But That’s Not a Pie!

In Search of the SWPL

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The second half of the Scottish Women’s season is about to get underway following the traditional midsummer break. Hibernian and Glasgow City sit head and shoulders above the rest with the Edinburgh side looking to end City’s 11 year run of domestic dominance. Both sides on 35 points with 11 wins and two draws to their names with an end of season showdown already feeling inevitable. I often attend women’s games, choosing real life entertainment against whatever Premier League fixture have cobbled together under the guise of “Super Sunday” but for many a stigma remains, one that dictates that the quality isn’t very good and that nobody really cares. But what’s the cause of this and is there a resolution to be found?

A first attempt to find a list of women’s fixtures instantly flags an issue. Whilst the Scottish Women’s Football (SWF) website is a reliable source, including regularly updated kick off times and locations across all senior women’s leagues it’s a resource that is only known to those that know. Google obviously helps but statistics dictate that your average fan is more than likely to head to one of the two behemoths of web/app based sports coverage in the UK, namely the BBC and Sky Sports. The problem is should you rely solely on these then your search for Scottish women’s fixtures will be ultimately fruitless.

This, along with coverage in general, been a constant source of bemusement to me for some time, with BBC Scotland particularly culpable such is their perceived lack of ability to cover the mere basics. A deficiency made even more stark when you look at the coverage the women’s game gets south of the border on the very same site. While an entire subsite is dedicated to the women’s game direct from the BBC Sport home page this is very much an England centric proposition. Here you can find latest news from the clubs, view fixtures and league tables. It would be remiss of me not to mention that Scottish football does feature but the aforementioned basics are nowhere to be found.

Then there is the Women’s Football Show a regularly scheduled look at the going on’s within the Women’s Super League (WSL) including match highlights and interviews with prominent figures. The Women’s FA Cup Final is now a key part of the BBC’s May Bank Holiday schedule, broadcast in full HD and with over 45,000 in attendance at this years final. It feels like a big deal. Meanwhile in Scotland fans are treated to BBC Alba and picture quality that would have raised cries of derision twenty years ago. At least you’ll get to brush up on your Gaelic. There will be some people who read this and automatically go into defence mode, how it’s not Scotland’s fault and how we are forever marginalised on a UK scale. There is a smidgen of merit in that, anybody who has lived in the south of England particular will have had at least one conversation about Scotland that has left you dumbfounded in its ignorance but are the people that should be held for account not those in charge of the BBC Sport Scotland mandate? Is it not their job to be that voice?

There is some evidence they are trying though, albeit in a near typical backwards fashion. During the World Cup a common consensus formed that Alex Scott – by taking the rare approach of combining enthusiasm and research to her football punditry brief – was a welcome addition to the coverage. Sportscene had already followed that path somewhat and have had current and former Scottish Women’s footballers appear on Sportscene and Radio Scotland to pass comment on frequent occasion although the coverage itself on these outlets can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. There is also, usually, a couple of articles buried on the Scottish Football section of the website giving a summary of the weekend’s action although it’s regular brevity leaves you wondering how much pressure is put on to produce high quality content. BBC Alba does at least play the game a little, not only showing the Scottish Cup Final but regular coverage of both international women’s football and the odd Glasgow City European adventure, though once again you do have to ask if this really is the best way to get new eyes on the game?

I’m not sure that the blame should be left solely at the BBC’s door though. Imagine if you will that you have somehow made your way to the SWF website and now find yourself looking at the upcoming Sunday’s fixtures. The likelihood is that you will already support a men’s side and so naturally you peruse the page looking for their female equivalent.

Unfortunately that doesn’t always work.

Let’s take this weekend for example. Not only is it the return of the women’s season but it is also kick off time for the SPFL. On Sunday, Aberdeen play Rangers in the stand out fixture of the weekend as Steven Gerrard makes his league debut away to one of the teams his side will be looking to overhaul. With a 1pm Sunday kick off to allow for TV coverage you would think that this would provide you the perfect opportunity to get yourself down to your first women’s match. Well, I’m sorry to report, you would be wrong. Whilst the seagulls at Pittodrie look on in hungry anticipation of that first flung pie in the SWPL Aberdeen travel to Dalkeith to take on Hearts at 2pm whilst Rangers travel to Station Park to take on Forfar Farmington. The kick off time there? 1pm. So I ask, as a fan with a stronger connection to the men’s side than women’s of one of these two sides, what choice are you most likely to make? For many it’s an easy decision.

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This isn’t confined to same club conflicts though and often top women’s games are forced to clash with the best that Scottish football offer. For example, the 2017 Scottish Women’s Cup Final was played at the same time as the men’s Scottish League Cup Final. I mean give yourselves a chance! Now there’s reasons for this, pitch availability I have seen often cited but when the SWPL, and in turn the SFA, don’t make the game a priority how can they expect a fan too?

Irrespective of the challenges above you’ve thrown caution to the wind and picked a fixture, the next thing you need to know is where you need to go. Most women’s clubs will have somewhere that they call “home”. Teams with affiliations to their male counterparts will often ground share such as Forfar Farmington (Station Park) and St. Johnstone (McDiarmid Park). Some clubs will host their women’s fixtures at local junior or lower league ground such as Rangers at New Tinto Park just a ten minute walk from Ibrox and Hibernian at Ainslie Park home of Lowland League Spartans. The recurring theme, and by association the problem, is that while these teams will have a “home” none of them are a place that they could call their own and so on occasion they have to go on the move. Where they move to though is often telling of the challenges the women’s game in Scotland faces.

Let’s take a look at the 3rd Round of the SSE Scottish Women’s Cup. Scottish women’s football most successful club and current SWPL champions Glasgow City host league counterparts Stirling University. The dominant force in Scottish women’s football for well over a decade have been most recently based out of Petershill Park in the north of the city. For this tie, arguably the pick of the round, they find themselves based at St. Mungo’s Academy, a school linked sports complex close to their spiritual home. They’re not the only ones though, Hearts usually based from Kings Park, home of Dalkeith Thistle, host Spartans at Glencorse Community Centre. It’s hard for critics to take the women’s game seriously when you’re watching teams being hurried off the park because the local men’s amateur game is next up.

So you’ve managed to find a fixture, you’ve mapped your path there and triple checked the kick off time. You walk up to the venue and find yourself wondering just what should you expect from your first women’s football experience? The honest answer is pretty much anything.

Much like at any level or grade of football the quality of play in show could be anything from utterly mundane to totally ludicrous with the majority falling somewhere in between. For example, a Scottish Cup tie between Blackburn United and Ayr United that I attended earlier in the season finished 10-9 after extra time, it was a mere 8-8 after 90 minutes. The quality wasn’t great but the drama as the game ebbed and flowed would be the stuff of TV executive wet dreams. An hour later I was back in Glasgow watching a fairly tame 2-0 win for Queen’s Park against Morton. You are probably more likely to get the odd 15 goal procession as the standard varies greatly from top to bottom but even those sometimes provide their own strange little spectacle.

Quality of play aside, what else do you need to know? Well, it’s a bit of a bargain with even the top sides rarely charging more than £5 although I would suggest that you have low expectations around catering facilities. Scotland games aside I am yet to find a women’s game where a pie can be had although usually there’ll be a way to at least find a beverage. Also whilst modern football stadia confines you to just one seat, given the relative sparse nature of the crowds and the types of venues these games take place at, you will be free to roam the terraces looking for the perfect spot. You will also invariably end up in a conversation with someone who is usually a friend or relative of one of the players.

All that being said the experience you have will be very much dependent on your mindset going into it. If you go with expectations of seeing the female versions of Messi and Ronaldo duelling in front of a packed stadium then I suggest you have a re-think. If however, you turn up with an open mind then I suggest the experience you have will be considerably better than lying flat on your couch as Huddersfield and Southampton do battle in pursuit of 15th place in the Premier League.

In a country where the women’s national side is infinitely more successful than their male counterparts it seems strange to say that the domestic game hasn’t really progressed all that much. Whilst Hibernian have emerged as real challengers to Glasgow City’s monopoly on the SWPL title, a recent top of the table clash between the two had an attendance no more than a couple of hundred and was delayed due to a lower league game being played on the same pitch running late. Top Scottish players now in the main play abroad and I have no doubt that some of the challenges covered here will have played a part in that.

Taking all things into consideration though it is important that you don’t let the sparse attendances make you think that the SWPL doesn’t matter. That you don’t use the occasional sloppy pass as a trigger to question it’s quality. Don’t let a 12-0 win let you think it isn’t competitive and don’t let a lack of media presence let you think that it’s not worth talking about. So why not take a chance one Sunday afternoon, you just might like it.

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International Soccer Scran Special: 1. FC Nürnberg

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With the regular football season now officially over, and the World Cup in Russia upon us now seemed as good a time as any to add another chapter to the International Soccer Scran Special Series, a long overdue summary of my trip to Bavaria and in particular the Max Morlock Stadion in Nuremberg, a footballing stop off during a stag weekend that took us to Munich and Augsburg too. In fact the initial plan was to head to the Bavarian Derby between the two aforementioned clubs but an imminent Bayern title party in Swabia coupled with the German fans renowned for selling out grounds meant that tickets were hard to come by and whilst some were acquired there was not enough to facilitate the entire group and so Plan B was formed and a day in Nuremberg awaited us. So without much further ado let’s get elbow deep in a world of pretzels, tiny sausages, beer and some coverage in a local news outlet.

Location

Nuremberg is situated an approximate two hour train journey from central Munich. There is a “slow” train and a “quick” train that takes you to and from Bavaria’s biggest and second biggest cities. Unsurprisingly the “slow” train is a bit cheaper and, even cheaper still if you’re travelling in a large group, with our fare tumbling from around 80 per person to just 15(ish). Although we did eventually get the cheaper fair we hadn’t planned the journey very well and so on the slow train we arrived into Nuremberg’s main station just ten minute’s before kick off. The fates started to turn in a favour though as on exiting the station we were greeted by a thankfully quiet taxi rank and a short 15 minute ride later, which passed a game between the home town teams youth side at the side’s training complex, we had arrived at the Max Morlock Stadion.

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The ground is like many stadia in Germany serviced with a running track with the main stands to the side providing a closer view whilst the oval curves at the end providing views, that whilst a bit further away, are excellent values for money. Having taken the stairs to our seats in the top deck I was intrigued by the view through the plexiglass to an open piece of land behind the stand. Luckily somebody more up on their history than me identifed this as The Nuremberg Rally Grounds, home to a decades worth of Nazi propaganda. The stadium itself used as a hosting ground for the Hitler Youth and Nazi centric sporting competitions. When you think about the many modern stadiums built beside wasteland, industrial estates and shopping centres on the edges of cities and towns this trip to Nuremeberg led to a surprising and unexpected moment of reflection back to very different times.

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Eating Outside the Ground

The Max Morlock Stadion, as previously hinted at, is situated a decent distance away from the main centre of Nuremberg and with very little around it so if you do have a preference for snacking before going to a game then I’d suggest hanging out in the centre where you have your expected mix of Bier Halles and high street restaurants. Beside the main station there is an interesting historical looking (although I suspect very modern) little conclave with some shops, cafes and bars. There’s plenty of options to choose from but I suspect a review of Nuremberg city centre is not what you came for though so let’s get out that taxi and into the ground.

Eating Inside the Ground

Entry into the stadium is via a gated perimeter which, one navigated, presents you with a decent selection of food and beverage options. As this was a stag do let’s start with the important stuff, an item close to every Bavarian’s heart, the beer. Firstly, and this is a strange thing to have to call out, they are alcoholic and can be taken into the stand with you. Served in a rather nifty branded plastic up, emblazoned with the 1. FC Nürnberg crest. A bit of further reasearch showed that this is a fairly common theme at grounds across Germany. I found myself thinking that if it wasn’t a) so fragile and b) be absolutely minging by the time you got it home, it would make a nice souvenir of your trip. I’d love to give you a price per pint but stag do’s aren’t necessarily the place for that kind of detail although if you had to push me I think it was around the £4 mark. Expensive but about average when you are part of a captive audience.

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Your main food options were, also refreshingly traditional, pretzels and sausage. I think it’s fair to say that you’ve not really experienced a pretzel until you’ve been handed a face size Bavarian version of this baked good. There were two varieties that I could see. Plain, dusted unmistakably with salt, and cheese. Naturally, I conspired to try both and whilst each provided that combination of soft white dough and chewy dark brown crust that anyone who has ever had a soft pretzel will know the cheese version provided that extra level of flavour that the plain salt didn’t have. The flavour profile enhanced by those crispy bits that only cheese can provide when it catches on the bottom of the tray. They really are the ideal snack/hangover meal replacement to go with a beer.

Post game and with the beer hunger still rumbling on I made use of another kiosk situated on the perimeter of the stands and had a roll and sausage. Not square, as often found back home in Scotland and neither large and long like the Bratwursts and Bockwursts of your Germanic dreams but a more local speciality known as the Nurnburger Rostbratwurst. Three of them to be precise, tidily stuffed inside a simple white bread bun like a trio of meaty soldiers and (when you actually manage to locate the condiments) topped with ketchup and mustard. Like their much larger wurst brothers these are usually grilled however their differentiation in flavour is the addition of marjoram to the sausage mix. Although the sausage is much smaller, meaning that the casing to meat ratio is drastically increased I enjoyed the more regular pop that these tiny, tasty bangers provide.

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German football is often championed as the crème de la crème in relation to a fans match day experience and with cheap tickets, noisy supporters, proper beer and a wide range of food options it’s easy to see why. It also, like football across the globe, gets covered extensively from the very bottom to the very top. Sometimes the local press will even grab a bunch of drunk Scottish folk in Where’s Wally outfits and ask them what they are doing there. So if your German is half-decent, and you want to see what our man Jambo made of our day then you can do so here.

1. FC Nurnberg Soccer Scran Top Tips

  • Big groups equal discounted travel from Munich, just get your timings right for kick off.
  • Take some paper towels with you so that you can take home a branded plastic cup for free.
  • If you’re sitting in the end nearest the main entrance then make sure to take a look at the Nuremberg Rally Grounds, might as well learn something whilst you’re here.

I had been to Germany a couple of times before this and somehow managed to conspire to not get to a football game so this was a good day for checking things off my footballing bucket list. Overall the version of Bavaria that I saw during my long weekend there played very much into the stereotype of beer, beer festivals, sausage, pretzels, and just when you think you can’t manage another one more beer (and sausages. and pretzels).

Next up I’ll tackle my biggest International Soccer Scran piece until last as I do a retrospective on my time in Madrid both last year and for a few days this covering games from the Bernabeu to the Polideportivo Vicente Del Bosque and everywhere in between.

However until next time go forth and eat pie (or pretzels!)

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ and part-time Madrileño with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

 

Pie 134: The Pollok Bridie

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Hello and welcome to the first of three quick fire pastry reviews over the coming days. This time out a taster from my home town club Pollok FC where I shun the pie for a bridie, something, that I should admit to right now, as not being my favourite combination of meat and pastry. The reason for this rapid review process is that over the summer period I’m working towards a slight shift in what the content of this site will include.

Firstly, don’t panic, the pie reviews will still be forthcoming but as the new grounds become sparser I wanted to take this opportunity to branch out a little and morph the site into a kind of football & food hybrid. In the past I have written fairly regularly about Scottish football but as I hope my International Soccer Scran Series (Benfica Club Portugalete) shows I’m keen to come at things with a new angle. With that in mind, this week I completed my first piece of non football food related writing in a long time with Russia 2018: 32 Reasons to Support Everyone! A Scottish supporter’s guide to ensuring that no matter who wins you too can claim a piece of that glory. It also features a player from today’s hosts so why not give it a read. For now though let’s get back to what brought you here in the first place.

Without much further ado, let’s rate some bridie!

Where: Pollok 6-0 Wishaw, Newlandsfield Park, Central League Cup 3rd Round

Price: £1.20, a few pence cheaper than the pie options at Newlandsfield, but given my lack of dinner at the time I would’ve paid twenty quid to prise the last hot food item available from the pastry seller’s cold, dead fingers.

Presentation: Simply presented on a medium-sized white napkin, perhaps something a little more substantial is required for a bridie, as in this instance the heat of the product mixed with the more porous nature of the bridie’s puff pastry meant that once I had finished eating my napkin, now adorned with a fine film of grease, it was no use for mopping my mouth.

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Meatiness: Unlike the more commonly known Cornish Pasty south of the border it will very rarely contain any form of potato or vegetable however there can be some onion present dependent on the whim of the butcher or baker. In this instance there was an onion flavour with a few translucent slivers visible to the eye. The flavour was distinctly of bridie and most importantly, the filling stacked up well against the puff pastry casing. This sounds simple but even at World Championships the meat to pastry ratio can be bafflingly low, and so for that, this bridie should be commended.

Pastry: Puff as opposed to short crust is the normal pastry of choice for a bridie. This adds a lovely flaky texture to a pastry along with a slightly softer lining that caresses the meat within but it does invariably end up with you crop dusting the terrace around your feet. This bridie was no different. That said the pastry was absolutely fine even if a few small shards got caught between my teeth.

Brown Sauce: Logistically condiments on a bridie are a nightmare. Unlike a pie there is no pastry wall to contain the sauce so this bridie was had bareback although my inclination is that if you can be bothered with watching for those drips it’s an action that shouldn’t be frowned upon.

Overall: Ordered a Bridie. Tasted like a Bridie. Not quite as good as a pie.

Gravy Factor: If you want a bridie this ain’t a bad example to have.

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ and part time Madrileno with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries. 

Pie 130: The Girvan “Sausage Roll” Pie

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Aye alright I know this isn’t a pie, but it is a meat filled pastry, and given the successful tasting experience that was Pie 129: The Girvan Scotch Pie it would have been remiss of me not to give this a bash whilst I was in the area.

More on that in a minute but speaking of things that aren’t quite pies it would be equally remiss of me not to mention the launching of a new venture from your intrepid pie eater. For nearly five years I have travelled the country and beyond tasting a wide variety of pies, pasties, sausage rolls and bridies, casting judgement on what I believe to be a good meat filled pastry. I have also for a large part of that time been a frequent visitor (including a few months as an inhabitant) to Spain where they and their Latin American cousins share my passion for a good pastry.

So what does this all mean? Well I am happy to announce a new venture: Empanadas Escoces. My attempt to bring the best of hispanic pastries to Glasgow and who knows maybe beyond. I have no idea how this will go. It could be a disaster. It could be a runaway success. Either way I’m going to give it a bash and see what happens. I’ll no doubt post the odd update on here but if you want to keep up to date with everything as it happens then you can follow @empanadassco on Twitter & Instagram whilst you can also find news on Facebook by searching Empanadas Escoces. If this site has taught me anything over the last few years it’s that you never know until you have a go.

Empanadas Escoces

With that public service announcement out the way, let’s get back to the reason why you all came here in the first place. Without much further ado, let’s rate some sausage roll!

Where: Hamilton Park, Girvan 0-5 Pollok, West Superleague Premier Division

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Oh by the way, this is Ronnie, he’s one of the regular home and away crew when going to Pollok games. There you go son you are now pie famous. Anyway…

Price: £1.20. Exactly the same as a pie. It’s funny but sometimes the price of a sausage roll (or any other non pie pastry for that matter) can vary greatly when compared to the prince of pastries so it was good to see a consistent price point here.

Presentation: With a sausage roll the napkin has an added significance as instead of being used to place your pastry on it is almost an automatic reflex to wrap said roll in its soft white paper duvet. In this instance the size of the napkin was more than sufficient.

Meatiness: On first looks, as I hope this picture illustrates, this was a massive roll. This, perhaps surprisingly, had me a little concerned as usually big appearances mean that the meat to pastry ratio can be way off, and in some cases downright unacceptable. I am happy to report though that on this occasion the meat content just about made the grade. A puff pastry case will always struggle to compete with a hot water crust when it comes to meat content percentages but with this pastry I felt I was getting a decent sized banger for my buck. The sausage meat had a nice texture with the levels of fat just right to add moistness whilst the meat itself was very tasty. One thing I did notice as I made my way through was the presence of a yellow smear on top of the sausage meat. My only conclusion is that it had to be mustard and if it was it certainly didn’t distract my taste buds during the eating experience.

Pastry: Whilst there was lots of pastry (perhaps a little too much) there was no doubting the quality of the bake. The layers evenly split and flaky whilst the colour on the outside was golden and even. One of the common fall down points for a sausage roll can be the pastry slipping off and you being left with a limp sausage dangling from your fist shorn of its pastry sheath. In this case there was no risk of that happening.

Brown Sauce: Logistically, for me anyway, condiments on a sausage roll just don’t make sense. They slide off, have nowhere to realistically gather and in general are just a bit of a mess.

Overall: Excellent if slightly too plentiful pastry wrapped around some well-flavoured sausage meat. What was that yellow substance though?

Gravy Factor: A Bangin’ Banger.

Well I think it’s safe to say that Girvan has gone on the list of “good football eat locations” with a more than solid scotch pie and sausage roll offering. Well played. Moving on and for fans of the pie reviews this weekend I took a trip to Bathgate Thistle who’s pies are supplied by a former 2x winner of the World Scotch Pie Championship so that will be going on the site soon whilst my International Soccer Scran Series will next take us to Nuremberg. So plenty to look forward to but until next time, go forth and eat pie!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries. He’s now taken this passion further in the form of Empanadas Escoces a venture inspired by the taste of Spanish pies and a desire to bring them to Scottish Shores.

 

International Soccer Scran Special: Club Portugalete

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I’ve been hitting a bit of a wall recently in my search for new pastries to review. Partly because of the world’s longest run of home fixtures for my local team, partly because the weather has been atrocious and partly because over the last few weeks I’ve had my passport out doing a bit of travelling. What that travelling does mean is that I have a couple of editions of the International Soccer Scran Series in my back pocket to play with which brings me to today and my trip to the Bay of Biscay to see Club Portugalete of the Spanish Tercera Division. So without much further ado let’s get elbow deep in a world of tiny sandwiches, pre-midday beers and a whole lot of rain.

Location

When I initially booked my trip to the Spanish north coast I banked on at least one of Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad or Alaves having a home game as I looked to check off another team in my quest to complete the La Liga set (a quest that is still a good distance off completion at the last check I should add). So it was with a tinge of disappointment that my review of the always late to announce jornada schedule revealed that none of the aforementioned teams were at home during my stay in Bilbao. Ever one to flip a negative into a positive I reconvened and started searching the Segunda B & Tercera divisions of the Basque Country looking for a fixture. The result? An early Sunday morning metro from Bilbao towards the coast to watch Club Portugalete v Alaves B.

Situated around 35 minutes north of Bilbao from the city centre on the super cheap metro it is a short five-minute to walk to the game, and just another ten minutes further away is the Puente Colgante (or if you prefer the Vizcaya Bridge) one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges with a hanging cable car to take you across it in no more than minute. The walk up to the ground is highlighted by passing by a few Athletic Bilbao Peñas and aided by outdoor travellators to help those who feel that the hill is just that little bit too steep. There is no grandeur here or a stadium looming large over the distance, just a small ground in suburbia. It felt a little bit like home.

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Eating Outside of the Ground

From what I saw eating outside the Estadio La Florida, Club Portugalete’s home wasn’t really the done thing. There were a few bars close by where I’m sure a few zurrito’s (think a caña except even smaller) could be had with the ubiquitous pintxo of your choosing but in the main the eating and drinking at for this football food fan primarily took place inside the ground.

Eating Inside the Ground

Eating inside the ground was a very similar experience to eating and drinking at one of the many bars I spent my time in during my few days in the Basque Country. At least from a service perspective. There was however two differences. One being the obvious exception that most bars don’t have 22 men running about a big grass field within them and number two…the rain. Sweet Jesus did it rain, and rain, and then just when you thought it was over it would rain again.  Suddenly the reason I appeared to be the only person in the ground not holding an umbrella in my hand became all too clear. It did stop every now and again but I digress and at roughly 11:15am on a Sunday morning I tasted my first beer of the day.

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On arrival at the bar/food stall beside the main entrance you were greeted with a sea of basqueness. Pintxos, a little rougher round the edges than you would see in a Bilbao bar but more in keeping with the football theme. An array of bocatas (small sandwiches), tortillas, snacks and various hot items. I had arrived in Bilbao late the previous night so I was immediately drawn to a Bocata de Jamon and it was everything that’s right with simple Spanish food. Soft white bread with a crispy crust enveloping a couple of salty slivers of wonderful jamon. The fat wilting a little in its natural surroundings.

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These can be a little dry though once the meat is gone but my beer, of which I seem to have lost its name, helped to wash it down. It was hard not to look out at the pitch and the rolling green hills of the Basque countryside behind the ground and think, this is how Sunday’s should be.

The first half over of a competitive if not particularly entertaining game I made a move for my second bocata of the day this time choosing a Lomo, Salsa Brava & Queso number. This was again the perfect accompaniment to a cold beer. In my head I often liken the lomo-salsa brava union to the Spanish take on the Chinese char siu both of which are slices of pork brightened by a flavoursome and sometimes spicy coating around the edge and well cheese just goes with everything so there was little to complain about here. A bocata and a beer came in at a more than reasonable 3,50€ and for the more adventurous amongst you there was more than one occasion where I saw pints of vodka being drunk in three gulps or less.

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As great as it would have been to go to San Mames, Anoeta or Mendizorrotza, I was happy that for this weekend the fates had led me to this little town on the Bay of Biscay to watch the kind of football I love. If I closed my ears and squinted just a little as the rain bounced off my shoulders I could’ve swore that I was standing on the terraces at Newlandsfield Park back home.

Club Portugalete Soccer Scran Top Tips

· Don’t be afraid to grab for what you want and pay later.

· The beer is full fat and eminently drinkable so treat yourself, you’re probably on holiday.

· Bring a brolly.

· Once the game is done stick around the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas for a pintxo crawl through the streets, across the Puente Colgante and out onto the bay itself.

I really did enjoy my few days in Bilbao and the surrounding areas, if my numbers were right by the time I got my flight home back to Scotland I had managed to knock off around 25 bars in 72ish hours without ever once feeling like I was anything more than pleasantly tipsy or mildly full.

I hope you enjoyed this take on Basque football cuisine, the Madrid version is turning into a bit of an epic but I also have recently returned from Bavaria so will share my matchday experience from Nuremberg in the not too distant future. Also, (with all my fingers crossed) a trip to Girvan beckons at the weekend for a new pie review. Either way something will be on it’s way shortly.

So until next time go forth and eat pie (or Bocatas!)

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

International Soccer Scran Special: Benfica

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So this is new.

Come one, come all to the first of a special, and most likely infrequent, series focusing on matchday scran across the globe, or more pertinently at the games I’ve attended during my travels. I’d thought about this a lot and in some respects this seems the perfect subject matter (outside of pie of course) for me. It entails three things I love wrapped up in one glorious experience: travel, food and football. I was still on the fence up until about a week ago as to whether to follow this path after all it would be a total deviation from the world of pie that has treated me so well until now as evidenced by my invite to judge Scottish Baker of the Year next month more of which will be covered in the next pie blog. However as much as I love a good pie it’s important for me to continue the evolution of this site, to have regular content and find new ways to hopefully one day make a penny or two from it.

I haven’t made this decision alone either, I went to you, my readers and supporters to see what kind of appetite there was for this new arm of the MFP Empire and it was the vast majority who wanted to see what I could come up with outside my comfort zone of pastry, meat and gravy. So here it is, the first edition, from the Portuguese capital Lisbon and one of European football’s oft romanticised clubs, SL Benfica.

Before starting it’s pertinent for me to highlight that I’ve not planned this out in any great depth so as always with anything new this first effort will be more about finding my feet in this format. But without much further ado let’s get elbow deep in a world of Bifanas, Cachorros, and questionable beer.

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Location

The new(ish) Estadio da Luz in Lisbon has been Benfica’s home since 2003 and can be found towards the north of the city surprisingly close to their main rivals Sporting Club (Sporting Lisbon). We had come from their rivals home to get to the game and I’m pleased to report there is a plethora of bus and metro options. If you like a walk, the walk to the city centre is about an hour and 15 minutes and surprisingly, for a city that seems to have been built on a never-ending up slope irrespective of what angle you come at it from, has almost zero hills for you to climb. It’s fair to say that from the outside the stadium is somewhat underwhelming, a bare structure of grey and red but once inside the party really begins.

Let’s get the obvious out the way, it is basically a Portuguese Emirates in both colour and shape but it’s at this point the similarities end. Whilst Arsenal’s home is dubbed The Library and often mocked for it’s almost haunted feel, Estadio da Luz is a hive of noise and colour even for a fairly run of the mill game against a middle table side like Rio Ave. The Ultras are split in two opposite corners of the ground and as often the case in Europe generate the majority of the noise. The fans are typically Iberian, delighted when a goal is scored but are equally prone to revelry when one of their players is fouled and the referee has the audacity to not immediately send off the culprit.

Before moving onto the food there’s one part of the matchday experience that, as far as I am aware, is totally unique to Benfica, and that is the appearance of Aguia the Eagle. A club mascot that about 10 minutes before kick off descends from the stands and circles the pitch (to his own sing-a-long-able with words on the big screen theme tune) before perching himself on the centre circle. It’s kind of mental but kind of great at the same time. I’m sure the novelty would wear off after a while if you regularly went to the game but when planning your visit you must ensure to give yourself enough time to get in the ground for this spectacle.

Eating Outside the Ground

Estadio de Luz is located right next to the large Colombo Shopping Centre which has a wide range of easily recognisable restaurants. There are also very few bars in the surrounding area so finding an interesting pre-match eating experience requires heading closer to the ground.

As you walk towards the stadium you are initially greeted with a swathe of brightly coloured (predominantly red) merchandise stalls selling everything from the traditional scarves and pins to the slightly more unusual cuddly toys and dog coats all proudly displaying the Benfica club crest. It’s a worrying moment when you’ve worked up a hunger and still no scran is in sight but make your way through these and you start to experience the sights and smells of a pre-match feed. In a unsurprisng revelation I research my food before going on holiday and I already knew what I wanted so I was delighted to see that “Bifana” was on the menu and was only 2,50€. What a bargain! But what is it?

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It’s bloody awesome, that’s what it is. Pork slapped (and I literally mean slapped) between a bread roll and accompanied traditionally with either mustard, mayo or when feeling fancy some peri peri sauce. It truly is glorious but let’s break it down a bit. A pork cutlet marinated in a ever changing concoction usually involving at least some vinegar, paprika, peppercorns and garlic, bashed within an inch of its life so that as much of the surface area as possible is kissed by the flat top. It then goes in a bread roll, but don’t overlook this roll. it is wonderfully crisp and flaky on the outside but then super soft within allowing the bread to soak up all the juices without turning into a runny mess in your hand. I went rogue and topped my Bifana with mayo and peri peri sauce and that mixture with the pork and bread is what that convoluted phrase foodgasm was made for. The fact that I could wash it down with a full size glass of Super Bock really made this one of my favourite things I think I’ve ever eaten. Although it’s worth noting that the “Portuguese Bifana” from the BDO Cafe near Mercado de Ribeira may have topped it a couple of days later by adding a fried egg and bacon to the mix. Either way Bifana’s are right good.

Eating Inside the Ground

Eating in the ground was a very similar experience to that you would experience at any top level football stadium, everything is that bit more expensive and not quite as good. Where my Bifana was a mere 2,50€ my Cachorro was roughly double the price.

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This wasn’t my first Cahorro. A few years ago I was one of the unfortunate few to have put my faith in Scotland’s ability to not blow it and had booked for what was shaping up to be a must win trip to Faro to see Scotland play Gibraltar. Alas Ireland somehow beat Germany and Lewandowski prodded home a Polish equaliser ar Hampden to end our hopes. The trip turned into a reason to sesh and it’s funny how even under that drunken haze the memories of the Cachorro I had then came rushing back to me as my bit into my present day hot dog with crisps. And a hot dog with crisps is exactly what this is. A substantial sized scran no doubt but the addition of the salty potato chipsticks contrived to make this one of the driest things you can eat. It wasn’t bad, and the option to add ketchup and mustard certainly helps to moisten things up a bit but compared to the Bifana I had just annihilated outside it paled in comparison. With it being rather dry your natural instinct is to grasp for some libations and I can safely say that the Portuguese no alcohol beer is fairly rotten. Think of a bottled eggy pint and you’re getting close. I have no doubt that when suitably inebriated a Cachorro hits the spot but if you’re asking for me to choose then the Bifana wins hands, arms, feet and legs down. Just writing about it has got me looking out some recipe recommendations.

Benfica Soccer Scran Top Tips

  • Eat outside and get elbow deep in a Bifana
  • I don’t mind non-alcoholic beer but this stuff was rotten. Grab a Coke.
  • Get there early enough to see the eagle
  • Seriously, eat a Bifana!

This turned into a food review/matchday experience hybrid by the end there but I’d love to hear your feedback. I have a Madrid version in the works covering my three months living in Spain’s capital and I also have a new non-football based pie review to write-up so hopefully the content will keep coming.

Hope you enjoyed this but it wouldn’t be Meat FIilled Pastries if I didn’t sign off in the standard manner…so until next time, go forth and eat pie (or Bifana!).

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

Pie 111: The Clyde ‘Not Pie’ Pie: A Call to Arms

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Happy New Year from Meat Filled Pastries! My apologies for a lack of activity recently, a fixture list that saw a string of home games for Pollok along with weather conditions that obliterated almost every game I had lined up to go and see meant that things have been rather quiet on the pie front so far in 2016 and my first offering of the year has not a drop of pastry in sight.

Before the review though let me share with you the outcome of this year’s 2016 Scotch Pie Awards hosted at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld on the 13th January. Once again I was honoured to participate in the judging process to find the best pies and pastries from across our fair land, first judging in the hot savoury category and then taking part in the second round to find the World Scotch Pie Champion who this year is found at The Kandy Bar in Saltcoats. A full list of winners can be found at http://www.scotchpieclub.co.uk/ as well as by following me on Twitter (@MFPTasty). As always I had a blast both on the judging days and attending the awards themselves meeting numerous individuals who make my passion for pie look paltry. I left the ceremeony thinking that there is work to be done to promote pastries at our football grounds and with that in mind I thought I would share with you the 2016 Football Pie Winners, headed by Bruce of Broch’s steak pie offering, available at both Fraserburgh in the Highland League and Fraserburgh United in the North Region Juniors. The full list is below, I’m writing this on the move so apologise it’s only in picture form:

Congratulations!
Congratulations!

Congratulations again to everyone involved. So with that covered off, without much further ado, let’s rate some pie! (Or in this case a burger!)

THE SURROUNDINGS

Where: Broadwood Stadium, Clyde 0-1 Queens Park, Scottish League Two

Disappointment awaits...
Disappointment awaits…

Now usually I’ll go through a series of ratings before summing up my feelings on the quality of pastry I have been provided with but as this is ‘not a pie’ and has some key elements like pastry missing then the following is more of a long winded monologue (for ‘long winded monologue’ read as rant) on the state of non pie based catering at Scotland’s football grounds. I have no idea where this is going to go so I’ll try not to ramble.

I have always been one to build my Saturdays around a game of football, it’s always felt wrong to sit in the pub and watch Soccer Saturday, however since I have started this little venture a new variable has been added; have I reviewed a pie there before? In the case of Clyde I had not and with the Scotch Pie Club Awards ceremony happening just around the corner the following week I smelled the opportunity for a tie in.

Imagine my disappointment then as I walked into the main stand to find the shutters down and a steward ‘helpfully’ pointing me towards the corner of the stadium in the direction of a burger van. This isn’t the first time this is happened this season and my apologies to Clyde that they are getting the ones that have unleashed my ire but going to a ground and being able to get food, but not a pie, makes me sad and a little bit angry.

Now before people start getting defensive I understand a couple of variables may have been in play in this situation:

  • It was January 2nd. A Scottish Bank Holiday. A day where the whole of Scotland sit in their pants and watch a Wallace and Gromit marathon whilst eating the remaining left over turkey and steak pie.
  • Maybe the butcher wasn’t able to provide pies that day.
  • As it is such a day of rest maybe wee Betty who runs the pie counter didn’t fancy hauling herself down to Cumbernauld to feed a bunch of folk for a fiver.

You know what? If any of the above are true then fair enough, everyone deserves a holiday. Maybe a bit of better planning would help in the future and I can almost, ALMOST accept the contingency of a burger van coming into play if the quality of the fare offered in the place of pastry is of an equivalent or higher standard. Sadly though, in this instance, and in many others, you are presented with a crunchy frozen burger heated up on a griddle and topped with a slice of limp processed cheese and some barely warmed through onions. Don’t believe me look at below:

Not a Pie.
Not a Pie.

Scotland, renowned for nurturing some of the best produce in the world, and this is what you get presented with. Then after discovering the one place where you always expect to ‘take a pie’ doesn’t provide one you are stung with the fact you have to pay more (£3!!) for the privilege to eat something that you wouldn’t look twice at it in the frozen meats section of your local supermarket.

I understand some people don’t like pies, these people are beyond help but understandably football clubs, in a bid to boost revenue streams, often provide alternatives. I don’t particularly like it but I don’t object to it. Burgers, fine. Hot Dogs, OK. Chilli, stovies, curry all easy to prepare in large quantities and warming to the soul on a cold day, I’d rather they weren’t there but they serve a purpose. All of them, all of them bar one: Chips. Sh*t chips. Really sh*t chips. Think about it, have you ever went to a game and walked out the ground thinking, ‘my, those chips were right braw!’. Football chips are an abomination and fall into one of two categories:

  1. Canteen style mass-produced tatties, usually found in larger stadiums. Available already sitting lukewarm under the heater for your tasting pleasure accompanied by sachet’s of sauce that are impossible to open because the smallest amount of grease on your fingers turn the small tear you need to pick at to get into the condiment of your choosing into some kind of water torture.
  2. Chips at smaller grounds where invariably a man stressfully fills the deep fat fryer he’s brought in from home with enough chips to serve one person at a time as an ever increasing queue populates itself with frustrated individuals unable to make their purchases until the 17 minutes required to cook these frozen beauties to just past raw perfection.

Chips! Do one.

I’ll stop here. You know my stance by now, I want pies, have your other things but I want pies. I want to protect the sanctity of a product that is so special to Scotland and ensure that at football matches in 2055 people are still letting the gravy smatter their face and the grease run down their elbow. With that in mind, and to support Scotland’s butchers and bakers I will be compiling the first ever (I think!) Scottish Football Pie Database. Telling you what pies you can get where and who can provide them. I want football clubs across the country to really champion there pies and the people who provide them. This year there were 53 pies entered in the Football Pie category, sounds grand doesn’t it, and yet there is:

  • 42 SPFL clubs
  • 18 Highland League clubs
  • 15 Lowland League clubs
  • 17 East of Scotland League clubs
  • 14 South of Scotland League clubs
  • 165 Junior clubs

Plus a plethora of amateur clubs I haven’t even mentioned, all of a sudden 53 out of 271 doesn’t sound that impressive. For the 2017 Scotch Pie Awards let’s get more involved!

Right that’s me. I’m off my soapbox and next time out I will be back with the first of two proper pie reviews from Linlithgow Rose but until next time, go forth and eat pie!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.