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The Match Day Ritual
The Food of Football Stadiums ─ Killie Pies, Balti Pies, Macaroni Pies, Clayton's Pies and many more pies
Good morning and welcome to Vittles Season 4: Hyper-Regionalism.
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The germ of this idea came to me while sitting in Maureen’s, the pie and mash shop in Chrisp Street Market, looking at old pictures of West Ham’s FA Cup success on its walls. Maureen’s had once been a ‘West Ham’ pie shop, where east Londoners would have stopped off in the morning or early afternoon for a double pie and mash, buttressing their stomachs before the short trip to Upton Park to support what would have been their local team. While talking to Lorraine at Ivy’s round the corner, with photographer Sam Ashton, she related to us how this match day ritual had mutated. Now, with a change of stadium and with the old West Ham support moving eastwards, both Maureen’s and Ivy’s had become a ritual of nostalgia, a whole London day out whose purpose was to access something from their childhood, whether it be the ecstasy of a goal, or the correct texture of parsley and eel liquor.
Food and football, it seems, are closely entwined. If you support a team, I’m sure you have your own food-based match day ritual, one which has been denied to you for the last 18 months. It might be your favourite takeaway near the stadium, or an opportunist stall that pops up and disappears every other weekend, or it might even be food in the stadium itself. Each ritual reflects both personal and communal histories, sometimes passed down from father to child, or sometimes rituals created from scratch. And as you’ll see in today’s newsletter, despite once local fans scattered like a diaspora, despite the invention of half and half scarfs, and even despite the homogenous world of Pukka, there is still nothing more hyper-regional, nothing that speaks more to a sense of place, to a community, than a well constructed pie.
The Food of Football Stadiums
Rugby Park, Victoria Park ─ Killie Pie, Haggis Pie, by Calum Gordon
‘Say aye to a Killie pie’ is a familiar phrase to anyone with a cursory knowledge of Scottish football. Visit Rugby Park in Ayrshire, home to Kilmarnock FC, and you’ll see the tagline on advertising hoardings dotted around the ground. Of all the food served at Scottish stadiums and rickety old terraces up and down the country, the Killie pie is the most famous despite it being a perfectly passable but unremarkable steak and gravy pie with a puffy little lid of pastry on top. Its popularity owes as much to its name and tagline than it does to its actual quality, although its creator, Brownings the Bakers, has been embroiled in an incredible trademark dispute with the club to rename it a ‘Kilmarnock pie’, giving it the veneer of regional protected status.
The popularity of the Killie pie is a testament to the dearth of good food on offer at other Scottish grounds. I first realised this when I was seven or right, when I found myself two fingers deep in lukewarm mince of indeterminate origin on a frigid afternoon at Celtic Park. My scotch pie, which should have been encased within a robust pastry allowing it to be easily held, consumed – or, theoretically, thrown at an opposition player – had melded to its tinfoil casing. Yet there is one pie sold at Scottish stadiums which is actually good: Ross County’s haggis pie. Elegance is not a trait you’d typically associate with Scottish football, never mind its stadium food but, relatively speaking, this is an elegant pie. Filled with haggis, it is topped with a swirl of tatties and an even smaller swirl of neeps presumably applied with a piping bag, which not only looks impressive but offers the perfect proportions of spiced meat, buttery mash and earthy turnip. There is no acidic counterpoint, it is pure meat umami encased in carbohydrate. This is not an arena for subtle interplay – you want the taste equivalent of two big lads up top and Rory Delap chucking it in the mixer from a long throw.
Why is this pie slept on while the Kilmarnock pie enjoys its ill-deserved adulation from visiting fans? Here’s my theory: Ross County is one of the northernmost grounds in Scotland and most supporters making their way up on buses – often setting off at 7 or 8am – will be absolutely leathered by the time they’re there. This is a ritual that begins the night before: buying your cans to ensure they’re chilled, maybe a half or full bottle of Buckfast too – depending on how battle-hardened you are.
You set off in the wee hours, passing through towns that are still sleepy at that time on a Saturday. Those moments are some of the best: the feeling of a life being lived while others are still in their beds; the bus windows being appropriated by keen percussionists on board; a sense of directionless rebellion and bravado which ramps up with every mile you get closer to the ground. By the time you arrive, no one is thinking about eating. No one is stopping to consider that this pie is actually a fairly interesting twist on a classic. No one cares how well-executed or elegant this pie is, or how good it tastes. No one even remembers.
Pittodrie Stadium ─ Macaroni Pie, by Richard Scott
At Pittodrie Stadium, I always order the baked macaroni pie and truly enjoy it maybe one trip out of four. It’s a real gamble on whether it’ll be soft and comforting or burnt-to-fuck. Given that no-one ever complains about the varying quality control, this is unlikely to ever change.
Still, a macaroni pie is intrinsically good – preferably deep-fried, but baked is broadly fine. It only really becomes awful when it’s interfered with – the introduction of fancy cheese (and by fancy, I mean parmesan), a bullshit slice of tomato on top, chives. There should be a stoic practicality about a macaroni pie; it’s a pasta dish you can eat without cutlery, and without fuss. As an Aberdeen fan born after the Fergie era, the lack of fanfare in the pie feels almost empathetic.
There are factors outside of nostalgia, familiarity and routine when it comes to the kiosk offer at Pittodrie, and across Scotland to varying degrees. There’s the weather: Aberdeen Football Club is located a few hundred yards inshore from the North Sea. This means there is a more practical function to the pie. It’s a perfect foil to the elements, food-as-fuel, the high fat content from the pasta, butter and cheese providing exactly what I need to kid myself that I’m not waking up with a cold the next day.
The other big factor in food culture at Aberdeen, and across Scotland, is the absence of booze for all apart from those in corporate hospitality (of course). The consumption of alcohol has been banned from stadiums in Scotland since a 1980 riot between Celtic and the now-defunct Rangers (of course), with said ban being rescinded only at rugby games (of course). If there’s one thing Scotland and England share when it comes to football culture, it’s the continuing classism forced upon it by Westminster and Hollyrood. Alcohol gets consumed in greater volumes pre-match and, as a result, the kiosk food is simply a carb-intensive tool to sober up or to line the stomach for the inevitably heavier post-match drinking, given its absence for the previous two hours.
It’s a time of change at Aberdeen Football Club, with a new chairman bringing an MLS-inspired fan engagement model which will undoubtedly find its way into the kiosk offers. Rumblings of street-foodpop-ups on matchday bring obvious concern, but there’s equally loud talk of finally introducing the buttery/rowie (delete as hyper-regionally appropriate) to Pittodrie. A cross between a bread roll and a croissant, its origins lie in North Sea fishing – it provided a cheap high-fat food for those out at sea for long durations. It’ll be a great addition: there’d of course be the romanticism of eating a buttery on a cold winter matchday and looking out to sea, imagining my ancestors eating the same, enduring hardship I can absolutely identify with, as I watch us get beat by Ross County. Weirdly, it’s often a gamble on whether butteries arrive burnt-as-fuck, too.
Spotland Stadium ─ Clayton’s Pies, by Hugh Morris
There’s a tight style guide used whenever Rochdale AFC wants to celebrate something. ‘Local’, ‘home-grown’, ‘rough around the edges’ but with ‘bags of potential’, and, most importantly, ‘ours’; these describe our pitch (which survives Rochdale’s stormiest weather), our celebrated academy products or even our matchday DJ. It probably fits best, though, when talking about our pies.
Hilton’s Pies are the stuff of legend. Like his near-adversary Ron Chalker: The Potato Man, Lancaster pilot-turned pastry supremo Len Hilton was Rochdale’s Pie Man, baking matchday batches in his Norden Bakery. He earned a reputation as the best in the Football League, at a time when his team were among the worst.
Today, Clayton’s over in Accrington have usurped the contract for pie supply. The meat pies are refreshingly unspecific and hotter than the sun: a half-time handwarmer and four o’clock insurance for whatever happens after the final whistle. Kiosk attendants spike infinitesimal blue plastic forks into the lid, preventing you from eating your pie all at once and mocking you for entertaining the idea in the first place. From the tenth minute of half-time to the sixtieth minute of the match, fans hack away at the meaty puzzle in front of them. Most give up; pie holders are discarded with foil-pastry defences unbreeched, middles mined for meat.
Pies are small fry for most football clubs – the irony of Pukka Pies’ ‘don’t compromise’ slogan is that many buy in their pies from the company’s Leicestershire base. But for Rochdale, pies and pitches become Points of Town Pride. Both Rochdale the club and Rochdale the town deal in symbols (“Crede Signo” is the club motto); McDonald’s exiting the town a decade ago was one of them. All symbolic talk, however, is flattened by very real headlines that have shattered the identity of a town where heavy industry and mass employment moved out long ago.
And the pies themselves? “Ridiculously overpriced and almost tasteless,” says one messageboard contributor. Another recites an anti-Clayton Don McLean parody, in full. Another says he’s still a regular at Hilton’s of Norden. “The pies haven’t changed since the seventies,” he says. That, in his book, is a good thing.
Maine Road (Main Stand) ─ Matzo Sandwiches, by Aaron Vallance
Like Maine Road’s four heterogenous stands, North Manchester's Jewish community comprises all sorts of groupings and affiliations: Ashkenazi and Sephardi; Orthodox and Reform; observant and secular; Prestwich south of the orbital M60 and Whitefield north. But, as Mancunians, there’s still another mast we’re obliged to nail our colours to – and mine was firmly blue.
It wasn’t easy following Manchester City in the 1980s: the club were perennial underdogs to the superstars across town, something United-supporting classmates would mercilessly rib us over.
It was harder still being a fan and growing up in an observant Orthodox family: matches invariably fell on Saturday afternoons – the Jewish Sabbath – so rather than waltzing off to the terraces, I’d make do with my ear glued to Piccadilly Radio, playing shove ha'penny with a packet of Fruit Gums, desperately hoping I could affect the game through some kind of confectionary voodoo.
So when it came to actually visiting Maine Road’s hallowed turf in Moss Side, just south of the city centre - a once-yearly pilgrimage with my dad on Easter Mondays – it was a truly special event.
As Easter usually coincides with Passover, religious dietary restrictions meant we’d bring along our own festive foods: matzo sandwiches, fried gefilte fish, hard-boiled eggs and traditional almond-based cakes and biscuits.
Since Manchester’s Jewish community is the second largest in the UK, there’d inevitably be a smattering of other matzo-snackers in the Main Stand, glaringly conspicuous by their similar juggling of coconut pyramids and kamishbrot. Or perhaps tucking into kosher-for-Passover chocolate with names that evoked Mittel-Europe: Krachnuss, Schmerling’s and Rosemarie. Or cradling bags of luridly orange sweets that broke into multitudinous tooth-crunching shards (one friend would only treat himself whenever City scored - admittedly a rather risky strategy!)
If I was ever self-conscious of such dietary divisions, this would dissipate as soon as the game picked up…
…Paul Lake’s crossed the ball from the wing, the crowd rises as one, Niall Quinn’s towering header thumps it into the top corner…
‘GOAL!!!’' we’d all cry, arms thrown up in collective abandon, chips and macaroons rolling off chairs onto the concrete floor.
Years later, I still associate football matches with Passover food. Although religion no longer restricts my attendance, I still have an urge to bring along my own sizable spread. Except these days City play at the Etihad. And with the team finally doing a bit better, it’s even harder to stop the snacks from rolling off my lap.
Maine Road (Platt Lane Stand) ─ Various Pies, by Craig Ballinger
Maine Road was in Moss Side so there should’ve been a jerk chicken stand inside, a curry house in each corner. Local cuisine, however, was represented in the pies from Lancashire’s own Holland’s, including the legendary chicken balti. My order was a meat and potato, always served sarcastically hot; like hot chocolate and oven pizza, burning your mouth was an integral part of the experience.
You learn technique when eating a pie – a bit of brown sauce on the top as a coolant and then dig in from the top with a fork, eating the delicious inner gruel. The best bit, the doughy bottom, can be eaten in slices like pizza, leaving the crunchy/chewy pie rim that’s been magnificently dehydrated by the pie warmer. Half time is short, especially when you’ve had to queue and jostle in the narrow corridors of Maine Road, so some just shovelled it in, before their hands were needed for accusations and celebrations.
Maine Road underwent uneven development over the years, reflecting City’s mixed fortunes. Shifting between stands was like moving through the city, pockets of difference in culture, cuisine, population. I mainly sat in the Platt Lane Stand. Half-time food relied on my dad being willing – usually complaining that ‘they never have any Bovril in this end’. Each stand had shifting menus and stock levels. If you wanted a chicken balti pie you needed to be in the rowdy North Stand. The Main Stand, which housed the offices and changing rooms, was a single tier pushing all the way back until you’re just in a cloud of smoke with bookies and flat-capped old boys: the kind of place you could definitely get Bovril.
Across the way stood the mighty Kippax, originally an all-standing raucous place that was ‘upgraded’ in the ’90s in an act of financial optimism before the temporary demise of the club. Over there, the old terraces with their swaying shoulder-to-shoulder fans had been replaced with luxury – three tiers and private boxes with hospitality facilities and safety measures; people sitting down to three courses rather than standing and getting pissed on. Kind of place you’d get something fancy, futuristic, American – like a hot dog.
To compensate for the lost capacity of the terraces, the corner was filled with a small tier of temporary, uncovered seats. Typical of the Mancunian wit, this was named the Gene Kelly Stand:
‘Why do they call it that, dad?’
‘Singin’ in the rain.’
There you went to the burger vans inside the perimeter wall, where the air was caramelised with onions and you watched the frozen burger land on the grill, the greaseproof paper sheet being peeled away whilst the steam rose and the sizzling started.
Now ‘home’, the City of Manchester Stadium, is a characterless hoop, corridors of painted breezeblock and branded signage. There’s something to be said for the new location, which allows city-centre drinking before you walk casually to the stadium, but I’ll always miss cutting down dog-shit alley in the rain to see Maine Road emerge behind the red brick terraces, all of its little worlds offering another narrative layer to a densely storied couple of hours.
Anfield ─ Chinese Chippy Tea, by Joanna Luck
It’s matchday. All round the fields of Anfield Road, where once we watched the King Kenny play, you’d kick off the day and calm pre-match nerves with pints in the Twelfth Man or the Arkles. Swept along by the booming camaraderie of choruses, you’d march towards the Shankly gates and ward off preliminary hunger with a concourse pie and pint at half-time, before ending the day with a kebab or Chinese.
These rituals are second nature to any Liverpool fan, but not to me. I’ve never been to a match, yet I have my own matchday ritual. A generation of my family ran hybrid chip-shop Chinese takeaways across the UK for economic survival. My mother’s was in Sheffield, but it was our cousin’s Liverpool chippy in the shadow of Anfield that stood out for its busyness and for the strong scouser affinity with Chinese food. Growing up with curious looks and insulting questions about where you’re from, you often feel a sense of otherness – but when you entered the shop it momentarily disappeared, as if you, in this tiny kitchen behind the counter with your apron shield on, now held the power, in between the customers and their beloved Chinese chippy tea.
As a child I resented that it was always too busy for anyone to play with me in the potato peeling room, but in my mid-teens, desperate to fund summer festivals, I accepted my cousin’s plea to work on matchdays when they would get overwhelmed with customers. I’ve never felt such strong second-hand emotions. Losing? You’d see the fans leaving early, literally running away. We’d steel ourselves to serve our sullen guests, offering commiserations. Winning? The shop would fall silent bar the electric hum emanating from the stadium – the calm before the storm. Either way, there would be wave after wave of hungry fans filling up every crevice of our shop floor. I won’t dwell on the unpleasant customers, but I loved the friendly regulars, who showed genuine interest in the non-anglicised Chinese dishes and gave us their pre- and post-match intel.
From the other side of the counter, I could clearly see the joy of the food. It softened the losses and made the wins more joyous. The undisputed favourite scran was the sausage or pie dinners: a rectangular polystyrene tray lined with twice-fried chips, topped with your choice of three sausages or a Holland’s pie and doused with either a healthy dollop of mushy peas or a ladle of gravy. Homemade curry with chips or rice was a dijon-coloured sloppy affair, its popularity slightly brow-raising to our family. Then there was salt and pepper. Salt and pepper chicken nuggets? Salt and pepper spring rolls? Salt and pepper siu mei? I had no idea of the origins of these untraditional salt and pepper dishes, but it didn’t matter. Give the people what they want!
Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties, the shop has since closed. However, my cousins tell me that the scouse demand for Chinese takeaways has only shot up during lockdowns… they’ve even been headhunted by their past competitors! Reminiscing on the stress of the glory days I’m glad they’re choosing a well-deserved rest before they strap their aprons back on for when the Redmen return (still playing the same way).
Villa Park ─ Chicken Balti Pie, by James Rhys
There was no fanfare at Villa Park for their arrival ahead of the 1997/98 season. Then again, no one could possibly have foreseen the impact the new signing would have: a 20+ year tenure in B6, ensuring their place amongst a legendary list of icons. Like Ian Taylor, Gabby Agbonlahor and Super Jack Grealish, this local hero has brought joy and comfort to the Villa faithful on many a matchday. They were there during the unbridled elation of promotion, as well as the heartbreak of relegation. They were with us when we cried as Stiliyan Petrov, in the midst of a leukaemia battle, waved us farewell and, again, when we cried as he made his briefest of comebacks. They were with us during the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, comforting us in their warm and gently spiced embrace.
I am, of course, talking about the chicken balti pie.
The balti pie was the invention of Warwickshire pie peddlers Shire Foods; it collided Birmingham’s hyper-regional Pakistani balti culture with the broader culture of putting things in pies. It was made initially for the terraces of Villa Park and Walsall’s Bescot Stadium, although it has since become a staple at stadiums across the country, cementing its cult status.
At the grounds I attended while working in football back home in Wales, the eating options were a normal pie and chips and cup of Bovril affair you could get anywhere. Yet, despite its ubiquity, the balti pie remains a distinctly Midlands entity; a microcosm of the region’s ethnic diversity, of the Second City, of Aston Villa and its fanbase, all encased in golden, flaky pastry. When it’s been imitated, the results fall flat. Even national treasure and world-renowned seafood slaughterer Captain Birdseye got in on the act, unleashing a pale imitation on frozen food aisles. Perhaps tucking into something so intrinsically linked with a matchday in a shoddy student house in Cheltenham tarnished the experience somewhat, but it had somehow managed to freeze all the flavour and fire out of a balti, replacing it with a textural nightmare of dry chicken and limp vegetables.
It’s been a while since I’ve been close to Villa Park’s hallowed turf. A move to Scotland and an inconvenient global pandemic have kept me away for far too long. But when I close my eyes, I’m back in the Holte End. Clad in claret and blue, with balti pie in hand, singing my heart out alongside 13,500 other Villans.
“Yippee aye ay, yippee aye ohhhhh…” Pride of the Midlands, you know what you are.
White Hart Lane ─ The “Kosher” Option, by Ben Barskey
In 1882, Bobby Buckle and a group of schoolboys formed the Hotspur Cricket Club in Tottenham, North London; by 1884, they’d upped and changed sport, and renamed it Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
Around the same time, another change was happening in the same area of North London; Jews from Stepney in London’s squalid East End were moving to Stamford Hill and neighbouring Tottenham. Today, Stamford Hill is now home to the largest Ultra-Orthodox, Hasidic community in Europe.
Yet despite being near-neighbours, and even as Tottenham slowly became the football team associated with London Jews, the two worlds of Tottenham seldom meet. The glamorous Premier League football team and the insular Hasidic community could not be further from the other, even if they’re just a mile down the road. For many, playing football is discouraged, following football is frowned upon and visiting a stadium is forbidden. What is acceptable, apparently, is corporate entertainment. You aren’t with the fans and it’s technically work (like all religious rules, this makes sense if you want it to). This is how I, a very unorthodox Jew, came to spend a Sunday afternoon in a law firm’s private box with ten or so Hasidic Jews enjoying their first taste of a football match.
Entertainment at sporting venues was, until recently, an awful experience. Think Sunday lunch at a budget country house hotel. All white table cloths, chunky cutlery, poorly trained staff and food that had been cooked hours, if not days, earlier. My normal matchday lunch would be a salmon bagel in the West Stand or, more likely, Chick King. But out of solidarity with the guests, this time it would be aeroplane-style kosher meals, double wrapped in thick plastic to stay kosher in the microwave and eaten with flimsy plastic cutlery. Snacks and beer were off-menu, so unless Spurs put on a show, the highlight for the law firm’s guests would be lunch.
The first half was particularly awful, really crushingly Spurs-bad. I could sense some real disappointment amongst the others in the box, and second-hand embarrassment from those that had invited them. They needn’t have worried, the catering team at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club were going to provide the drama.
The half ended and everyone milled around waiting impatiently for the food to arrive. We could hear the catering staff knocking on the other doors and dropping lunch off. Ours was obviously taking longer because it was kosher and, I assumed, had to be prepared separately.
Finally, the knock: in came about five people with a large trolley covered in a white tablecloth. Clearly the club had made an effort. Diet Coke was offered and poured; snacks were politely declined. Everyone was hungry and just wanted their meal.
The beauty of silver service is that until the cloche has been lifted you never quite know what’s underneath. In this case it was a large, steaming hot joint of roast pork, enough to feed twelve. It was served with a side of chips and a huge amount of embarrassment. The food left very quickly, as did all the other guests.
I watched the second half on my own as the two worlds of Tottenham parted once again.
The Emirates ─ Thierry Henry Statue Liang Pi, by Anna Tobias
There are two constants in my life: food and Arsenal. Both have been a source of joy and disappointment. While the lows can be equally low, the highs from a goal can far exceed the highs from a delicious mouthful of food. A perfect devilled egg won’t make me jump up and hug the stranger next to me.
The two have sometimes coalesced in unexpected ways. In my early days of going to the Emirates, food played a breakthrough moment. When you arrive at a match on your own as a woman, the atmosphere can be slightly awkward. The men around you don’t quite know how to deal with you. They don’t feel they can give you the classic slap on the shoulder greeting that they can to other men. So, to begin with I felt like a bit of a sore thumb. On my first few visits, the man sitting next to me didn’t offer me a sweet when he was handing them out and one time, when we scored, he high-fived over my head to my neighbour on the other side. Talk about rejection!
It took me a few weeks to be offered a fruit pastille, but when it happened, I thought “Yes, I’ve been accepted!” The offering of a sweet thing at a match is one of the gentler and more touching sides to being fans together – my old neighbour, Ben, who used to bring fruit pastilles has been replaced by Stephen, who brings satsumas and always offers me a few wedges. His cousins, who occasionally come in his place, will bring milk sweets. I sometimes bring biscuits I’ve baked from work. Now, when I arrive, I get a kiss on the cheek as I come down the row from my neighbours – preferable to a slap on the shoulder, I think.
Because I go to watch Arsenal on my own, for a long time I had no pre- or post-match ritual. However, in the last few years, I have taken to meeting a good friend (who sits in a different part of the stadium) for a plate of noodles at X’ian Impression, which is conveniently located at the foot of the stadium. Always the liang pi and then I switch it up with the other hand-pulled noodles depending on mood. Unfortunately for me, people have now cottoned on to how fantastic it is, so the queue is often too long for a pre-match meal. So now our ritual is to take them away and sit on a damp slab of concrete under the Thierry Henry statue before the match.
The matchday rituals are developing for me – sweets and noodles, post-mortem beer and crisps at The Lamb. On rare occasions, rushing from a kitchen shift to the stadium, I have even eaten an Emirates pie (and they’re pretty good!). Food and drink play a part in facilitating relationships and provide a space for you to share and intensify those feelings that make being a fan so special: joy, awe, despair, rage, resignation (it’s been a bad few years for Arsenal) and perhaps one of the most important: schadenfreude. The utter jubilation at seeing a rival suffer is surely one of the most enjoyable parts of being a fan! All the sweeter when washed down with a packet of Twiglets and a half-pint.
The London Away Day, by Sam Parry
The 'greasy chip butty' song is belted out by Sheffield United supporters before each home game, observing the historical matchday traditions involved in watching The Blades (the club’s nickname and also the name for fans). The song evokes a sense of home and pride. It frames fandom within a symphony of football, carbs, butter, salt and beer:
You fill up my senses,
Like a gallon of Magnet,
Like a packet of Woodbines,
Like a good pinch of snuff,
Like a night out in Sheffield,
Like a greasy chip butty,
Like Sheffield United,
Come thrill me again.
Home and away are two sides of the same coin: familiar home rituals are renewed in different ways when you follow your team around the country. Over the last few years of competitive vacillation, the Blades have played every single one of London’s football league clubs – from Arsenal to Millwall. For reasons of convenience and greed, I've aimed to eat nearby or on my way to every single one. These away days add up to an irresistible combination of football and travel – frissons of elation, dejection and longing for home. Hunger inserts itself into this equation like parentheses, making the search for food as memorable as goals scored.
Before Fulham, a baffled maitre d’ watched a group of Blades down dregs of lager before stepping foot into Claude Bosi’s Oyster Bar, demanding rocks and glasses of something dry, white and second cheapest. Before QPR away, I recall a chance meeting with Lahori, a Pakistani restaurant serving mounds of countertop curry in brilliant white moons of fresh naan. After Arsenal (and an implausibly airy and surprisingly insubstantial pizza fritti from Radici in Islington) I sought the steady abundance of grilled meat. With relish, friends and beers, I strolled in the direction of Green Lanes for a kebab from Yildiz, where smoke from the charcoal and cigarettes was thick enough to put a Dickensian fog to shame.
Negotiating new places and spaces is best experienced when you can follow your team to nearby rivals, like Millwall and Palace. The village-like Crystal Palace has its staples: timeless meat-heavy eats where quantity outplays quality (go to Dem, order a mixed grill). The New Den sits amid a kinetic mix of A-roads, brownfield and everything else. The Millwall Café, with its non-northerner-friendly gravy, is immovable, but I’ve gone west and east and struck on excellent Vietnamese noodle soups – Mama Pho in Deptford and Pho Tuy Tay on Old Kent Road. Pre-game, I’ve been north to the stalls of Maltby Street market and Bermondsey’s Beer Mile. Post-game, I’ve headed south to Skehan’s, an Irish pub serving Thai snacks, lobbed together pad thais and the obligatory Guinness. All taste poorer for a loss; better for a win.
The London away day is the perfect inversion of being a home fan. That’s the lesson here. Tradition, superstition and small rituals – the local pub, the lucky route to the ground, the favourite kebab – all surrender to something uncanny, contradictory and delicious. Eating is more than an adjunct to football, it’s part of the feel for fandom that gets in where water can’t. It fills up your senses.
Calum Gordon is a Berlin-based fashion and culture writer.His work has appeared in Dazed, 032c, SSENSE and Kaleidoscope
Richard Scott is from Aberdeenshire and has lived in London, working in food, since 2012. He's currently collecting Little Chef ephemera, and can be contacted via Instagram (@richardfscott)
Hugh Morris is a freelance writer and musician based in Manchester. His work has featured in Jazzwise, Huck, The Big Issue, Private Eye, Tribune and elsewhere.
Aaron Vallance is an NHS doctor and a food writer - his blog is 1 Dish 4 The Road https://www.1dish4theroad.com/
Craig Ballinger is a gobshite from Manchester
Joanna Luck is based in North London and working in climate change policy. You can find her analogue photos @joannaluckphotos
Ben Barskey is a writer based in Golders Green.
Anna Tobias is the chef and owner of Café Deco, Bloomsbury.
Sam Parry is postgraduate Children's Literature student and editor of Sheffield United fanzine, DEM Blades. He posts about sandwiches and picturebooks on Instagram @sam___parry and about football on Twitter @sam__joseph.