Monsieur Salut writes: you might struggle to believe it but Doug Shields, a Bristol Rovers diehard, did an excellent and amusing Who are You? interview here before the game at the SoL. This offering also has its entertaining moments.
But he doesn’t seem to have enjoyed his brief acquaintance with our fans the other night.
A lot of what follows is about food and I do wonder whether sour grapes might have crept into Doug’s dietary programme.
Or perhaps all Gasheads are gentle, indeed genteel souls whose idea of letting their hair down is to have two sweet sherries, not one, to wash down their crustless cucumber sandwiches while mistaking ‘Ha’way’, meaning come on, for ‘away’. Little wonder us ruffians from the north seemed so uncouth. Let Doug, a self-confessed lager drinker, take up the story …
ELDERLY MACKEM BONNIE AND CLYDE?
Leaving work and driving to the Mem for the “No one gives a XXXX til you’re in the semis Trophy”, I could feel my stomach rumbling.
It wasn’t a thunderous, angry rumble, more of a soft, inoffensive rumble, a bit like the home end at Asht*n Gate on a Saturday afternoon, but I knew I was hungry.
My favoured pre-match haunt is the Wellington, a once spit and sawdust boozer at the top of Gloucester Road which soon after the Gas were promoted back to the Football League became a “Gastro pub”.
You know the type … Gastro roughly translating as everything but the main course arriving in a tiny tin dish, about a third of the size of the ceramic cup you keep your toothbrush in.
Since then it has still been a decent place to have a pint, if the wallet can swallow the hiked prices for a pint of lager.
But on Tuesday night it was only the perfect venue if you were wearing red and white. The place was absolutely rammed full of Mackems, making far too much noise and generally making the place look untidy.
As I walked in, all I could hear was dodgy accents. The bar was heaving, and even the restaurant section was full and standing, very much like the 5.30pm Bristol Temple Meads to Weston train.
I began to push my way through towards the restaurant at the back of the pub, through a sea of 40-something blokes, typically shorter than me, and with paunches like the bloated, sun-tanned, beach-loving, demi-God in that old, funky Southern Comfort telly ad.
After waiting a few minutes the young, slightly stressed waitress showed me to a table for two.
Opposite me were a youngish couple who were sipping large glasses of white wine staring into each other’s eyes. They gently clinked their glasses together, and the gentleman smiled a silly grin.
The clink was drowned out a split-second later as a 6ft 4in Mackem yelled “Ha’way the lads”, sparking a full rendition of one of the most well-known but puzzling football chants known to man. After all they can’t always be away, and if they sing this when they are in fact AWAY, what do they sing when they are at home?
The loved-up couple clearly hadn’t checked Tuesday night’s fixture list.
As they looked around them, realising their quiet night out was going to be anything but quiet, another Sunderland fan, wearing a vintage home shirt and struggling to find a place to stand with his four mates, plonked his brim-full pint glass on their table for two, just centimetres from their main course plates.
Another burst of “Ha’way the lads’’ followed. The chef stuck her heard out of the window and said to the waitress: “I am glad I am in the kitchen, rather than being out there.’’
The embattled waitress was succeeding in smiling through the pain of coping with the wall of noise and the awkward combination of keeping well-heeled local punters and thirsty away fans happy.
I caught her eye and explained I was ready to order. I was halfway through the word fish cake, or the two words of fish cake if you are a pedant, when she asked if I could pay upfront.
Now this isn’t usual practise [sic] in the not so many gastro pubs I frequent, my weekly foray to Ronald McDs yes, but gastro, no way?
“I am so sorry’’, she said, ‘’But we have had three ‘walk aways’.’’ My puzzled look prompted her to add: “Three tables of people have left without paying their bills.’’
Shocked I replied: “Good Lord, surely not?’’
“I know’’, she replied, then added: “We had a table with two grey-haired 50-somethings, a couple who racked up a £50 bill including starters and wine and just walked out.’’
“Were they from up north?’’ I asked, only because the entire pub was full of Sunderland fans. “I think so’’ she said.
I struggled to contain myself as I completed my order of fish cakes – it tuned out to be one fish cake – chips (in small tin) and peas (also in small tin).
After finishing my dinner I headed to the stadium. Rovers had a go, but Sunderland stuck their wide attackers on the touchlines when they had the ball, and McGeady – subjected to endless “You’re just a sh** Adam Johnson” chants from Gasheads – ran riot.
To be fair Sunderland could have been four up on 15 minutes. But we kept them out during the early stages.
A bloke who is very ‘in the know’ told us on Saturday that McGeady was on £80k a week at Spartak and is now on £60k a week at the Stadium of Light.
‘’That’s more than our entire first team wage bill for a f*****g month’’, he added before revealing Lee Cattermole is on £45k a week, and Will Grigg on £25k week.
So I was chuffed with the game being scoreless for the first half an hour. Then it was the December away game all over again as Rovers switched off just before half-time and just after.
The Gas battled valiantly during the second half and probably did enough to earn a draw, but as both sets of fans know, normal FA/Football League rules don’t count at this level.
So 487 cases of Sunderland players tugging the shirts of Rovers players as they went for the ball isn’t a violation of the rules of the game. Oh and we should have had a pen or two.
But overall Sunderland were better than us and deserved the win. As the 2,000-ish smiling Mackems poured out of the Mem with Wembley on their minds, there was only two things on my mind …
The ballsy, grey-haired, elderly couple who probably drove eight hours down to Bristol to see their beloved team play, enjoyed a free £50 dinner, then cheered their boys on to victory – and now have a trip to the national stadium to look forward to.
Gastro pubs in the Wembley area, beware. Your worst nightmare could be on their way to visit you …