Mark Addy & Lass O’ Gowrie – The Return(s)

Just a quick post, while I continue to delay any follow-up posts to my trip around Sydney, to blab spunckily about two pubs that reopened in Manchester, after a few months hiatus from the both of them.

This article contains no pictures, if it more inclined to try to make you check them out of your own free will.

I’ll also preface this with the fact that I wasn’t what you would call a regular in either pub.

I went to The Mark Addy, only it is previous final incarnation as a restaurant with Robert Owen Brown at the helm and a bar with a wide selection of local cask beers .

The Lass, on the other hand, was a place I went into even less frequently, but this was staggered over a longer period of time…

…time in which you could feel the decline happening around you.

So basically I have no real historical references to either pubs, other than say their last 10 years.

Here is what I found on a wet Thursday evening/night when I ventured into each pub.

Lass O’ Gowrie

The Lass O’ Gowrie stands on Charles Street in Manchester, opposite a giant Zombie car park.  The car park used to be the site of the BBC on Oxford Road, but they moved to shiny new structures (with terrible Metrolink tram services) to Media City in Salford Harbour Bay.

Much has been written since about the Greene King owned pub.

Seeing as Odder on Oxford Road and Joshua Brooks further up Charles Street (boarding Princess Street) being the other closest pubs, if my shabby geography is correct, have continued their trade. The Lass folded.

An ultimate sign of bastard PubCos, with sky-high rent and disregard for their landlords and the punters?

Quite possibly.

The refurb has seen much of the character stripped out.  Its stream-lined now, a wider space around the bar and more ordered in is table locations, the decking outside over the River Medlock (again, ropey geographical knowledge) has been spruced up too, or probably just pressure-washed.

It is all green and cream inside. Like a PubMaster chain pub and those really dodgy looking burger vans you see at festivals and big open-air gatherings.

All new polished wood, well MDF.

The bar had about 5-6 cask pumps on, not all were Greene King, I went with the Privateer Dainty Blonde, which was as good as ever, if nuttier than I remembered.

There seemed to be a free range of spirits too.

But then there was my Kryptonite.  Big signs advertising their ‘craft’ beer range.

I’m trying to make it clear, I have no problem with the beers that call themselves ‘craft’ or the brewers that produce them.

No, my gripe is the marketing term that is ‘craft’ and its off-shoots ‘crafted’ and ‘crafting’ (along with artisan and boutique, etc.).

Most usual pubs would make do with having the imported bottles of beer they have, be listed under the heading of ‘Bottled Beers’ but to band wagon jump, calling something ‘craft’ is now the way to advertise, and probably whack on a few more pennies to the price too.

Anyway, when I went it was about 7 in the evening and there were a couple of small groups and a few singular and couples also there.  A wet Thursday? Have people not got the memo it’s opened? Better pubs in the area? Boycott?

I don’t know.

All I know is to enjoy a place I have to enjoy the beer they serve and I can’t really fault the range, or either cask or ‘craft’.

 

The (new) Mark Addy

Nothing has changed much and everything has changed for me in this place, located on Stanley Street in Salford on the River Irwell (geography alert).

The gents toilet on the entry still strikes me as a public toilet, its improved a lot since its worst incarnation, but that was done before its closure in mid-January of 2014.

I went into the Addy quite regularly up until its closure. For food, for the gourmet nights, for a beer.  The last I was in there was for the book launch of Robert Owen Brown’s cook book Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle.

An event that highlighted (that I was going to blog about) the ligging nature of some (or a great many actually) and also the quiet, reserved nature of a man with talent (ROB) contrasted with the loud, obnoxious ones who have to have ‘big personalities’ in order to make up for their general lack of talent and an over inflated ego driven by surrounding themselves the doe-eyes sycophants; Gordo aka Mark Garner.

I always enjoyed the food at the Mark Addy.  Granted the portion sizes declined over time, but they started off as gargantuan slab of various locally sourced produce and numerous bits of offal.

But I suppose people of a certain mind-set now only want high-calorie food if it comes with the word ‘dirt’ or ‘dirty’ somewhere in the title.

Because for some reasons, cooking local dishes, or even UK dishes, is not the done thing in a vibrant metropolitan centre like Manchester.

No, it all has to be Yankee based now but with an arty “influenced by…” in the food descriptor, whereby its named after a local landmark or a play on the place name.

Again, not that this is ever bad food, it just the repellent marketing nature of it all.  Creating a brand. A soulless, empty brand.

Walking down the same stairs and opening the same doors and entering into the same dimly lit surroundings of old, I’m greeted by the old familiar bar.

The large range of local casks (5-6) at the far end, away from the door.  Again Privateer is there, as is Deeply Vale and a host of others.  Again nothing much has changed.

It felt a bit warmer I suppose.

The old booths have been knocked down.  Replaced by tables and sofas, or settees if you prefer.

The thing that hurt most was that where there used to be the kitchen and serving area, now stood giant mirrors.

There was some quiet music coming through the PA.

There were more small groups of people – very comparable to the attendance in the Lass.

I went over to the Salford Arms – it was fairly busy (it too also had Privateer beers on).

And there you have it.

Two pubs (or bars, or former gastropubs or whatever), located near rivers, which closed for various reasons but are back open with a range of ales, which I felt were properly kept.

Oh, of course, price per pint in bother places hovers around £3.50.

Let us see what the future holds – for any pub, tied or not.

Beer Tasters and Bar Staff Recommendations

I witter on about this on twitter and now I’ll put my thoughts into more than 140 characters.

My thoughts on the former of the title’s headings may read as the equivalent of Mr. Pink’s ranting about tipping in Reservoir Dogs

I’ll take the latter of the title heading first.

Staff Recommendations

I’m not looking for myself to be advised on what beers to buy, I know what I like and when that isn’t available I’ll go with something different.

The scenario of me entering and walking to a bar to handing over my money and taking a taste is quite simple…

Observe choice of drinks…

Anything new by a brewer I that know and trust?

Anything new that I’ve never had?

Hopefully be able to have a choice of either of the two above options…

A more competent person with a lot of time could do an exceedingly funny/tedious flow chart to go over beer choices, if fact someone probably has.  But me and my parting of my cash for the taste of a beer is not an overly complex thing.

But I was sat at a bar last week, in a pub that has a good 5+ pumps of cask ale, and on this occasion had two stouts on.

Yes two dark drinks – I shit you not, I didn’t know quite what to do with myself still, at least I wasn’t warned it was a ‘dark drink’ this time.

And I was more that averaged out by all the other pubs of visited that had a few casks on and nothing was dark at all.

Anyway, an older couple walked in and order 1 and a half pints of Guinness (with blackcurrant in the half).

All the time, while the waited for ‘the pour’ and ‘the settle’ and then the ‘top up’ I lamented to myself, what if the staff had said (as there was no one at the bar apart from the couple at the time) “we’ve got two other stouts on at the moment if you would like to try them.”?

I mean, it is a bar staff’s place to proffer a recommendation where it isn’t wanted?

I know plenty of times at beer festivals when a get a bit of a glare or some pursed lips from one of my requests, it is silent code for either ‘I didn’t enjoy this drink’ or, more seriously ‘it’s a crap pint as it didn’t keep well’.

To be fair, in the latter case they will just say so.

But what I’m really trying to get at is, if there is an alternative drink, from a microbrewery, to one from a big national/multinational one, should staff take it upon themselves to offer a taster to someone, just to broaden someone’s horizons if only via the medium of a pint glass?

Of course, whacking blackcurrant syrup in any drink tends to render this moot.

But then again people have been shoving sweeteners in beers for a long time, so maybe its the way forward if the customer wills it.

Beer Tasters

So now, to completely contradict myself I get on to one of my massive pet peeves about this current and apparent boom in beer drinking and the ‘craft’ beer revolution that is sweeping the nation.

I walk into some random bar and there they are…

Lined up like the predictably conformist bunch that they are.

My blood is all ready rising, they don’t even had to do anything, it is their mere presence and what the signal that is pissing me off.

Loads of plastic (or glass if your posh) shot glasses.

Not for shots any more, oh no – shots of spirits and the ever-increasing colours have moved into test tubes, branded glasses, foil sealed tubs, or the most evil, specially constructed Jägerbomb libation devices.

No, these shot glasses are for two types of people; both clueless but from different ends of the spectrum of bewilderment.

The first type are quite blameless.  They want to try a new beer, they know what they do and don’t like but need some guidance.  In lieu of possibly knowledgeable bar staff…

…by that I mean mind readers.  If a person knows what they like but can’t describe it, it doesn’t give anyone much to go on, even the greatest sommelier…

…they go for title or pump-clip design; asking the bar staff of the colour and/or type of drink, much like chimpanzees who can point out what food they want on a menu.

Upon arriving at something that sounds like something they might have had before (or possibly that someone has said its like the most popular and well-known brand of booze), they are offered a shot, which they promptly then have to decide if they should sip it or neck it, because after all it is alcohol and it is in a shot glass.

What happens with these types of people is then miraculous, this is the drink they wanted and they’ll take a pint.

Everyone is happy.

Except me, stood behind them at the bar, wondering why, while all this is going on the bar staff simply can’t serve someone who has a fairly good idea of what they want.

Remember when bar staff could multi-task? They seem so few and far between these days.

Still, at least I’m not in Font Bar, Manchester, one of the best bars in Manchester, with many cask and keg choices (a 25% CAMRA discount on all casks – fuck yes), but that is all tempered by the sound of every clink; as ice hits a glass and this adds another 5 minutes on to your waiting time as some other humanoid student orders another “amusingly” titled cheap cocktail, something vodka based and called Genital Herpes of  Ulcerated Perineum.*

Sorry did I make it sound like it was only one person ordering one cocktail – oh no its always at least five of these bastard, overly complicated drinks that take 80% less time to drink than to make, so without fail these humanoids are back at the bar, taking up staff time.

Still, know your customer base, I’m not going to harangue a bar if its making money and still supplying a large choice of ales.

The second group of people are the cunt-buckets.

These are the type of people who ask for tasters at fucking beer festivals.

These are the people who think they know what they are talking about, who think they know all the subtleties of a drink, whose palates are far too precious to waste on just any beer, no this has to be something special, something different…

…something so mind-numbingly bland and time-consuming that these scrotal sacks try a taster of at least 60% of the beers on offer and ponder over them with the like-minded and equally cock-witted mates of theirs.

And do you know what happens with these types of people…

…miraculously, the first drink they also tried was the one they wanted.

Go fuck yourself Tarquin.

I like dark drinks, but I’ll try anything once and do you know how I do this in a quick and easy way that helps both me, the bar staff and those behind me waiting patiently.

I GET A FUCKING HALF PINT.

Shit pal, you can get thirds now in some pubs these days.

Live a fucking little will you.

So you might not like the taste, either leave it, share it, but make a mental note so you don’t waste everybody else’s time again with your fucking pantomime, drink tasting twattery.

It isn’t a question of “wasting your money” on something you don’t like.

We waste our money every sodding day in the pursuit of entertainment; buying bad CD’s or watching bad films, going to bad gigs, going on bad dates, entering into bad marriages, spawning terrible children.

But no-one ever wants to taste restaurant food before they buy it.

No one would ever ask for a quick taste of the Fosters, or the Tetley Smooth Flow…

It is just another level of beer pretentiousness.

 

You know its a good rant when you make up statistics and every other word is a ‘naughty’ word.

Take A Risk.

Drink.

Be Merry.

Till next time…

*to be fair, that could be the name of any new beer too, or maybe I’ve just been listening to too much Carcass.  Bollocks, there is not such thing as ‘too much Carcass’.

Sydney – Drinking Beer – Part 1 – The pros and “craft” cons

I don’t quite know how to start this blog off, hence the title.

In fact this sentence I’ve added at the end of the piece as I’ve decided this is a Part 1 as I can’t really focus on much of the actual beer. What I have to say on this part of the subject probably won’t come as news to most people, but it holds a mirror up to the dishonesty of advertising, which you sometimes have to admire for its audacity.

There were many facets of beer drinking I encountered in Sydney which I’ve tried getting right in my head.

I see Australia a country new to the ‘modern’ ways of brewing. And I don’t mean that as slight.

Growing up in England (the North and the Manchester area to be specific) Australian beer was prevalent in my formative years spent drinking in parks before becoming of legal drinking age.

As mine and my mates tastes evolved away from the need to drink ‘super-strength’ beers (Kestrel) & ciders or fortified wines, we could move on to cheap deals at the local offy for bulk buy cans of Fosters or Castlemaine XXXX.

Aussie beers advertised on the sense of fun; Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan fronting the campaign for Fosters and Castlemaine adverts that as far as I’m concerned that have had phrases enter into English parlance (I’m thinking “I can see the pub from here” and “looks like we overdid it with the sherry” – said in an Aussie accent).

But taking UK pubs as a point of reference, Sydney pubs follow all the give-away signs.

There are certain styles of English pub that now scream Pub-Co and inside you’ll find the usual, insipid range of keg lagers, Guinness and smooth flow bitters with sometimes the occasional mild. Usually outside it will say “fine ales” (sometimes even ‘real ales’ which is pushing the CAMRA description off a cliff).

In Sydney, “craft” is the big thing.

They don’t do cask beers over there – I think I counted 2 pubs that had one ‘hand pump’ as they would describe it.

So, following on from the boom in the US and now UK markets, “craft” is the way forward for advertising beer and drawing in the more discerning punter.

I don’t wish this to descend into a “craft” verses “real” ale argument, but there is a movement to register “craft” as a product much like CAMRA has done so with “real”.

It is all marketing, but merely walking around Sydney and knowing the ‘truth’ about the beers you drink can galvanise the argument for a “craft” definition.

Why is that?

Remember those pubs I just mentioned. They are emblazoned with logos for ‘Carlton Draught Lager and Tooheys, much the way UK pubs boast about Carlsberg, Carling and Stella.

You know what to expect inside the pub and either you are too snobby an arse to go in and get a cheap drink or you go in because all your mates are and if you are really honest with yourself you don’t really mind the odd pint of mass-produced nonsense now and again, plus your future “artisan/boutique/craft” beers will taste that much nicer for this experience.

But in Australia the ‘fine ales’ in these pubs are “craft” beers.

Or should I ridiculously write “”craft”” beers?

You walk in and are greeted, more or less in every pub, with at least 6 kegs, the silvery metal dispensers cold and dripping with perspiration, with “craft” names like ‘Kangaroo Piss IPA’ and ‘Wombat Shit Stout’.

Actually they are called; “150 lashes Pale Ale” or “Hop Thief “by the James Squire Brewery or Little Creatures and their “Pale Ale”. Or maybe it is “Minimum Chips” by the Matilda Bay Brewing Co or possibly on the rare occasion its a “Dark Ale” by White Rabbit Brewing.

But these apparent independent “craft” brews are actually wholly owned by Lion or SABMiller.

Look no further that this link.

Now, given the history you could say that some have a claim to be called “craft” brewers, even if they aren’t independent any more.

Of course what it does end up doing is then make every other brewer suspect.

4 Pines Beer in Manly and Bacchus Brewing appear to be legitimate small brewers.

As do Red Tape Brewing Co in their brew pub, along with the Lord Nelson Brew Pub and Hotel.

Coopers are still independent, I think, despite take-over attempts.

I’m unsure about Balmain Brewery and the Stone & Wood Brewing Company.

But should we even care?

In the end it comes down to the actual beers and how they taste.

And I’ll discuss these and the Sydney drinking culture (which is highly comparable to the UK’s) in Part 2.

But as mentioned above, as a bit of sneak preview/spoiler – its 99% keg and the beers are almost always too cold.

Wigan Beer Festival 2014

This is a review for the ‘Swiggin in Wiggin’ 27th CAMRA Beer Festival.

Held between February 27th to 1st March 2014.

This was my 2nd year of attendance (again, I didn’t have a blog this time last year to write it up).

It is also part of the currently ongoing Wigan Food and Drink Festival 2014.

This runs up until the 9th of March 2014, so plenty of time to try other bits of food and world cuisine that isn’t solely pies and Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. There is also an American Beer Festival in Standish on the 7th, which is free and might be worth a mooch.

The price of entry varied for each day but was free to CAMRA members.

Tokens were the paper sheet kind, crossed off with marker pen and all unused were fully refundable, as was the deposit for the glass (£2) – but the glasses (half pint tankard or full pint, with 1/2 marking) are very nice things, even if they had spelling mistakes on last year.

Wigan Beer Fest Itinerary
Wigan Beer Fest Itinerary

When I went last year, Wigan Athletic were playing at home (at the JJB/DW stadium), against Liverpool (when the genius rat-faced biter went on a bit of a rampage, goal-wise). The festival was busy on the Saturday I went on in 2013, full of people in blue and white who promptly left at about 2.30pm.

This year Wigan were playing away (as a side note, Suarez still got a lot of good Fantasy Football points away at Southampton).

This year the festival was very busy, busier than 2013.

As we know the last day of a beer festival is generally beer light, but in 2013 there was still a fair few to crack at, in 2014 there was distinct lack of choice.

Which I’ll bemoan from a purely selfish point of view, but fills me with joy if festivals are proving popular.

Food wise, it was a step up again from last year. The addition of a few more stalls and a bigger range of foods to go at, including black peas (£1). £3 got you a wurst roll and various other prices got you a chicken fajita, nacho’s, black puddings and a choice of pies (which I still think should be pushed harder, clichés be damned).

As it takes place in a sports hall the toilets are good and there is plenty of space on the floor and in the bleachers (to sit).

So the beers, in no real order:

Coastal Brewery had provided a 9% Kernow Imperial Stout and what a lovely drop this was, one of my favourites of the festival. Dark, smooth and strong.

Fell Brewery had a Robust Porter at 4.8% which was my other favourite. I may be biased towards my dark drinks, but when done right like this was, smooth and sweet with a ‘burnt’ taste, then it is manner from heaven.

The light stuff was started with the wonderfully titled Doc Morton’s Hedgehog Resharpener (4.1%) by Abbeydale Brewery. Very much a New Zealand style pale ale it was palatable and well-balanced.

BlackJack Beers had provided another new one of theirs to me called Pokies coming in at (3.6%). An American pale ale with citrus twang.

Blakemere Brewery have had a strong run of beers recently, but I tried their “one-off” Merciless (6.0%). A chili-infused IPA. I was warned when I asked for it and was happy with what I got. It is an acquired taste, probably too much and to strong a chili taste for some, the mouth adopts and the heat never goes past uncomfortable. Not something you’d drink a lot of, but as a warmer on a winter night it was effective and quite a good IPA.

Nelson’s Eye (4.5%) by Heavy Industry Brewing was a good, straight-forward bitter.

Penzance Brewing have brought along a crystal clear, golden and smooth bitter called Potion No. 9 (4.0%), very good.

Final beer was from Prospect Brewery and seeing as their Deep Purple and Silver Tally had sold out, I went “off-programme” with their 3.8% Whatever. A good and clean pale ale.

It was a good thing I started off at The Anvil in Wigan (where the free bus to both the festival and a new bus, from Prospect, to take you on tours of good local pubs, left from) as I got to try a few more beers.

Allgates Brewery and their ever-present and ever good All Black, a wonderful 3.8% mild and the 4ish% Sladek from Pictish Brewing whose every beer I have is lovely, smooth and tasty.

The Swiggin in Wiggin festival is a fine advert for the medium-bigger sized ones and if it continues to grow I’m going to have to find excuses to go on more than the 1 day.

Thanks to all staff involved in the organisation and service.

Gin Pit Beer & Cider Festival 2014

This event took place on Friday 14th – Saturday 15th February 2014.

The full title of the festival should really be “Astley Miners Welfare & A&T Cricket Club Beer & Cider Festival 2014”

Lots of ampersands.

This was the 3rd happening of this festival and my 2nd in attendance.

My glass is one of my mate’s car’s boot (stored so we could go out afterwards) and I’ll add a photo of this and the programme when I get it back.

The festival raises funds for the Cricket Club – I may mock cricket as not being a sport, but seeing as you need to change your shoes to play it properly I suppose it counts, just don’t ever expect me to watch it or cheer for England.

Admission is £5, which gets you your glass and programme.

Tokens are of the printed kind, crossed off with marker pen – they are in £1 and 50p, they are amended to 25p should the need arise.

Prices are straight-forward, pretty sure the ales were £1.25 a half and £2.50 a pint.

Think the ciders and lagers were £1.50/£3.

Basically if you don’t like beers you can still get kaylied on either Leffe Blond, Staropramen, Birra Moretti or Estrella Damn for £3 a pint, but don’t then moan when your notice your Fosters tastes like shit.

Like wise you could get, like a few of my group did, blottoed on numerous 7%+ ciders, of which the blueberry one seemed to go down very well, obviously bringing back memories of Mr. Freeze giant ice pops – complete with blue stained tongues.

There were 13 beers to choose from and yet again I didn’t manage to try all of them.

So apologies in advance to Allgates Brewery, Marble Brewery and Portobello Brewery.

I’ve had and enjoyed, respectively, your Gin Pit (4.3%), Marble Summer (4.5%) and Portobello Star (4.3%) as the most recent of the beers and so had to forego them this time.

Oh yes, food – there was a van outside but I never went near it, as it is a club the facilities are satisfactory, with very good hand driers, but I kept going to the bar for grab bag crisps to tide me over before the inevitably agreed upon curry when we had all run out of our tokens.

Also as it remains a functioning club (with live music) there are always (and I mean) always kids around (obviously not near the bar area) so have a higher tolerance if drinking around kids isn’t your thing.

Also, for the 2nd year in a row (no blog this time last year, hence no review till now) there were no darker drinks, but for someone like me it is good to be steered to the lighter ales from time to time.

First up was Great Heck Brewery with the 3.9% Navigator. Good and typical session bitter – I’ve gone from only seeing their drinks in bottles to them cropping up in many bars, so that is a good sign for this North Yorkshire brewery.

Next was a Snowdonia Ale (3.6%) by Purple Moose Brewery (Bragdy Mws Piws). This was CAMRA champion beer of Britain in 2012, pale yet no massively hoppy it was a pleasant enough brew.

Bingley Beer Works (website not loading?) offered their 4.0% Bingley Blonde. A very easy drinking golden ale with tastes of vanilla.

Hard Knott had brought along their Duality (4.5%), which was another golden ale, bitter and malty.

Otley Brewing provided their Otley 01 (4.0%), yet another golden ale and yet another previous CAMRA Beer of Britain Winner (2008) and yet another brew with a bitter finish.

In my glass next was the Partridge Best (4.0%) by Dark Star Brewing. I was almost warned and offered a taster before I had this, wasn’t with the other drinks. Can’t think why. In my notes I just put “proper bitter” as in I think it is what a bitter should be, rather than it being ‘proper bitter’.

Thornbridge Brewery had brought along their Sequoia (4.5%). Thornbridge do good beers, this was no exception, rather complex in its tastes and smells making it stand out from the others, which were otherwise quite straight-forward brews (which is no bad thing at all).

Finally on my list I had the 4.5% Wacky Winter Warmer by OffBeat Brewery. A lot lighter than you’d think given the name, by that I mean pale. Fruit tastes and smells is my over-riding impression, again unlike the name suggests. Not bad though.

It’s a good little festival, if you want the challenge of trying all the drinks (and I don’t mean actually buying them, not sodding, cretinous tasters) then it is something you can never do anywhere else except a pub mini-festival.

Not that I wish to promote binge drinking.

But if you are going to binge, do it on good beers.

Thanks to all staff involved in the organisation and the selling me of the beer.

World Club Challenge – Sydney Roosters vs Wigan Warriors

This match took place on 22nd Feb 2014 in Sydney, Australia at the Allianz Stadium.

It was between the Sydney Roosters of the National Rugby League (NRL, Australasian or Oceania) and the Wigan Warriors of Super League (SL, United Kingdom, well the North, plus London and Catalan).

This match too place a week ago (even by my standards this is a late blog) so I doubt I’m spoiling for anybody when I say the Roosters won 36-14 and hence this isn’t a review of the match as such.

It too place in front of an official attendance of 31,515.

Of that total it is a given that approximately 3,000+ of those were Wigan fans who had travelled from the UK plus a few other fans of Rugby League, me being one of them.

I am a Leigh Centurions fan, you could say there is a local rivalry with Wigan, which is now based solely on geography rather than any kind of competitive/divisional nature.

Most sports fans will (and should) know of Wigan (Warriors), an English team that has created dynastical (if that is a word) reigns in its sport on more than one occasion.

Most people in the UK should know of Wigan, the place, being mainly full of pies.

Q: What is a Wigan kebab?

A: 3 pies on a stick.

Et cetera, Ad nauseam.

I feel less people know of Leigh. Apart from the Rugby League team and a handful of good pubs (The Allgates White Lion being the stand out) it is more recently known as the largest town in the UK without its own railway station (this could be wrong, it could just be local propaganda).

Leigh used to be connected to Manchester via train. Now it is only buses, and a continually increasing number of operators, making a day saver less valuable by the day.

No, the powers that be have now seen fit to destroy the A580 (East-Lancs) by putting in a trivial “guided-bus way” which, if you tow the “nimby” line, will serve nothing whatsoever except to be another traffic control measure, when they aren’t also imposing ridiculous speed limits because by the numerous kids that are killed on the road because they are too stupid to use the elevated walkways.

Lobby is a stew basically; lobby, stew, hot-pot, hash – all of which should be on sale at any good beer festival (hey, call it a tagine, goulash or Stroganoff and charge twice the price)

Lobby Gobblers is the name given to a Leyther, Pie-Eaters are from Wigan.

Q: Why do people from Leigh only eat Lobby?

A: Because they can’t afford the pastry for the pies.

(Of course historically the pastry was only to carry/protect the meat when it was taken somewhere like a mining pit or cotton mill, but it is still affectionate banter).

Anyway, I’m not here to give my own poorly formed historical knowledge of the Wigan/Leigh area, I’m here for the Rugby.

Me, Mr. Anonymity decided to make himself well enough known by going to this match (and a few social gatherings) in his Leigh top.

Leigh
Leigh

I’m a fan of Rugby League (and I really don’t understand the draw of Union) and I always wish to go to Australia, so hence the weaving of these events.

I got some odd looks when I said I was going to Sydney for 6 nights. All that way for 6 nights?

All that way for 6 nights in the same city is the way I look at it. Some crazy bastards went for the 80 minutes, flew in and out just to watch a match – now that is nuts, and also commendable loyalty.

Some fans had been on their own tour, watching more rugby, or staying later to catch a few NRL matches.

The planes I caught had a noticeable Wigan contingent, the return planes less so.

The whole of Sydney had a noticeable Wigan contingent, like bus drivers you nod in acknowledgement as you pass each other and maybe broach conversation when in a pub (yes, even I tried talking to strangers).

The main night was Friday when I would say a good 500+ Wigan fans descended on the King Street Brew House for a get together.

To keep with the alcohol theme of this blog, a review of King Street Brewhouse will follow, but suffice to they brew their own beer on site, I just got the feeling most fans were drinking Miller Genuine Draft (bottle or on tap). But I like a MGD now and again, but this time I was on their stout.

The mood was jovial and bouncy all night, even the staff at the bar were taking photos of the fans chanting and singing.

Some Roosters fans turned up, it was still light-hearted and good-natured.

Some fans were quietly confident of a Wigan win, most weren’t.

It all seemed to depend on the fitness of one Wigan player:

Oh Sean O’Loughlin, you are the love of my life
Oh Sean O’Loughlin, I’d let you shag my wife
Oh Sean O’Loughlin…
…I want curly hair too…

(to the tune of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)

A walk out of Sydney to the Darlinghurst/Paddington area takes in a few pubs. Only two were of note:

One was The Local Taphouse and this really needs and will get its own write up. I went in there for a few pre-stadium visit looseners and then went for a stroll to and around the Stadium and the adjoining cricket ground (SCG). Not a soul was about. Well a small handful.

Stadium ~1500
Stadium ~1500

As I walked back to the pubs that is when I noticed the Wigan shirts, strolling about, climbing out of taxis.

The other pub, the one nearest the ground, was taken over unsurprisingly again, by chanting and exuberant Wigan fans was called the Captain Cook Hotel.

I got the distinct feeling that this pub isn’t massively loud and busy on regular match days, the bar staff and the door staff certainly seemed taken aback with the amount of custom they were getting. Regular pub with the “”craft”” beers I’ll explain more about in another review.

After a few drinks there, I walked back to the Taphouse for a few more drinks, and then on to the match…

Stadium ~1800
Stadium ~1800

Having to walk around the whole perimeter of the stadium to get to our entrance was a swine, but on days and holidays like these you don’t mutter much about all the walking you do, helps you lose the excess beer calories.

Stadium
Stadium

Sorry for the disappointing photo, I was trying out the apparent ‘panorama’ function on my phone and never cracked it, I shall blame booze – I only managed to figure it out on the penultimate day of the holiday.

Now I am lead to believe that NRL is a bit of a religion in Australia. Lets be honest, what are the Aussies good at sports wise?

Rugby League.
Rugby Union.
Cricket (debatable if it is a sport).
Swimming.
Aussie Rules, which no one else plays.

Their stadiums are big for Rugby League and there is obviously a massive following, so what happened around match day was nothing short of staggering.

Being an English Rugby League fan I except (as we all do) that, in the eyes of TV broadcasters, we are minority sport, trumped by the all-conquering football and the baffling popularity of Rugby Union.

You could suggest that the bias of Union teams in the South and League teams in the North makes the reason why London centric media focus most on Union, maybe that is it, but it is probably too simplistic and not something I can go in to.

The Rugby League World Cup in 2013 was very well attended, the BBC doing its best to show some matches.

The League structure in the UK is again under-going a renovation, back to promotion/relegation, you know, to actually give teams and fans something to play for.

The Championship Cup (which Leigh are the current holders of) will not take place this year because of no sponsorship and with the promotion to SL only starting in 2015 this means that, with the exception of the Challenge Cup, all non-SL teams play for pride – something they have done since the formation of Super League really.

In short, Rugby League, especially those in charge, have seen their grasp exceed the reach far too many times. Constant tinkering and restructuring and a seeming need to keep-up-with-the-Joneses has seen clubs fold and the lower end and at the upper end face constant financial woes, the most well publicised being Bradford Bulls.

I can’t speak with out ‘lower league bias’ I suppose, but grass-roots has been neglected for too long and the roosters (no pun) come back to roost.

I remember going to Hilton Park and there being a regular 1500 people there, which sometimes swelled to 4000+ when they went on a cup run. Success breeds following which increases revenue which should increase success and so the cycle goes on.

But anyway, English Rugby League has its own problems, so surely we could learn a thing or two from the Aussie model?

No programmes.

What the fuck?

No fucking Programmes?

Yep, if you staple say 20-30 pages of team news, advertising and banter together people will buy them as a memento.

Charge anything up to $30 (the exchange rate was over 2:1, people will pay £15 for a one-off booklet) and the 3,000+ Wigan fans (and I’m sure Roosters fans too) will pay it and you’ve made $90,000.

But no.

No programmes, no match balls, no commemorative shirts. Nothing, except a blue cone with a French car manufacturer on it.

Apparently promotion for the match was also lacking.

Earlier that day their version of the Charity Shield took place between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons, in front of about 14,000 people.

The chance to ‘make a day’ of it was lost – I heard that the NRL like The Magic Weekend that the SL run (and which I also go to).

I also get the feeling, given the size of the country, that away support isn’t all that good. The Roosters fans certainly seemed over-whelmed with the vocal minority that were the Wigan fans, with only typical Aussie bravado, and the eventual score-line giving them anything to cheer about.

Walking back after the match, in a bit of a drizzle, through the massively gay area with its GAyTM’s and the gayest gays I’ve seen in a long time, which may have been in contrast with all the rather down Rugby fans I was walking back with, I was left wondering if the future could hold a continual and more permanent joining of the Aussie and England teams?

If Wigan played away again could they get another 3,000 people coming over or was this a once in a lifetime trip?

Whimsically, could teams with similar names play each other?

Who would Leigh play?

You a Doggies fan?

What?

Go Bulldogs?

Troggies, you’ve come along way, eh, it says Leigh on it, where is that?

I ask you, does the Leigh away top look anything like any of these Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tops?

Bulldogs
Bulldogs

Why are pies so popular in Sydney?

Pie Face
Pie Face

The above is a pie, not a Wigan fan.

And with that I’m off to the Wigan Beer Festival…

My reviews of Sydney and their beers will follow…