Month: October 2014

Pie 77: The Stirling University Pie

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Welcome back to Meat Filled Pastries one mans journey to champion the humblest of pastries, the pie, thanks for visiting and your continued support.

So what’s been the happy haps? Well since my last entry I have been awarded the honour of  judgeship at the 2015 World Scotch Pie Championships. To say I’m chuffed is a bit of an understatement, never in a million years did I think that when I started this little venture 16 months ago I would find myself responsible for helping crown a world champion in pies. I would like to thank Div at Pie and Bovril for giving me the call to arms and the Scotch Pie Club for accepting his recommendation. Judging takes place on the 11th November in Dunfermline and if you are reading this thinking you have a belter of pie to offer then you still have five days to enter at the link below:

http://www.scotchpieclub.co.uk/index.php?ID=2255&CATEGORY=6-News+and+Events

This championship does everything I want in highlighting the humble pie as the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions that it truly deserves to be. The winners will get announced in January and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how it all goes.

My second piece of news involves another episode in my travels with the Tartan Army this time from Warsaw. Now I’ll save you the blow-by-blow account of whatever drunken debauchery I may or may not have got involved in but what I would like to share is my television debut on Sky Sports HQ. Accosted by David Tanner outside a rather swanky hotel after picking up tickets for the game myself and my fellow companions swiftly found ourselves in the media spotlight responding to a series questions about ticket prices and our predicted match outcome. Now in hindsight a shout to Meat Filled Pastries wouldn’t have gone a miss but it was all good fun in the end. If anybody happened to be recording Sky Sports HQ at about 3.15pm on the 14th October give me a shout would love to give it a watch.

So an eventful few days have been had. The last 3 days have been spent sleeping but here I am feeling semi-normal again so without further ado let’s rate some pie!

THE SURROUNDINGS

Where: Forthbank Stadium, Stirling University v Albion Rovers, Scottish Cup Second Round

Love a view of the hills in the background
Love a view of the hills in the background.

Price: £2, double the price of the pie fare I have encountered in the lower leagues of junior football and quite a bit more than even the most expensive of junior pies. It surprised me quite a bit considering the fledgling nature of the club and the Lowland League set up that it currently sits within. I’m sure the pricing will be for economical reasons but with a target audience made up mainly of students it could be cheaper.

Presentation: Remember when you were wee and you used to go to the shop and buy a 10p mix up from the local café or newsagent and it would actually have 10 sweets in it (oh for those halcyon days) well remember the bags that the sweets would come in, that is what this pie was presented on. Not in. On, like really. What made this all the stranger was that on the other side of the counter, out of reach of your average punter was a pile of small black napkins that every pie eater’s heart would have been desiring. Stranger still some people got given one of these napkins and some didn’t. As one of the unlucky few I soldiered on with my paper poke but a consistent approach to presentation in the future would be much appreciated.

THE PIE

Told you it was on a paper bag.
Told you it was on a paper bag.

Meatiness: This pie was a tasty treat, admittedly it’s tastiness boosted by my Sunday afternoon hunger. The meat inside was moist without being greasy and was well filled. There was a gentle peppery kick, not mind blowing but with enough of a presence to add another dimension to the flavour profile of this pie. Outside of that there wasn’t a great deal to be said about it to be honest, for two quid I was hoping for something a little more.

Pastry: Now when I first went to get a pie before kick off the lovely ladies at the Stirling Uni counter informed me that none were present and as such me and fifty or so others found ourselves waiting in the half time pie queue. This immediate need for pie I think then resulted in the pastry being ever so slightly underdone. It was  too soft and it missed the crunch of crispy edges. Due to the pastries softness it also splintered all the way round dividing this pie into loose wedges much like you would find on a deep dish pizza. It didn’t make it difficult to eat but stopped it from hitting any kind of pie perfection.

Brown Sauce: I’ve been a bit lax on this section I know but this seemed a good juncture to bring it back. The brown sauce provided in this instance was difficult to pinpoint as it was presented in a small white bowl in which you spooned your required dollop on with. At least it was different from a squeezy bottle or sachet.

Overall: A bit too pricey for my taste given the comparative surroundings but a solid effort none the less. The paper poke and bowl were a novel approach to match day pie preparation.

Gravy Factor: Bog Standard Bisto with a few idiosyncrasies thrown in for good measure.

Another pie down, and the first of my Lowland League adventures complete, next up remains a mystery but until next time go forth and eat pie!

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Pie 76: The Maybole Pie

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If you want to read about pies: meaty, spicy, pastry covered pies then this is the place to be, as this is Meat Filled Pastries, one man’s journey to find the tastiest football snacks in all the land. This edition sees us staying in the junior ranks with a pie from Ayrshire and Maybole Juniors but more on that in a bit.

As I am sure many of you are aware I like watching football. I especially like watching football when I get to go a place I’ve never been before,this trip to Maybole being a case in point. I can’t think of any other scenario why I would visit Maybole, it’s not noted for anything particularly famous, it’s not near the seaside and I have no known family currently residing in the area. Maybole, and no offence meant here, is not somewhere you would book your summer holidays to.

What it does have however is a junior football team and so with gay abandon I journeyed on down.

My particular highlight was the pub that was chosen for pre match refreshments by the bus committee. It’s fairly common place for our band of merry men to be found in some particularly odd wee pubs and this one was no exception. Named ‘The High Society’ on entry things looked fairly generic ‘old man’ that was however until you glanced at the fifties style motif in the window. As you entered the walls were adorned with pictures of crooners from yesteryear while the toilets seemed to be something more resembling a sauna than a urinal. Throw in a random games room, jingly door chimes and the obligatory one lady behind the bar suddenly finding her Saturday afternoon a lot busier than usual and you had all the ingredients for your traditional pre-match small town bar. I love these a little bit.

Anyway with my throat suitably lubricated it was game time and as such without much further ado, let’s rate some pie!

THE SURROUNDINGS

Where: Ladywell Stadium, Maybole v Pollok, West of Scotland Super League, First Division

Cattle, Cemetery, Fields. Standard Junior Football Back Drop.
Cattle, Cemetery, Fields. Standard Junior Football Back Drop.

Price: £1. A drop in division has certainly resulted in a drop in price. Let’s hope this isn’t a drop in tasty quality.

Presentation: A variation on the classic white medium-sized napkin. The far more cost efficient, but no less effective, one sheet of two ply kitchen roll. Actually a little bit bigger than a medium-sized napkin with the added gripy-ness of dimples. No pattern on the roll though, always slightly disappointing. Where’s my random fruit or cuddly penguins?

THE PIE

It's a pie. Duh!
It’s a pie. Duh!

Meatiness: Confession time here folks, I had drunk a few beers the night before and so to ward off any potential hangover I had started my alcohol consumption a bit earlier than usual. It’s not big or clever but it is the facts so this pie review will benefit, or be hindered dependent on your point of view, by the notes made after consumption was complete. What I can tell you is this, the pie was moist without being greasy. It was tasty enough with a distinct meaty flavour and it was of a sufficient standard to warrant a second one soon after but it wasn’t outstanding. This can be attributed to the lack of any real peppery kick and so the addition of HP helped to enhance the overall flavour experience. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge spending another £1 should I ever venture to the Ladywell again  so in that respect you can say meat wise this pie did a good job.

Pastry: The pastry fell apart quite a bit, not enough that there was a spillage of the muttony goodness inside but sufficient enough for me to partake in a spot of pie juggling. You know what I mean. That dance of switching your pie from hand to hand dependent on where the most dangly bit is based in the eternal hope that no meat shall hit the terrace below. The walls were caving in a little bit but I’m willing to put that down to a grip that was too firm more than anything else. As a receptacle for meat this pastry did its job.

Overall: After a few pints this filled the pie shaped hole in my belly not once, but twice.

Gravy Factor: Safe Gravy. The kind of gravy you would make for a dinner party when you’re not really sure what everyone likes.

Pie 76 is gone. Pretty short and sweet on this occasion. However do not fear as Pie 77 is on the horizon with Meat Filled Pastries first visit to the Scottish Lowland League and Forthbank Stadium home of Stirling University. The review will be done before I set off to Poland where I have high hopes that the eastern European love for meat and carbs will give me a pie based treat to behold.

However until, next time go forth and eat pie!

 

 

3G or Not 3G? That is the Question.

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With more and more Scottish sides, at all levels reverting to next generation AstroTurf pitches and the Women’s World Cup next year in Canada set to be played on majority artificial parks, despite the protest of top figures in the ladies games, is it time to accept that ‘plastic’ pitches are here to stay?

grass

A decade ago most of us would return from a kick about with grass on our knees and a clump of mud inexplicably mashed into our scalp and whilst that scenario is still applicable today it becomes an ever rarer sight as grass stains are replaced with the occasional graze and clumps of mud being replaced by thousands of tiny rubber balls that get into every human crevice imaginable, and I mean all of them. For most casual footballers a midweek evening or Saturday morning is spent running about one of the thousands of artificial pitches across the country. So why is it that players with no discernible quality can muddle through but highly tuned athletes throw their toys out of the pram as soon as they’re asked to adapt ever so slightly? After all the ball is still round, the goals are still the same size and there is still the same number of players running about a marked out area of rectangular land, I think it’s time it throw off the shackles of negativity and embrace something that is here to stay.

So how do you start to look at something with a glass half full point of view? By focusing on one of the most predominant glass half empty arguments. Artificial pitches cause injuries that when playing on grass would never occur. The evidence suggests that this is the only real true negative of playing on an artificial pitch, I am happy to admit that on certain artificial parks I leave the pitch a lot sorer than others but then my warm up usually consists of eating a pack of fruit pastilles, a few impressive looking but ultimately useless stretches and blasting the ball at anybody who makes the mistake of bending down to tie their laces. I don’t spend my week training on it, following a properly structured warm up and warm down regime whilst having the luxury of immediate access to physiotherapists and trainers when required. Football and it’s stakeholders are renowned, when they want to be, for innovation and are quick to move the game ‘forward’ whether it be with neon ankle high boots, skin-tight muscle armour or shaving foam in a can. So why can’t Nike, Adidas or Gillette create something that helps with the aches and pains so many players fear? Do you know what? They can and they no doubt will. Therapies will develop and training regimes will be altered to accommodate the variances in conditions between grass and not-so-grass.

In fact it’s football’s ability to innovate that has seen the growth of these pitches in our game, for you see the UK, and Scotland in particular, is prone to the kind of weather that makes football in winter a bit of a challenge. neNer mind getting a match on sometimes teams can go weeks without training. Football’s solution: all weather training pitches, the pre cursor to those that are being used in competitive games today and in this lies the flaw in the argument that players aren’t used to playing on them, they very much are, in some cases everyday. The excuse that a team is not used to playing on an artificial pitch is catching up on the referee and injury lists as a justification for an abject performance. A win one week on is quickly  forgotten when a defeat occurs on the same surface soon after.

The excuses of failure, which often infuriate me so, can usually be justified by one of the following lines when a manger is pressed in a post match interview:

  • The ball just doesn’t act the same on an artificial pitch
  • Grass is better.

Let’s address these points together as best as we can. Firstly yes it is true that on occasion a ball can grip on an artificial pitch resulting in a bounce that’s a little higher and a run that’s a little quicker but let me give you some names to consider. Tim Flowers. Peter Enckleman. John Terry. Each victim, if they are to be believed, in some way shape or form to variances in a grass pitch that an artificial park never would have thrown up. Even considering my relatively young age at the time I still remember Flowers going down on one knee to catch a fairly tame long-range effort from Stan Collymore only for it to hit a divot, hop over his shoulder and drop into the net. While many will remember Peter Enckleman’s inability to control a throw in during a Birmingham derby resulting in an own goal that will forever stand the test of time the Finn bettered the trick a couple of years later when a miskick, no doubt of which will be blamed on a bobble, gifted Preston forward Chris Brown the easiest of goals.

Perhaps the best example belongs to John Terry though, self-proclaimed King of Chelsea and publically divisive figure. In 2008 he had the opportunity to do something that no other Chelsea captain had done before and lift Europe’s biggest club prize, the Champions League trophy, even better he could score the winning penalty. With the chance to confirm his blue tinged legacy the defender slipped and the ball went high into the sodden Moscow sky. The irony being that despite the Luzhniki Stadium housing an artificial pitch for much of the season prior to the final  UEFA decreed that their grandest prize must be played on grass. If the grass had never been laid then Dorgba’s glory a few years later could have all belonged to John. So you have to ask would Tim, John or Peter have preferred a pitch that would behaved itself like it should have done rather than one that made a ball bobble or a foot slip. It begs the question is grass really better?

Yes. In an ideal world a well manicured grass pitch is infinitely better than even the highest spec artificial surface. However how many of those parks really exist in today’s highly commercialised society where football stadiums also host rugby, NFL and music concerts amongst a plethora of other things. With ever-expanding international and domestic calendars designed to engage clubs of all levels football grounds are used more now than ever before so naturally wear and tear will become ever more prominent. All this though is based on the theory that the pitch to start off with is of a high standard.

Pitches at the last two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, for example, have been chastised for their poor quality with brown patches painted green and enough sand to populate a small beach just some of the measures to improve the potential quality of play. How often during the festivities in South America did you hear managers moan, particularly in Manaus, about the state of the pitch.

I have to ask, what do you expect? A tropical climate where it’s baking hot one minute torrential rain the next is hardly an ideal place to grow a football pitch. The African Cup of Nations is forever being played on pitches that have as much grass on them as can be found in the middle at Lord’s or the Oval. The list goes on. Wembley couldn’t get grass right for years and switching sports for a second Murrayfield’s nematodes became as synonymous with the Six Nations as Archie Gemmell’s goal at the 78 World Cup became with Scotland’s ability to achieve glorious failure. When those at the very top can’t get it right what chance do those at the bottom have?

That’s not to say you don’t find many a fine grass park at lower league grounds because you surely do but when clubs are ever increasingly looking to find ways to make ends meet the last thing they need is an impromptu 6 week winter break and it is here that the artificial pitch comes into its own. In the summer Rugby Park became the ninth Scottish senior ground to host an artificial surface and the second in the current Scottish Premiership (Hamilton being the other). The reason for the move done at some cost, was done to facilitate a clearance of debt and move the club back to Kilmarnock on a day-to-day basis. But it doesn’t stop there as others have shown. Hamilton have hosted a number of Scotland youth internationals at New Douglas Park while current SWPL champions Glasgow City play their league and European games at Airdrieonians Excelsior stadium while clubs such as Stenhousemuir and Queen of the South amongst others use their artificial pitches to create revenue 7 days a week renting the pitch out for local teams and everyday punters like you and me for kick about. Making their stadiums the hub of their community, it sounds pretty fanciful but these things are actually happening right now.

This has even tricked down to the juniors, and while its sad many an old ground has fallen by the wayside for identikit supermarkets and three bedroom houses the money earned has been used to rejuvenate clubs who had merely been surviving. In a country where fiscal responsibility has been ringing in our ears for months is it not fiscally responsible for Scottish clubs in particular to make the most of the assets they have? In years to come will these teams be seen as innovators? I think so.

In an ideal world football should be played on grass at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe those that lambast the usage of artificial pitches are longing for a simpler time, nostalgia has a funny way of doing that. Maybe they have some genuine concerns about the long-term health of players some of which doesn’t appear to be without foundation but just as television has made a 3pm kick off as common as 7.15pm on a Monday night so will an ever-changing climate and financial responsibility see artificial pitches work hand in hand with traditional grass park’s marrying the past and future for many clubs across the country, maybe even the world.

Artificial pitches are here and they won’t be going away.