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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.

Dear reader, you ought to know me well enough by now to realise that I can’t just get up, go to watch a game of football and go home. Football is so much more to me.  I live and breathe the game.  It will never be just 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon for me.

Blackpool FC – Billy Ayre’s Tangerine Army – swept me away in a whirlwind of emotion in 1990.  I absorbed everything I could about the club.  In those pre-internet days, we had to make do with the Evening Gazette and Teletext, both of which I read religiously.  And I wrote as well.  My beloved club was my muse.  For years and years I wrote and I wrote because Blackpool inspired me so much and I was head over heels in love with the club.  I sent in articles to the fanzine, I wrote columns in the Gazette and match programme, I wrote for FourFourTwo, Racing Post and Teletext.  Eventually I took over the editorship of the fanzine for 39 issues, as well as having a double-page spread in the programme, still a column in the Gazette and articles on the fans website AVFTT.  There was never any shortage of things to write about.  It was all so much fun.  Even when the football itself was terrible, my friends – my football family – made it fun.

So what happened?

I was writing a regular column on Blackpool FC for Shoot Online back in 2014.  They weren’t even asking for much – just 500 words fortnightly.  But the words dried up.  I didn’t even want to be at Blackpool matches, let alone have to write about them. I was so unhappy but I was frightened about writing anything remotely contentious for fear of being sued by the owners of my club. It was horrible.  I couldn’t be myself in my writing.  I couldn’t be positive.  There wasn’t anything to smile about.  For years I had been writing about how wonderful it was to follow Blackpool and doing everything I could to encourage others to come along and watch the club too.  But how could I do that now, when I wasn’t even enjoying it myself?  I came to realise that I was only going to matches because of my commitment to write the column for Shoot.  And I wasn’t even enjoying the writing. So that was when I stopped.  I stopped going to football and I stopped writing. The two things that I loved most in life had both been cruelly snatched away from me. 

In the years that followed I became completely lost.  What was my life without football and writing?  Oh believe me I tried to find things to make it all better.  You know I enjoy a nice beer, so I started travelling to beer festivals on Saturday afternoons.  After all, a big part of my Saturdays at the football was always beer with friends.  But it wasn’t enough.  There was something missing.  I went to gigs.  I travelled around the North of England watching the Lancashire Hotpots playing on Saturdays.  I felt a buzz of excitement on the morning when I was going to see them; I got to travel; and I got to have a few beers.  And I had a great time singing and dancing at their gigs. But still there was something missing.  What was it?

I became very unwell and was even unable to work for a few months.  I found myself crying all the time and suffering from crippling migraines.  I was drinking too much but kidding myself that it wasn’t doing me any harm because I was using it as a crutch to get me through the long dark evenings.  I couldn’t see a way out.  My doctor referred me for counselling and, after a long wait for an appointment, I eventually found myself crying my heart out to a stranger who I really hoped was going to help me find a way out of this horrible situation.

Dear reader, it worked.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps to change the way you think – focussing more on the positive aspects of life.  When I was asked what I enjoyed – what my passions were – of course I answered football and writing.  I mentioned that I had seen a job advertised at my local non-league club, Chasetown.  It was an admin job – as Match Secretary – and I knew I’d be able to do it with my eyes closed.  And it would mean working in football and getting back to my normality of going to matches every Saturday. Just talking about it – and finding myself auto-enthusing – I knew I had to apply. 

Chasetown ripped my arm off, of course. I loved it from the start, although I did find parts of the job challenging at first. But I like a challenge! The admin was a breeze, but part of my role was to meet and greet visiting club and match officials in hospitality. That was way out of my comfort zone! What on earth did I talk to these strangers about? I was never any good at small talk. But I knew I needed to master this. I actively studied assertiveness and body language and learned how to start conversations. I look back now and think what was my bloody problem? It’s obvious – just talk about football! How hard is that? Within months I found myself walking into away boardrooms like I owned the place and was often mistaken for the home secretary by visiting match officials because I was the one giving them the warm welcome. This job was so good for me. Over two-and-a-half years in the job I upskilled in so many areas – not least people skills, but also organising the end of season presentation night, arranging matches (including an FA Cup replay with a two-day turnaround), working to tight deadlines to sign players, keeping my temper, diffusing situations and networking. It really was a great job that I’ll miss tremendously. 

As regards the writing, my therapist (get me, sounding all American!) suggested I might join a writing group to get me back into the habit of writing. Now you know I’m never one to do anything by halves, so this seed of an idea grew rapidly into me taking a decision to sign up for a Creative Writing degree with the Open University (something I had wanted to do for years).  The first two modules were broad humanities based (I had to wait for the Creative Writing part) but it was so interesting! Again I really upskilled here – and surprised myself with an aptitude for art history. Last October I finally got around to the Creative Writing – and of course loved every minute of it. I was now honing my craft every day. 

Of course I combined my two passions by creating content for the Chasetown match programme and starting up this blog, in which I write about my adventures on my travels following the football. So I had football back, I had my muse back, I had my health back. All was right with the world. 

But of course it wasn’t. There was one crucial ingredient missing. Oh I’d tried to bury it. After every match without fail someone would ask me: ‘How have Blackpool got on today?’ – and most of the time I wouldn’t even have a clue who Blackpool were playing. It hurt to be asked. I was trying to forget. Everyone but everyone across football who knew I was a Seasider didn’t have a good word to say about the club’s (mercifully former) owners. They were all so sorry about what was happening but I really really just didn’t want to talk about it or even think about it. It was just too upsetting. To protect my heart (and my mental health) I buried my love for the club so deep down that I never thought it would resurface. 

And then everything changed. 

In the days leading up to the Southend game I felt something I never thought I’d feel again. I was so incredibly excited about returning to Bloomfield Road – and I felt compelled to write, write, write. On the eve of the match I wrote a song about the occasion:

https://janestuart.co.uk/2019/03/08/its-coming-home/

On the day of the match I wrote a blog, recording every wonderful moment of that very special day:

https://janestuart.co.uk/2019/03/10/all-the-lads-and-lasses-smiles-on-their-faces/

And I haven’t been able to stop writing since. I write every day now – and am more prolific than ever. I can’t get the words out of my fingers quickly enough – hence I decided to launch a brand new Blackpool fanzine.  You can hear all about the new fanzine – entitled ‘Now That’s What I Call Progress’ in my interview by the delightful Lee Charles at the link below:

https://youtu.be/oAjFRmKczBs

This appeal for articles has already brought in so many stories from so many people who haven’t had this freedom – or inclination – to write about this special football club over the past few years. We can never get those years back. But we can celebrate our proud history – and help create a bright future by encouraging more people to join us on what simply has to be the best trip. 

Be proud, be creative, be joyous. We’ve got our club back. We’ve even got Larry back! And we’ve got Simon Sadler.  Now that’s what I call progress!  

Life is good. Let’s keep smiling and appreciate everything we’ve got. Come On You Mighty Tangerine Wizaaaaaaaaards!!! #UTMP

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