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Football and Pubs Part 5: Trafford FC and Urmston

The below trip was experienced just over a year ago now. I've postponed writing about it as the current situation has continued and the future of pubs has been in doubt. 


For completion's sake, and with the suggestion that I can look forward to starting these trips up again next season, I've written the below. My experiences are based on a pre-pandemic world and it doesn't change my view that I hope every pub and bar is able to open again successfully, regardless of any past visits.  


It is a fact of life that the further away from home you travel, the less precise you have to be about where you are from. If you are on holiday in Colombia, you can loosely tell people that you are from England, should they ask. The chap you bump into on your local dog walk would probably like detail closer to the estate or even street name.


I think it was when I went to university that I became “from Manchester.” I’d never considered myself to be from Manchester but it is the nearest big city and so it became the signpost. Everybody was from Manchester or London or Birmingham or Newcastle regardless of mileage between. One person said they were from Burton and nobody had a clue where it was. To this day I’m not sure which Burton they were referring to and, even then, it would be little help.


The reason I can’t consider myself “from Manchester” is because I barely know it. I didn't understand the references to "Hacienda Nights" that I used to hear Darren Procter make on Key 103. The inaugural Manchester Beer Week in 2016 taught me about the proud link to bees that has become internationally famous. I'd rather chew barbed wire than listen to anything recorded by The Stone Roses. There are many of the city’s more famous areas that I had never heard of, or certainly never been to, until beer made me aware of their existence. Certainly, the rise in specialty beer bars or micropubs has at least led to people hopping off the train in destinations they may have never visited prior.


Urmston is a good example of that. I'd never heard of it until a few years ago. I was sure I had no real reason to visit, but the opening of 3 or 4 new beer places over the last decade has brought it to my mind. With a couple of nearby non-league football teams, I made the trip over in February (2020) to watch Trafford FC play Runcorn Linnets and take in as many places as I could squeeze in.


The Barking Dog


It is the 1st February and a cool but dry Manchester winter’s morning when I arrive at Urmston train station. The confirmation of leaving the European Union was the day before. This is the first day of a strange few weeks that manages to be both post-Brexit but pre-COVID Britain.


Urmston is bustling. I’m not sure what I expected at 11am on a Saturday in a small Manchester town but it wasn’t packed pavements filled with the slowest walking people I have ever come across. Nobody is in a rush here. If the image, for some, of post Brexit Britain is a return to dangerously busy local high streets, then Urmston was fighting to be the poster child.


As other pub’s in the area haven’t opened yet, I have but one choice for my first drink.


The Tim Bobbin (J.D.Wetherspoon)


Before the current pandemic, there may have been much that I resented about the owner of Wetherspoons, but I at least recognised their place and importance in modern day Britain. In present times though I'd be much more reluctant to visit one, even to spend that £30 gift voucher a relative gave me two Christmas' ago. This visit to the Tim Bobbin was my most recent to any 'Spoons and potentially my last. 


The Tim Bobbin is very much in the “McSpoons” stylistic category, representing those made to feel like an airport lounge. I sit on a high stool opposite the bar with an underpoured pint of Exmoor Gold. Brilliantly, it isn't Exmoor Gold, even though that is the pumpclip on display. It is Exmoor Beast. Somehow I didn't notice the glaring lack of gold colour until back in my chair but I made the decision to live with it. It had been a while since I’d had the Beast and it tasted right.


There’s a large group next to me, some of whom seem to have just finished a night shift, some of whom are having breakfast whilst currently at work and some who have obviously come to join their mates. It is a nice reminder of the effectiveness of ‘Spoons and its opening hours.


Halfway through my pint, the group are joined by a gentleman who continuously scans the entire building as he finds a seat. He manages the remarkable feat of slouching into a full Tim Westwood lean in a high, backless stool. The rest of the group are now forced to listen to this new arrival tell numerous tales, all of which end in some act of violence. He looks over at me more than a few times, perhaps simply wishing for me to hear his yarn or more likely to acknowledge that I’m a stranger in his house. Either way, I don’t feel intimidated but it does make for an unpleasant experience. Play the stereotype Timbo.


 The Prairie Schooner


At this point I nip over to Prairie Schooner, a bar I’ve heard mention of for many a beer launch but never been to. It is an interesting little place. The front has been kitted out to look like every shop placed micro-pub/bottle shop opened in the last decade. Yet somehow the back room retains the feel of a century old pub, reminiscent of the back rooms in old favourites such as The Grove, Leeds or White Star, Liverpool.


It is in here that a common theme of the day really shines, as I order each of my drinks several times. This is Manc Manchester, where accents are tinged with that slight roll of the Rs that is ironically close to Liverpudlian. Nobody behind any of the bars can quite comprehend my Lancastrian / East Manchester / generic Northern accent type 3. It takes four attempts to order a Wylam Jakehead.


The biggest surprise here, and I mean this in the kindest way, is the type of regulars that drop in whilst I’m there. They are the typical “old boy” type characters one might expect to be first at the bar on any given Saturday of any pub that has been standing for a century. This isn’t a criticism of any kind. If newer micro pub/bottle shop hybrids are to survive the current wave of interest in their type, then a foundation of regulars is a must.


The bottle fridges are enough to tempt me to stay but I move on, knowing I’ve found a place I will hopefully return to another day.


The Steamhouse


My nepotistic love of good station pubs made me quite keen to get in The Steamhouse. Station pubs come in all varieties but my veneration for all was formed by my childhood born love for Class A4 locomotives.


It was busy already for midday, reflecting the streets outside. I ordered a Kingmaker from Lancaster brewery on cask, before realising I should have paid more attention to the interesting keg line-up. I squeeze in on the last free table in the main bar area and take in the pub.


It's a decent pub. Thin, but long, with spacious areas either side of the bar. It is familiar. Oddly familiar. I note the Spaten on keg and oddly think of Rothaus Pils for a moment. Then the memory awakens. I have been here before.


Yes, I once came to The Steamhouse on a date, one that had apparently been abandoned to my large library of suppressed memories. I can clearly picture the sizeable Rothaus font at the end of the bar and the amount that I drank that night to survive the tortuous event. I must have dived on the train home and never thought of it again.


It is a shame really as I like the place. I have better memories now.


The Assembly MCR  


A short walk from the station (Urmston is very condensed) is The Assembly. This is another one of those bars I see frequent mention of on Twitter, without quite knowing its location.


The continual enmity between those considered traditional pubs on modern beer bars is always a source of frustration for me as, from a customer’s point of view, they have more in common with each other than the militants think. My experience in The Assembly reflected this.


As I entered the downstairs square room, with Art by Volume prints adorning the left walls, I am met with the faces of the only three or four customers in the place, all sat at the nearest spot by the bar. They all stop the conversation and watch my entire movements as I cross the room, order a drink and take a seat as far from the bar as possible. Anybody who thinks they wouldn’t like older pubs because of being stared at, well this is the worst I have ever experienced it. 


I had a third of some Cloudwater DIPA and drank it rather quickly. This is by far the quietest place of the day. I am sure when it is bustling it takes on an entirely different character but this was not the best time to experience this bar.


A trip to the toilet reveals a nice upstairs area that I possibly would have been more comfortable in. One of the customer’s stares at me in silence throughout my visit and is much more irritating than the slouched orator in ‘Spoons earlier. You can have all the nice artwork and guest beers that you want but customers make a place.


The Barking Dog 


I’m not sure how The Barking Dog came onto my radar but it looks like it could be the local council offices from the outside. Inside, there are dogs on the wallpaper as well as attached to every drinker in there. The clue is in in the name I suppose… It is near capacity again at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. It appears to be just one large room, though I didn’t explore further.


My cask-poured Thornbridge AM:PM is presented in a dimpled mug to fulfil the illusion that I am in a pub caricature; a building that the owner pretended was a pub so his mates could come over and treat it as such. It is odd but not unenjoyable.


Ten minutes before I need to leave, a group of six enter. There isn’t room for them, though I realise that if I shift myself to a less comfortable place then they can squeeze in near me. They are grateful, although not enough to offer to buy me a drink, which I would have declined. Maybe it isn’t the done thing where they come from, as their accents aren’t local either. One of them has teeth so bright that Friends would have devoted an episode to them. I miss pubs.


Shawe View (Trafford FC stadium)


The journey to Shawe View is an odd one that ends up down a dirt path. The ground is perhaps the smallest I've been to on these trips, with little in the way of raised terraces and the tiniest clubhouse I've been to yet. Three or four tables are fitted in opposite a hatch of a bar area. Most of the space is taken up by the queue, that snakes out the door and onto the terrace. Service is quick due to as many members of staff as possible being packed into a publican's vision of Phil Schofield's Broom Cupboard.


What is surprising is the Punk IPA from bottles in the fridges. Sensibly poured into a plastic cup for me, it fulfils its destiny as an acceptable fridge filler in places with limited buying power. It is certainly better than most beers I have had on the terraces.


Shawe View gives away much more room to its pie hut, which I find amusing. Some would say that it has its priorities correct, as a classic combination of overcooked pie crust and thick brown flavoured water plugs a hunger hole that none of the pubs prior had succeeded in.


The match is a dull affair as I watch near the pie hut; a clear congregation point for strangers as I find myself mostly stood amongst away supporters. One fan encapsulates the majesty of non-league football. Whilst a lot of fans at these sort of games are those that don’t want to pay the prices for their actual supported club or are strange out-of-towners on a beery day out, there is the odd overly passionate Runcorn-Linnets-til-I-die supporter screaming insults that every player can hear. This fellow wasn’t the least bit threatening, though they could have easily given the Wealdstone Raider a run for their money.


The Bird I'th Hand


I trudge back up the dirt path just before the final whistle towards The Bird I'th Hand. We’re in Flixton now, rather than Urmston. The Bird’s not a bad little pub. A little bit more food focused and I’m sat in a high back chair on a high table, which is never ideal. But there is London Pride served well, which is a rather uncommon sight in Manchester.


I’ve very little to report here, which probably says more about the number of beers I have had at this point. There was a big fluffy bear wolf on the floor that I spent the duration of my pint smiling at. 


The Brew Chimp


Miraculously I found my way through the decreased light and blurry vision to the Brew Chimp, on a road that heads back to Urmston station. A square room, modern micro-pub style place, it is bustling on this Saturday night with a variety of drinkers. 


Though I can’t recall what I had to drink in here, and didn’t have the wherewithal to jot it down, I spent my time considering the smaller suburban areas that are getting it right. Recent visits to the likes of Morley outside Leeds, Heaton Chapel outside Stockport and now Urmston outside of Manchester, have shown areas that are thriving away from the city centres. Pubs old and new are bustling with a varied array of people, without being labled “old man pub” or “hipster bar.”


It shows that there is still an appetite for the Saturday night social and to go out around a few pubs without taxi rides or trains into the centres. Sadly not enough areas get it right and it is in those towns that columnists and bloggers profess that the pub is dead. However, I know that the love for the simple night out within the right atmosphere is still ingrained in the British public and I felt that whilst having a drink in Brew Chimp.


Hopefully it can return to something similar in the coming year. 




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