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Football and Pubs Part 4: City of Liverpool

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.

Tribalism is fickle. I grew up in Greater Manchester with a father from West Yorkshire and a mother from Merseyside, fighting a lifelong nationality identity crisis where I loved the country north of the border more than my own, for reasons nobody was sure of.

On reflection, that identity was healthy; it helped shape me better. Everyone around me has always been so sure that Manchester is the greatest city of all time and it has always been nice to reply, from a very early age, “Personally I think Liverpool is much better.”

Football is, of course, more clannish than most sports, cornicing youngsters and adults alike into antagonists baying for the blood of people who dare to live in a neighbouring town. Because of this absurdity, I know folk to this day from Manchester who will not step foot in Liverpool, less it breaks the foundation of their convoluted tribal fantasy.

With that in mind, here is my trip from October 19th 2019, still “this season” technically, to watch City of Liverpool FC play Mossley AFC (of Greater Manchester) in my latest non-league football day trips.

The day started solo and with the trip that all of my visits to Liverpool city centre must include – The Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Their earlier opening time and location makes it the ideal place to start and work back into the centre. Despite having only been open a few minutes, somebody had already taken up residency in my preferred drinking room; Brahms. As such I had to settle for Liszt; at least several auditory instruments poorer though a stained glass window brighter.

When in the Philharmonic, one must drink Guinness. If you wish to know why and weep silently at the same time then you can read about that here. Otherwise, do not question it. Sit with a sufficient pint of Guinness, despite clearly being the first through the lines that day, and take in the surroundings.

Liszt room has a television in the corner – perhaps Franz himself was a fan of Rugby. Whilst I wasn’t personally interested in the game, that I think involved Ireland. I realised within two minutes that people would not disturb me if I stared intently at the screen, feigning some sporting interest. I had Liszt to myself for a moment of reflection. It is a  big pub. People will find elsewhere to sit.

The other Liverpudlian establishment one must always visit is The Roscoe Head; infamous amongst real ale enthusiasts for having appeared in every edition of The Good Beer Guide. It is a gorgeous multi-roomed pub that also holds a favoured spot for myself – in the first snug on the right.

In here I enjoyed a North Riding beer of some description and contemplated the pub itself. It stays in the public conscious by seemingly being permanently under threat of closure. I feel like I’ve been reading about the imminent loss of the pub since I was old enough to drink, though the planned development of the surrounding area is still a concern presently.

For now it still stands and I do highly recommend it. It will be a sad loss if it does go.

Formality and necessity out of the way, I looked into some of the newer establishments available. Despite coming to the city centre frequently since a child, I have no sense of direction in Liverpool city centre, bar the two main shopping streets. The showcase of scaffolding that moves permanently around the city doesn’t help matters.

As such, I managed to walk passed Bundobust several times before finding the entrance to a large and colourful upstairs eatery. I’ve never taken to the underground Manchester version of this Leeds based business, preferring the Yorkshire original. But I liked this Liverpool version. Perhaps it is because it is so much brighter than Manchester or that the bar area is a little less intrusive on the main eating area (or vice versa.) Perhaps it was simply because it hadn’t been open long and it was still quiet.

Either way, it was the perfect place to stop and get some quick food along with a couple of decent thirds and the best choice of dishes on the menu (so not  a blinkin’ Vada Pav in sight.)

My cowardice at taking pictures of strangers in crowded spaces means this was the best I managed here.

I had no intention of visiting Albert’s Schenke - sibling of Manchester’s Albert’s Schloss - but I was hankering for a Sonoma and chanced a glance at Untappd. One venue in Liverpool had it on so I set off down Hanover street 

Similar to the Manchester venue, there is a gaudiness to Albert’s Schenke. However, it feels a little less vast, with its tiered seating and strange fire pit. Many a pub can be judged by the comfort I can feel sat at the bar and, somewhat unexpectantly, I was very comfortable perched on a high stool at the bar here.

The Sonoma was on keg – something I should have foreseen. However, it was without question the most delicious pint of Sonoma from keg that I had ever had. Not teeth shatteringly cold or stomach-bloatingly gassy. Just perfect. In fact, the entire beer board was impressive. Much better than Schloss – 2-0 to Liverpool so far.

My last visit to Liverpool had been on the opening night of the New Head of Steam bar but I had a  train to catch. I decided I’d take it in this time. Back down Hanover Street it is large and spacious, reminiscent of a Yates’ or a student bar after a jet wash cleanse. It does appear that it was a series of large chain pubs prior.

I had a Neptune Ezili from keg and tried to watch football on a nearby television, though the people sat in front of it started to stare back, clearly fearful that I was casting my eye towards them. I didn’t linger long but it isn’t a bad place for a beer. And it beats Manchester simply by being in the city centre (who wants to venture out to Didsbury to drink?) A hat-trick on Merseyside.

From the Head of Steam I hopped on the familiar Liverpool Central line train towards Aintree, where the City of Liverpool stadium is located. I jumped off a stop early at Orrell Park to take in The Raven. For further sentimentality about this pub and this area, I ordered a Guinness and sat near the main door, having a moment once more. 

This is an area undoubtedly affected by the infiltration of Tim Martin's large enterprise, with many pubs and local cafes gone. However, this is also a Wetherspoons that showcases their popularity, beyond people's stereotypes of price and alcoholism. In just my immediate surrounding tables sits a couple of elderly ladies, drinking tea and having a sandwich as though they could be in any northern caf’. A solo drinker next to me flicks through a racing post with a pencil, occasionally making notes and glancing at me suspiciously. A group of 4 retirement age chaps in casual suits meet and greet over a couple of pints of Smooth. A younger couple sit astride not speaking or looking at each other - one happily chugging a lager whilst a cross legged partner looks away disapprovingly. 

I could go on but the fact is the place is full and bristling. All manner of local people enjoy it here.

Obviously this is long before the actions of Martin during the pandemic changed the perception of many but still - the impact and success of a 'Spoons cannot be denied. Whilst many have found justifiable reasons to dislike the company in the last few years, there is undoubtedly an undertone of elitist rhetoric to some of those views. Here in Walton Vale it is an example of how it can serve a community.  

I set off for the stadium by foot, intending to stick my head in the nearby Black Bull but realise I am short on time. 

I walk to Berry Street Garage Stadium via Melling Road for nostalgia's sake. I soon realise I haven't left myself enough time because, though the stadium can be seen and heard clearly from the main road, it is a frustrating 15 minute circular walk to the actual gate. 

I miss kick off but I arrive to one of the more interesting non-league stadiums. City of Liverpool currently share this ground with Bootle FC. What would be the Main Stand is actually a bar that leads out onto a decking filled with picnic benches, masquerading as a football terrace. Large numbers of the home fans sit here but it feels more like a beer garden that happens to overlook a game of semi-professional football. In fact, many of the fans treat it that way, chatting amongst themselves rather than immersing in the sport.

In fact the atmosphere is more reminiscent of a Sunday afternoon local cricket match, with more people interested in the socialising than the occurring sport.  

With a Guinness in hand - this time through lack of choice rather than sentimentality - I walk around to a spot behind the goal. Mini-stands of 20-30 plastic fold-down seats come every 40 yards or so. It is an odd set-up and I find myself unintentionally sat with the Mossley fans who, true to form for the town, I vaguely recognise.

Mossley dominate the game from start to finish and lose it 0-1 to City of Liverpool's only chance. I head out early, now aware of the ludicrous walk to Aintree station. 

In the city centre I agree to meet The Electrokemist (Pedro) in Doctor Duncan's on his recommendation, just down from Lime Street. A pub I must have previously dismissed is now full of decent choices - and people. We take our Tiny Rebel Juicys into a side room whilst I mostly marvel at the interior. It transpires that it has been up and down as a pub but is now in a hot spell for beer lovers, as well as pub purveyors. I certainly agree and ask to see more of the centre I may have missed through the years, after my afternoon in a few newbies. 

Pedro takes me to the Carnarvon Castle down a shopping district alley that I must have passed many a time. It is instantly recognisable to my mother when I talk to her days later, with a smile that suggests there are youthful stories connected to the pub that I don’t want to hear. We take our pints outside but at this point I have stopped recording what they may have been. However, they are enjoyed and the above picture is my only recollection. I did enjoy the pub though. 

We finish in the Crown on my insistence. A pub clearly visible from the main Lime Street exit, it has always intrigued me but I have never dared to go in. Admittedly, this is because it often has rowdy looking people smoking outside from 10am that experience suggests wouldn’t lead to me entering without some comment about my hair, dress-code or glasses. 

Despite a gorgeous ceiling and some interesting Nik-naks, the pub is mostly a square room that is full. And there is unquestionably an undertone that anything could kick off at any minute. An accidental arm or beer drip into the wrong person could set anybody off. It is rare that I feel justified by unease at a pub but this one did fit. However it is a Saturday night, it is getting late and it is close to the station. Also, there was another north-west derby the following day, with slightly bigger teams, that people were already warming up to. Maybe I'll give it a go on a different day. I have no idea what we had to drink.

A lengthy one this time and perhaps a record number of pubs visited for a non-league day out, but then it is an incredible city. It may have taken me a long time to find the energy to recall my trip, but it inspires me to return to non-league football when visits to the grounds begin once more in the future.  


robracing said…
Thanks for a really engaging read Mark! Roll-on the days when such a day will be possible again...!
Unknown said…
Was an enjoyable evening Mark and a pleasure to try some of the lesser known spots in Liverpool, which I don't often venture to myself!

The Carnarvon Castle used to be a Cains pub, not sure of its ownership these days, but they had Director's Bitter (remember that?!), Theakstons, Yorkshire Blonde and something else on cask. It was the scratchings that did it for me.

The Crown had a pretty limited offering despite at least 5 cask pulls. I think we ended up with something from Brains' (of South Wales) stable, an EPA of some sort.

Next time we can take in some other lesser known spots if you have the time, I have just the list!

Cheers and thanks for the enjoyable (as ever) write up,

Sokratees9 said…
Great read, and it's given me a couple more pubs to put on my list of places to visit when across the water. I have to make the most of adventures across the water, since the pub selection in Northern Ireland is fairly shocking. There are a few good ones, but they are few and far between

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