Feb. 13th, 2017

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The weekend before last (4-5 February) I spent in London ahead of the biggest conference in my company's calendar, which I was due to attend on the Tuesday. I always try and use this as an opportunity to see friends in the capital, as it is a place I rarely get chance to visit, and with work paying for the travel, it does save on costs. Meanwhile, noticing that Middlesbrough were playing at Tottenham in the late Saturday kick-off was too good an opportunity to turn down. I hadn't been to a football match for nearly two years and not an away day in London for about nine years, which is quite shocking considering I used to go to four or five games a season in the mid-2000s. Furthermore, there looked to be quite a gathering on the messageboards I frequent, with 11 Boro lads from Teesside and London confirmed, so I asked them to get a ticket on my behalf and booked the trains accordingly.

I had to change at Sheffield due to engineering works, but this allowed me to have a fascinating conversation with a Canadian student from SoaS, about a range of political things. We shared similar views on most issues, so it was great to rant about things like Brexit and Trump, as well as have my views confirmed by an outsider who had been subject to the xenophobia which has taken this country alight. Her course in philosophy was also quite interesting, so the two hour journey passed in no time, with us exchanging business cards at the end, promising to keep in touch. I walked her out of St Pancras station before grabbing an overpriced sandwich and a poo, before headng down to Sydenham Hill to meet my friend Paul, with whom I was going to stay the night and with whom I was going to the match. We had just enough time to deposit the bags and take a shower - as well as meeting his daughter, who is now 18 years old. This was a bit of a headfuck considering I had first met her when she had been five or six, highlighting the passage of time as I hit my mid-Thirties. It was great chatting with his partner Carol too, with whom we had a greater conversation once we had returned after the game over some delicious vegan curry which was expertly prepared.

We left shortly before 3pm, with our destination the One Mile Road Brewery just outside of White Hart Lane. The initial plan had been to go to an Irish Centre, but it had been suggested earlier in the week that this microbrewery was opening its doors for away fans and was serving beer and food to the Middlesbrough contingent. They certainly didn't skimp on the accommodation, with the food being catered by the excellent Parm Star, which offers the Middlesbrough delicacy of parmos in a burger bun. The two ales they had on were also delightful and at £4 a pint, reasonably priced for the capital, while I couldn't quite believe that there were around 250 Boro fans drinking craft beer in a microbrewery as opposed to the fizzy lager and dodgy pubs that used to be par for the course when we were doing this ten years ago. We met a couple of the old lads again in the bar, some of whom I hadn't seen in nearly a decade, although as we had arrived quite late, some of these acquaintances were quite fleeting. Alas, we did get to speak to a couple of the lads though, including some Leave voters, which at least added a personification to them as outside of politics they were personally decent people. In a way, this did heal the wounds somewhat, although not enough to assuage the anger completely. Still, this was a football day rather than a politics one and with kick-off approaching, we finished our drinks and headed off, being amongst the last ones to leave as Paul needed to grab his parmo burger before heading off. He was suitably impressed, as I told him he would be as I had tried Parm Star before, at the Canal Mills Beer Festival back in November.

The journey to the ground was through the same dodgy housing estate we had walked through to get to the brewery, but the distance wasn't too far and soon we could see the huge concrete pillars which will form the stadium extension shadowed in the gloaming, with huge cranes towering in the sky to meet the moon. It sounds romantic, but it was just a football match, as our friend Adam, who was the only Spurs supporter amongst us, told us how great their chairman Daniel Levy is. By the by, we walked around the arse end of the stadium and entered, where we discovered that Paul and I had two seats away from the others in our own private row which was nice. It was great watching a match again and the Boro fans were in full voice, while the home fans were muted for most of the match. We sang, we shouted, we encouraged, but we also got frustrated as our lack of offensive prowess was apparant for all to see. In the end we lost the game 1-0 having conceded a soft penalty, but we made their star players - of a side that were sitting second in the league at the time - look quite ordinary. Granted, we played the offside trap well a couple of times in the first half, but our defence was quite strong, limiting them to few chances. It was just a shame that we didn't look like scoring at all in the entire match, apart from one shot towards the end which could very easily have been the equaliser. All in all then it was exceptionally frustrating and I left the ground fearing the worst, with other results going against us and the relegation trapdoor approaching nearer and nearer. Whether we survive is going to be touch and go, but if we are to survive, scoring is a must.

White Hart Lane is in the middle of nowhere, with transport links at a premium. The problem is particularly acute at the end of a match as you have 35,000 people heading towards the limited infrastructure. We opted to walk down White Hart Lane to Seven Sisters Tube station, noticing local bakery Percy Ingle along the way, one of the few pasty shops not to have been taken over by Greggs. In all honesty, this part of Tottenham was a place where gentrification was forgotten, so getting out of here was a priority, which made the wait to enter the tube station all the more frustrating. Still, in the end it was reasonably efficient as after a ten-minute wait, we were allowed on to the platform and got a train almost immediately. We were headed towards Euston and the Bree Louise pub, a bar that hasn't really left the 1950s with its open kegs covered in tarpaulin and bare wooden decor. We had agreed to meet Colin and Adam here, with all of the others having headed back to Teesside on the official coaches, and we arrived about five minutes after they had done, largely because they had told us that the bar was behind Euston station when it was really next to it. We initially started off outside before perching in a corner inside the bar, sharing a rather large table with a hairy bloke and his partner. We had two drinks here, flat real ale type but of reasonably high strength and thus flavour to be interesting, before heading our separate ways, in our case back to Paul's house. It was great seeing the lads again and I had half a mind to go down again at the end of the month for the Crystal Palace game, which is a must-win affair as they are one of our relegation rivals. Alas, the tickets have since sold out but with a £30 cap on all away tickets mandated by the league, at least it's now more affordable and I would like to do another London away day again before too long.

Once we had returned to Paul's, we chatted for a while and watched Match of the Day followed by the Super Bowl preview show before going to bed around midnight, with me waking up at around 9am as everyone had already arisen. I was on an air bed in the living room and so was awoken to the sound of voices and cooking in the adjacent kitchen, with Paul rustling up a fantastic cooked breakfast, which was the perfect way to start the day. We ate with his daughter Grace and chatted for a while before heading out to nearby Herne Hill, which has a farmer's market on the main street every Sunday. This was very interesting as there was a range of high quality local produce, with the food being of particular interest. I had a raspberry version of the Portuguese Pastais which was delicious, while Paul bought some cards from a local craft stall. The market has become so popular that its frequency changed from every month to every week, and it was certainly busy when we were there. It was only up and down one street but there was a surprising diversity of produce, and it was a shame that I couldn't take some of it back with me as it looked so good. Alas, having no access to a fridge for the next 48 hours meant taking the cheese wasn't wise.

After this, we headed to one of the local bars, where we grabbed a couple of local ales, including one brewed in a brewery just down the road. Paul went to their tap room later on in the day, but I had to leave mid-afternoon as I had arranged to meet JM Horse outside St Paul's (via my hotel at Earl's Court, where I intended to drop off my bag). A trip to this brewery tap is definitely on the agenda for a future visit though, one I am hoping to make very soon. We watched a little of the Six Nations as we chatted over our final beer, with my head right in front of the big screen TV so probably obscuring the view for some people. Still, this was the only place with a chair so what could you do? Opppsite from us we saw a dog playing with his owner, and he desperately wanted some cream from a dessert one of this party was having, but he wasn't allowed any. Meanwhile, we both enjoyed our final pints before Paul walked me back to the station, seeing me off as I headed for the furry part of the trip with very happy memories of the last 24 hours and a resolve to visit the capital far more often.

October 2017

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