Say it softly for fear of insurrection; there are now no meat pies at the home games of Whitley Bay FC.
This alarming situation has come about only this season. Even when Tommy’s scran hut was gutted by fire last year, pies were still made available. Suddenly they are no more. Tommy himself is now resident in a far corner of the ground selling teas and crisps. A separate food wagon at Hillheads offers burgers and hot dogs. But no pies.
What is amiss? Heads are shaken sadly, but answers come there none. My email this week to club chairman Paul Mcilduff remains unanswered. Is this grounds for a public enquiry?
There are few delights more satisfying than the half-time choice of steak pies, mince pies, or scotch pies, liberally doused with tomato ketchup, eaten from a tinfoil container and washed down with a cardboard cup of Bovril. It is often a messy business (a pie’s natural stable mate is a knife and fork) and little dignity is involved, but no matter.
It is a moment of basic culinary culture which can sweeten an already sweet situation if the Bay are walloping Jarrow Roofing 4-0, or serve as tasty compensation if losing 0-3 to Billingham Synthonia. The cost is under three pound. Compare this to the rip-off merchants of St James Park where similar half-time sustenance would set you back more than six quid.
Plus which, being penned inside your own sealed-off area at St James affords no chance to circumnavigate the entire ground while devouring said delicacy, as is possible at Whitley Bay’s Hillheads Ground.
Walking while eating a meat pie is an under-appreciated skill. I have mastered it. Useless statistics include the fact that I can devour an entire scotch pie while walking one length of the pitch, while a steak pie requires both the length and one end before I swallow the final mouthful. I am a fast and ravenous eater and once astounded The Journal’s Tony Henderson by downing two scotch pies in rapid succession on a Hillheads visit; an unremarkable feat to me, but to him apparently one of real merit.
My sleepless nights over the pieless situation are made worse in view of my overall admiration for the club itself. In recent years Whitley Bay has won the FA Vase a record four times, its games attract bigger attendances than any other Northern League team, and its ground can boast two separate stands.
Plus which a few years back, when I went seeking charity, the club didn’t hesitate to donate a full set of football shirts to a Palestinian refugee team in Beirut.
This is all impressive stuff but tempered slightly if we walk to each home game weighed down with the knowledge that the next two hours are to be pieless.
Hillheads on a Saturday afternoon (or occasionally a weekday evening) is my junk food interlude of the week, an occasion when I entirely disregard E numbers, additives, salt and sugar content or whether the dubious list of ingredients of what I am eating includes ground-up buffalo spine or the knee joints of old hyenas.
It is no exaggeration to say that if the pieless situation continues, I can see the second halves of home games being drab, unedifying and even disastrous affairs, the crowd rendered to a mood of dumb resignation via their unsatiated taste buds.