Last summer, me and some friends were having a BBQ. As I arrived it was pissing down with rain so everyone was in the living room watching Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports. This is a programme where you watch other people watching football and occasionally shouting like mad men when something remotely interesting happens. On entry a score popped up on the screen, Fleetwood 2 Oldham 2. "Seriously, who would give a shit about Fleetwood verses Oldham?" I didn't know a friend of a friend (who I had never met) was a die-hard Oldham fan. He grew up in Witney and now lives in Cheltenham. Don't ask. "Not a fan then?" he asked. "Going to an Oldham game surrounded by people chanting, wearing a football shirt would be my worst nightmare and completely out of my comfort zone" I explained.
Last Saturday I attended Oxford United v Oldham Athletic at the Kassam Stadium, wearing an Oldham shirt (a £5 purchase from Sports Direct. Worryingly it once cost £49.99!), surrounded by the aforementioned chanters. We arrived at the ground where there is a stand missing behind one of the goals which is a car park. There were around 600 Oldham fans who had made a significantly longer journey than us.
First stop was the bar in the stand under where we were seated. Bottles of cider were served in plastic bottles. Fair enough, apart from the fact that you weren't allowed to take them up to the stand. I was peckish (no surprise here) so I thought I would try one of Oxford United's award winning pies. I have no idea what award these pies won but I wouldn't want to try the other contenders. One plastic fork lost its battle with the crust and the only good thing about it was that it was hot.
"It should be good up there" said our Oldham supporting friend talking about the atmosphere in the stand. We made our way up.
"We'll go and stand with the drummer" he said. Luckily for us, the drummer wasn't allowed to bring his drums in to the ground. We went and stood by him anyway. The players came out onto the pitch to cheers and chants. I think the surrounding fans expected me to know the words as I was donning a shirt. In all honesty, they weren't the hardest songs to pick up. "Ritchie Wellens' Blue White Army" I later learned that he is the manager. They even chanted at a man stood on a pillar in the car park trying to peer over the fence mocking him that he didn't have a ticket. He was the lucky one. Tickets cost £24!
There was a young man with his shirt off all game. He wasn't part of the group we were in but was like some kind of messiah as fans would look over at him for approval and when starting a chant. He goes by the name of Top Off George. "Why do they call him that?" I asked.
Now I wasn't expecting much for my £24 but this game was particularly rubbish. There was a call for a penalty to Oldham that was greeted with predictable hand gestures and a chant to the referee. There was one shot on target, by Oldham, that one of our friends missed as he went early to join the half-time bar queue.
We were in no rush to get back up for the second half. It was just as awful as the first half. The players were actually rubbish, apart from the left back for Oldham. The center midfielder for Oldham, Fane, pronounced Fanny to the amusement of absolutely nobody must have slipped through the net as he can't do any of the basic footballing skills. The game ended 0-0. Oldham received a standing ovation from their fans. I realised that we were the lucky ones as we were having a night out in Oxford and not having to travel back to the north-west.
We literally spent our whole evening at Sandy's Piano Bar in Oxford which is one of the best bars I have been to for a very long time. The two guys who played the piano that night were incredible and classics were sung all night. The cocktails were also pretty special at around £8-10 each. I dread to think what we spent on Dark and Stormy's, Pornstar Martini and other concoctions throughout the night but whatever it was, it seemed much better value than £24 on a game of football. Cheltenham really needs a bar like this.
Top Off bloody George...
Have you been affected by the KFC "crisis"? Were you one of the ones who phoned 999 to inform the police of your emergency? If you answered yes to either of those then this probably isn't for you.
For a while now I have found it increasingly difficult to go to a chained restaurant, pub and even supermarket, I know Budgens and Coop are both chains but at least they try and support local producers and from an outside point of view, do a good job in doing so.
When it comes to eating out in the Cotswolds we are spoiled for choice. It surprises me that people still go to some chained restaurants in Cheltenham with so many amazing independents to choose from. How the bloody hell is Frankie & Benny's still there?
If you want a good burger go to The Bottle of Sauce or Holee Cow. Fancy a chinese? Head to The Mayflower. How about a pizza? Well you can head back to The Bottle of Sauce or visit Fat Toni's. You can get some of the best curries in the UK at Prithvi and the East India Cafe. The choice is endless. Are you looking for your fix of Japanese? Look no further that Koj and KibouSushi. We haven't even mentioned all of the pubs and restaurants around the Cotswolds serving incredibly good food, beer, wine and spirits with service to match because it's their name that is over the door. I could go on and name all of the pubs I love or you could just visit our Cotswold Pub Guide* and see them for yourself!
I'm not saying to never eat at a chained restaurant again and I'm definitely not saying that all of them are rubbish, The Boston Tea Party does a cracking breakfast, The Ivy is the hottest seat in town and the Cosy Club is decent for a drink, but the next time going out for some food is mentioned, why not try one of the amazing independent alternatives that are on offer?
However, if you do enjoy eating food out of a bucket, the Colonel's doors are sure to be open again very soon.
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