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Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

On Happier Times with Blackpool

Saturday 23rd August 2008 – Sheffield United (h)

Oh what a treat it is to have a trip to Blackpool to look forward to every other weekend.  Imagine how bleak life must be for Luton and Rotherham fans.  We are very lucky indeed and shouldn’t forget it.

I had a lift to the seaside today and our carful made its merry way up the M6.  Actually, that is not strictly true.  We were forewarned of an accident taking the motorway down to one lane, so we took a diversion via the ‘scenic route’ (Stoke) and waved at Sir Stan along the way.

The conversation turned to baking (not sure how this happens in a carful of men – rest assured I don’t start it) and I was offered a recipe for Bolognese sauce.  We just don’t talk about football, which I think is what I like about travelling with these people.  We listened to commentary on the taekwondo on the radio.  Obviously professional taekwondo commentators are few and far between, as we were informed that: ‘There’s a bit of pushing going on, but no points scored’ and the like.  But there was a bit of controversy, with a result being overruled to reinstate the British girl over the Chinese girl and for a moment it seemed as though the Chinese crowd were going to revolt, which kept us mildly entertained in between discussing how to make rice pudding.

We arrived in Blackpool at midday (late!) but then we do always set off early just in case we encounter delays en route, which had proved wise today.  I nipped to the club shop (where they now sell sweets!) and headed off to the Pub of Choice.

Tucked into Lamb Henry for lunch, washed down with a couple of fine ales.  I enjoy my Saturdays.  We watched the women’s 4x400m relay final but there were no riots, which was disappointing.

And so to the match.  Oh disappointment!  Sheffield United are scary opponents even without the fearsome James Beattie and put paid to us with due despatch (with a little help from the Man in Black – that was never a penalty – how ridiculous!).  But Stephen Kabba proved his selection to be correct with our first goal of the season from open play – and nicely taken, too.  We might have got back into the game at this point but went on to concede another and that was that.

Oh dear.  But there is a long way to go yet.  And any pain that we must suffer is best suffered earlier than later in the season.  At least now we have time to address any problems and come good in the weeks and months ahead.  And there is good in there already.  Of course there are also concerns but I am not losing any sleep right now – that is what the management get paid for!

The journey home was straightforward – and a bit rainy – and we were able to tuck into some home made ginger cake that we had been provided with courtesy of a fellow Seasider.  We don’t do too badly, you know, and try and make things better for each other.  And cake is a great way of taking your mind off being stuck in heavy Bank Holiday traffic.

I was soon able to settle down to a night on the sofa with Hellboy.  And my rice pudding was almost edible.  But there is plenty of time yet to perfect it…

Tuesday 26th August 2008 – Carling Cup 2nd Round

Oh…

Saturday 30th August 2008 – Southampton (a)

I find it painful to set my alarm for anything starting with a number less than six.  Today it was five on the dot.  Oh joy.

The southbound journey went without a hitch.  My bus was on time – and thankfully full of this morning’s workers as opposed to last night’s drinkers – and the train was too.  Settled back into my reserved seat at a table and tackled my paperwork for the morning – the Radio Times crossword (I was determined to finish this today for the first time) and a book by Aleksandr Solzyenitsyn.  Tucked into a gruyere and mushroom panini and a cup of Earl Grey and of course my day became gradually less sophisticated as it progressed.

Starting with a trip to Wetherspoons at 10am on arrival in Southampton.  And this turned out to be the best pub of the day, which doesn’t say much for Southampton.  I can see this is going to be one of those cities where we spend years attempting to find a decent pub where we can settle.  Although I suspect we will not be visiting Southampton next season, but more of that later…

Our attention was drawn to Sky Sports News on the big screen.  As we were the featured game on Sky today, there were interviews with our manager and players, so we looked up with interest.  There was no sound coming from the television, but there were subtitles.  In Gibberish.  According to the text, Ben Burgess was talking about Blackpool not having as big a bird as other teams in this division.  After some initial bewilderment we managed to establish that he was really talking about our ‘budget’, which had been input as ‘budgie’ and come out the other end as ‘bird’.  Oh dear…

We moved on to another pub, which had been featured in the Good Beer Guide in a previous year, but now the beer was not so good and it had quite rightly been removed.  However they were offering a full English breakfast for £2, so it wasn’t all bad.  Plus it had a beer garden, where we commenced the Telegraph crossword as we basked in the sun.  

At noon we strolled to the ground and took our seats at the front of the stand (so we could get on the television).  Also, the seats here were in the sunshine, so I rummaged in my bag in the hope that I would find some sunglasses and was pleased to find some in there.

And the game was womderful!  The Seasiders were rampant and the Saints well and truly beaten.  Did they make us look good; did we make them look bad; or was it a bit of both?  Frankly I am convinced Southampton will be relegated – being this season’s ‘Colchester’ – but I was heartened by our performance and our confidence should be restored going into the Barnsley game.  It was great to see the ball going into the net on many occasions even if they did end up being disallowed.  At least we were displaying hunger for goal and getting shots on target and Kabba was goal-hanging a la Andy Watson, which is something we have been crying out for for a long, long time. 

Also it was lovely to be able to relax during a game.  This was reminiscent of our recent trip to Deepdale in that we were so dominant and our hosts were so down on their luck that there was no way on earth they were going to get anything from the game.  Indeed they came out for the second half already looking beaten – their players were almost stationary.  We, on the other hand, came out determined for the kill and were never going to leave St Marys with anything less than three points.  We were hungry.  We were superior.  A reminder that they don’t call us Mighty for nothing!

We took in another couple of pubs on the walk back to the station.  The first one was a little intimidating, so we supped up and left.  And the second had the most awful beer we had tasted all day – and that was going some.  But at least it was friendlier as there were a few Seasiders in there.  I would be mortified if we were relegated and visit this town again next season.  Lets get nestled into a comfortable mid-table position please!

The train home was friendly too, as we were joined at our table firstly by some Saints fans (who insisted they had gone through 14 managers in the last two years, which we weren’t too convinced by) and then a friendly woman from our neck of the woods who joined us for a chat about local pubs and how we didn’t like Burnley very much.  

As she took her seat she asked if we had just been on holiday – indeed we had caught the sun big time during the 90 minutes seated in the stand at St Marys.  Whilst the sunglasses had protected my eyes, they had left their mark.  Still, we had wondered where the sun had got to – seems it had been in Southampton all along.  

Overall, a much more pleasant visit than last season – we certainly got them back – but we don’t want to go back any time soon, thank you.  

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