OUR FAVOURITE GAMES # 14 some favourite ales in Sale
April 19 2020
MK Fez remind us that we don't just travel for a game of rugby................... On the day before the game, I had already made my rail journey “oop north.” Arriving at a typically rain-soaked Manchester afternoon, I scanned the SSA’s Facebook page on the mobey with a post that read: “Sale-ing Away This Weekend? Could you please advise all your travelling supporters that this weekend 20th, 21st and 22nd February, Eccles RFC will be holding a small BEER FESTIVAL at their club”
Wheresmelunch and I had already planned a gourmet ale and dinner gig at the Marble Arch pub, not far from the fashionable Northern Quarter, after the game – but a BEER FESTIVAL? As real ale aficionados and members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), this idea, held at a venue just ten-to-fifteen minutes’ walk away from the AJ Bell Stadium, was just too good to miss.
We had a quick sojourn into Warrington the night before the game, visiting the Tavern and Lower Angel brewpubs and sharing jars of respective 4Ts and Tipsy Angel ales with supporters of Warrington Wolves who saw their side take on NRL opposition in the World Club Series.
Match day saw us visit our usual haunts by the Eccles Interchange: The Wetherspoon pub, the Eccles Cross, which was once a cinema and thanks to its early opening hours, our usual breakfast venue and Sarries fans’ meeting point – where we met Paul and Tony Taff. Then there’s the magnificent Edwardian gin palace that is the Lamb Hotel, only serving pints of Holt Mild and Bitter, just like the good ol’ days!
After a tense, traffic-delayed, bus journey to the AJ Bell, I offered Tony Taff a pint of Caledonian Deuchars IPA – according to him, a so-so kept pint from the beer suppliers for Salford Red Devils rugby league and co-occupant of the AJ Bell with Sale Sharks. Mercifully, the wind direction was blowing the “aromas” of the Davyhulme sewage works away from the ground. Unmercifully, Sale had put Sarries to the sword with 14-3 lead, with only a last minute Richard Barrington try to spare our blushes for a 14-10 result and a lucky losers’ bonus point – TIME TO DROWN OUR SORROWS!
We walked past the long queues for the Number 67 Bus with fans heading homeward towards the Eccles Interchange and Manchester City Centre. Through the ferociously cold winter breeze, under the great arch holding the M60 motorway over junction 11, we headed towards the large sauna street advert I had remembered that was the sign for turning off the Liverpool Road in Patricroft and towards the clubhouse of Eccles RFC. Don’t get confused for the signpost for Eccles rugby league! .
At the club bar, we were comforted by the sight of handpulls featuring colourful pumpclips, offering nine locally-brewed ales. Information of all fifteen ales was printed on A4 paper signs above the bar. After purchasing our first pints, we met the man behind the beer festival, Martin Parkinson. He relies on his bar staff to help him run the festival. With his long experience with ale, Martin only receives a little external advice from the local North Manchester branch of CAMRA. Such dedication to ale has resulted in Eccles RFC winning the “Club of the Year” award from North Manchester CAMRA for the last two years’ running.
The beer festivals at Eccles RFC reveal Martin’s passion for real ale. He is also a CAMRA member, thanks to tagging with his brother-in-law visiting CAMRA beer festivals. Last year, he helped out at the Great British Beer Festival, hosted by CAMRA’s national organisation every year at London’s Olympia exhibition hall – perhaps we should hold an SSA social there? He also aims to work at GBBF this year. Add to this is Martin’s link to Sarrie-land – he had previously worked for the local electricity board in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, and played rugby for Hitchin RFC!
Eccles RFC started its first beer festival in 2011 as a means to raise vital funds for the amateur rugby club. 2014’s festival had raised £3,500. Later years also saw the beer festival being used to promote real ale within the club and to attract more custom from outside the club. With better advertising, the club hopes that the beer festival will raise more membership in the club.
The main beer festivals, that were held in March, grew from a humble twelve firkins (9 gallon casks) of ale and six different ciders (each sold in a 20 litre bag-in-a-box) to fifteen different ales and five different ciders last year. .
We visited their smaller winter beer festival, as preparation for and anticipation of the next main beer festival, which will be a major undertaking – featuring an impressive FORTY ales and ciders! With so many ales on sale, a temporary bar will be used in the clubhouse, leaving less room for customers inside and so the festival has moved to a summer date
When compared to this Saturday’s beer festival at Allianz Park, where there will be just six ales (five of which come from a single brewery, Greene King – beer supplier for Saracens), Eccles RFC offered us a veritable feast. Martin sources his ales from independent breweries within the Greater Manchester area – an area that Wheresmelunch and I know is well-blessed with so many excellent, small and passionate breweries. Highlights of the Eccles range were the mighty Boggart Extra Rum Porter (at 6.5% abv!), a fennel/aniseed-tasting Seven Bro7hers Porter Stout, zesty-hoppy pale ales from the likes of Blackjack and First Chop Brewing and the comically-named Old Slapper from Bolton-based brewery, Bank Top. All ales were kept in tip-top condition – with a ubiquitous creamy head, as expected from a north-of-England bar.
The club’s favourite beer is the pale and refreshingly-hoppy Wainwright, named after the rambler-author and brewed by Blackburn brewery, Thwaites. During beer festivals or when it runs out, some club members get very upset when Wainwright is not on. As Martin said, “At times you would not think we are talking about grown men.” Other beers usually sold by Eccles RFC include ones from Caledonian (via its wholesale supplier), Bank Top and fellow Bolton-based brewer, Dunscar Bridge.
Martin hopes the club bar will see more visitors, beyond the club members, of whom we met three who also support Sale Sharks. It should also be noted how important it is for professional rugby clubs to support their local amateur clubs – not just a feeder for up-and-coming players, but also for community-building. This was made more poignant when someone mentioned fellow Eccles player, Chris Tickle, had died in 2009 due to a complication three weeks later from breaking his neck during a match. The club was overwhelmed by the tributes that poured from other rugby clubs – by our presence at Eccles RFC, it reaffirmed the rugby “family” that should exist between supporters of a professional club from “down south” and a local amateur club, holding a beer festival, from “oop north.”
From those who’ve been, we can recommend other Sarries fans to visit Eccles RFC before and/or after a Sale Away game. As well as excellent ales, Eccles RFC offers wholesome food (my nose picked up homemade pies and curry) served in the mezzanine above the bar. There are parking spaces for those who drive up. The stop for the Number 10 and 67 Buses is on Liverpool Road, just 200 yards away. It’s a good place to spend time and avoid the horrendous traffic getting to and from the AJ Bell. You will also expect a warm, friendly welcome.
Oh by the way, we were also treated to the spectacle, called “THE ECCLES CHALLENGE,” which had (probably) only begun last season. The man-of-the-match from both sides in each of the matches played at Eccles RFC are treated to race each other downing an Eccles cake and a pint – that night, the Number 8s from Eccles and visiting Birkenhead Park, after playing a North West 1 league match, raced themselves with the super-strength Boggart Extra Rum Porter – Right Messy!!!
Gorton Street, Patricroft, Eccles, Manchester, M30 7LZ
Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 2020:04:30:20:51:15 by Darraghgirl.