Summer 2017

Old Trafford 2017: George Osborne’s Northern Curry House

G’day everyone.

Having already committed to one diary after the Trent Bridge Test, I was aghast when Freddie asked me to review Old Trafford as well.

However, luckily one or two rather funny incidents made the job easier.

Fasten your drinking belts...

The day before the Test

Higgy is due to arrive from Long Eaton this evening.

During the day up North we have experienced biblical rainfall, including at least two flash floods which turned the roads up to Saddleworth into rivers.

Prospects for play tomorrow do not look good, so when Higgy arrives we decide to retire to the pub for a few liveners.

I have warned my local that Higgy is imminent, and that he is an artist, but when we arrive, judging by the sign outside the pub they have misunderstood what kind of artist I meant.

Nevertheless, a pleasant session is followed by a visit to Chutney Massala in Mossley, my favourite Indian (well, Bangladeshi really – aren’t they all!) restaurant.

To my surprise Chutneys are offering a 50% discount on all meals for the next week to celebrate their fifth anniversary. Oh dear, looks as if curry may be on the menu for the next six nights. Just as well I didn’t go to India last tour.

Freddie, you don’t know what you are missing mate. Poppadoms, two starters, two mains, two Naan breads. Bring your own wine, which I provide. Higgy very generously offers to pay for our meal, which costs the majestic sum of £15 between us.

As the waiter brings the bill over on a silver salver, Higgy magnanimously suggests that he can elevate the bill amount to £30.

A 100% tip. Bloody hell. They must be made of money in Long Eaton!

Day One-Friday

When we arrive at the station to catch our train to Old Trafford, we are casually informed:

“Please note that there will be no trains this weekend due to engineering works”

Great. Just f*cking great. Why do the railway companies ALWAYS time this shit to coincide with Test matches?

On arrival at Old Trafford the weather has taken a turn for the better, and this is just as well given the ticket pricing here. There have been many complaints about the seating prices especially in front of the pavilion. One member queried why he should have to pay circa £280 for a five day pass in the same seat he occupies dutifully at County games and was told by our esteemed CEO Daniel Gidney that:

“If you want to sit in Premium Seats you must be prepared to pay Premium Prices!”

My pals in the Pit of Hate have a novel solution to the pricing.

Stewart has arrived in his wheelchair and must sit in the disabled section under the Point. He is entitled however to a carer, who gains entry to the ground for free.

The other lads are cannily rotating the carer duties to mitigate their costs.

Today, it is Mosser’s turn, although he seems less than pleased that his ticket bears the description ‘Escort – nil value.’ An ‘Escort’ usually costs at least thirty quid up around Piccadilly Station!

I have purchased slightly cheaper ticket options at the other end of the ground.

By coincidence, when we take our seats we find ourselves randomly next to a chap I used to work alongside, Ian Purslow, and his pal Mike.

Although it is cold, the rain seems to have missed Stretford and the game starts on time.

Well done to the ground staff – you have worked miracles.

England win the toss and bat. Cook is his solid self, but Buster Keaton Jennings can only prod and plod his way to 17 before getting out. Westley looks convincing for a while but then also plays a false shot and gets out for 29, meaning that we may be in a bit of trouble - which is compounded when the hapless Malan is snaffled by Morkel for 18.

At lunch we meet up with Chris Crabb and David Laing from the Barmy Army.

Chris has her own ticketing issues. She is sat in Stand A behind a gentleman with a road cone on his head, and cannot see very much.

Andy, the Lancashire Head Steward (non-G4S) resolves her problem.

“We don’t like anyone who comes here to be unhappy!” he says, and promptly swaps Chris’ ticket for a seat in the Gidney Premium Enclosure. There are plenty vacant.

Good old Andy. Lucky old Chris.

David Laing, who is sat under the Point, is quaffing large quantities of wine, almost as though the advent of Brexit may soon make this drink a scarce commodity.

Higgy partakes in a couple of pints of plastic Amstel lager at £4-60 per container.

I refrain on grounds of taste.

In the afternoon, composed knocks by Root and Stokes steady the ship but it seems as though each time we threaten to get ahead, a wicket falls.

Old Trafford is actually resplendent, as well as being packed out, the Gidney Premium Enclosure excepted, of course.

The TMS pundits are wibbling on at great length about how lovely it all looks – well I must say that makes a bloody change! The new Hotel has offset the Point structure and added a welcome note of symmetry to the Northern End, where the bowlers run has also been renamed as .....wait for it.....’The Jimmy Anderson End!’

Can anybody recall an End being renamed when the player concerned is still alive and playing cricket there? We certainly couldn’t.

It is very difficult to fit 20,000 punters into a two carriage Metrolink tram, so we leave Old Trafford a couple of minutes early to try to beat the crush.

Stokes is out while we are stood on the platform. Oh dear. 260-6.

Even Stevens.

Our evening is completed by a quiet drink in Wetherspoons in Ashton with one of my pals who whilst being a lovely chap, knows very little about cricket.

Before you ask, he is called Derek, not James Whitaker.

For once I retire to bed almost sober.

No curry.

Day Two-Saturday

No trains running today.

Higgy and I catch the bus to Oldham Mumps then the Metrolink tram to Trafford Bar. The trams offer an excellent Weekend Rover ticket for just a fiver, and we take advantage of this.

The reason for my day of virtual alcoholic abstinence yesterday is now revealed.

This morning we are accompanied to the cricket by my bungee jumping friend Paul, who has recently spent a month with me touring New Zealand. Any readers of those earlier Kiwi blogs will have probably already worked out that today is going to be a drinkathon.

During our 6,000km driving adventure around South Island, Paul took great pleasure in ridiculing my music collection, which was being played in our hire car, especially the progressive rock.

However, he has made a schoolboy error. Some days earlier, he mentioned that he will shortly be attending an Olly Murs concert, and this aberration has been carefully stored for use today.

The mornings play is thrilling – not a word I use very often.

Ali and Bairstow play lots of shots, and as the latter approaches his century amidst falling wickets, he is joined at last by Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy sticks around for almost half an hour and Bairstow’s ton looms, but on 99, tragedy.

A rash sweep attempted off Maharaj and Jonny is out LBW.

Disappointed, we all head for the pavilion during the innings changeover for our ‘Appointment with Beer’.

The G4S temporary stewards seem reluctant to allow Higgy and Paul inside, despite their ‘Members Guests’ tickets – maybe they know something I do not – but a couple of my expired Membership cards do the trick, and we smuggle in Chris Crabb and David Laing in a similar fashion.

All the tables are occupied except one, which seems strangely vacant, although there is a bag perched on one chair and an empty pint pot.

We take possession.

Then comes a grim realisation.

The owner of the bag returns from the food counter with a plate of gammon and chips, and it is none other than Roger, a Lancashire member with a penchant for drinking copious amounts of wine, and who has more axes to grind than a hardware shop, particularly regarding the officials running the club.

I know instantly that the afternoon is going to get very, very messy.

David Laing returns from the bar with two huge glasses of wine for himself, one white, one red. When asked why he says:

“Well, the white one is to quench my thirst because I’m thirsty. The red one is for drinking.”

I wish I had thought of that one. They must be bloody made of money in Brighton.

The cricket is being shown in the pavilion on a large TV screen and at last it happens.

“From the Jimmy Anderson End……Jimmy Anderson!”

It is only a matter of minutes before Jimmy traps Elgar LBW for a duck.

Cue crowd pandemonium.

As the beer flows, eventually Higgy, Paul and I also graduate onto red wine.

Each South African wicket is preceded on the TV screen by a huge roar from outside due to the Sky TV time delay.

At tea, a full and frank discussion of the life and works of Olly Murs is engineered, and Paul becomes increasingly testy. Teddy and his play mates are about to exit the pram.

Paul is politely requested to render one of Olly’s compositions in a song. His response:

“I can’t, ‘cos I don’t f*cking know any!”

Well, neither do we, and that’s why we asked!

By now the Party stand to the west is cranked up to full volume.

Beer snakes abound, it is sheer carnage, and I can only imagine the avaricious pleasure on the face of Lancashire CCC’s bank manager when the club treasurer tells him how much piss has been shifted today at £4-60 a pop.

In the pavilion, the more civilised atmosphere is slowly replaced by complete inebriation, and we are still drinking in there at 9pm as the Lancashire stewards leave for home after their post-match staff drink.

A smartly dressed but very wobbly figure passes our table.

“Awright lads, how are ya doing!” he greets us.

As the smartly dressed figure heads unsteadily to the lift, Higgy and Paul ask if he is a mate of mine.

Congratulations boys.

You have just met David Hodgkiss – the new Lancashire Chairman!

Unsurprisingly, we do not make it to the curry house this evening.

Day Three-Sunday

Having been unable to sleep due to stratospheric, red wine induced blood pressure levels, I am in the kitchen making corned beef and onion sandwiches to take to the cricket while Higgy slumbers and snores upstairs.

When we finally reach the Metrolink tram stop in Oldham, Higgy offers to buy the tram tickets.

“But we’ve already got them mate – Weekend Rovers.” I say.

Higgy has left his ticket in his room, so I can only assume that weekends normally finish at Midnight on Saturday in Long Eaton.

A poor weather forecast today with rain predicted for the afternoon.

South Africa are dismissed quickly and once again Cook and Buster Keaton Jennings come out to face the music.

Buster is dropped on nought but somehow manages to survive until lunch, making just 17.

Cook and Westley fail, but the consistent Root enters the fray and immediately starts to stroke the ball around. As the scoreboard ticks up, the TMS commentators make comparison between Root and Buster Keaton Jennings.

Root – agile, mobile, relaxed, busy, in control.

Jennings – stiff, upright, tense, letting the ball hit the bat, not in control.

Without wishing to sound insulting, Buster’s movement reminds me of a giant Duracell Bunny (how appropriate. Ed.) and this image is reinforced by the huge, toothy grin he sports in most circumstances.

Buster is caught in the slips flapping just after lunch. Lancashire member Ken texts me:

“We should start calling him Duke, because every ball seems to have his name on it!”

Malan comes and goes without making any impact and gets out to yet another nothing shot.

Root is denied a deserved fifty and when Stokes is also dismissed, South Africa appear to be in with a shout at 134-6.

Cue Moin Ali, who tees off from the outset, playing a scintillating innings which includes a straight six onto the players balcony which is ‘caught’ by Jonny Bairstow.

The crowd are in raptures, and the party stand sing at full belt:

“Don’t take me home. Please don’t take me home. I just don’t want to go to work..."

That infectious little song first aired by the Welsh football supporters.

Infectious, that is, as in cholera.

Boring, repetitive, unimaginative and makes the Barmy Army Songbook seem like the Complete Works of Lennon & McCartney in comparison.

Maybe Olly Murs should cover this tune; it might prove to be his ‘World in Motion’ moment.

During the tea interval we join my Lancashire Pit of Hate pals under the Point.

Stewart, son Mark, Ken, Mike and Mosser are all in good form. Chris Crabb from the Barmy Army has moved seats again and has been in their tender care all afternoon due to her own seating issues. She first tells us that she has been wonderfully serviced by the Members of Lancashire CCC, then:

“Oooh. Is that corned beef and onion I can smell?”

She proceeds to gorge herself on my sandwiches.

Obviously, they are not made of money in Scunthorpe!

Michael Vaughan is on the radio after tea and manages to speak for twenty minutes without mentioning T20 City Based Franchises, but he does mention the possibility of Gary Ballance returning to the England team to bat at number 5, which to me sounds even less attractive than his T20 City Based Franchises!

England close at 224-8, a lead of 360, when play is curtailed at 5.15pm.

We have enjoyed a much fuller cricket day than expected and Higgy and I retire happy to the Chutney Massala.

We have not eaten curry since Thursday night and our withdrawal symptoms need to be addressed!

Day 4 – Monday

It is 10.30am.

As the tram turns round Market Street into central Manchester, it halts abruptly, and we are advised of a points failure at Cornbrook – which of course as luck would have it, is on the Old Trafford line.

Our tram is being diverted now from Old Trafford to the Etihad Stadium, and as I would rather crawl naked into hell than go anywhere near that particular area, we jump off and blag a free bus.

We arrive at the ground too late to watch the end of the England innings, but just in time to greet the rain and the covers – thank you, Metrolink trams.

Play starts at 12.10 and today we are sat with the Pit of Hate boys at the top of the Point stand.

The crowd is quite sparse and basically it is possible to sit wherever you like – except the Gidney Premium Enclosure of course!

England grab three wickets before lunch and the Test looks to be heading for a swift conclusion, but after lunch Du Plessis and Amla dig in.

While South Africa are defending, the cricket is not the most absorbing and crowd attention shifts to Scarborough, where Yorkshire are being annihilated by Essex inside two days.

I can just imagine the queue outside the call box on North Marine Road right now, with a host of Yorkshiremen making virtually the same phone call:

“Ey - oop. Is that Mrs Bickerdyke at Dunroamin Guest House? Listen love, its Raymond and Geoffrey here. Aye, that’s reet love, room 13. We’ll be back for us tea a bit early tonight love, but unfortunately we’ve got to cancel Tuesday and Wednesday. There’s bin a death in’t family!”

Back at Old Trafford a wicket walk seems required to dislodge Amla and Du Plessis, so I oblige, and one foot-long hot dog later three wickets have fallen.

At tea we tune into events at the Rose Bowl where Haseeb Hameed is in real danger of making fifty, albeit at a snails pace. When he is on 46, and with three South African wickets still to fall, I predict that the Test Match will be over before he reaches 50.

Sure enough, when the last wicket falls, we check the score from Hampshire.

Hameed is still on 49!

So, England have beaten South Africa at home for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Moin Ali deservedly wins the Man of the Match and Series award for England, whilst the unlucky Morne Morkel gets the Series award for South Africa.

So what have we learned from this series to take into the Ashes?

Well, we have problem positions at 2, 3 and 5 and the present incumbents are weak links.

Surely, we must try Stoneman, Hameed or even Hales, who appears to be in the form of his life, against the West Indies.

Buster Keaton Jennings and Malan should be sent back to their counties.

I would persevere with Westley, at least for the West Indies games.

As for the bowling, Toby Rowland-Jones deserves a support spot, although I expect the Australian fans will have a field day with his double barrelled name. They had enough issues previously with Camilla Parker-Bowles!

But please don’t ask me to try and anticipate the complex thought processes of Messrs Whitaker, Fraser, and Newell.

Tired but content, Higgy and I say our goodbyes and return to the Chutney Massala for another curry.

As usual, excellent food, and a paltry bill.

As we are finishing up, Taj the waiter comes over.

“Can I do anything else for you gentlemen?”

Cue Higgy.

“I don’t suppose you know any Olly Murs songs?”

Regards, Midnight

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