Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Goodbye Blackpool, Hello Chasetown

When I fell in love with the beautiful game during the 1990 World Cup there was never any question as to which club I would support.  I had always lived in Blackpool and it was always going to be Blackpool. It just made sense.  Sure, they were in the basement division of the Football League – but that was my lot and that was simply how things were to be.

But those early days – the lower leagues, the grounds with character (not least Bloomfield Road, where a cat might provide an unwelcome shower in the East Paddock), the LDV Trophy – oh they were so much fun!  Of course with hindsight I can see that the football probably wasn’t all that great – but then I had nothing to compare it with.  I had a great time nonetheless – and some amazing adventures (you’ll be hearing about some of those).

I was happy with that, quite frankly.  I never wanted anything more.  Those days were such fun.  But then came The Money and The Championship and The Premier League.

How awful to see your team play in the Premier League!  Well of course it was such a dream at the time.  Indeed it was not until the October after Blackpool’s promotion that it finally sunk in!  What with an opening day 4-0 win away at Wigan followed closely by a win at Anfield…and every Blackpool match televised in the local pubs…well that couldn’t really be happening, surely?

Oh those days were delightful of course.  But it was the beginning of the end for me.

I never used to understand how people could switch their allegiance from one club to another – but I get it now.  It has been a gradual process for me but now I find myself following Chasetown home and away – and working here as Match Secretary.  So how did that happen, then?

I started to fall out of love with Blackpool a few years ago for a variety of reasons.  It was never the distance that was the problem – I didn’t miss a game (home, away, league, cup or friendly) for the first 12 years I lived in the West Midlands (I even went to see them play in Latvia three times).  It wasn’t even really that the quality of football rapidly deteriorated.  After all, I had been to games that were so dull we had to entertain ourselves (counting away fans, asking football trivia questions, etc.). No, for me football has always been about people.  And that was what changed.

I won’t go into detail here because I don’t like writing about things that make me unhappy.  But something shifted and things became toxic around the club.  There was a high turnover of players and staff.  Fans became angry and distressed.  Seeing good friends – good people – so hurt and upset has been very hard to take.  Now here is an advantage of living so far away from ‘home’ – I don’t have to endure this on a daily basis in the local shops, pubs and newspapers.  And yet it still hurts.  I found myself crying in the stand at Leeds when it dawned on me that this just wasn’t my club any more.  At Barnet (where I only went because it was a new ground – and I was livid at them for having moved) we were reminiscing in the bar under the stand at half time about how it was five years to the day since we won at Anfield and I started crying again.  When I looked at my watch it was 20 minutes into the second half and the bar was still full because we just didn’t care about the football any more.  On the back of Ollie and the Premier League adventure this was especially hard to take.  We had been such a close unit, a football family – and now it was falling apart.

So why continue with something that has become so distressing and painful?

Consequently I have spent the last couple of seasons just going to the odd match – mainly new grounds – more to catch up with my pals than having any interest in the game.  And my friends have largely done the same.  The spark has gone.  We had something special but now that has gone – and I honestly don’t know if we’ll ever get it back.  It is so very sad.

I have tried to find other things to amuse myself with at weekends.  Going to gigs has been the nearest experience, I suppose.  But where’s the fun when you know you are going to be entertained for 90 minutes?  And in the warm?  I much prefer the Russian roulette (and Siberian weather) element of football.  A song is never going to make me feel how a goal makes me feel.  Although a song can bring back a flood of emotion about a particular match (“I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas will always remind me of winning promotion to the Premier League at Wembley – and hearing it these days makes me feel quite sad).

Last summer I finally decided enough was enough – and I had to get football back in my life.  I was simply missing it too much.  And so I found myself watching Chasetown in pre-season friendlies and early stage FA Cup ties.  And rather enjoying it.  Oh I made a point of not speaking to anyone, not bothering to check what league The Scholars were in – or even how the FA Cup worked in these early stages (it all seemed very confusing) – because I didn’t want to get attached.  Oh no.  I know what happens there.  At Blackpool I went 13 years without missing a match, edited 39 issues of the fanzine, had a column in the local paper, a column in the match programme…oh…

And so now I find myself following Chasetown home and away and becoming involved with the club, learning the ropes of the administration that goes on behind the scenes on match days and beyond.  And I must confess I’m really enjoying it.  There are new people to be met and new adventures to be had.  And they are such a friendly bunch!  I really do feel quite at home in the at Chasetown and in the Northern Premier League.

I was going to apologise then for rambling on about Blackpool but I’m not sorry because that’s who I am and where I have come from.  Blackpool were my first love and that will never change.  But now when I’m asked: “How did you get on at the weekend?” it’s always the Chasetown result that springs from my lips.  I’m a Scholar now and have no doubt Chasetown will feature more heavily in future posts as I continue on this new adventure…