Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Big Day in the North (of London)

'The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom'
Danny Blanchflower

I remember avidly watching the FA cup draw on TV as a child, waiting impatiently for Tottenham’s ball to be pulled out of the velvet bag and cursing when they always seemed to be one of the last teams to be picked. Which is why - after inadvertently turning the TV over just as the draw for the fourth round took place a few weeks ago – I was surprised and even, after all these years, a little excited to see Spurs were the first ones out the hat. Things got better when the next ball out was Wycombe Wanderers, our local team who play just up the road from the Ewing’s birthplace. A hometown derby was on the cards.

As well as stoking a bit of friendly family rivalry, it was also the perfect chance for me to make one final visit to the Lane before the old stadium is demolished – to be replaced by a swanky new 60,00 stadium on the same site - while indoctrinating the Ewing into the joys (and pain) of seeing a match at one of the finest stadiums in the land (after reiterating that cheering for the Chairboys in the home end was probably not a good move).

It was over decade ago when I used to trail up the High Road to the Lane - the days of Kanute and Keane rather than Kane and Kyle Walker - I managed to pick up a cheap Kappa dark blue away strip (back in the days when I was svelte enough to, just about, pull it off) that I wore under my work shirt for a whole week after we beat Chelsea in the League Cup. So I had planned a day of revisiting old haunts and discovering new ones.

First beer of the day was at the Beehive, perfectly situated about halfway between Seven Sisters and the Lane, where it had to be Hopspur amber ale, from Tottenham-based Redemption Brewery. We also clearly qualified as responsible adults as we were served our beer in dimpled pint pots, whereas the away fans coming in behind us got their lager in plastic glasses.

London cask beer often gets a bad rap, and often deservedly so. This, however, was a tip-top pint, balancing a gentle bitterness with a tight and creamy head. A dangerously drinkable session ale that I could have happily kept quaffing in their sunny beer garden all afternoon.

Man can’t live on beer alone (although I have tried) - and their barbecue shack, in said garden, was only just firing up for the day - so I popped down the road for a slice of tottenham cake. Originally invented by Quaker baker Henry Chalkley, it’s probably the only pink-hued foodstuff a Spurs fan would consider eating on match day, the colour originally coming from the mulberries that grew on Tottenham Friends burial ground. Of course, that’s now been replaced by e-numbers but the fluffy vanilla sponge, topped with a tooth-achingly sweet water icing, still remains a Proustian madeline.

Next stop was the Bricklayers, on the High Road just north of the ground. It's home fans only (and a cash bar) on match days, the Brickies is known as as one of the best places to have a sing-song, while surrounded by a plethora of Tottenham memorabilia, before the game.

Sadly the beer isn't up to the heights of the decor, with only lager, in seemingly every conceivable variety, cider and Guinness on offer. As there was no Holsten (sponsors on my very first Spur's shirt - another away number, this time in canary yellow) I went for Heineken, while the Ewing picked a pint of the Black Stuff.

I haven't had the pleasure of drinking the Dutch lager since a trip to the brewery in Amsterdam, and it seems I haven't missed much. Still, there's a decent beer garden if it gets too snug in the pub, complete with TV screens and a good old fashioned burger bar, and a cold Guinness always goes down well on keg.

Many moons ago the Ewing and I bonded over our love of fried chicken (and cheap sushi, and pints of cider) and I had been informed that Chick King was the best in N17 (despite the less than hench review by the Pengest Munch). Two ‘two piece and (excellent) chips’, eaten standing at the chrome counter that runs along the side of the room, and all washed down with a chocolate milkshake made the perfect pre-match meal. 

Apparently the secret coating contains cinnamon, amongst other witchcraft. Whatever the ingredients, the outside was crisp, keeping the bird juicy within. The queue was not too fearsome an hour before kick-off, but as we left, the hordes were stretching up the High Road, so plan accordingly if you fancy a fillet burger or some crispy wings before the game.

There was just enough time for swift half before the game, so we dashed around the corner to the Antwerp Arms. The pub has been here, overlooking Bruce Castle Park, since 1822 but has recently been taken over by the Bruce Castle Village Association after it was sold to developers, and is now run as a community pub.

As well as a great story about how neighbourly spirit and perseverance can stop the wrecking balls rolling in, the Annie is a lovely pub serving a good selection of local beers. We enjoyed one of the best, Beavertown's Gamma Ray, in their sunny garden. New bobble hat model's own.

One place where (most) of the locals are glad to see the cranes in is at the new Northumberland Development Project. A project which will see the new Spurs ground being built that will seat 61,000 - including a 17,000-seat single tier stand, the biggest in the UK - and feature its own cheese tasting room, microbrewery and bakery. The cleverest part is how the new stadium is being built on the original White Hart Lane site. You can already see it taking shape, including the 'nibble' taken out of the current North Stand, as you approach their current ground.

Of course, their are the inevitable downsides: building works will see Spurs moving temporarily to Wembley next season (a current bogey ground, in Europe at least); the stadium will no longer be called the Lane (naming rights being sold for cold had cash) and and public transport and parking in N17 is still lacking, to say the least. But overall it's a welcome, and necessary move. 

While WHL is still one of the finest grounds in the land, with a great atmosphere and history, it's also too small, with no real potential for expansion, and it's beginning to show it's age. From the pictures, the stands in the new ground are positioned close to the pitch (one of the best things about the current ground) and the large stands should hopefully help to regenerate that famous atmosphere. 

A rousing atmosphere that was rather muted from the home fans for most of the game on our visit (the away fans were in fine form) that saw us sneak a 4-3 victory with a very cheeky, 96 minute winner. Typical Spurs but a great game of cup football.

In desperate need of something to steady the nerves - and because I couldn't walk past Tottenham Hale on a Saturday afternoon without calling in for a jar - we walked over to Beavertown Brewery for a drink. Fortuitously it was also the annual launch of their Heavy Water sea salt and sour cherry imperial stout; and this year they also brewed limited edition kegs with chilli and with cocoa and hazelnuts.

Ok, I'll admit it, Heavy Water has never been a favourite of mine (although I love their India Cowbell india stout), but the chocolate/nut addition gave it a little extra oomph, and made it dangerously drinakble. And at 9% I'm just glad I wasn't drowning my sorrows...

Beer demands kebabs so we headed back to the High Road to OZ Erciyes Ocakbasi. It seems we weren't alone as, at half six on a Saturday, they had already run out of both lamb and chicken doner; which seemed rather unfortunate for a kebab restaurant. Thankfully, this turn of events lead to us choosing the mixed grill for two, cooked on the fearsome open charcoal grill along the side of the room. Yes, there is a man somewhere behind that wall of smoke.

As our meat was grilling we entertained ourselves with some excellent cacik - strained yoghut with garlic and cucumber - a basket of fresh Turkish bread and a chopped salad sprinkled with sumac, all provided gratis, alongside giant lamachun – topped with spiced lamb, which cost the princely sum of two pounds. 

A temperamental beast - many restaurants only seem to serve lamachun during certain hours, which is almost certainly not when you're visiting – I think it also represents one of the bargains of the restaurant world. It’s also Stealth’s favourite, so I always have to order one in her honour.

After eating solidly since we arrived, even the Ewing looked slightly fear-stricken when a mountain of assorted types of meat, juices soaking into a bed of fluffy white rice and more toasted Turkish bread, arrived tableside. A fear I soon shared when, no matter how many gloriously crispy lamb ribs, chunks of kofte or smoky shish we ate, the end seemed no nearer in sight.

When I glanced up to see my wife looking pink and clammy, half a chicken wing in hand and a despairing look in her eyes, I knew we were done. Thankfully, I think they’re fairly well-versed in this sort of thing and were happy to box up our leftovers - I was also thankful when they bought glasses of complimentary sweetened Turkish tea, for the digestion. An offer that was somewhat undermined by another complimentary offering of a tray of sutlac – baked rice pudding – one of my favourite deserts. Needless to say I found a little extra room and even the Ewing managed to activate the magical pudding stomach to help me finish it off.

And, as if she hasn't suffered enough putting up with me for all these years, the Ewing - as a newly adopted, and most dedicated Spurs fan - has just condemned herself to join me in a continuing cycle of thwarted dreams and disappointment. Wouldn't change it (or her) for the world, though. (best day ever! - TE).

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