Friday, March 18, 2011

Make Mine A Pint

A fitting guest post for a Friday as Blair Grant goes in search of the perfect pre-match pint.

My own rule for away games is to avoid windowless pubs. Safer, I always think, to crash through the window onto the pavement than to bounce off a wall into whatever melee you've just been thrown from.

More from Blair at A Place in the Stand. The choice of illustration is his and his alone.


Jubilant scenes as Hibernian fans celebrate their last Scottish Cup final victory

You need to plan ahead. It really is as simple as that. There’s no point going all that way to be faced the ubiquitous offering of Tennent’s lager, while the barmaid attempts to justify the less than ample selection, with: “Ooooh, but we’ve also got the Ice Cold variety on tap, see?” She says it with hope in her voice, anticipating your response. A notable hush falls over the pub. You know that she wants you to order it; the glass is in her left hand, while her right is already hovering over the pump. She wants you to smile, then with one proud breath, say: “Four Tennent’s Ice Cold please, and one for yourself.” You stick with a bottle of lager.

The pre-match pint (never just the one in my case) is for many, part and parcel of a match day ritual. I’ve known men and women who won’t go to certain establishments in Glasgow because they don’t serve pints of ‘heavy’, the mainstay of East coast regulars of a certain generation.

Attending a game with my then girlfriend a few years ago, I took her for a few pre-matchers in one of the less salubrious establishments in Perth. I was met with this retort on ordering her drink of choice, by a puzzled barman who shouted over the din: “Pinot Grigio? Eh... is that a type of wine, like?”

If need be you make do with a Weatherspoons, as prominent and as much a part of the generic British city centre these days as a McDonald's 'restaurant'. It’s 10.55am, too early for the Saturday shoppers and you and your mates find a seat by the window. There’s a mixed crowd with home and away fans in equal numbers as you make your way to the bar. The place is awash with senior citizens who drink alone or in groups with their coats on, flicking over creased day-old newspapers and staring idly into space. Wetherspoons supremo, Tim Martin has found a niche: provider of cheap fried breakfasts and even cheaper drink for the masses.

Sometimes you get lucky. A trip to Aberdeen or Edinburgh when on entering a pub, your focus is instantly drawn to the sprawling bar. They have Staropramen and Heineken on tap, and what’s this? Beck’s Vier! Oh joy of joys, a pub which sells Beck’s Vier on draught. So what if you stick to the floor with every step, or if the toilet door last saw active service a decade ago. Beck’s on tap is the pinnacle, that’s what you’re aiming for.

Should that man really be lying that way on the ground? Has anybody noticed the overpowering stench of sick near the quiz machine and those pigeon-repelling barbs on the window are coated with three month’s worth of shit and downy feathers. Wait... is that on the inside of the window? But you quickly reassure yourself that it's fine; it doesn’t matter as you have your Beck’s Vier. The bubbles hit the back of your throat and the world is a wonderful place, as you settle down with your pint and everything seems that little bright brighter.

Sip. You’re not overly optimistic with the jam-packed schedule and the defensive frailties were really evident during that last game. Sip. Yeah, it really does look likely that he’ll leave in the summer, but the youth team winger is supposed to be a real prospect. Sip. He hasn’t scored all season but it’s not his fault he’s not been given a solid run in the team. You just wait until next season, he’ll come good, just watch.

By the fifth or sixth pint all is well and the game can’t come soon enough.

Then it happens. Through the dusty haze you spot a jukebox, bathed in sunlight as if calling out to you. Why is Wham emanating from the speakers, who put that on? You reach into your pocket and retrieve the necessary loose change before squeezing past the punters as drink spills on the floor, dribbling abjectly onto the already soiled carpet. Maybe that’s why it’s so sticky? You mumble apologies allied with the compulsory tap on the arm: “Sorry, mate, didn’t see you there.”

He understands. He’s seen the jukebox too. And all of a sudden it’s a foot race across the busy floor, but with guile and the promise of better tunes to come, you extricate yourself from the group near the bar stools, reaching the jukebox in time. Primal Scream, The Jam, The Stone Roses. All dependable choices for the archetypal match day experience. And you hear the music and you drink your pint and everything falls into place and we’re going to win today, I know it.

A Place in the Stand

Follow Blair @blairgrant86