Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Pass the salt please

I do like my salt. On chips. Crisps. Anchovies. Bovril. Bacon...crispy, salty bacon. Superb.

The bacon rolls at Cambridge United are famous. I'm looking forward to trying them out on Saturday, I've heard so much about them. I wonder if they sell Bovril as well? That would be too much too ask for...

One of my earliest memories as a child was of Bovril served with salt under the main stand at Maine Road, the then home of Manchester City. My father used to take me to the games, and although I always looked forward to the football, the big crowds and the great atmosphere, the thing I remember most about those visits in my youth was the cup of Bovril before the match.

It was almost a ritual.

I would squeeze under the turnstiles hanging on to my dad's coat tails, the turnstiles that were right there on the street opposite the two-up, two-down, terraced houses. Turnstiles that the locals could almost touch from their front doors. Once inside, I would follow down into the half-light of the voids below the stands, all concrete, metal supports and stairs leading off and up and to somewhere else. Down into a totally different world, a cavernous world that would be packed with expectant, excited supporters. For a six year old boy, it was a world of wonder and excitement. Through gaps in the stand you could glimpse a little of the pitch bathed in sunlight and the noise of the building crowd would roll in on the cold air and bounce off the walls. A promise of the excitement awaiting to unfold.

But first there was the pre-match ritual. A mass of blue and white scarves, flat caps and buttoned up overcoats, I remember it as always being cold on match days. But down here, the warmth was comforting. The warmth generated by the bodies. The steam from chattering breaths. And the heat from the small food hatches. We, like everyone else down here, would be drawn to the the light and the hot smells tumbling out of these rectangular holes. We would immediately head for one of them and huddle round, a sea of legs. I would watch as my dad ordered cups of boiling hot Bovril for him and his friends and then sip on them carefully as they flicked through the programme or discussed the skills of Summerbee, Bell or Tuart. I was in awe.

And I remember the first time my dad bought a Bovril for me as if it was only yesterday. It tasted disgusting. But this was a seminal moment for me. It meant that I belonged. More than that, I had arrived. I was one of the crowd. I was a real football fan. The serving hatch would have a number of glass salt pots on the counter, and part of the Bovril ritual would be to sprinkle some salt into the black stuff. Barely tall enough to see the top of the counter, my dad did this for me that first time. No question whether I wanted it or not. It came with the territory. I drank it all.

Now, I love the stuff. Bovril and salt. You can't beat it. I'm convinced that my taste for salt began there, in the bowels of Maine Road, as an awe-struck six year old boy. I know it's bad for you, but it is one of life's pleasures I refuse to give up on. Probably the only one, come to think of it.

But back to Cambridge United. I have been reminded by several people about Cambridge United and their bacon rolls. I recall that Colman's (of mustard fame) did a survey of the food served up at all ninety two football league grounds, and Cambridge United came out top of the pile. Their bacon rolls received special mention. What surprises me most was that this survey was done back in 1998, almost ten years ago. And the Cambridge club are still proud of this recognition; their bread with pork offerings even warrant a mention on their website.

So on Saturday, it would be remiss of me not to sample the bacon rolls. I'm licking my lips already. Pass the salt please...


Anonymous said...

Just to warn your our Bacon Rolls aren't what they used to be those many years ago I'm afraid.

dcgent said...

Wasn't here that long ago, but they aren't anything to boast about now.