This weekend, for the first time in their 105-year history, Halifax Town, yes, my club, are appearing at Wembley. They have reached the final of the FA Trophy, where on Sunday they take on Grimsby Town. This has created a tremendous buzz around the town, with sales of shirts and other merchandise going through the roof. 10,000 or more are expected to go to the game, including wives and girlfriends who have never set foot in the The Shay! There is even a Wembley song, by Simon Conway, featuring The Rainey Street Band's Andy Garbett on cajon!
Aside from the football, this trip gives us a great opportunity to try some of the ales on offer in the pubs of London. This is one of the great benefits of following your team away from home.
You see, real ale and football go together so well. Before every game at the field of dreams, aka The Shay, we meet at one of Halifax’s real ale pubs to discuss tactics. Post-match analysis is also conducted at one or more of the same venues. Many a game is previewed/reviewed in the Three Pigeons, Dirty Dicks, the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, or the Cross Keys, with the Ring O’Bells, the Plummet Lane, and the Barum Top as occasional back-up. Ossett Silver King has been the lubricant for many a post-game celebration/rant/moan*(*delete as applicable subject to result).
Away matches provide a great opportunity to seek out new ales in new pastures, a time when the Good Beer Guide comes into its own. This season alone I have enjoyed some great beers in places like Chester, Lincoln, Gateshead, Newcastle, St. Albans, Nantwich, Manchester, and Southport, visiting places, pubs, and beers that in many cases I would probably have not got to try had I not been going there for football. For many of us, the first thing you pick up when the season’s fixtures come out is ‘The Good Beer Guide’. Potential trips are plotted, a town’s best pubs are identified. Routes are worked out to maximise the real ale potential, so that for example a trip to Lincoln can involve a stopover in that vastly underrated beer town, Newark. Likewise, when we played Boreham Wood at the start of the season, we stayed over in St Albans, a wonderful town with some excellent pubs.
The fact that a day at the football also involves sampling some great beers means that the day’s focus is not just on the football. Pity those poor souls who just turned up at the Shay for our 7-1 drubbing by Cheltenham, then went straight home after the game, deep in misery, only able to share their gloom with family and friends who haven’t been through the pain. The pub offers a place for collective therapy with like-minded individuals who have suffered the same as you, and as the pints flow and the hours pass the football seems less important.
So, Wembley beckons. Hotel booked, train booked, tickets in hand. Grimsby finished 3rd in the league and last weekend, also at Wembley, they beat Forest Green Rovers to gain promotion back to the Football League. We, meanwhile, suffered relegation on the last day of the regular season so that next year there will be two leagues between us. The Trophy Final does therefore give us the chance to put that disappointment aside for a weekend.
Will we win at Wembley? Who knows? On the face of it you would think not, but on the day we start out as equals, and we can take comfort from the fact that we tore Grimsby apart in our league game at the Shay earlier in the season. It is just great to have the opportunity to play at the nation’s premier stadium. One thing’s for certain, as someone once said "Win or lose, we'll have some booze, and if we draw, we'll have some more!"
This is an updated version of an article I wrote for the Spring 2016 edition of 'Calder Cask', the magazine from Halifax and Calderdale CAMRA, available in all good pubs within the area.