Jane Stuart – Writer

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

When I was scouring the Blackpool fixtures to slot in between Chasetown matches, I was delighted to discover that the Easter weekend presented me with the opportunity of a trip to Scunthorpe.  The Seasiders have historically been a bit of a bogey side for Scunthorpe (dating back to the Division Four playoffs in both 1991 and 1992) – and this Good Friday I was heading for Glanford Park on a day trip on the train with my mate, James – who I haven’t seen nearly enough of during the wilderness years, despite him living locally to me.

My journey was scheduled to start with a bus into Birmingham.  I always aim for the bus before the one I actually need, just in case one is late or doesn’t turn up.  This morning, neither the first nor the second bus turned up.  Good Friday indeed!  I checked the National Express(!) West Midlands website, which confirmed that there were no scheduled changes to my bus service today, despite the bank holiday; the buses simply hadn’t turned up.  I hastily formulated a Plan C and trotted off in search of the bus to Walsall, which thankfully did turn up.  I scuttled across from Walsall Bus Station towards the railway station, hovering for a moment outside Billy Bunter’s Bakehouse, which I love for being (a) very cheap and (b) selling mince pies all year round…before remembering my diet (which I would of course later forget, but I like to start the day with good intentions), boarding the train to Birmingham empty-handed.

At the other end, after my customary food shop at M&S (it’s just so handy, there on Birmingham New Street station concourse), I headed to Pret a Manger (totally aware I’m sounding middle class right now – this will wear off as the day progresses), where I found James chatting up the lady behind the counter.  Feeling a little like a gooseberry (allowed on my diet), I hesitated before ordering my Earl Grey.  James and I caught up over our brews and struggled to remember the last time we had been on an away day together, finally agreeing on Wimbledon away last season, which had been rubbish.  We resolved to have a better day today.

After surprising myself by successfully negotiating the ticket barrier with a dual ticket on my phone (sending James through first was key), we headed down to the platform and I announced our carriage and seat numbers to James.  Now he had confessed to me just now that he had some hearing problems, but I was nonetheless surprised to see him walking off in the opposite direction, towards the first class section at the front of the train.  I stopped in my tracks and sent a strong perplexed look in his direction.  As he headed back towards me, he explained that he had recently taken up trainspotting – and had been noting the number on the front carriage.  As we took our seats on the train, he showed me his trainspotting app, which pulled up a photo of the train when you input its number.  He went on to explain that some spotters are hardcore and note the number of each individual carriage, but he wasn’t going that far.  I smiled as I realised that James was the happiest I had seen him in years, so if trainspotting contributes towards that, then that can only be a good thing.

We changed trains at Doncaster, where we had a 20-minute connection time.  Now we had dressed for the forecast sunshine today – but it was a bit nippy at 10am in Doncaster, so James volunteered to get the teas in.  I checked the board and saw that our scheduled train was due to depart from Platform 8, so I took a seat on that platform and did some pub research while I waited.  James returned gleefully with my Earl Grey – and an unrequested chocolate chip cookie.  Dear reader, this is where the diet started to go wrong.  James pointed out that my diet didn’t count today, because it was Saturday.  I pointed out that it was actually Friday but appreciated the lovely gesture – and scoffed the cookie without further delay.  As James scurried off to collect more train numbers, I revisited the departure board, as I had noticed that the ‘next train’ board on Platform 8 was going to Adwick (where?) as opposed to Cleethorpes, which was the final destination of our train.  The departure board did show a train due in a few minutes with a final destination of Scunthorpe – but this was scheduled to depart from Platform 0, which I felt pretty confident was a made up platform.  I resolved to stick with the Clee train just to be on the safe side.  But would that be safe, though?  I fell in love with Clee when I visited with Chasetown last season – would I be tempted to stay on the train and make a return visit today?

We eventually boarded the delayed train to Clee (calling at Scunny) from a different platform altogether – and found ourselves seated close to a Very Angry Woman, who was ranting to someone on the phone, irate that a woman hadn’t taken the opportunity to go into business with her.  Frankly, I had a headache from listening to her for ten minutes.  I tried to strike up conversation with James, despite him having his book open in front of him – and he shushed me because he was engrossed in Miss Angry’s conversation and wanted to find out how it ended.

We arrived in sunny Scunny around 1115, got our shades out and strolled in the direction of the high street in search of pubs.  The Pub of Choice didn’t open until noon, so we started at Blue Bell Inn, the local Wetherspoons.  Here I enjoyed an Acorn Barnsley Gold and caught up with some fellow Seasiders who had arrived on the same train.

Next stop was the Honest Lawyer – a firm favourite of ours for many years.  The beer choice here wasn’t as exciting as I remembered, but I nonetheless ordered a Sharps Sea Fury, which proved a little too heavy for the scorchio weather, so later switched to the Lincolnshire Lincoln Gold.  We were seated in the beer garden at the front of the pub, which was bathed in sunshine and most pleasant.  Whilst there was traffic noise from the main road that we were on, it still felt as though we were on holiday – as football often does, especially at away games. 

After a couple of hours relaxing and being sapped of energy (in a good way) by the sun, we decided against the 35-minute walk to the ground – and it seemed Uber hadn’t made it to Scunny – so we called a cab, which ferried us to the ground in good time.

It was lovely to see so many familiar faces on the concourse and in the stands at Glanford Park – and I stopped to chat with and hug and wave and smile at my Seasider friends.  A number of friends had continued to watch Blackpool during the boycott – and I found myself surprised at their emotional reaction to all of us now being back there with them.  I received a surprisingly powerful hug from one – and was quite distressed to hear that another friend – who I had enjoyed many pre-season tours with over the years – was anxious to approach me in case I had an averse reaction to seeing him.  As if!  These people are my family. 

The match started brightly, with the Seasiders passing the Iron off the park on a pitch that was in far better nick than that at Bloomfield Road.  However the game was more even in the second half, with neither side being able to penetrate the other’s defence.  Scunthorpe had more to play for, being perched precariously atop the relegation zone, but neither side really looked hungry enough for the win, which neither deserved.  0-0 was a fair result.

We discovered from friends that there was a bus back into town from the ground, which we could see in the distance, so we ran towards it and found ourselves back on the high street soon enough, after a chat with a friendly Scunny fan on the bus.

We returned to the Honest Lawyer – where we were pleased to see the kitchen had now opened.  I tucked into sirloin steak (charred, much to James’s chagrin), washed down with a Sharps Atlantic.  As I caught up on what my friends had been up to on social media, I had beer envy at Tim’s visit to Dog & Gun Pub & Brewery (Dark Tribe Brewery) and resolved to visit there next time.  The beer day had been quite disappointing.  The beers had quenched my thirst but hadn’t excited me to the extent that I clapped my hands when I saw a pump clip and closed my eyes to delight in flavours dancing on my tongue.  Is it wrong that I want that from a beer – and have come to expect it during the craft beer revolution of the last few years?

On the train back to Donny, I resolved that enough was enough – and I was hunting down some exciting beer for our train home.  I remembered that there was a new micropub on Donny station (its name Platform 3B gave me hint where to find it) – and resolved to head straight there to see if we could get a takeout for the train home.  As if it was meant to be, as I stepped off the train, voila, there was Platform 3B right in front of me.  My feet took me straight to the bar – hang the departure board to check our connecting train, there was important business to attend to right here, right now.  Dear reader, there was a pump clip that immediately lit up my face with a beaming smile: Wylams Macchiato Hazelnut Praline Coffee Porter.  Now that’s what I’m talking about!  Now super excited, as they were pouring me a pint of that, I enquired if they had anything else that I could take away, specifying something fruity in a can.

‘Well, we’ve got a Pina Colada and…’

‘STOP RIGHT THERE!  You don’t need to list any more – that’s the one I want, thank you!’

Now most satisfied with my beer purchases, I remembered that the departure board needed checking.  I left the beers with James at a table outside the bar, sectioned off from the platform, and darted off to locate our train.  I couldn’t have been more delighted to see that, not only was our train to Birmingham New Street departing from Platform 3B (where the pub is) – but it was delayed by half an hour.  Woohoo!  As James scurried off to spot more trains, I sat back with my delicious beer and struck up a conversation with a man with a chihuahua at the next table.

By the time we boarded the train home, I was ravenous again – and now in the ‘actively making bad food decisions’ phase – so ordered a cheese and pickle sandwich from the refreshment trolley (despite knowing that cheese can be a migraine trigger for me).  The attendant asked if I was sure I wanted that, because it was vegan.  I wondered under what circumstances anyone would not want cheese because it was vegan.  Anyway, it was fine – and scoffed in no time.

Our late arrival in Birmingham New Street meant that the timings were more favourable for our respective connections to our respective homes, so all was well at the end of the day.  I have missed these away days with Blackpool over the last few years.  Sure, I’ve been to the odd one, to tick off new grounds – but I hadn’t wanted to be at any of those matches and left all of them before the 90 minutes was up.  But everything is different now.  The whole dynamic is different.  Things are back how they should be.  Football is back.  Amen. 

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