Football: Turf Moor's pies were described as `tremendous'. The award must have been a tonic to fans who have had little to cheer recently

ON SATURDAY
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The Independent Online
Apologies to all turkeys, who have no choice in the matter, but the aim of every team over the Christmas and New Year period, when up to 12 points are at stake, is to avoid getting stuffed. Ironically, most fans will do completely the opposite and stuff themselves on turkey and all the trimmings. You would think catering takings at grounds at this time of year must show an unhealthy deficit with fans suffering from the effects of over-indulgence.

Being a veggie, I tend to miss out at Christmas and football grounds. Not that I'm bothered about the latter; I've often questioned the wisdom of spending the 15 minutes of half-time queueing for a soggy meat pie and a cup of tea only to find that by the time you've got back to your seat they're lukewarm - and you're 1-0 down. That's happened to me twice. I'm ashamed to admit I was once so cold at Dens Park that I was pre-occupied not by the action but by the thought of my half-time toddy (even if it was only PG Tips). Unfortunately I hadn't reckoned on 12,000 like-minded fans. Rangers had scored twice against Dundee by the time I reclaimed my seat.

Then, several seasons ago at Fratton Park, Portsmouth and West Ham served up such a dull first half that I headed for refreshments a minute before the half was up, only to hear a familiar roar which certainly was not applause for a rousing first 45.

Burnley fans, however, have more reason than most to head off early for their half-time pie. It's not often the Nationwide League sweeps the honours board when the fat cats of the Premiership are in the running, but, according to a recent survey, when it comes to pies the East Lancastrian club really takes the biscuit.

Turf Moor's pies were described as "tremendous, featuring lightly spiced potatoes blended with lean chunks of meat in a rich gravy, and perfect pastry - slightly soggy yet succulent casing to absorb the juice and a light and firm crust". The award must have been a tonic to fans who have had precious little to cheer in recent years.

Rochdale scooped a double honour: coming fourth and also receiving a special commendation for pastry of which Delia Smith, Britain's favourite cook and Norwich's most well-known director, would be proud. But I was surprised to find that the famous Forfar Bridie was conspicuous by its absence. In fact, Scottish culinary delights (which might seem a contradiction in terms) hardly got a look-in, perhaps because pakoras rather than pies are an Ibrox favourite, while that Scottish speciality, the deep-fried pizza, goes down a treat at Easter Road.

However, Scotland still has some champion pies, of which the Bridie is one: a tasty, flat mince (that's mutton, before you groan) pie made with flaky pastry. The Hearts chairman, Chris Robinson, may be known as the Pie Man because he owns the Wheatsheaf catering company, but in reality the Forfar fare is only matched by the pies on offer at Kilmarnock. The "Killie Special" is in fact so special that the Proclaimers were so enamoured of the succulent pies they consumed at Rugby Park while watching Hibs play they decided to immortalise them in a track entitled, unsurprisingly, The Killie Pie.

On a more weighty matter, it does seem as if our football clubs have decided it's more than just fans' football tastebuds which need titillating. Preston have entered their Great Room restaurant facilities in the new Tom Finney stand into the Booker Prize for Standard Of Food Excellence, while Newcastle and Manchester United have raised standards in the kitchen as well as on the pitch.

The grub on offer at St James' Park's Magpie Room Restaurant has been described as "dishier than David Ginola". To whet the appetite: spicy chicken sausages with Calvados sauce and seared scallops with butter beans and lentils. "We're showing what can be done in a football club and I hope this will be the start of even better things." No, not Kevin Keegan, but executive chef John Blackmore, former chef de partie at the Park Lane Intercontinental, who has had as much of an influence on the palate at Newcastle as Keegan has on the pitch. St James' is the first football stadium to be listed in the Good Food Guide.

Over at Old Trafford the Red Cafe is the latest attraction: a 200-seater themed restaurant inside the North Stand where the menu reflects United's increasingly continental-look line-up: deep-fried pearls of mozzarella with gooseberry and nectarine compote; scampi calypso; and monkfish tails in a black bean sauce.

Of course, considering a three-course meal for a family of four at the Cafe will cost an average of pounds 47, and that a ticket is upwards of pounds 12 a head on top, it's no wonder the good old pie remains the more attractive proposition.

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