre-match, so we scuttled in the direction of the first pub of the day just before noon.

The Old Grammar School

However we were kidnapped en route. This is happening a little too frequently of late (this was my second kidnapping of 2022, the first being by Ronnie at Hartlepool) and at least my third since returning to Blackpool after the boycott (see Southend away 2019). This morning we were bundled into The Old Grammar School by two men in hi-vis jackets who insisted we view an exhibition of old photographs of Coventry.

We were pleased with this unexpected interlude. Not only were the photographs fascinating but the building itself was stunning.

Town Wall Tavern

But now it was time to drink eat. The Town Wall Tavern ticked all the (donkey) boxes in having famously good home made food, featuring in the Good Beer Guide and being quirky. I had visited before so knew this was going to be good.

The first couple of doors didn’t open (this might have been me, as I’m not always the best with doors) but happily the third door opened and in we trotted. The bar was just there on the left and my eyes scanned down the beer board.

As our friendly host Daisy was pulling my pint of mild, she remarked:

‘Ooh I don’t think I’ve ever heard that piano being played before.’

I knew instantly it was Lee tinkling (tickling?) the ivories and asked Daisy if she had any requests but she said she was just happy to listen to anything.

There’s lots of theatre-related art in this pub, as it is close to the Belgrade Theatre.

I prefer to create beer art.

We didn’t sit by the fire because it was a mild day (11C outside) so we took a table in the next room, where Lee got chatting to a local who also remarked that he’d never heard the piano being played.

I studied the menu. I loved that they had a Town Wall chip butty but that wouldn’t do on my diet. Instead, I opted for this.

Premium home cooked ham, free range eggs & Town Wall chips (with undressed salad subbed for chips).

It had been a close call between this and the Cajun chicken and Town Wall chips in a basket with homemade jalapeno dip, which looked way more exciting.

Not the basket I was expecting but these are the quirks I love.

I got very excited about the jukebox and even more excited when I found a pound in my coat pocket, allowing me to play some tunes.

Four for a pound!

As always when I’m standing in front of a jukebox, my mind went completely blank and I couldn’t think what I wanted to put on. Back in the day, Great Things by Echobelly was a jukey favourite of mine but that didn’t spring to mind today. I tapped in ‘David Ford’, ‘Buckcherry’ and ‘Hotpots’ but nothing came up. Hmm. Eventually inspiration struck and I went with:

  • Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
  • Sick Of It – The Primitives (as Waze had talked all over it on the way down)
  • Step Back In Time – Kylie
  • Rock Me – ABBA

One of the doors we had tried on our way in was that to the famous Donkey Box – one of the smallest snugs in the country. We pleaded with Daisy to allow us entry so we could film and photograph it for the Football Tourist Guide. And here it is.

The record number of people in this room at one time was a party of 30, which must have been snug indeed! They’ve even brought a donkey in here to prove it would fit.

Ace pub. Recommended.

Spon Street

As well as being home to our usual Pub of Choice in Coventry (more of that in a moment), I knew Spon Street to be of cultural significance, so we had to include it in our Tourist Guide. Many historical buildings were lost (a) in the war; and (b) in the subsequent regeneration of the town. A number of medieval buildings were relocated to Spon Street but not rebuilt exactly as they were, which is some cause for consternation.

Anyway here’s that pub, which is wonderful and well worth a visit.

Spon Street is also home to the Coventry Watch Museum, which I had been hoping to visit today, but it was sadly closed for winter and renovation.

Reopens 26th Feb if you’re interested in visiting.

Lady Godiva & Peeping Tom

Our stroll up Upper Precinct to the square was a pleasant one. There are many lovely water features and seating areas on this stretch. At the top of the approach to the Lady Godiva statue, I was surprised by what appeared to be Cov’s own version of the ‘Floozy in the Jacuzzi’ (as the Birmingham version is/was known – is she still there, Birmingham?).

And then, just ahead, appeared Lady Godiva in all her glory.

According to legend, Lady Godiva saved the locals from paying taxes by calling her husband’s bluff and riding naked through the streets of Coventry. Peeping Tom was the one local who couldn’t resist having a look as she rode past.

Now I tapped into a bit of inside Cov knowledge from a local for our visit to Lady Godiva. The square must be visited on the hour for a special treat. If you look just under the horse’s belly you’ll see a clock face. Well underneath this clock is where the magic happens on the hour. We sat on the bench facing the clock and waited with bated breath. As Lee sat with his camera poised to film this much anticipated moment, all we could hear were:

  • A really really bad busker with no musical accompaniment, just painfully tuneless singing. Well, more like wailing than singing, if I’m being honest; and
  • A man really loudly verbally abusing his partner right ahead of us.

But this was a once-an-hour thing – and we had other places to be – so we had no choice but to suck it up and make the best we could from the situation. Expect this bit to be dubbed on the video, with Lee impersonating the chimes of a clock.

Bang on the hour, a miniature version of Lady Godiva appeared – and Peeping Tom popped his head out the window to to have a gander – in a sort of quirky cuckoo clock stylee.

Coventry Cathedral

On the approach to Lady Godiva, I had spotted some spires, so we headed in that direction to check out what was hopefully the cathedral (happily, it was).

There are actually two cathedrals here: the original cathedral had been badly bombed in the war (as above) and a new one had been built adjacent to it.

Something old. Echoes of Whitby Abbey.
Something new.

We took a stroll inside the ruins of the old Cathedral – free to enter, unlike Whitby.

By now we realised we could head back to the car within the escalated four-hour timeframe, so we did just that, heading over in the car to FarGo Village.

FarGo Village

FarGo Village is an arty quarter of Coventry – a creative hub, if you will. I’d been before on a trip to Twisted Barrel Ale Brewery & Tap House (sadly closed on Tuesdays – boo! – but open 1200-2300 if you’re heading to Cov for a Saturday match).

We were directed towards the shops (‘turn right at the robot’)…

…and inside here we found the place we were looking for.

Sgt Bilko’s Vintage Emporium & The Phil Silvers Archival Museum

This place piqued my interest as it sounded like just the kind of quirkiness that I love. Dear reader, it did not disappoint.

This is a two-roomed place and, on entry, you walk into the emporium (shop). Here we were warmly greeted by Steve (shopkeeper, curator and Phil Silvers superfan). Steve is one of those people who we love here at Football Tourist Guide HQ (much like the volunteers at Solway Aviation Museum who we met on our trip to Carlisle pre-season) who are so passionate about what they do, you can’t stop them enthusing about it (on and off camera). So there’s plenty more detail from Steve on the video version.

There’s loads of cool stuff in the shop (yeah, I’m a geek, get over it), including hundreds of these bobblehead-type-things that are apparently huge collector’s items:

I tried not to linger round these for too long for fear I’d get into collecting them. They had all sorts of characters, from Game of Thrones to Disney to Big Bang Theory to loads of things I’d never even heard of. It’s a good business apparently.

There was a Dalek in the corner of the shop and I managed to get closer to him than I had any other Dalek, as I’ve been terrified of them since I was a child.

‘He talks, you know,’ announced Steve.

And by golly he did too! Never mind Percy Pig at Lancaster Services (RIP), I’ve had an actual Dalek threaten to exterminate me. That was such a treat!

We were asked to pose for a photo so I asked the same of Steve. Here he is with his pet Dalek (not for sale).

The back room is the Phil Silvers Archival Museum. Oh my there is a lot of love for Phil Silvers in here! This museum is a labour of love if ever I saw one.

Whilst I do remember having watched Bilko many moons ago, I’ll confess I’m not THAT au fait with the work of Phil Silvers. But I certainly learned a lot about him on our visit here today.

I had a mooch while Lee and Steve (but mostly Steve) talked Bilko and, to my glee, I found a visitor’s book.

Ooh is that THE Phill Jupitus? Well, surely there can’t be more than one? I enquired and yes it was. Other famous visitors have included Danny Baker, Tim Vine and Nigel from Eastenders.

I loved this 1940s tv showing Bilko.

Lee was surprised to learn that Phil Silvers had not provided the voice for Top Cat (a parody of The Phil Silvers Show), although Benny was voiced by Maurice Gosfield (Pte Duane Doberman).

We also learned that Saul Goodman is based on Bilko. Who knew? Perhaps I ought to get watching the reruns of this influential show.

We were in here a good hour before heading off on our way to the canalside pub for tea.

The Greyhound Inn

We were booked in here for tea at 1715 but arrived around an hour early. We parked up outside the pub and went for a little canalside stroll.

Ooh you could walk to the ground down the canal – and on all the way into the city.
Moored up boats.
A water tap thing.

The banks were a bit muddy so we weren’t out here for too long before the lure of the pub proved too strong.

The dining room didn’t open until 1700 so we sat in the snug – by a roaring log burner – for half an hour.

Can you see my new Bilko badge on my hat?

Now, Martin, about Bass… I’ll confess I only went for this because Martin – and other beer enthusiasts – rave about it so often. I will also confess that I found it somewhat bland. What I consider to be a beer that needs a side of Maltesers (or, indeed, a Flake) to make it taste more interesting. But vive la difference and all that.

What a platter!
Loved the wall art in here.
Dog rules (ok).

There was a jovial group in the next room – they’d been singing merrily – who greeted us each individually as we made our way through to the dining room.

Had an enormous chilli with garlic bread for tea.
Nice surprise to see the draymen from my ex-local brewery in Walsall adorning the wall.

I really loved this pub. It was warm, it was dark, it was brimming with conversation pieces, it had Good Dogs and really good, hearty grub. The beer range was not the most exciting but it’s really not a Chilli Choca Mocha Whisky Barrel Aged Stout kinda place. Although I’d have settled for a simple mild. Still, beer isn’t everything – and the Tribute was fine – and I would visit this pub again without hesitation.

Coventry City v Blackpool

Now the Ricoh Arena is, of course, in the middle of nowhere – and I had heard that all the parking at the ground had been booked up – so I thought I was being clever and ultra-organised in booking us in at Wayside Business Park car park. Sure, it worked well and we got in smoothly, having pre-paid and logged our number plate. But it was a 20-minute walk to the ground – and there was loads of street parking available on the first ten minutes of that walk. Well, we’ll know for next time…

Jimmy Hill.

And then, naturally, we arrived at the opposite end of the ground to the away end, which added probably another ten minutes onto our walk.

Finally inside the ground, I headed almost immediately to the Ladies to get that out of the way so I could relax for the rest of the evening.

I do not recall seeing a sanitary product machine in a toilet in a football ground before. I was mightily impressed until I remembered there were free sanitary products available at Fulham last week. Nonetheless, this was still good to see – and a positive development for football grounds.

I took my seat, which seemed to be quite a good one, in the lower part of the stand. Then the lads arrived and stood up in front of me, so I moved up towards the back of the stand. From back here my eyes do struggle to see the action but at least I’m not staring at someone’s back for the duration. The Ricoh does have quite a steep gradient though. And we were allowed to sit in the block to the side, so those wishing to sit down could do so, with an unspoilt view of the pitch. Bravo Coventry stewards for allowing this.

A woman a few rows in front addressed me when the ground was quite full so I struggled to hear her. I had my hat on, too, which makes me twice as deaf. She could see I was struggling so began shouting as if to a foreigner.

‘CAT LADY! CAT! LADY! HENRY!’

I understood at once. We’d been chatting about cats on the fans messageboard on AVFTT recently. She has a cat called Henry who plays fetch like a dog.

Oh the match? Well Cov hogged the ball for the most part but we went ahead against the run of play. I’d been told by my Coventry fanzine counterpart that they were impotent up front for all their chances and this proved to be the case. We gifted them a goal, though. In the second half they neutralised Joshy by clattering him every time he got the ball. And the game ended 1-1.

And, despite being a night match in February, it wasn’t cold – it was a balmy 9C. I’d left my bodywarmer in the car and everything.

Here’s our vlog of tonight’s match.

On our 12-mile hike back to the car, we were joined by some fellow Seasiders who swore they had seen a huge rat scuttling past them in the ground. Was this a side-effect of the bin strike?

Northbound

The journey home was long. I was tired but I can’t sleep in cars. Just as I was hitting a slump, we realised that Sunderland had lost at Cheltenham, so we gave The Mad Mistake a watch to cheer us up. Oh this man is SO funny. I love his honesty and the dramatic tension in his videos. Sunderland really can’t get their heads around being in League One, can they?

Here’s his post-match reaction.

And, if you have a little more time, it’s worth watching his reaction to the goals on his live watchalong.

After this, I whacked on the new Hotpots album – the live recording from The Big Bash that I went to in Manchester in December.

So we arrived home smiling just after 0100. It had been a long day but we had come home with a point and a smile and many more happy memories made. Thank you Coventry.

Next Up: Blackpool v Bournemouth.

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