Last Saturday in October, to Sheffield with my groundhopping chums. Though I’m really only a fellow traveler, Bramall Lane had been the one football ground I’d been to that Crewe Alex fan Sal hadn’t, even if that had been back in the late ’60s when it was only a three-sided football stadium to accommodate the Yorkshire county cricket games that were played there then, and she was still at primary school.
We parked at Meadowhall and took – hey! I could use my bus pass – the modern tram from that monstrous mall, that temple to materialism, to the city’s mainline railway station and walked from there to the ground via the spectacular Sheaf Square redevelopment.
Poetry everywhere, if you can define everywhere as an Andrew Motion on the side of one of the new Sheffield Hallam Uni buildings looking down on the Square and Ian Macmillan’s celebration of same, which captures it rather well. Bad on the journey up, we were luckier with the weather by the time we got to town and walking under a modest rain; it brightened up – blue skies for the game even, as forecast – later.
The Crewe coach only got to the ground a couple of minutes after we’d picked up our tickets, stuck in the same M1 congestion that meant we ended up lunching on Pukka Pies – one has had worse – sitting in the Jessica Ennis Lower stand in the stadium. But that late arrival gave Sal a chance to wish Crewe manager Steve Davis good luck on his way in, for which he thanked her; though little good it did him.
And so, as David Peace would have it, we and 18,781 other souls settled down for Nigel Clough’s first match as Sheffield United’s manager, a circumstance which did not augur well for Crewe with both teams perilously close to the bottom of the league table. Strangeness for us at the kick-off as the first few notes of John Denver‘s Annie’s song came over the PA to be enthusiastically and tunefully taken up by the home fans en masse; it happened at the start of the second half too. Turns out this is a local folk borrowing that has morphed into The greasy chip buttie song, no less. We were briefly puzzled, then impressed by the singing.
It was an unexceptional first half, with two poor teams doing not much, except for Crewe succumbing to identical sucker punches, failing to get near the same player twice on the edge of their goal area from dead ball situations. Quite simply Sheffield United wanted it more. The goal celebration music over the PA stumped us when it shouldn’t have done. ‘Twas, it turns out, White Stripes‘ Seven nation army, not the most obvious guitar riff you’d think could become an international sports fan phenomena but so it seemingly has.
Second half Crewe woke up and started playing some of the best quality football of the match, especially after Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke came on as a sub after the Blades had scored a third. Crewe had hit the bar twice, and when last year’s wunderkind, Max Clayton, came on as sub to a few boos from the Crewe fans – he’s refused to re-negotiate in this last year of his contract, potentially denying the club any transfer fee – it was inevitably ihe who scored the neat consolation goal. Cheers again, Mark & Sal.
Further musical adventures
The previous evening a joyous night of fine voices and musical mayhem, grand entertainment and bad jokes worth hearing again. Stony Music Hall in York House was another triumph, washed down with glasses of the Great Oakley Brewery’s magnificent Wot’s Occurring. Great finale from Bubbles (pictured left) – a true star authentic in garb and voice – but before that an hors d’oeuvre and veritable tapas of and from Swanders and Flann, the progeny of a dustman (pretty much half the audience in the singalong end, who also belonged to Glasgow at another point in the evening), a touching Nancy’s lament from Oliver, unsavoury tales from the rear-end of an elephant’s thespian career, a red-hot mama and, to quote host with the most Ken, “a group of chaps swinging soup ladles between their legs” and so much more. How has Daisy, Daisy (full title “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)” fact fans) become quite so ubiquitous? Nice one, Ken, and all who sailed in her.
And, again belatedly – quick before another one comes around – the Sunday after the Bramall Lane trip a splendid and varied AORTAS open mic night at the Old George. More than the usual suspects were in evidence – another accordion even – and on the day Lou Reed died a fine evening’s music was topped off with an immaculate version from host Dan Plews of the Velvet Underground’s I’ll be your mirror which morphed effortlessly into Soft Cell’s Say hello, wave goodbye. Nice one, Dan.