Talking to my son recently we were reflecting on the snacks we have had together at football matches. It made me look back all those that have stuck with me.
My first memory of food at a football match takes me back to winter matches in the 1950’s when my Dad and I would visit a news agent/ tobacconist in St Peter’s Street, St Albans on our way to Clarence Park to see St Albans City. He would buy a quarter of winter mixture, stored in a glass jar and shovelled into a paper bag. I am still not convinced that I ever liked them but a sweet was a sweet. The black and white one’s were like humbugs and had a minty/menthol taste but the others were strong in taste of which I am still not sure of. These along with warming exercises seemed to do little to stem the bitter cold of the terraces. For some reason on the internet these are also called Yorkshire mix.
Wagon Wheels and Blue Riband biscuits with stewed tea come to mind on a cold January 10th 1959 for an FA Amateur Cup game between Vauxhall Motors (Luton) and Hendon. Hendon won 3-1 but there were other highlights. My father worked in the canteen at Vauxhall and we went early to prepare food for the game. After eating an amazing Telfers steak and kidney pie my father drove a Bedford CA van with sliding cab doors (I’m sure a feature a lot of delivery drivers would love today) to the match. It was also amazing because my Dad didn’t drive but most of the journey was within the factory grounds and only a short way on the road. The van was carrying tea urns and boxes of Blue Ribands and Wagon wheels.
At the ground a counter was made of bales of hay, those left over from covering pitch areas against the frost. Tea from urns always tasted stewed as it had milk added to it when made. The Wagon Wheel and Blue Riband masked the taste.
The next memorable food that comes to mind was turkey sandwiches at a Tottenham v Chelsea match on December 30th 1961. Staying in North London I attended some Arsenal home games and stood on the the North Bank in my early teens and remembered the joys of Percy Dalton’s roasted peanuts. The peanut seller outside the ground was part of the show shouting ‘Peanuts, roasted peanuts, get your roasted peanuts,’ at the top of his voice. The mess left on the terrace after everyone had eaten them was horrendous and clubs today must be thankful this trend has gone by the wayside. To my surprise some years later a roasted peanut seller turned up at Villa Park and my son and I devoured them but on leaving realised the mess we had made. The seller never returned and I’m sure the fans who sat infront of us were pleased too because they were covered in nut husk dandruff where we had opened them.
Skip forward to the 70’s and like many others I remember the boiled burgers and onions served on a dry bun that was served at most grounds. Thank heavens we have moved on from such appalling food.
November 1975 and an evening game at Northampton saw my first wife collect me from work at Luton and we drove to Northampton. She had cooked burgers and chips at home and wrapped them in to foil and towels so when we ate them they were great.
Into the 80’s and the 1984 FA Cup final between Everton and Watford and I had joined the prawn sandwich brigade at the old Wembley Stadium. I hosted a table for work, eating a meal just prior to the match and watching the game from the box. The experience was downgraded by Watford’s defeat.
For the next nearly 20 years it was home and some away Aston Villa games. Lunch before the game was hot tomato soup from a flask with soft white rolls filled with deli counter luncheon meat, often Billy Bear embossed from Kwik Save. It was the enormous amounts of sweets that my son blames me for inducing a habit that makes him buy sweets at every petrol station he stops at and have contributed to his few extra pounds. At first it was Mars bars that being one of the first in to the standing only Holte End he was able to queue up to buy.
We moved on to Opal fruits, a bag of mis-shapes again from Kwik Save, Liquorice Allsorts, Wine gums and finally became avid M&M consumers, not all at the same match. But occasionally there would be food promotions at the game, Villa were sponsored my Muller for a time and we were all treated to Muller corners or two. The give away I remember best were curry flavoured Twiglets which I think was a new range? Having dashed to to Villa straight from work with no food I had more than one packet, only small ones but totally over faced myself, thank heavens I have never seen the flavour again.
But on evening games if not in a rush we would get a portion of chips and a pea cluster from a chip shop in Duston, Northampton, scrummy. If you have time visiting Villa Park the Villa Chippy on Manor Road is a well priced good quality offer which you will have to queue for and that tells all.
More recently I have given up the sweets and instead had chips at the grounds visited, for research reason only for my chip league.
One interesting experience was a trip to Forest Green which only sells vegan food and I have to say the pie and chips were very good and an introduction to oaty milk was a pleasing surprise.
It was a complete opposite to being invited to Manchester City where the pre match buffet was an amazing spread in sumptuous modern surroundings.
My favourite football foods in the last 3 years have been at the kiosk at Crook Town (Only food and Sauces), the chips at Shirebrook Town (Winners of my chip League two years running), the Chip Bar at FC United (Mr Chips), the display of sauces at Halifax and hot pork pie and mushy peas at Pennistone Church. It’s not just about the football.
I also loved the photo of Chips at a French league ground.