Sunday, 14 August 2011

Meat Is Murder. Track One. Stafford Rangers.

As an attempt to revive my interest in this blog I'm going to do a little food writing. Not a lot, but enough to get things ticking over, I hope. The plan is a simple one. As often as possible - sometimes real life and 'politics' get in the way - my eldest and I go to the Saturday away games of FC United of Manchester on the 'Boogie Bus'. A chaotic, fan-run enterprise which has developed a reputation for never getting to a game before kick off (not true - we got there twenty minutes early yesterday - but the margin for error is often five or ten minutes either side of the whistle). The reason for the late arrivals is that the bus always takes us to a 'pre-match venue' (i.e. a pub) for a drink, to watch MUFC if they are the early kick-off on TV and, crucially, for free food. Every Boogie Bus, every venue, puts some kind of spread on. It's something that the Brains Trust who run the bus have negotiated with the venues since the earliest days. It's obvious really, we bring you fifty-odd thirsty football supporters, you bring us some food.

For the first couple of seasons me and Sonny Jim went, there was sometimes something which could be considered suitable for vegetarians - chips, cheese and tomato butties, side salad, that kind of thing - but the emphasis was most definitely on meat. In the end we would take along 'emergency vegetarian options', usually some kind of sandwich for 'just in case'. Fellow traveller, vegetarian and bon viveur, Sam operated a similar system, and had been doing so since travelling away with MUFC in the seventies. All of this changed the night of the Rochdale FA Cup game - OH HAPPY DAY! - where a vegetarian chilli was available alongside its beefy brother. The next time we travelled away we went all the way down to Brighton where, again, there was a vegetarian chilli. Since then, every time we have travelled with the Boogie Bus there has been meat-free food available for the very small number of us who lean in that direction. And so it came that yesterday I had the lightbulb moment. From now on, I'll review the 'vegetarian option' and post it on here. I'll even include a few notes about the venues.

So, yesterday and, as you've no doubt deduced from the picture above, the offering was (surprise, surprise) Chilli and Chips. The meat one looked grey and a bit gravy-heavy - a fellow diner commented that some bread to mop up the gravy would have been a useful addition. The meat-free version didn't need it; it had a good texture, with a sensible amount of red lentils absorbing any excessive liquid, soft and tasty kidney beans and a fresh combination of chilli and cumin providing a backdrop. It looked and tasted like it was its own dish rather than a by-product of the meaty version. The chips were catering fries, and some were a little anaemic. They didn't detract from the chilli, but home-cut chips or boiled rice would have pushed this food towards the top of the 'all-time greats' list. Overall rating - delicious - and the tin-trays the food was served in kept it warm to the last mouthful.

The pub itself, which cannot be directly named due to the confidentiality clause signed by all Boogie Bussers, was situated in the village of Weston. Famous, as I'm sure you all know, for coming second in the Best Kept Village Competition. The other place must be gorgeous. Outside the front of the pub was some kind of village green on which somebody had very kindly erected temporary goal posts. Once a decent football had been passed over the bar of the pub, several overweight, balding men had the opportunity to imagine themselves filling the boots of Paul Scholes, George Best, Rory Patterson ...even Barrie George.

The match was against Stafford Rangers - a ten minute drive down the road, and a good, friendly club - and ended with a first game of the season two-nil win for FCUM.