LET’S meet for a pint at the Corn Dolly. The tweet fizzes its way around our small Twitter group of Leeds-based Oxford United supporters and no-one seems to disagree.
It’s the Saturday between Christmas and New Year and our team is visiting Valley Parade, a ground where we have had mixed fortunes in the past.
So around ninety minutes before kick-off we leave the car on Midland Road and trudge across to the other side of the valley to a pub which certainly isn’t my automatic choice for a pre-match get-together.
For a start it’s a good 20 minutes’ walk from the ground, and when you arrive to find an ugly whitewashed building with a claret-and-amber knot of home fans moking outside, you do consider turning tail, heading into the ground and soaking up the pre-match atmosphere with a Bovril and a pie.
But as only associate members of the group (Oxford is our second team, really) we don’t feel sufficiently qualified to disagree. So we head in, heartened by a banner proclaiming this a past winner of Bradford CAMRA’s Pub of the Year award. And within a few moments it is easy to see why this has become our fan group’s venue of choice: this unprepossessing pub boasts a host of great beers; management and home fans are welcoming of us yellow-clad away supporters – and there’s a lively but benign atmosphere of friendly football chat around the bar.
We find a place on the long banquette which hugs the external wall. Here the only danger of pre-match violence is getting inadvertently prodded by the blunt end of a pool cue. Occasionally we lean over to allow a player to take his shot. The Corn Dolly topped the local pool and dominoes tables in 2017 and it clearly attracts a decent standard of player. The quality of the matches going on during this brief visit was sufficiently intimidating to dissuade me from sticking my pound coin on the side.
There are eight real ale handpulls on the bar, set up in pairs so it’s not always easy to see which beers are available right along the bar, particularly when the place is crowded with thirsty fans. Moorhouses and Ossett are both represented but on this occasion I opt for Timothy Taylor’s simple and easy-going Yorkshire bitter Boltmaker, a beer which has gained a significant foothold in both the on and off-trades since snaffling the Champion Beer of Britain prize – CAMRA’s highest accolade – a few years ago.
The website tells me that ales from Yorkshire breweries like Acorn, Abbeydale, Kelham Island and Goose Eye are often served here, but a glance around the pubs’s shelves and the gnarled oak beams which run across its ceilings, is enough to convince you of its real ale credentials. Every inch of this space is crammed with pump clips and beer mats of the hundreds – probably thousands – of different beers which have graced the Corn Dolly in the past. A blackboard behind the bar lists the current lager choices.
In an era when old-style alehouses such as this are closing down across the country it’s wonderful to stumble across a simple, straight-up free house, which has been in the same family for 25 years, and has put hand-pulled real ale front centre of its business model.
This tiny revelation eased the pain of the inevitable defeat which followed
Bolton Road, Bradford
Type: Traditional family-run free house
Opening Hours: 11.30am-11pm Monday-Saturday and noon-10.30pm Sunday
Beers: Changing choice of eight keenly-priced real ales, predominantly from Yorkshire breweries, plus good choice of lagers
Wines: Small selection
Food: Straightforward pub meals served noon-2pm Monday-Friday
Disabled: Easy access through the side door - but slightly cramped inside
Children: Welcomed, but no special facilities
Entertainment: Pool table and dominoes – with competition nights on Monday– plus TV.
Beer garden: None
Parking: On-street parking available nearby
Telephone: 01274 720219