Recently, and partly due to the demise of Bury FC, I’ve decided to spend the odd spare Saturday I have throughout the football season going to watch a local (for now) football team and take in some of the pubs and bars around the towns and stadiums in which they reside.
My first trip was on Saturday 31st August to Seel Park to catch Mossley AFC take on Kendal Town in the Northern Premier League Division One
It was an easy and obvious decision to make Mossley my first trip of this new tour, as I work with a couple of people that already attend the game here. Still, they tend to head straight for the club house before the game so they wouldn’t be joining me on my local pub tour.
Growing up in neighbouring Stalybridge, Mossley was always considered the debauched and ostracised cousin. The people had their reputation and so did the pubs. We were painted the picture of a rundown, smog filled town that hadn’t changed since pre-Peterloo days.
As you mature you realise that such reputations in any town are fictitious localism; that the residents there view your area with similar disdain and fantasy. In recent years, Mossley has become the latest commuter belt town to see a rise in young couples/families take advantage of its picturesque location coupled with comparatively cheaper housing.
Still, it is often seen as the stepping stone. Many I know bought their first house in Mossley to get on the ladder, only to buy their second home in any other neighbouring town. There was no desire to stay.
Yet other residents that were born and raised on the steep, narrow streets of Roughtown love it and never want to leave. Perhaps more than any Tameside or Greater Manchester area I know, Mossley brings out a sense of community and tribalism. It is the sort of town where any long-standing resident will have 600 people at their funeral because everybody knew them. I often tell the true story of a conversation I had with a resident where I jokingly said “You probably know my mate Barry who lives in Mossley – he’s probably your cousin” and it turns out that he actually was.
So where better to watch the most tribal of all sports.
The Rising Sun
The football day started at a pub on the very edge of the town before the hill drops into Saddleworth. Interestingly, between 2010 - 2013, the Rising Sun was my "local" - or at least my regular haunt as it required a car or taxi to reach. I spent many a post work hour here; even earning two nicknames in the time - Sid the Sloth (as apparently the resemblance is uncanny) and Sid the Trough (due to my apparent ability to drink any old slop.) The pub offered easily the best range of beers for miles around at that time. When I think of the line-up, I always recall the night I am sure I dank an entire firkin of Brewdog's Alpha Dog on cask to myself.
In the following years, the reputation went down. My visits became sparse, even during the couple of years I lived nearer to it. The beer choices became limited, hindered by brewing their own beer on site which was of varying quality. There was a sense that, as a free house, the owner was happy to let it run without trying. It remained popular even though many I knew stopped going. I think my last visit was a particularly bad experience during England Vs Wales (Euro 2016) where we all left at half time.
Anyway, I decided to return on my latest Mossley visit. Wary, I entered to find that little had changed inside. It was busy for 1pm and all ten cask pumps seem occupied. Most impressively, the owner was behind the bar, bouncing around with a smile on his face. He greeted me cheerily and asked where I had been recently. It was the same smile and service that greeted me when I first entered this pub 9 years before.
We talked for a little while about my move away from the area, whilst I drank perfect pints of Oakham Citra and (on his recommendation) Tiny Rebel's Juicy - a beer that I'd previously not got on with but was so delicious here that I didn’t want to leave.
Whilst the owner served, chatted and ran around as a solo act for everyone, I noticed that many of the faces in at this Saturday lunch were familiar to me. They had not lost faith in the place in those intermittent years. It was a moment to remember that community value attached to the very best pubs when one can re-enter a building after many years and feel that it was only a couple of nights away.
I left begrudgingly. This was a real return to form and a sense of nostalgia rippled through me as I looked at the stunning view opposite on leaving.
On a side note, the pub has long been omitted from any local CAMRA literature, including the GBG (though I haven't seen 2020.) The urban legend is that, some years ago, a group asking for discounts and preferential treatment were told to fuck off. This may be hearsay, but the quality of beer on this visit suggests the local branch would have to explain why it isn't included in branch socials and local mags beyond pride.
The Church Inn
Further down Stockport Road, towards Mossley town centre, stands a pub I long ear-marked for closure. It spent a long time as a Thwaites house performing averagely, despite some good custodians. Thwaites really are crap at running pubs. I was surprised then to hear that The Church Inn had become a free house in the last couple of years.
Five cask beers face me as I walk in, four more beers than the number of customers. There's a rather awkward interaction and a strange look from the one customer at the bar as this solo stranger takes a seat in the middle of the pub with a pint of Donkeystone Cotton Clouds. The Church is a lovely two roomed pub that led to my Twitter observation about tie-back curtains and lamps in the windows at pubs. I feel at ease but am still keen to make this a quick stop. Added time in the Rising Sun has put me slightly behind schedule and kick off is now less than half an hour away.
I hope the pub has its busy moments as I would return but clearly 2.30pm on a Saturday is not that time.
Mossley Football Club
I arrive at Seel Park, close to the centre of "Top Mossley" (Mossley is a multi-tiered town.) Entrance is £8 and first time visitors will immediately be amazed by the views from the terraces; some of the best that English football has to offer.
I make my way to the spacious football club, keen to find the workmates who are equally keen for me to try Mossley football club's own beer - Lilywhite Pale Ale brewed by the aforementioned Donkeystone Brewing Co in Greenfield. Alas, the barrel has been drunk dry during the pre-match viewing of Manchester United's game, proof, if any was needed, that a cask beer at a sport's club will always do well.
I'm informed that Donkeystone now produce a "Craft lager" for the club and that it is on tap. This was already an improvement after resigning myself to a couple of hours drinking Carling. There is indeed a non-league football club's own craft lager sitting on the end of the bar - a terrific sign of the times. Whether either this or the pale ale are rebadged versions of other brewery beers I do not know or care. I would like to see more of this at any level of football.
The Craft Lager is a little dryer and more bitter than the other offerings and accompanies the match perfectly. You can drink on the terraces at Mossley, something it should repeatedly push in the face of local rival Stalybridge Celtic. It makes for an enjoyable afternoon, pint in hand, watching Mossley AFC beat Kendal Town 5-0. Former Liverpool youngster Adam Morgan bags a hat-trick.
The Fleece Inn
After the match, we nip over to nearby and CAMRA favourite The Fleece Inn. This was another pub that I would have thought almost certain for closure in the days I drank down the road, but a landlord came in that was passionate for ale and turned it around.
I've always been a little sceptical, mostly because I've hardly ever seen it mentioned in a branch newsletter or the Opening Times without mention of price or discount. The fact that it is "cheap" is even mentioned in the pub's own Twitter bio. On the other hand, I've also had a couple of dodgy pints in here, the sort where it isn't beyond undrinkable but it has underwhelmed.
On this occasion my pints of Parkway's Giggle and Titter were well kept and enjoyed. What I will say about this popular, multi-roomed, sports showing pub is that the landlord himself seems to always be behind the bar and always has time for people, happy to talk beer and spirits with any customer. Sometimes that interaction and atmosphere allows people to overlook a pint that isn't 100%. It is a long part of pub-going that the beer warriors, who argue relentlessly about the quality of cask, sometimes forget. It isn't always about the beer.
Still ... it should be to CAMRA...
I had a couple of other pubs on my list but by this point the famous Mark Johnson snooze cruise had begun. It wasn't even 7pm yet.
Mossley was a safe bet as it is still a feature of my life and none of the pubs were new to me. Sometimes it is nice to go back, revisit and reflect. The football is a good day out too. I hope to continue these trips and would encourage any football fans around the country to do the same. For beer and for football.