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Knocked Back in Kidderminster....

The draw for the 2nd round of the FA Cup saw Halifax Town playing away at Kidderminster Harriers, which provided a first opportunity to call in some of the town's pubs prior to the game....

The anticipation had been building up ever since the draw was made, as victory would take Town through to the 3rd round of the FA Cup for the first time for years, with the potential to draw one of the Premiership big guns. What if we could emulate the team of 1979-80, who beat Manchester City from the old First Division on a gluepot of a pitch at The Shay. What's more, we had also been drawn against a Midlands team in Walsall in the 2nd round that time too, finally beating them after two replays. The omens were there. What if? We could dream....

And so, after a breakfast at The Shay Cafe a stone's throw away from the Shay Stadium, our group of 8 set off from Halifax in two vehicles to Kidderminster, with yours truly a des. I had never stopped in the town before but I had passed through in the car once or twice. We eventually arrived and parked up after a drive of around 2 hours 45 minutes. The drive had taken us through some attractive countryside after we had left the M5, and the Worcestershire town, whilst not a stunner, is pleasant enough with the odd attractive building popping up in the middle of the town centre. It is an industrial town of course, having long been associated with the textile trade. It was helped by its location beside the River Stour and being at the intersection of the turnpikes to Worcester, Birmingham, Bridgnorth and Bewdley. The arrival of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in the 18th century, and later the railways helped the carpet industry become the major source of employment in the town - such was its prominence that the local newspaper is still called The Shuttle after the shuttles used on the looms. The town is at one end of the Severn Valley Railway, the heritage railway line which runs to Bridgnorth in Shropshire. Famous people associated with the town include singer Robert Plant, who grew up here, Sir Rowland Hill the man behind the modern postal system and the Penny Black - the stamp, not the town's Wetherspoons which bears its name - who was born here, former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, who went to school here, and TV personality and chef Rustie Lee who used to live in the town.

The other vehicle had arrived before us, and the lads were already enjoying a drink at The Bear & Wolf (opening picture) when we walked in, There were several beers on cask on the bar, including beers from Church End and Dig Bew but the recommendation was that we went for the Bear & Wolf, the eponymous house beer which is brewed nearby by Blackheath-based Fixed Wheel. It was a cool and refreshing  pale ale, clocking in at 4.1% ABV, which I reckoned was worth a 4 on the National Beer Scoring System scale, and which I enjoyed as we discussed our prospects for the afternoon's match.

Bear & Wolf at The Bear & Wolf

The Bear & Wolf is based in an old shop unit in the town centre, and the bar is to the left at the back of  quite a large room, There is plenty of seating available and the place had a nice, friendly atmosphere. I wanted to get a picture of the pump clip, but it had just gone off, so the clip was turned around, but the guy behind the bar didn't object when I turned it back to get the picture, saying he had well over 2,000 followers on Instagram for the pictures of pubs he posted.  It was a good start to the visit. 

The squad: just look at those happy, smiling faces. If only they knew....

We had passed the next pub on our way to the Bear & Wolf from the car park. This was  Ye Olde Seven Stars, a more traditional pub which announced itself as being a Cask Ales and Cob House, with the sign over the door declaring Beer and Banter. We headed for the main bar, which is situated around the back of the smaller room into which you enter the pub. The main bar was busy and lively, with what appeared to be a birthday celebration taking place, a buffet being eagerly consumed, and a crowd at the bar. That meant it was difficult to spot all the beers on hand pump, but most of those of us who were drinking cask went for Butty Bach from Wye Valley, their pleasant bitter which I rated as a NBSS 3. With no space to sit in the main bar, we retreated to the quieter front bar and resumed our pre-match build up, periodically being joined by a couple of lively kids who escaped from the main room and seemed to enjoy having more room to play. We finished our beers and left, me a little underwhelmed by the Seven Stars, probably because we were away from the main action, and I suspect that on another visit it would be possible to appreciate better the charms of this popular and historic pub.

Ye Olde Seven Stars, Kidderminster

It was a few minutes walk to the next pub, which was a little way back past the Bear & Wolf, on Oxford Street. The Beer Emporium & Cider House is situated in a single-storey parade, and like the Bear & Wolf was most probably a shop in a previous life. This micropub was busy when we arrived, with most tables taken. Draught beers and ciders were displayed on a chalkboard, and included both cask and craft beer. Unusually, there was no bar, with a bank of handpumps and taps on the back wall of a room beyond. The lady looking after front of house took our orders, disappeared into the back room where a bearded guy in shorts and apron dispensed our drinks, and returned with them a few minutes later, handing them over in exchange for payment.

It is great to see Elland beers getting a wide distribution these days, but with them being local to me, I tend to look for something else when I am miles away. So with restrictions on the strength of beer due to driving later, I had a half of the Trinnacle from Millstone, which admittedly is also brewed not too far away in Mossley, Greater Manchester, which I justified on the grounds of it not being a beer I'd seen before. And it is different for them, the usual pale colour and abundance of hops of most of their beers replaced by a more copper-coloured, more malt-forward, and more bitter beer, although it was fairly soft on the palate. It takes its name from a pillar of rock high above Dovestones reservoir in Saddleworth, and I quite enjoyed it, rating it a NBSS 3.5.

I liked the Beer Emporium, which is obviously a magnet for the town's discerning beer and cider drinkers, with several large fridges containing an impressive range of cans and bottles. There was a good friendly atmosphere to the place. Time was moving on though, and if we were to call in for a quick drink anywhere else and not miss the start of the game, we needed to make a move.

Beer Emporium & Cider House, Kidderminster

The next pub was a little further away, but on the way to the ground on Comberton Hill, which climbs gently towards the town's mainline and heritage railway stations. The Weavers Real House is another small, one room pub, and for the first time on the day we came across a pub with an abundance of football supporters, from both teams, with several familiar faces amongst the Town contingent. There was an impressive number of hand pumps on the bar, but with it being so busy it wasn't possible to have a good look, so I went for one I could see, Mad Goose, a bitter from Warwickshire brewers Purity. It didn't benefit from being served in a plastic glass, which I assume was only because of today's game. It was pleasant enough, deserving of a NBSS 3 rating. This pub is another one I think would benefit from another visit when less busy, although to be fair the staff were doing a tremendous job in keeping the drinks flowing.

The Weavers Real Ale House: another good pub

The time had finally arrived to go to the game. It was about 10 minutes walk to Aggborough, the home of the Harriers. A steady procession of fans filed in nervous anticipation away from the town centre to the ground. We headed to the end for away supporters, where we had to queue to be searched before we could go in. Once in, we found a spot to stand behind the goal, familiar faces all around. The ground was pretty full, almost 900 Town fans joining over 3,000 home fans. The crowd erupted as the teams came out, the excitement almost palpable. Kidderminster had been going well in National League North and were in the play-off places, but surely Town, a league higher and 3rd in the table, should have too much for them? That question was thrown into doubt a couple of minutes into the game when, to the shock of the away fans, Kiddy burst through Town's defence and scored in the goal in front of us, causing the home fans to erupt in celebration. It clearly wasn't going to be easy. And things got worse not much later when more defensive errors from Town allowed the Harriers to make it 2-0. And there was to be no recovery, no coming back, Town simply didn't turn up, seemingly unable to play the attractive passing football that has served them so well this season. A turned down penalty appeal added to Town's misery, but full credit to Kidderminster who thoroughly deserved their victory, sealing a place in the draw for the 3rd round.

We trooped back miserably in the gloom to the car park, and headed back north in near silence for most of the journey. It had been a disappointing end to the visit, but that is not to take away from an enjoyable tour around some of Kidderminster's pubs earlier in the day....

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