Manchester.

Place : The Marble Arch. Flagship pub of The Marble Brewery. Handsomely listed. Marvellously joined in matrimony with Victorian decadence. First Class range of locally sourced ale/food. Exquisitely vintage.

(73, Rochdale Rd).

Pint : Ginger Marble, 4.5% ale.

Brewer : The Marble Brewery, Manchester.

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Place : Knott Bar. From Scottish Punks to Trappist Monks. Cool. Spacious. No nonsense, welcoming vibe. Terrific range of local/craft beer, with food to match. Modern paradise for the culturally informed.

(374, Deansgate).

Pint : Highwire, 5.5% ale.

Brewer : Magic Rock Brewing, Huddersfield.

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Place : Port Street Beer House. Elegantly smart. Stylish. Sophisticated. Open. Warm. Relaxed. Monumental variety of craft beers, from all over the world. Perfect firmament for the connoisseurs.

(39-41, Port Street, Northern Quarter).

Bottle : Bosko, 6.5% ale.

Brewer : Pressure Drop Brewing, Hackney.

Spain.

Girona.

In 1899, FC Barcelona were created, fronted by Joan Gamper and they are now recognised worldwide, as one of the most prestigious clubs The Beautiful Game has ever graced.

In 1902, Catalonia welcomed another football team to its shores, in the mold of Strong Esport, before being officially founded in a café on the Rambla Norat, as Girona FC, in 1930. This was an extremely proud day for the stunning City of Girona, (one that has endured 25 sieges; captured seven times by the French), especially as the Council granted their crest to be used upon the club’s badge.

After interchanging between the Second and Third Divisions, mainly due to the Spanish Civil War, through having to let their best players go and losing their Vista Elegre stadium to heavy bombing, they still managed to stay very tightly knit, Post-War, in severely tough circumstances and finally, after many years in the wilderness, they began moving forward again, thanks to having the Estadi Montilivi built in 1970, which today, still stands; holding their 9000+ fanatical supporters, with pure honour.

The 80’s proved to be yet another rough era for the side, with major debts threatening to collapse their passionate structure and any notions of tasting elite matches were just utter fantasy.

The 90’s were no better, laced with even more monetary issues to contend with, before a man named Peter Saguer, who was previously their President in the 1967/68 season, salvaged the club; stabilising them and bringing about a much brighter and securer future, making them a regular fixture in the Segunda División, where they have featured, up till this year, from 2008.

Despite their respectably humble stance, there is an overwhelming sky of lamentation looming over their history and traditions because of what could have been, had they not been so fatefully curtailed ever since 1936, whilst their Catalan counterparts Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao et al, have gone on to experience more illustrious fortunes, in stark comparison.

Currently, their staunch followers are desperately trying hard not to get too carried away with their recent position because they sagely know not to take anything for granted, thanks to their cruel and tumultuous past but you would be hard pressed not to feel the prominent presence of an ever blooming optimism surrounding the club.

In 2013, under the purist banner of Girona Is Mine Too, the board of directors approved an increase of the club’s capital, to endorse balancing the books even further, which has gone some way to building positive results, on and off the pitch, with promising young manager Pablo Machín at the helm, providing the necessary vibes and ethos, which, as it stands, has astutely led them to the top of the table, ahead of their rivals, Barcelona’s B Team,  Llagostera and Sabadell.

Every player (bar exciting, young French talent in Florian Lejeune) in the team, is Spanish through and through, believing in promotion from within and with a fantastic blend of youth and experience, with the likes of Miguel Ángel Garrido, Pere Pons Riera, Felipe Sanchón, Francisco Sandaza and Sebastián Coris, they are determined to keep the Albirrojos flag risen high, into the rest of the season.

Long may it continue. Their adoring fans would have to be made of immovable stone to not get carried away with their start. Who can blame them?. They have waited long enough to be imbued with the faith again, that finally, this could be the year they make history, by being promoted to La Liga, for the very first time. Here is to hoping that they make that dream a reality; hoisting even more Catalan colours in Spain’s Premier Division, expeditiously.

Southampton.

Place : The Butcher’s Hook – Previously an old Butcher’s Shop; now a small, yet enormously intimate, brand new micro-pub. Gorgeously preserved. Huge chalkboard selection of beers, complimented with a decent range of ciders and wines. Outstanding.

Bottle : Holy Cow, 4.7% cranberry milk stout.

Brewer : Ilkley Brewery, Ilkley.

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Place : South Western Arms – A two tier, award winning, olde worlde pub, with a modern twist. Drenched in real pride and community spirit. Wondrous selection of ales, ciders, spirits and wines. Gloriously colourful beer garden. Breathtaking. (It’s A Pizza Thing waiting for you outside, too!)

Bottle : Delirium Tremens, 8.5% ale.

Brewer : Huyghe Brewery, Melle.

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Place : The Junction Inn – A grade II listed, 19th century pub, that has kept a lot of its beautiful, original features from that period, despite a smart makeover. Brilliant range of locally sourced ale and food, with true integrity and honest warmth. Delightful.

Pint : Flack Catcher, 4.4% ale. 

Brewer : Flack Manor Brewery, Hampshire.

France.

SC Bastia.

SC Bastia supporters can thank a Swiss man, in Hans Reuch, who taught German at a secondary school in Bastia, for the existence of their 109 year old, Corsica based club. Alongside Emile Brandizi, their inauguration began in 1905, with the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed, in the light of a solitary gas burner. Sixty years later, the team finally became professional, starting off in Division Two and within three years, they became champions of that very league.

Having being promoted, they more than held their own, automatically. In 1972 they narrowly lost to Olympique de Marseille, in the French Cup Final and four years later, reached the UEFA Cup Final, losing to Kees Rijvers’ (the Dutchman who brought through Ronald Koeman, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit, for Holland) PSV Eindhoven; highlighting the meteoric rise of Les Bleus, engineered by manager, the late, great, Frenchman Pierre Cahuzac, whose birthday it would have been today.

That memorable team contained the likes of Frenchman Charles Orlanducci (captain), star players Nicholas “Johnny” Rep (representative of the famous “Total Football” Netherlands teams, who holds the all-time Oranje World Cup goal record (7) and won back to back European Cups with Ajax) and Dragan Džajić (associate of the lauded 1968 Yugoslavia team), Frenchman Jean Francois Larios (who was once accused of sleeping with Michel Platini’s wife), Abdelkrim Merry (member of the honourable 1986 Moroccan side) and Frenchman Claude Papi (who tragically died of a ruptured aneurysm, at the age of 33); all cult classic, Panini legends.

In 1981, they reaped what they sowed, with a distinguishable victory over a St. Etienne side containing the aforementioned Platini, to lift the French Cup, with a team including Cameroon hero Roger Milla. After 18 years in the top flight, the club fell to pieces, culminating in being relegated, in 1986.

A harrowing disaster occured in their Armand Cesari stadium, in 1992, as a makeshift stand collapsed during a French Cup Semi Final game in which they were playing, against Olympique de Marseille, killing 18 and injuring 2,300.

From the mid 90’s, through to the early 00’s, they had consolidated their position in Ligue 1, before spiralling out of control, into the Amateur League, falling from grace into administration, in 2010, despite seeing the ilk of Anto Drobnjak, Lubomir Moravčík, Michael Essien, Christian Karembeu, Florian Maurice and Alex Song recruited during that period.

With the aid of promising talent such as French U21 player, Florian Thauvin (currently at Marseille) and cultured experience in the form of Toifilou Maoulida (now with Nimes), they made a very swift recovery, achieving back to back promotions, to return to Ligue 1, in 2012 and have been relatively comfortable ever since, even helping to send bitter rivals Ajaccio down in the process, last season, thanks to popular former manager Frédéric Hantz, who instilled an extremely fruitful team ethic into the squad.

This season, they have acquired France, Real Madrid and Chelsea legend Claude Makélélé, as manager, who was previously Laurent Blanc’s understudy, at Paris St. Germain, whom he has purchased promising French U-21 keeper Alphonso Areola from, to replace retired all time Ligue 1 appearance keeper, Mickaël Landreau.

Losing the exciting Wahbi Khazri to Bordeaux is very disappointing but with winger Floyd Ayité coming in from Reims, fresh talent in the form of Georgian U-21 midfielder Luka Kikabidze, from Lokomotivi Tbilisi, delightful attacking players such as Ryad Boudebouz and experienced players like former Arsenal defender Sébastien Squillaci and the versatile Romaric, they and their loyal followers are more than likely to remain content for the foreseeable future.

Whitby.

Place : Duke of York – Bedecked with flowers. Soaked in history.  Community orientated. Wonderful views.  Great list of food and drink, combined with magnificent hospitality.  Olde Worlde. Atmospheric.  Swell.
(Church Street)

Pint : Black Sheep – 4.4% ale.

Brewer : The Black Sheep Brewery, Masham.


Place : The Black Horse – One of the oldest around. Doused with history. Quality variety of food and drink, with fine service. Full of character.  Spirited.  Salt of the earth.
(Church Street)

Pint : Rhatas – 4.4% ale.

Brewer : Black Dog Brewery, Whitby.


Place : The Board Inn – Equally stacked with traditional and modern surroundings. Steeped in memorabilia. Terrific offering of food and drink, with pleasant inclusivity. Bucolic scenery. Effervescent. Charming.  
(Church Street)

Pint : Old Peculier – 5.6% ale.

Brewer : Theakston Brewery, Masham.


 

Italy.

Palermo.

“Up and down like a Swiss clock” – the preminotry words of Giuseppe Airoldi; one of Palermo’s distinguished founding members. Ever since 1900, the year they were created, their fortunes have been just that.

Fascinating, yet unpredictable. Exciting, yet tumultuous. Whenever stability makes a welcomed appearance, there is always something that threatens to or does occur, to derail the much wanted and highly needed serenity.

However, whatever happens, their passionate supporters will always display their loyalty and wear their colours with pride. Their vociferous voices will never waver. They stay strong in troubled times. Admirably, they share their highs and the lows in equal measure.

Success began to take place in 1922, as they became victorious in the Sicilian Federal Championship, to be promoted to Serie B. What is now known as the Stadio Renzo Barbera (the deceased and greatly respected chairman), was formed as the Stadio Littorio, sadly, to honour Fascism.

The name was altered again to represent Michele Marrone; a soldier who perished during the Spanish Civil War. After World War II, it was fondly known as the Stadio La Favorita, after Frederik II’s, (the Holy Roman Emperor) game preserve, up until 2002. They had four years in Serie A before being expelled in 1940, for financial issues.

The period from 1948 until 1953 saw the club have healthy longevity, accumulating a six year year stay in the top flight before flitting between A and B on a regular basis. Coppa Italia heartache heavily permeates the club, especially during the 1973/74 and the 1978/79 seasons.

Once again they were banned from the IFF, in 1986, for monetary reasons and had to start again from Serie C. They managed to reach Serie B in 1991 but again relegation beckoned, after a one year representation, although they won the Coppa Italia Serie C to soften the situation. After yet another promotion, they managed to stay consistent for four years before returning to Serie C for another three years.

Suddenly, the Rosanero were to be resurrected, transformed and revolutionised by an utterly extraordinary man from Friuli, in the form of Maurizio Zamparini. The staunchly entrepreneurial Italian came into football in 1987 and remarkably led Venezia to Serie A, within a few years of taking them over.

2002 was the year he worked his magic again and the Aquile were soaring once again, after 32 years away from top flight football. The Northwest of Sicily was in an ecstacy dream state and all associated took to the streets in absolutely joyous rapture.

The club’s fanatical followers have graciously witnessed the likes of Salvatore Sirigu, Simon Kjaer, Mattia Cassani, Edinson Cavani and Javier Pastore, elegantly crown the field of play, since he purchased the team, although it hasn’t all been Panella and Cannoli – Just ask Gennarro Gattuso.

Not long before/since Zamparini took over, there has been an incredible 32 managerial departures. He alone has sacked a bewildering 43 managers in total, since being part of the game and whilst he is deemed as a hero, he is also viewed as a footballl tyrant, in exact quantity. It’s not hard to see why.

After 9 heady years, the Pink and Black (“sweet and sad”) side were yet again relegated but being the yo-yo impersonators, they are on the brink of promotion again, having gone an amazing 17 games unbeaten, to be top of the pile, needing only a single point to clinch their desires of returning to Serie A.

Suit and baseball cap wearing Guiseppe Iachini is proving his vast worth again, having the sterling distinction of getting three previous teams promoted, in Brescia, Chievo and Sampdoria. He has infused an impressive blend of determination and style, into a team glowing with a secure range of youth and experience, including the ilk of Francesco Bolzoni, Stefano Sorrentino, Édgar Barettto, Andrea Belotti and Abel Hernández.

After an arduously fought season, they can almost taste a brighter future with his fine ambition, whilst bitter rivals Catania (how they wish Diego Simeone was still in charge) look set to be relegated, perfectly illuminating the ever changing fortunes of football.

Skipton (Voted Sunday Times’ best place to live, 2014).

Place :  The Woolly Sheep Inn – Cask Ales. World beers/wines. Escape with a book by the fire. Fabulous restaurant. Delectable beer garden. Luxury, en-suite rooms. Vintage. Modern. Magnificent.
(Sheep Street)

Pint : Landlord – 4.3% ale.

Brewer : Timothy Taylor, Keighley.


Place : The Narrow Boat – Brilliant range of independent ales/ Guest/continental/world beers. Well researched wine/spirit selection. First rate function/restaurant area. Real history. Real class. For the Connoisseurs.
(Victoria Street)

Pint : Fort Smith – 5% ale.

Brewer : Roosters Brewing Company, Knaresborough.


Place : The Castle Inn – Classic ale varieties. Decent selection of European lagers. Extensive wines/spirits options. Stupendous local produce. Terrific beer garden. Warm, welcoming, gratifying atmosphere. Historical. Traditional. Hearty. Marvellous.
(Mill Bridge)

Pint : Wainwright – 4.1% ale.

Brewer : Thwaites Brewery, Blackburn.