Best Song Ever

Back to January 2014 when Danny Last and I decided to see whether the words really do live up to scrutiny as we decide what the best football song ever is.

“And we danced all night to the best song ever.
We knew every line. Now I can’t remember
How it goes but I know that I won’t forget her
‘Cause we danced all night to the best song ever.”

No, I haven’t gone all One Direction on you, my opening lines are simple an aide memoire to a top night out and a heated discussion on what the Best Song Ever in the footballing world.  For those who haven’t yet read the story behind the weekend (yes, I know we are all busy) then let me set the scene.  After an afternoon of football in New York, Rotherham, we had made our way down the A6178 to Sheffield (not Sheffield Pennsylvania, Alabama or Missouri mind).  An evening on Kelham Island beckoned with a host of football’s finest from Twitter.  Our main objective of the evening?  Well apart from trying a bucket load of local ales, it was to decide whether The Greasy Chip Butty song is the best football song ever, and what other pretenders to the thrown there were.

The genius of the song, adapted from John Denver’s Annie Song (rumour has it when Denver died, the Yorkshire version was played at his funeral) is the simplicity of the words, deconstructed in true Masterchef style below by Danny, Blades fan Ian Rands and myself.

You Fill Up My Senses
Well, for senses, read stomach, our special beer stomachs.  Kelham Island is a former industrial area in Sheffield that is now best known for its brilliant pubs.  First up was the Fat Cat, a tiny pub adjoining the Kelham Island Brewery which had the smallest bar I had ever seen, with 4 (FOUR!) bar staff multi-tasking to keep us in beer of the year, Pale Rider, Kelham Island Bitter and my personal favourite (read “I had at least three of them”) a Chocolate Digestive Ale.  Oh, and a pork pie…and some Jalapeno pretzel pieces.  Senses filled up.  I know I am biased but Bubbles surely has to be up there? Under the lights at The Boleyn Ground, with the South Bank in full voice? Who needs Opera when you had that.

Like a Gallon of Magnet
Note to Danny Last – it is MAGNET not MAGNERS.  Stop two, no more than a stumble away was the Kelham Island Tavern where we met Eddie the Shoe.  Those who travel in horse racing circles need no introduction to Eddie, who had kindly provided a tip earlier in the week that provided the financial assistance for my round of Deception.  Eddie is a big Fulham fan – at 7 foot something there is no other word for him.  An hour later we had just about consumed the gallon (8 pints for those who didn’t do O-Level Maths) and onwards we went.  You’ll Never Walk Alone?  Spine-tingling from The Kop but is it too long?

Like a Packet of Woodbines
Tricky one this as neither of us smoke. Where is Cynical Dave when you need him.  But as we headed up the hill to the Shakespeare we were puffing for air like a pair of very unfit, middle age men that we were.  A couple of Aecht Schlenker Rauchiber Marzen’s later, with its distinct aroma of smoked sausages and bacon, and an aftertaste of banana (tastes better than it sounds). Talk was now getting serious.  Danny’s adamant that Sussex by the Sea is a contender.  The panel aren’t so sure as he can’t remember anything past the third line of the song.

Like a Good Pinch of Snuff
The younger generation today would look at you very strangely if you said “I’m going out to enjoy some snuff”, as its meaning has taken on a whole new, dark web vibe, but back in the day we all enjoyed a bit of ground tobacco that you shoved up your nose, didn’t we?  Gave you strange hallucinations apparently, which was similar to our next stop at DaDa’s.  It was if we had walked into a set of Ashes to Ashes albeit with beer prices from the year 2525 (80’s based music joke there).  I had some very dark, very thick and very sickly Thornbridge Wild Raven.  A continental chap suggests that Barca, Barca, Barca sung by 100,000 fans in the Camp Nou has to be on our list, but we can’t take him seriously as he is wearing a scarf inside a room that is hotter than Greece.

Like a Night Out in Sheffield
We have one more stop. One more song for debate and could there be any better place or any better beer than we have for our final destination.  A pint of Thornbridge Jaipur in the Cutters Arms, a bar opened in honour of Sheffield FC, the founding fathers of football as we know it today.  Yes it may have been midnight, yes it may have taken us a good few pints and lively debate but we had an answer.  Without a doubt the best song ever was The Greasy Chip Butty song, anthem of the Blades.  And what was the luck that they were playing on the following day?  Unbelievable Jeff.  It was as if the whole weekend had been planned in minute detail.

12160718973_e2cbf249f6_bSunday morning and any plans of a leisurely stroll around the city were dashed by sheeting rain.  Sheeting turned to monsoon over breakfast and by 11am it was biblical.  We had headed south to visit the real home of footballing merchandise, Goal Soul, in their fantastic shop.  Three limited edition T-Shirts later and we were back in a pub close to Bramall Lane, hearing news that the game could be in doubt.  A brief flicker of concern passed across Danny’s brow before we were given the news that despite the conditions, the game would at least start.  There was even time to do a quick interview on the Barry Glendenning and Max Rushden show for Talksport, from a phone box outside a take away, where off course we’d ordered the Greasy Chip Butty (the owner took offence at first, rebuking me for suggesting his chips were greasy).

Sheffield United 1 Fulham 1 – Bramall Lane – Sunday 26th January 2014
I’m going to make myself very unpopular by saying that Sheffield United has always been a favourite away trip for me. Actually, Wednesday fans, I’d put a trip to Hillsborough near the top of my list too.  But I have always had a soft spot for Bramall Lane.  I used to be a regular visitor here for work purposes and was always given a warm welcome, and even today the facilities could grace the Premier League without every looking out-of-place.

12160745853_359f608ac2_bDid we enjoy our afternoon?  Too right.  It was a classic cup tie where league positions went out of the window.  The final twenty minutes where the United team never gave up running at the Fulham defence despite the leaden conditions under foot were edge of the seat stuff and the Blades fans can be mighty proud of their side, and have every confidence that they could go to Craven Cottage next week and still get a result.  Fulham had nearly 75% of the possession and 31 shots compared to 13 from the home side but nobody who saw the game would have been surprised if United had won.

The weather at kick off was damp to say the least but as the teams lined up for kick off the opening cords of Annie’s Song started up and we were lost in a ten thousand-strong choir encouraging us to fill up our senses.  Chris Porter took his chance in the first half just as the rain stopped and the bright sunshine came out to give the home fans hope that they would be in the draw for the last 16 of the cup and could put aside their league woes for a few weeks.  Half time and all was well with the world in Yorkshire.

The turning point came just after the break when Sheffield’s captain Doyle was sent off for an off-the-ball incident.  Despite a quick change in formation, Fulham took some time to realise they could start passing the ball forward – although with Messers Wilkins and Curbishley now part of the coaching set up, the words “forward” and “passing” are as alien as Mr. Spock.  Darren Bent and Adal Taarabt were introduced to little effect apart from to amuse the home fans with a couple of astonishing misses.  Sandra knows best after all it seems.

12160911564_87c845f5fe_bAlas it was Rodallega who broke the Blades when he fired home near the end.  They should have gone on to win the game when Senderos saw his header hit the bar but Sheffield United hung on to live another day and make sure their number was in the draw for Round Five.

We faced a 200 mile trip home in more rain, emotionally drained by the occasion.  We couldn’t help hum THAT song all the way home.  Sheffield – Come Fill Me Again….OOOOHH!

On the fifth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best EFW/Day out

The definition of a EFW is simply a trip across borders to watch football, drink beer and basically act like a 10 year old.  It doesn’t have to be in Europe – it’s just that that was where the term started, coined by my old mucka, Danny Last.  Every year we head off on an irregular basis (well, that’s what we tell our wives) to places old and new to enjoy a museum, art gallery and local crafts….

So 2014 brought a few new venues to my world map, but in the interests of fairness, I’ve limited the top three to those where we traveled as a group, drank as a group, laughed as a group and lost each other/our wallets/our phones as a group.

3rd Place – Edinburgh
20140726-202447-73487013Our annual trip to Scotland was planned to take in some of the Commonwealth Games events in Glasgow just so happened to coincide with the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup no less, with Hearts playing their first home game under supporter ownership at Tynecastle.  What better place to spend a weekend with a bit of football in the middle.  Decent pubs, some outstanding beer (just the six different Innis & Gunn brews for me), great food and of course a range of games all within an hour of the city.  You can’t go far wrong that heading up here for the weekend. Just expect rain at any time of the year.

2nd Place- Bucharest
15170374174_33ebcbeb20_kRomania isn’t somewhere I’d have ever thought I’d like.  Bucharest doesn’t exactly come with glowing reviews but I bloody loved it.  Some great nightlife, very cheap, friendly locals and a country that is just starting to reap the benefits of EU membership.  There are three major teams in the city as well as the National stadium, giving options in the North, South, East and West.  The main arena, the National Stadium is an outstanding venue for football.  Read our sister site, 24 Hours in the City for a more in depth review of Bucharest.

1st Place – Sheffield
12160930704_ccddf1fd5e_bWithout a doubt, hands down, the best night out in England at the moment, bar none as long as you head for the right places.  Kelham Island is the place to be seen in just now.  With every weekend hosting either United or Wednesday, the original pioneers of the beautiful game, Sheffield FC plus Rotherham now just one promotion from the Premier League just up the road, there is always a game on as an appetizer for a night sampling some of the local ales.  The tiny Kelham Island Brewery, with its dozen local beers, The Shakespeare and the true home of Football, The Cutters Arm with his host of Thornbridge ales.  Drop everything and go now.  You will not regret it.

Tomorrow – Day six of our TBIR Christmas – The best Non-League day out

It’s not always grim up north

A refocus on the 92 Club after 2 year gap

Don Valley Stadium1 The 92 Club has been around for a couple of decades, set up by a true anorak who had visited all of the Football League grounds and decided to form a club for like minded individuals who have nothing better to do on most weekends.  However, it is the sign of a true football fan – one who puts other clubs before his own, and win constantly be scanning the fixtures to see how they can try and fit two or more games in a weekend (In years of searching I have only ever seen it possible to do three in one day but I continue to search for the holy grail of four).

The club was set up in days before email and the internet, and entry criteria was posted to you on request.  Every year members got an annual newsletter, run off on the copier in the bedroom no doubt that gave us the details on new stadiums due to open the following season plus details on who had joined the club over the past year.  All of this for a £5 contribution per annum.  We also got a copy of the annual accounts showing the stock the club had – polyester jumpers all round by the look of it.  The club secretary had avoided all reference to the internet, and with entry criteria laid down in stone, flatly refused to consider upgrading either the rules or the methods of communication.  To summarise what did and didn’t count as a “valid” game:-

– Any first class game played at a Football League (and latterly Premier League) stadium that featured the home team, or an England first team international.  Confusingly this ruled out a club friendly fixture, but not an England fixture.

Also, you had to visit each club’s home ground – even if they groundshared.  So in the 1990’s when Charlton Athletic shared with Crystal Palace and West Ham, and Wimbledon shared with Palace you would have to go to a home game for each club, irrespective if you had already seen a game there.  If a club was relegated from the football league, and returned to the league you were obliged to revisit the stadium even if it was unchanged.  Any news stadiums had to be visited in the first full season the club played there, and if a stadium was redeveloped by more than 50% you had to revisit.

So in recent years I should have been to:-

Carlisle United’s Brunden Park, Hereford United’s Edgar Street, Exeter City’s St James’s Park and Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground.  I have absolutely no intention of going to the first three.  A 600 mile round trip to Carlisle is hardly on my list of priorities just so I can keep up my membership.  I do subscribe to the notion of visiting new grounds and so I have Doncaster’s Keepmoat under my belt recently and this season penciled in a trip to Colchester United’s Cuckoo Farm.  However, just before the season started it was announced that Rotherham United, a club in serious financial problems after relegation to the Second Division last season and a -17 points penalty to start this season had essentially been locked out of their Millmoor Stadium by the owners and they would be playing for at least one season at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. Not much really going in their favour but young ex-Manchester United starlet Mark Robbins had signed a new contract with the club as manager and had been very bullish in the days before the season started, even with such a huge financial penalty.

With the Hammers playing away in Manchester against this seasons laughing stock on Bank Holiday Sunday, I packed the Fullers off for a weekend in the North.  I have mentioned before that CMF actually hails from Nottinghamshire, and whilst she was still at school she had a Saturday job in Poundstretchers in Newark.  Every Saturday I used to meet her for lunch on Saturday’s then head off to a game at 2pm.  During the course of a season I managed to see 25 different clubs all within an hour of Newark (a nice trivia question if you get a spare 30 minutes to work out what the 25 were considering I drove a 10 year old Ford Fiesta).  Sheffield also has some good memories for me – during my time running Cable & Wireless’s Football project I spent many a decent night out in Sheffield, and have some great friends still in the city.  So the plan was to get up to Meadowhall area, drop CMF off with the Littlest Fuller before Lolly and I headed a mile down the road for the game.

A nice sunny day greeted us for once in this poor summer and with a traditional northern lunch of pie and gravy (one things I love from up north) under my belt, quite literally, we headed down the road for the game.  The stadium is surrounded by pubs, albeit not the ones I am used to in SE1 but still popular with the fans.  What was obvious was that the fans hadn’t deserted the club despite their enforced move 5 miles south.  The had started the season brilliantly, winning both league games and pulling off a massive shock by beating nearest neighbours Sheffield Wednesday on penalties in the Carling Cup.  Chester City, on the other hand, had had a disastrous start, including a 6-0 defeat away to Dagenham and Redbridge on the opening day.

Entry was simple – £18 for lower tier and £20 for upper tier.  Lolly went free, although we did have to say she was 7 and not 8 to get in.  It is good to see them trying to do their bit in encouraging young fans as for every full paying adult, up to for under 8’s could enter free – which did men you had an almost reverse kerb crawling situation from the seedier parts of the city with under 8’s trying to attract the attention of unattached adults so they could get free entry.

The views across the north of Sheffield and over to the Yorkshire hills.  It was a very pleasant scene for football, although the 3/4 empty stadium will get very cold and wet in the winter when the winds blow from the hills directly into the faces of the supporters.  The stadium itself is much bigger from the inside than the outside.  It can hold around 18,000 at the moment, but with Rotherham only averaging less than 5,000 only the main covered stand will be in operation this season.

Rotherham lived up to the pre-match hype and were ahead after 40 seconds when from a free kick Rotherham’s centre forward headed home.  It was 2-0 within 10 minutes as Rotherham’s very impressive Reuben Reid ripped apart the Chester defence and I thought we were on for a cricket score.  But Chester came back and their old-fashion English centre forward (big, ginger and lumbering) pulled one back, only for Reid to run rings around the defence again on the way to creating a third.  So at half time it was 3-1 and all my myths about football in athletics stadiums had been put to shame with a fantastic half.  But it couldn’t last, and the game died on its feet in the second half.  However the win did mean Rotherham had moved onto -8 points, and with both other naughty boy teams (Bournemouth and Luton Town) failing to win, Rotherham moved another step closer to safety.  But based on their attractive attacking football I cannot believe Robbins will be happy with just survival.

Ten minutes after the final whistle we were back in the hotel up the road and ready for a night out of lard, Tetley’s and exploding chimneys in Sheffield.  See – it’s not always grim up North.