…Going Down to Bloomfield Road to See the Blackpool Aces!
The excitement of the big return to Bloomfield Road had been building for a couple of weeks – and come the morning of the match against Southend, I was almost ready to burst! All week I had found myself whistling, humming and singing. I was happy again. And why? Because, dear reader, I’ve finally got my club back.
When my alarm went off at 0430, I sprang out of bed, sang in the shower, donned a carefully-selected Blackpool shirt from my collection (the one in the colour of the Latvian flag) and skipped off down the street. I realised within minutes I had forgotten my hat – and with wind forecast on the Fylde Coast – but I didn’t have time to go back and fetch it, as I was on a tight timetable this morning, so I decided not to worry about it. I greeted the bus driver with a cheery ‘good morning!’, settled back in my seat and immersed myself in my book, which I was determined to finish today (Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle – recommended). By the time I was on my second bus and well on my way into Birmingham, I found myself listening to whale music (inspired by my book) and was so relaxed, my head felt like it was stuffed with cotton wool and could float off at any minute (perhaps I should have returned for my hat after all?).
On alighting in Birmingham, I skipped across to New Street, where I checked the departure board for the 0721 train to Blackpool North. What a treat to have a direct train to Blackpool! The line between Preston and Blackpool had been electrified since I had last been up for a match. Now I had safely arrived in good time, my attention turned to food. It was five minutes until my snackerie of choice on the station opened, so I found myself loitering at the doors of M&S (with a few other ladies around my age) until it opened at 7am. How times had changed! Once upon a time, my matchday would involve waiting outside pubs for them to open – now it was M&S! Was I ever in need of a trip to Blackpool to remind me of my roots…?
I boarded my train, armed with a bagful of healthy snackage: fruit, yoghurt and turkey (after all, it did feel like Christmas). Now I was on the final leg of my journey – the train taking me home to Blackpool – I found tears springing to my eyes. Yes, I was finally going home – to Bloomfield Road – for the first time in years. As fellow Seasiders across the country – across the world – were waking up, the excited messages began, my phone ping-ping-pinging all the way to the Fylde Coast. Meanwhile I did manage to make good progress with my book, which helped keep me distracted and grounded, stopping me floating up into the clouds.
I had noticed some fellow Seasiders on the train and, as we disembarked, I asked them how excited they were on a scale of one to ten. When they answered ’11’, I thought ‘IS THAT ALL?!’ and skipped off down the platform. On the other side of the ticket barriers, I was greeted by a friend I was supposed to meet on the train, but he was so excited he had arrived even earlier (it was 0932). We walked across town through brilliant Blackpool blustery gales that frankly my hat (had I remembered it) would hardly have survived – towards Bloomfield Road – not to queue up for the match already (we weren’t THAT overexcited) – but to collect tickets for today’s match. We weren’t sure of the best route to take to the ground, having not been for years – and muscle memory usually taking us via the Pump & Truncheon, which has sadly closed during our years of exile. As we approached the ground, I chuckled as I passed the spot where my friend’s car had been towed away during a match (he didn’t chuckle quite so loudly when I reminded him). Then he reminisced: ‘Ah there’s Back Henry Street.’ (And we deny defeat). As we approached the Morty statue, I remembered there was a brick with my name on here – however I couldn’t remember exactly where. Had it really been that long? Yes it had. We walked on to the ticket office, now situated in the old Seasiders Bar (was that what it was called?). I collected my ticket for today’s match – as well as buying tickets for a couple of other matches (when Chasetown weren’t playing). I could do this juggling two clubs lark (well for the rest of this season, at least). I picked up a match programme – a bargain at £2, I thought.
As we left the shop, we remarked on how the layout and queuing system in the relocated ticket office worked rather well – although it was odd seeing beer pump clips on the ticket office counter! We were greeted by a ‘halloo’ from an old friend from across the car park – this was nice, seeing familiar smiling faces – and waved back. I stopped to take a photograph of Jimmy’s statue as we passed (others ahead of us having done the same).
As we turned down Lytham Road, we heard a group of Seasiders in full song, heading towards the Excelsior, which was already brimming with beaming Muckers. We were not heading for the pub quite yet, but instead to the cafe where we always used to go for breakfast when we used to drink in the Dog & Partridge before matches. We tried to calculate how long it had been since we did that. We had been barred after the Oldham play-off semi-final in 2007, when our singing in celebration of getting to Wembley (again) was disturbing the viewing of the Manchester United fans in the pub who were trying to concentrate on the cup final on tv. We were, however, confident that the pub would have changed hands in the 12 years since then. Jenny’s Round Table Cafe, however, had not – sporting the same pictures on the wall, with the same familiar faces waiting tables. We enjoyed our breakfast and brew and were now ready for the pub.
As soon as we walked through the doors of the D&P, we were greeted by a cheer from the smiling faces of our friends. We were home. The pub had changed – our ‘usual’ top table no more, with the raised area now flattened. We had spent many a Saturday in here drinking beer and singing and smoking cigarettes (we’ve all given up the smokes now – and some have even given up the beer). The staff were very friendly and we weren’t asked to leave today – apart from the one of our party who had his underage son with him. Alas the beer choice was uninspiring. I tried the Bodds and Greene King IPA (the only real ale on offer), before settling on the Guinness. The pub quickly filled up with familiar faces that we hadn’t seen for years – but it was almost as though we had never left.
But leave we did. The lure of fine ale was calling loudly and, after much deliberation, we headed to the Waterloo. I had only been here once before – and barely remembered it – but it had now been transformed into a music pub. And wow! What a great pub this is. There were three real ales on sale – Doom Bar, something else and my choice of Cross Bay Setanti, which was proper lush! How on earth had this pub not been on my radar? And not only was the beer lush but you know I like a good toilet – and the Ladies here were beautifully decked out with a drumkit under the sinks, rows of pennies under the glass floor – and wall art of female music legends on the inside of the cubicles (Debbie Harry and Amy Winehouse in the one I chose). The staff were friendly, too. When I enquired what the contents were of a vodka bottle that looked like it was filled with toffee, I was immediately offered a free sample of Werthers Original Vodka. And it was lush! Well that was it – give me free stuff and you win my custom (fickle, moi? Dear reader, good service is important to me – hence one of the reasons I walked away from BFC and was never fussed at us being barred from the D&P). It was decided that this was to be our new Pub of Choice in Blackpool. And I’d certainly be back here to enjoy live music too (indeed the music being played today was good too). The whole pre-match was thoroughly enjoyable, catching up with friends who we hadn’t spent nearly enough time with in recent years.
This school teacher, this pet store owner, this retired civil servant, this dinner lady, this sandwich shop owner, this rope-maker. These people who live all over the country, in Blackpool, Catford, Penrith, Kent, Walsall – or even further afield in France, Thailand, China. What do they have in common? They are from Blackpool – or they came here on holiday as a child – or their parents did – and fell in love with (or fell in love with someone who fell in love with) a very special football club. Blackpool FC brought us together (would we ever have met otherwise?) and is the glue that binds us together – giving us a place to congregate every week. Imagine how hard it has been for us these last few years without our club. The laughter and tears that we have not been able to share with each other. The friendships torn apart as we dealt with the situation in different ways, in the ways that were right for each of us, as individuals, as human beings. But that was all behind us now. There was no poison, no name-calling, just smiles and laughter and hugs and kisses and love for each other and for the town and for Blackpool FC.
At 1415 a few of us trickled off, as we anticipated queues to get into the ground. We weren’t wrong! It was half an hour before I got into the ground – which at least gave me time to finish off the punnet of tomatoes I had left in my bag (mainly because I couldn’t find the Creme Egg I knew was in the bottom of my handbag, which I scrabbled around for in vain; perhaps I’ll find it come Easter). I was also handed a balloon to blow up to contribute to the overall tangerine-ness of the day. On entering the ground, I had to ask a steward where my seat was, as I hadn’t been for so long. I was halfway up behind the goal in the South Stand. I had asked for a ticket in the middle behind the goal, being where I always used to sit (and stand) at Bloomfield Road, forgetting that I sit on the halfway line these days, which gives me a better overall view of play (a requirement in my role as Match Secretary for Chasetown FC, as I have to report on goals, substitutions and the performance of the referee). Ah and today’s referee was Chris Sarginson – I knew from him reffing Chasetown’s Staffordshire Senior Cup Final against Stoke City two years previously. I couldn’t remember how I’d scored him, just remembering we (yes it’s ‘we’!) lost on penalties.
The atmosphere was electric, but I didn’t cry as I was expecting to. The match itself was a little strange. Whilst the pre-match experience was filled with familiar faces, that was not the case here. Sure, there was the odd face I recognised in the crowd…but who were these players? And why was I more familiar with the match officials than with them? Of course I remembered The Fonz from yesteryear (how is he only 28?! He must be in his tenth spell with the club!). And the name and face of Jay Spearing had come to my attention in recent months. And I recalled having lessons last season on how to pronounce ‘Gnanduillet’ (rhymes with ‘Madame Cholet’ from The Wombles). But as for the others? Nup. Nada. No idea. And that was weird. I was used to the familiarity of Curtis Pond in goal, Ryan Wynter at the back, Jack Langston firing in the goals and penalties from midfield; and Tom Hill up front. But, Toto, we’re not in Chasetown any more. And sure, I cheered when Blackpool scored – and I did feel something. And yes, my heart leapt as I jumped into the air in celebration of that late, late, hilarious equalising own goal. But did it matter, really? It was clear that the result today was almost immaterial – something much bigger than a football match was happening today. But that said, it was so, so sweet! And, yeah, I guess it did matter. I hope it will come to matter more as the weeks and months pass. I hope I start taking an interest in the League One table, because I haven’t looked at it all season (although I am very familiar with the Evo Stik West League table).
I shot off as the crowd spilled onto the pitch, racing across town to catch the 1738 train to Preston. I was double-booked today, with an evening appointment with The Lancashire Hotpots in Birmingham at 2045. Would I make it on time? That was now my focus. As I power walked / jogged back down Central Drive, I was asked by a stranger with an Eastern European accent how Blackpool had got on (how did he know to ask me?). I took the time to tell him we (yes, also ‘we’!) had drawn 2-2 thanks to a late, late own goal. I continued on my way, happily arriving at the station in good time. I nipped into the station cafe to pick up some food (I was ravenous) but refused to pay 75p for a banana and promptly jumped on an earlier train than I was aiming for. On arrival in Preston, seeing that my connecting train was delayed ‘due to passengers causing a disturbance on the train’, I simply had to get some food and ended up purchasing a prawn sandwich (I had clearly missed the boardroom today!) and a bag of wine gums (as I hadn’t been in the referee’s dressing room to snaffle any pre-match sweets).
The train wasn’t too late in the end. I settled back to finish my book (successfully) and managed to partially block out the familiar turmoil of a Saturday night train: a woman sobbing her heart out before falling asleep and snoring her head off (NB this wasn’t me!) and the man seated opposite me spilling beer all over the table (not his – he was trying to clear up the mess left by the previous occupants). Happily, the train caught up all the time lost, and I landed back at New Street around 8pm. I scampered across town to the O2 Academy, where I arrived halfway through the support act, the legendary Stu Penders, before weaving my way through the sell-out crowd to the front to enjoy The Lancashire Hotpots for a couple of hours’ singing and dancing in a very hot and sweaty room.
As I completed my final dart across town of the day, to get my bus home, I was grateful for the cool drizzle that accompanied me. When I collapsed onto the seat of the bus, I was (barely) conscious that I had now been up for 20 hours and I therefore needed to take precautions not to fall asleep on the journey. I plugged in my headphones and ramped up the new Buckcherry album full blast (whale music would have been disastrous at this juncture). At my first Hotpots gig, the friend I was with actually fell asleep during the gig, despite standing next to a speaker at the time (NB this is very much a reflection of the amount of alcohol he had consumed, as opposed to the entertainment value of the gig). I couldn’t believe how he could fall asleep, not only standing up, but amidst that much noise. But I was beginning to understand now. I didn’t think the music alone would be enough to keep me awake now – so I took care to keep scrolling through my phone and not close my eyes for a second. When I did look up out of the window into the dark night, I realised that I had no idea what bus I was on, where I was, where it was going, what time it was, what day it was (technically tomorrow now – and I set off practically two days ago), or even what town I was in. It had been a very long day and I was very tired! Normally, I strictly regulate my sleep, so I get eight hours every night. Today I had been awake for four hours longer than usual and my body was in shut-down mode.
It had been a long and emotional day. But I had enjoyed every bloody minute of it. And never will any of us ever take that for granted. We know we are lucky to have what we have. We’ve got our club back and the outpouring of love that is now firmly focussed in the direction of Bloomfield Road can only see the club heading in one direction. We know where it got us last time. Who knows where it can take us now…?