The other week I got an interesting email:
My name is Glyn Watkins and I am the Cultural Editor, and the bloke doing the press stuff, for a set of books called the Stedders Football and Real Ale Guides 2006-07. these are published by a friend called Richard Stedman, who gave up teaching to dedicate his life to beer and football (the British sort)....and there it was. The offer to enrich my library. And as an immigrant's kid from Britain who has seen a few fitba games from the Mighty Morton to Arsenal, I was quite intrigued. Given there are about 57 times as many pubs per capita in the UK as in Canada and that there are 17 times the professional sports teams, I figured the likelihood that a sports fans guide to pubs in other towns would also be a cultural statement you would not really run into in North America. And so it was.
I asked for and received a number of copies of the guides from different league levels and from both of the years of publication to see how they have advanced. They sell for £5.50 which is about 11.50 CND or 10.25 USD which is more than reasonable if you are a seasoned traveller to away games in England. £12 for the set of four. And I am happy to report that the layout of this year's version compared to 2005-2006 is miles ahead: the font is bigger, the pictures clearer, the codes for the best beer and food more sensible and the maps more readable. They are also made with a bit heftier a binding which, for any field guide that gets thrown around in a backpack or a car's backseat, is an important thing.
The next thing you notice is the tone. The focus is on a friendly place in a strange town for the real ale lover to land before and after a match - so the descriptions of the life in the pub are fairly important. Of one in Derby: "the groups who meet here are pretty diverse as well, including political parties, footie fans and a beer-drinking knitting club." Of another in Walsall:
Cosy coal fires, small rooms, great beer selection and on my visit a really welcoming atmosphere make this a must revisit destination. Everything meets the preconceptions of a Black Country boozer. Bob has the chat that I love, honest and to the point. (Don't ask to turn the music up, you have been warned.)So what you really have in these quides are a list of good looking places that serve great beer and are friendly to the outsider. That last point is the real key as everyone of you reading this message are outsiders to everyone of these pubs. There is enough detail to help anyone plan an introduction to any one of the areas near the football pitches of England - which are located in every town. As a result, with half-page descriptions of each pub, you have a handy dandy guide that will get any traveller through many of the larger English cities and towns, the places most travellers are likely to visit. In this way, like the works of Lew Bryson, they offer something to the general traveller as well as the sports fan.
In summary, if I were going to backpack around England, if I lived in England and liked to travel or if I was a fan of English soccer and travelled here and there, these books are for you - cheap, readable and useful. And they tell you where friendly places to have good beer can be found. Here is the publisher's website which will tell you a whole lot more about this great project.