Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To The Black Country – Part Two

(If you missed Part One’s antics, you can find it here).

Park Inn Radisson Hotel, Bescot

We’d stayed here on our ill-fated trip to Birmingham back in December and we’d enjoyed our stay, hence our return visit. It’s situated directly next to Bescot Stadium – one of those grounds Blackpool have yet to win at – and it’s very handy for the M6. The prices are decent and we had a nice dinner here last time.

What I didn’t remember was the constant white noise all through the night. I couldn’t figure out if this was traffic noise from the M6 or if it was emanating from within the building. I suspect on my last visit I’d found it calming and reminiscent of the sea or something but it was a bit annoying on this occasion – especially when it was accompanied by incessant beeping (roadworks?).

Nonetheless I had an ok night’s sleep, despite waking dehydrated after my Birmingham pub crawl around 0500. Although it was a bit of a struggle to get out of bed, we were down at breakfast around 0930, via a lift suggesting some odd positioning, probably inspired by COVID.

On our last visit here – inspired by the lift in the Library of Birmingham, which reads you rhyming couplets as you travel up and down – I had insisted that Lee made up a little poem every time we got in the hotel lift. He remembered this and offered the same service today.

‘The lift is going down / We’re shortly heading into town.’

In the restaurant we were greeted by friendly staff and offered directions to where to find the breakfast stuff. I remembered from last time that it was quite a good game trying to hunt everything down so politely refused help but accepted the eggs he offered to fetch for me (just eggs – I’d have to help myself to everything else from the buffet).

I successfully hunted down the plates but there was no bread left (barring crusts) so I put in a request for some more. I found the bacon, beans and tomatoes (which, in a recent weird quirk, I put on my plate but never eat). Some bread turned up so I put a slice in the toaster. While it cooked, I took a stroll round to the continental buffet, where I picked up some ham and turkey but ignored the salad. I might come back for a yoghurt later.

I put my plate on our table of choice, remarked how lovely the weather was and set off in search of a brew. I remembered where the mugs were – on some shelving – but the only mugs left were right at the back of the shelves and I had to stand on my tiptoes to just about reach one. I added a bag of Earl Grey and found the hot water boiler at the third attempt, having first tried two coffee machines.

I felt like I was on the Krypton Factor.

After eating about two-thirds of my breakfast, I decided I would have that yoghurt now, as the bacon had been a bit salty. But now I couldn’t find the yoghurts. Had they been cleared away before we’d finished breakfast? Puzzled, I returned to the table and checked the breakfast times at the hotel. Oh. It finished at 0930 (the time we came down)…or 1030 on bank holidays. Was it a bank holiday? Good Friday is always an odd one. I remember from my time working in the Black Country that our holiday options were either Good Friday or the following Tuesday, which I could never get my head around.

Anyway we got nattering to our hostess who, after giving us her opinion on capital punishment, said they were rushing to clear up because they were expecting an influx of football fans for pre-match beers. I didn’t bother her about my yoghurt because she seemed nice so I just picked up a carton of orange juice instead, which satisfied my sweet fix.

Unlike our previous Tourist Guide missions, we didn’t have a strict to-the-minute itinerary this weekend. Indeed we didn’t really have any plans at all for pre-match today. But I’ve found that magic happens when you don’t have plans and that’s what we found this morning…

Stourbridge Junction Station

I’d decided on Stourbridge as our pre-match destination. Our first stop was the station for two reasons (neither of which was to catch a train):

1. They have the cutest little shuttle train that runs between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town stations; and

2. They have a famous station cat called George, who was recommended to me on Twitter.

It was a glorious day so we donned our shades and headed from the car park onto the station.

As I dawdled on the platform waiting for Lee to arrive, my eye was caught by the departure board.

What?! A bus to Stourbridge Town? What did that mean for the shuttle? I broke the sad news to Lee and we headed for the ticket office in search of answers – and George the cat.

There was no queue so we immediately approached the friendly man behind the counter.

‘We’ve come to see George. Is he around?’

‘Oh no. He’s just gone out I’m afraid.’

He pointed to an open window.

I sighed. I supposed if I was a cat I’d be playing out on a beautiful day like today.

We made enquiries about the shuttle.

‘Oh that blew up last week.’

This really wasn’t our day, was it?

We headed outside in a vain search for George before trudging back onto the station. I supposed I had been fortunate to see the two cats at the Welly last night – and a cat-trick was probably too much to ask for this weekend.

‘Oh look – there’s George and the shuttle!’

It seemed that was the best we were going to get today. However we mooched around for a while just in case George rocked up – plus we didn’t have anywhere else to be.

A while later we headed back to the ticket office, where we met another friendly man.

‘I’m sorry you’ve missed George today. There’s a woman lives over there that feeds him sometimes so he might be round hers. Hold on a minute – I’ve got a picture of him.’

‘You can keep that.’

Aw what a lovely man, we mused, as we headed back to the car. We might not have seen George or the shuttle but it had been a delightful visit all the same.

We’d also been given a card depicting Stourbridge, which gave Lee inspiration for our next port of call. Oh – and this was on the reverse of that card.

Best. Station. Ever.

Red House Glass Cone

This is a hugely imposing building containing furnaces where glass used to be made. You may recall from Part One that Stourbridge is famous for its glassmaking.

Sadly the building was not fully accessible, although the doors were open so we could see inside.

There was a shop next door, where this Gift In A Tin range was the highlight.

The staff in here were very friendly and helpful and they directed us round this little museum, where the highlight was the bug that came flying at me in Preston the other week.

We were also told that the glass museum across the road had only opened last week, so we had to call in there for a Football Tourist’s Guide exclusive.

Stourbridge Glass Museum

This was quite the unexpected treat! The ladies on reception were delightful and we were shown through to a room on the left where some live action glassmaking was taking place.

It was absolutely mesmerising to watch Allister, the glass artist, in action. The look of concentration on his face and the artistry in his careful but well-practised movements reminded me of a musician in an orchestra.

While he crafted a bowl, he talked us through what he was doing and what equipment he was using. We learned that the coloured glass he uses is so concentrated that it looks black to the naked eye. And the furnace was 1000C.

When the bowl was crafted and placed in the kiln, Allister showed us one he’d made earlier.

And here’s more of his beautiful work.

You can view more of Allister’s work at his online shop here.

See what I mean about finding magic when you least expect it? Little did we know we’d be treated to a live glass artist performance when we woke up this morning. What a joyful start to the day this had been.

Green Duck Brewery

But now for the main reason for our visit to Stourbridge. I already knew this fabulous brewery tap from my time living in the Black Country. Since their beers had been popping up EVERYWHERE this weekend, it would have been rude not to pop in.

I strode up to the bar for the first time in years and surveyed the pump clips.

I had a pint of the mild, which was the same one I’d had in the pub at the Black Country Museum yesterday.

These were on tap too.

This converted industrial unit is a huge space and Lee remarked that all that it was missing was a shuffleboard.

Oh that Indian pizza! But I knew I would be eating during the match again today (I know, right?) plus we sadly didn’t have much time here, as it only opened at 1300.

I did, however, have time for a Loo Review for you, dear reader. These facilities got bonus points for free lady products – and check this door out!

Gutted I missed that one!

West Bromwich Albion v Blackpool

Now it was time for the short drive to West Bromwich for the match. I hadn’t researched parking but we spotted some designated match parking for £5 and were soon parked up in there.

It was a bit of a walk to the ground and we were hit by a beautiful spicy aroma from the East End factory. We passed another car park that was charging £10 (I’d want a valet for that), then another one for £5 that we must note for next time, as it was much closer to the ground.

There was a huge Greggs adjacent to the ground that looked like it might have been a pub once upon a time.

There was no shortage of food outlets outside the ground, with pork seeming a huge favourite.

We popped to the away ticket booth to say hello to Dave, who we’d met at the Black Country Museum yesterday.

I was a little later than scheduled arriving at the ground because of the accidental glass artist performance so I headed straight up to the stand to find Steve.

Now you might remember Steve from the pub after the recent Forest match (that we drank to forget). Well on that night he promised to bring me two things to this match today – and he delivered on both counts.

See match vlog below to witness these boxing pens in action. You won’t get this sort of content from other match vloggers.

Steve had built up this pork pie to be ‘the best pork pie ever’. Now I’ve already tasted a particularly excellent pork pie in my pre-blogging days at the Furnace in Derby – and generally I don’t like pie. So I was always going to be a tough judge here. But I surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying battered chips yesterday so I tried to taste this pork pie with an open mind.

Dear reader, it was just a pork pie. Sorry, Steve. Perhaps a pie connoisseur (or even someone who likes pies) could do it better justice. Or perhaps my pork pie preferences are quirky (I like them with a lot of jelly). Methinks I need to return to the Furnace for a refresher to remind me exactly what it was about their pork pies that I liked.

Karen – who was seated next to me – asked me to look after her coat while she went to get a water. We’d brought our coats (ne’er cast a clout and all that) but it was too hot to wear them (I even removed my jumper later). I took this opportunity to ask Karen if she’d fetch me a bottle of water too. She came back with this.

Whatever. At least it wasn’t in a can.

‘Oh, does your phone work in here?’

Remarkably, yes it did. This was possibly the first ground my phone has worked in all season. Bonus points for the Baggies.

I’d forgotten all about West Brom’s quirky boiler mascot but here he is for your amusement.

We were 1-0 down by half time, Andy Carroll the villain of the piece. He’d injured Jordan Gabriel and scored the goal.

At half time, young Jacob (recipient of my Fritidsklader lucky hat – which he’d forgotten today obvs – which has now been named after him) cheered me up by handing me these, which I’d been excited about on Twitter earlier in the week.

My word they were good! I offered one to Lee and one to Karen but quickly demolished the rest.

Second half? Big Marv equalised and there were scenes. That was two in two for the centre half. If only our strikers were so prolific.

Then West Brom got the winner right at the death.

But then something magical happened. On the final whistle, the Blackpool fans sang and sang and wouldn’t stop singing. The players came over and applauded us applauding them. All we ever want is to see effort from our players and they’d been great today. And the Blackpool fans still sang. Critch – our beloved Head Coach – stood in front of us mesmerised in what was a truly beautiful moment. I cried at the time, I cried when I watched it again on Lee’s video and I’m crying as I write this now.

Watch for yourself here.

On exiting the ground we were directed in the opposite direction than we wanted but resolved that this was better than being held back / kettled as we had been recently.

Finally back on the main thoroughfare, I observed a few people carrying multipacks of crisps, something I’d noticed across the region this weekend. Coupled with the Black Country Museum’s obsession with feeding us chips, I did begin to wonder if they’d started mining for potatoes round here now, as well as becoming concerned for the diet of the locals.

I also observed Subway (I think) offering frozen Fanta, which was intriguing. However it was beer I was thirsty for now and there was little time to waste…

Black Country Arms, Walsall – Part One

I’d messaged landlady Kim from The Hawthorns, enquiring what time the BCA stopped serving food today and was told 1830. Mercifully we made it here for 1800.

Well there was only one thing I was having here.

Not Plum Porter. Not Cherry Dark.

Oh and the Curry of the Day, of course.

I’ve had many of these in my old local pub over the years and knew this would go down a treat (a bit like the Titanic).

Evo soon arrived in a cab from Bescot (Walsall had beaten Carlisle 1-0, so he’d had a better afternoon than us in that respect, but he hadn’t had pork pie and Orange Smartie Mini Eggs at the match) and quickly polished off a couple of items from the cold food counter.

Now we’d eaten, it was time for Lee to head off back to the hotel to set to work on the match vlog, while Evo and I set to work boozing researching our blogs.

Katz, Walsall

Ideally I like to start a Walsall session in Katz (aka The Victoria) because it always serves my absolute favourite mild of all time in the whole world: Church End Gravediggers.

But what makes this particular mild so special?

Just look at those lovely lacings, Martin.

And it’s soooooo delicious and incredibly quaffable at just 3.8%.

Here’s the rest of the beer board but I wasn’t interested in anything else.

Whatevs. Just hook me up to a Gravediggers drip, please.

As the weather was still delightful, Evo and I took a seat in the beer garden, where we were soon putting the boxing pens to use in a fight.

We were joined by landlord Jase, who I’ve never properly spoken to at length before, but who turned out to be the first person ever to talk about beer to me in a way that I could understand. By which I mean the actual methods of keeping, storing and dispensing beer, not drinking it, which obvs I’m well-practised in. I can’t for the life of me remember a word of what he told me because I was a few beers down by this point. I suppose that means I’d better return for another lesson another time.

As I stood at the bar ordering yet more Gravediggers (I’d got Evo on it now, too), I spied something unexpected on the shelf at the back of the bar.

Oh naughty, naughty Katz, luring me away from the safety of my beloved nu nu mild!

As the sun set and the air grew cooler, we made our way into the snug/bar at the front of the pub. Each table was occupied by one man, so we ip-dip-dipped and joined the man at the middle table, who eventually remembered me from the quiz nights at the Fitters Arms (RIP) in the late 90s. I tried to atone for not remembering him by engaging him in some sci-fi chat when he mentioned he was off home to watch The Mandalorian. I recommended he watch Lost In Space and Away and he recommended Expanse as the best sci-fi thing he’d watched in years.

Meanwhile I was scoffing a bag of Mini Cheddars, which didn’t go at all well with the Black Country Gateau but I didn’t much care: both were good. I was just glad I wasn’t drinking that green cider that Evo was on that tasted like washing up liquid to me. Which, to be honest, I find an improvement on actual cider flavoured cider.

Anyway, now I was off the lush mild, it was time to head back to the BCA to round off the night.

Black Country Arms, Walsall – Part Two

Now one thing I particularly love about the BCA is the fact that you can have a paddle of thirds. I often did this back in the day, as it is a great way to quickly sample a few beers before you settle on a favourite. I was excited to discover this was still a thing and selected three beers I wanted to try: Shiny Rees (Peanut Butter), Black Country Ales Plum Pig and New Invention Rhubarb & Custard.

‘You can’t have a third of keg.’

It was like The Hop Shoppe all over again.

‘Well it is technically possible. You’re just choosing not to let me.’

‘The till won’t allow it.’

Now a few beers down, I was quite cross about this. With the benefit of hindsight (and sobriety), a good solution might have been to order and pay for a half of the keg but only actually have a third of it, which I wouldn’t have minded. Instead I stepped away to breathe and reconsider the pump clips.

I was just stopping to chat with an old friend at the bar when that blasted (sic) Cameron Archer came up in conversation and another Villa fan (a stranger) was sticking up for him. I continued walking down the bar because I really wasn’t in the mood for this.

And then I saw this.

‘Aw how cute is that pump clip? That’s really cheered me up.’ I said, to no-one in particular.

‘Aw yes. I used to order beers based on their pump clips. In fact, I still do. I quite like the fox on that one.’

‘Aw yes – he’s handsome, isn’t he?’

And that, dear reader, is how I met Michael, a friendly Liverpool fan.

We stood there at the bar chatting for what must have been ten minutes. Meanwhile I had ordered a half of the keg – and I’d later have a half of the peanut butter beer. I had noticed that my new friend had ordered two pints and I wondered who was sitting at a table dying of thirst waiting for the other one. Eventually he invited Evo and I up to join him and his mate, who was a Walsall fan.

‘Oh I recognise you – I love reading your blogs.’

That was said Walsall fan, addressing Evo. If you haven’t read Evo’s blog, I highly recommend you do so. You can find his blog about tonight here.

We stayed and chatted about football until the bell rang for full time (or whatever it’s called – I’m not usually out this late). Well, apart from Michael’s friend, who barely managed two sips of his (lately delivered) pint before he had to dart for his train.

What a brilliant second successive night of actually talking to people in pubs (well, third, technically, but I didn’t blog the curry in Shipwreck night).

And what a couple of brilliant pubs these are. There are other pubs in Walsall that you might want to visit but these two really are the cream of the crop. Friendly and knowledgeable staff, belting beer, good grub and cracking people. There are even dogs and cats on a good day.

Jack & Ada’s Cafe Restaurant, Walsall

I can’t possibly leave you without telling you about the next morning’s breakfast at my favourite caff in Walsall (if not the world): Jack & Ada’s. I used to come here with Evo to line our stomachs ahead of pub crawls across the West Midlands. And I can now confirm that it continues to get better.

For a start, they serve alcohol now.

Secondly, the gaffer remembered me.

‘We’ve not seen you in a while.’

‘No, I’ve moved to Blackpool now.’

I placed our order, which included a Full English without the egg, tomato and toast.

‘Well if you’re not having those, what do you want instead?’

‘Er…I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting that question. I could ask?’

‘Where are you sat?’

‘Up there.’

‘In Beatles Corner?’

‘Er…yeah.’

Dear reader, he strode right up there and asked Lee what items he wanted to replace those he didn’t want because ‘it’s only fair.’

I ordered an Earl Grey with honey and of course they had honey because they had EVERYTHING here. Even an order of tea brought the question: ‘PG, Twinings or Yorkshire?’ (everyone said Yorkshire).

Here’s my breakfast.

I don’t need to break this one down by individual components because it was all delicious (plus I’ve been writing this blog for so long without a break I’m now feeling sick); however the highlight was the mushrooms (you’d have loved them, Karen): they were so flavoursome and meaty.

Afterwards, I couldn’t resist ordering one of their famous ice cream milkshakes (banana, obvs).

This wasn’t one of those poncy milkshakes made with real bananas (who wants one of those?) and it was bloody lush. Hang the diet!

And then it was time to head home, where we were in no time at all, accompanied by the perfect album for a sunny day.

With the exception of Red Red Wine by UB40, which we skipped past.

And that, dear reader, was A Football Tourist’s Guide To The Black Country. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read – and I hope you will visit for yourself soon. The people there are very special – and the beer and the food isn’t half bad either.

Next Up: Blackpool v Birmingham City.

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