As anyone who has ever read one of my match reports for this publication will attest, food and football have long enjoyed an intimate relationship in my life. I care as much about the weight of a Cornish Pasty in Plymouth, the meat to mash ratio of the Craven Cottage cottage pie in Fulham or the white béchamel sauce in Middlesbrough’s famed Parmo as I do about the actual game itself, and it’s a connection others tend not to appreciate.
Granted, a community that considers gravy to be a beverage may well say they don’t give a toss about food; as long as it’s stodgy and warm it does the job as far as a match-day fill is concerned. Yet it’s a misconception that football is just about eating pies, peas and gravy, because at its heart football is about representing localities, and in that sense what gets served up on the table and what happens on the pitch are intrinsically connected.
This thought struck me on the first game of the season away to Southend. My brother, myself and this zine’s editor sat on the banks of Leigh Marsh with a pint of local ale in hand. I got a selection of cockles, mussels, prawns and vinegar with a couple of oysters to eat, and I thought, ‘this is Southend. This is what they’re about’. The same can be said of a lunch of pie, mash and liquor in a Deptford cafe ahead of the Charlton game and the meaty pasties served from a van in Bristol as the rain set in. They are all tokens of the communities that football teams serve.
And I could go on. League One is home to no fewer than seven coastal towns boasting delights such as cod and chips from Fleetwood’s “Frankie & Bronnies” or whelks, winkles, and a stick of rock for pudding in Blackpool. Warm your cockles over some Shropshire Blue in Shrewsbury, eat hot pot until your heart is content in Rochdale and have your fill of the local ale in Burton. Sunderland away on Good Friday will be wasted if you don’t indulge in a large helping of Panackelty and Stottie – corned beef and root vegetables baked through the day mopped up with butter-lathered bread baps. Irresistible in the cold winter months on Wearside.
But for the first time in a long time we can also start bragging about Doncaster as a food destination on match days. Jay Rayner has put the Clam & Cork in the market on the map and coupled with The Draughtsman Alehouse in the station we can boast some tasty pre/post-match venues for people who are so inclined. One is a “small seafood café doing lovely things” amidst stalls selling “big knickers and bacon baps” and the other is an intimate pub providing refuge for travellers and railwaymen – both rather symbolic representations of the town Rovers represent, don’t you think?
It brings me back to the fanzine podcast episode we recorded last year debating the club’s nickname. I did some research back then on the taxonomy of English football club’s monickers, which are broken down into roughly 30 sub-sections. Interestingly, of the 92 clubs featured only two – Burton Albion’s Brewers and Reading’s traditional Biscuitmen – fell under the Food and Beverage subcategory, with some others loosely flirting with it (Southend United – Shrimpers, Fleetwood Town – Cod Army, Charlton Athletic – Addicks and Morecambe – Shrimps), which is fascinating, given food often plays such as a focal part in a town’s identity.
Of course, Rovers could have been one of them had we run with the Butterscotchmen in a nod to the confectionary treat that hails from our borough. Parkinson’s of Doncaster are often credited with the invention, and their butterscotch boiled sweets, sold in tins which depicted St George’s Minster, became one of the town’s best known exports. They gained wider fame in 1851 when Queen Victoria was presented with a tin when she visited Donny. Go Queen Vic!
But regardless of your stance on nicknames, I think we can all get on board with incorporating more food into the matchday experience. Tim Parks noted in his brilliant book A Season With Verona that football can only account for so much as far as the full experience goes. The game itself is ‘essentially eleven guys trying to make something happen and at the same time trying to stop the wrong thing happening’. But being there gives you a sense of ‘total engagement, something collectively felt’. “For this brief space of time we have been a community”, and that is really rather special.
Parks talks about football in the same way people who know the Italian way of life talk about food. Carole Counihan’s book about food activism in urban Sardinia sums this up in three words: “Place, Taste, and Community”, and that is essentially what we are talking about here. Football is about representing a place and creating communities, and food is simply its tastier equivalent. When you start to appreciate how the two are intrinsically connected you will open your eyes to the bounty of local treats on offer courtesy of Donny Rovers away.
by Jack Peat
This article first appeared in issue 98 of popular STAND fanzine, published in January 2019. Issue 99 of popular STAND goes on sale on Saturday 30 March at Rovers home match with Walsall.