Working on the basis that this blog covers ‘Hugh Johns’ territory then Banbury most definitely is in the Midlands.
I’ve not managed to visit Oxfordshire once in over 320 boozers so it was nice to finally break that duck with a visit to a classic pub.
To the uninitiated, Hugh Johns was THE voice of Midlands’ football in the seventies and (early eighties) as well as commentating on World Cups etc. Bear in mind this was the era when the top flight was rammed full of Midlands teams such as Derby, Nottingham Forest, Coventry, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Notts County, Leicester, West Brom, Wolves, Stoke and Oxford (late eighties).
Sunday afternoons were legendary as Star Soccer came on showing highlights of a Midlands game alongside one from the other regions with Brian Moore, John Helm or Gerald Sindstat commentating.
It was ITV’s rival to Match of The Day but was always more popular in Birmingham due to the proliferation of Midlands sides and you often got a chance to see your team play in an era before wall to wall TV recorded every minute.
Johns’ voice was fantastic and great childhood memories; here’s a random example…when Derby, who I think went on to win the top flight of English football came unstuck against Birmingham City (it was a random choice you understand)
So, on that basis alone then Oxfordshire is definitely in the Midlands and, sticking with the football theme, Banbury United are in the Southern League Premier division currently one place ahead of Coalville Town.
Anybody in the same league as Coalville must have a few decent boozers and they are also ahead of Tamworth but chasing the likes of Stourbridge, Kettering and Alvechurch (have you been to all of these Duncan?)…so you get the gist of the size of Banbury.
Anyway, an afternoon spent on the M25/M40 meant I was in need of some liquid refreshment and Banbury was as good as place as any and many sages will tell you to head towards the station for the best boozers (unless you are in Dorridge of course).
323 – Bell Inn OX16 4QJ honed into view and not only was it a classic two-roomed boozer, but it was where I learned about the pub game Aunt Sally.
First up, the barman was top class. He offered me a dimpled jug or straight glass for my excellent pint of Rebellion IPA (Marlow Brewery) although lacings don’t look as impressive in a dimpled jug!
It reminds me of the seventies though and the barman said he also “liked Bitter” which was a clue to his age as, apparently, that is being scrubbed as acceptable parlance from the pages of the
craft beer guide GBG due to being too uncool.
It has been in the GBG apparently and the reason for this is that the beer was cracking! There were about ten punters in but all of them appeared to be drinking bitter as it will henceforth be known! Sea Fury (Sharp’s) was apparently selling well and the best barman in Banbury gave me a taster just to confirm why…
(about to undergo a refurb…)
He was great value and told me that they were closing for a refurb next week and food was coming on the menu with pizzas et al arriving. I could sense that he was definitely an old school boozer kind of guy though and he was at pains to tell me that this was a real locals place and the clientele liked nothing better than a good session as opposed to food.
(dominoes in full swing…)
I am sure the refurb will be smart enough and I hope this place retains its character and its characters as there were a group of four transfixed with their game of dominoes whilst a good old boy came in to chew the fat with the barman.
Apparently they have three darts teams, two pool teams and, not in winter, they play Aunt Sally in the car park!
I had no idea what this was but the barman explained it was fairly unique to Oxfordshire and people try and knock Aunt Sally’s head (unattached to any part of her body) off a big wooden pole.
Pubs like this are genuine gems and there was a bloke in trying to sort the jukebox out, which meant there were some thumping background tunes but no one seemed too concerned.
(jukebox = very loud whilst being fixed!)
It was that kind of place. A classic two-roomed boozer where the barman shook my hand when I left and said “come back again and see us,” That is top class bar work and there was a real warmth coming from every corner of this boozer.
(old school livery)
I reckon If Hugh Johns was commentating on this place he would have moved into overdrive and most definitely have been joining me on the IPA whilst watching a rerun of Star Soccer on his i-pad.
(probably my favourite game of the eighties)
A great pub and a great debut in Oxfordshire, which is most definitely in Banbury in the Midlands