football writing

Pie 143: The Rangers “Bacon Mac & Cheese” Pie

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That’s right Bacon Mac & Cheese! I was excited, but more on that later. Welcome to Meat Filled Pastries and another instalment in this quest to search out the tastiest match day treats around. Over time I have learned to balance the consumption of pies – which aren’t actually that bad for you in moderation – with regular exercise to ensure the boy who eats pies doesn’t turn into one. I thought I was doing alright until a small child in the supermarket last week turned around to his mum, pointed at me and shouted, “Look Mummy, a fat man!”. Cheers kid…

In all seriousness though over the last couple of years I’ve ran some proper distances, completed a Kiltwalk, climbed a thing or two and generally tried to make sure that I live a little bit healthier. Luckily I have some pals who were that way inclined already which helped so when my mate suggested helping somebody out who was doing the same thing – with the added incentive of helping them to raise money for a good cause – I was more than up for joining in.

I’ll let Tony’s story speak for itself (click here) but at 62 he has set himself the target of Walking the West Highland Way whilst also climbing an Everest worth’s of munros as he goes all in aid of the Glasgow Children’s Hospital. The thing is he needs help, which is where me and my mates have come in and so next week we’ll be climbing Schiehallion along with Tony as he continues his preparations. It’s never easy to set yourself a goal like that, especially when you decide to do it on your own, so if you think you can help Tony out with either a donation or by giving him somebody to walk with then why not give him a shout. I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

You know what else I’m sure Tony would appreciate at the end of a climb? A pie. But would he fancy this Bacon Mac & Cheese offering from Ibrox? Well let’s find out?

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

Where: Ibrox, Rangers 2-0 St. Mirren, Scottish Premiership

Price: At £3.50 this was the most expensive pie on the menu, and to date, the most expensive match day pie I have ever eaten in Scotland. This was part of their “Pie of the Month” range where each month (unsurprisingly) a new and exotic pastry gets added to the menu. It’s an utter gimmick, and why it justified the price hike mystified me but it was a pie I hadn’t had before and so of course I dug deep and paid for this pastry.

Presentation: This pie was presented on a large white napkin and the pastry itself was contained in a fairly large circular tin foil case that’s diameter narrowed a little towards the bottom.

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Meatiness: Now anybody who has read a Macaroni Pie review before will know that meatiness is usually replaced by the far more convoluted CheesyPastainess but given that this was a BACON Mac & Cheese Pie I’m comfortable that normal rules should apply. What I was not comfortable with though was how bereft of bacon this pastry was. Yes there was the odd, and I mean odd, fleck of pinky-brown in amongst the cheese sauce but if you’re charging me £3.50 for a motherporkin’ pie you better have a higher quantity of bacon than what was on offer here. The meat that was there did provide a subtle smoky taste to proceedings and the macaroni cheese itself was fairly decent boosted by the rather unattractive looking layer of not quite fully melted cheese on top but to call this a BACON Mac & Cheese Pie and have such of a paucity of swine within is near criminal. See picture below.

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Pastry: Along with the part melted cheesy top the pastry also made for a fairly unappetising sight. It was near white in colour and didn’t wrap itself snugly round the filling like a good case should but to its credit it was just about cooked enough to support the filling even if it’s contribution to the overall taste of this pie was negligible.

Brown Sauce: No brown sauce here as technically this is a luxury pie but after a couple of bites to get a pure taste from it I added a squirt of tomato ketchup for an added spike of flavour.

Overall: I’ve gone in hard on this because it was three blinking fifty but if it was the price of a normal macaroni pie without the audacity to call it a Bacon Mac & Cheese Pie then it would be just about passable, not good, passable.

Gravy Factor: Not Bacon Gravy. Bacon Scented Gravy.

The search for a big ground pie that justifies it’s price tag in Scotland continues. I haven’t got anything in plan as I enter the sticky part of the season where the mid-week fixtures start to dry up and so we may be in for a spell of pie differentiation but what that actually looks like we’ll have to wait and see.

However 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 as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. He currently acts as Heart & Hand Podcast’s resident Iberian football expert. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ and part-time Madrileno with a passion for food and football that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

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Pie 142: The Troon Steak Pie

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It’s pie time baby! Welcome to Meat Filled Pastries where once again I continue to get elbow deep in my search of the sweetest symphonies of meat and pastry the Scottish football world can offer. But first…

I’ve knowingly followed football for over 25 years. In that time social media and the way that fans interact with their clubs, players and fellow terrace dwellers has changed to an almost unrecognisable level. Whilst big clubs have had the “benefit” of national media coverage football down the leagues often relied on the support of the local paper, word of mouth or the odd post match conversation over a pint or two. Nowadays though clubs of all levels are in the search for greater reach latching onto anything that makes them stand out from the crowd and searching for ways to attract new followers at a time when the telly seems to rule all. Whilst Social Media Officers at “big” teams can themselves alone attract thousands of followers at the lower levels there is no media team. No budget for high-definition graphics and elaborate signing videos and in some cases no real expertise of any note to call upon, but you know what? The content still comes. The goal flashes, the signing news, the websites, the match day posters, the new logos it’s all there to see. All keeping people informed whilst maintaining thier clubs relevance in an ever smaller world. This work can sometimes be even better than those that earn a living from it and it should be commended. Whether it be keen fans who volunteer, students looking to hone their media craft or inwhatever form that the content is produced it’s it’s fair to say that the profile of these clubs would just not be the same.

It cheers me even more to see that in recent times clubs – with the budgets to do so – are now recognising these individuals with paid full-time opportunities. Most recently this was demonstrated at Dunfermline Athletic where long time Club Photographer Craig Brown has been rewarded with a permament contract to act as the club’s Media & PR Officer. Even more famously Alan Burrows has seen his role on a Saturday at Fir Park change from punter to Chief Executive a fanciful thought during the SPL years. Recognition is often hard to come by when the time spent goes unseen so I wanted to take this chance to say thank you to all those folk who make trying to understand what’s going on in the strange little world that is Scottish football just that bit easier.

I’d like to think that my pie reviews help to promote those clubs a little too and I always make sure to give a shout out to the teams I visit when spreading the good word. So let’s get to it, without much further ado, let’s rate some pie.

Where: Portland Park, Troon 1-1 Pollok, West Premiership

 

Price: At £2 my initial reaction was to say that this pie, even for a luxury offering, was expensively priced as a junior pastry but then it was presented to me and the volume of pie you got against the amount you had to spend had me thinking that this was a bit of a bargain.

Presentation: Has there been a special sale on coloured napkins this pre-season that I don’t know about? For the third review in a row my pie was presented on something other than a white coloured napkin. This time blue, in keeping with the home team colours. Good size for holding the pastry which on this occasion was housed inside a tinfoil case.

Meatiness: Jesus this was meaty. It was dense with meat and more than one chunk took a couple of bites to get through. This was the good stuff. The meat tearing forgivingly as I ate. There was also an ocean of well seasoned and highly flavoured gravy, wrapping itself lovingly around the mini steaks with its viscosity allowing it to kiss the sides and gently flow out its pastry tomb ready to awaken your tastebuds. There was the presence of pepper throughout each bite. Not a semi-acrid burn that can sometimes build whilst eating a scotch pie but a consistent, almost sweet, tingle that just added to the total flavour profile. This was good.

Pastry: The good news continued with the pastry. Although it was a little soft, no doubt as a result of the ample treasure it was concealing, there was no sticking to the tin foil case and falling apart as I lifted it. It was a lovely golden brown colour and although the top layer puff pastry disc was a little off centre this still felt like one of the neatest pies I’d seen in a long time.

Brown Sauce: I think it would have been near blasphemy to put a condiment on this bad boy.

Overall: Generous filling and size. Tasty meat, unctuous gravy, golden pastry. Belter of a pie!

Gravy Factor: Give me another ladle full.

An absolute triumph of a pie from Portland Park. I’ve not had one that good in a long time and I would recommend a trip to Troon just to eat it. Will the streak continue next time out with the intriguing sounding Bacon Mac & Cheese Pie from Ibrox?

Until then, 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 as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. He currently acts as Heart & Hand Podcast’s resident Iberian football expert. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ and part-time Madrileno with a passion for food and football that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

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.