There is simply nothing better to do on a Saturday than head off on an adventure to a football ground (and town) you have never visited before. This weekend saw Blackpool make the trip to Barrow. I had little idea what the weekend would have in store – but I couldn’t wait to head up the M6 and find out.
Yes, folks – I’ve got a little car now. I’ve been tootling up to Blackpool all summer and rather enjoy that old familiar stretch of the M6 and M55. That is apart from the quality of the radio stations en route. I have been starting off with Greatest Hits Radio, which is acceptable; however Tree Corner in Cheshire brings with it static interference and subsequent radio stations are not remotely to my liking – plus I keep hearing the same songs over and over again. I’m still getting to know my new car but today I was determined to master how to play my own music into the car. I had spent a good hour preparing a ‘Driving’ playlist, trawling through every song on my iTunes account and selecting the most rousing numbers, as well as entire collections from a number of artists, including my shower favourites Buckcherry and Adelitas Way, as well as the likes of Queen, Blondie, the Kinks and Kylie. I set the music playing as background music to Waze, my satellite navigation app of choice (it’s very good and includes speed limits, which Google Maps doesn’t). I got all of this set up and headed off on my merry way Up North.
I was heading to Blackpool again today, as I had a lift the rest of the way to Barrow with Lee, who is training me up to be a vlogger, so I can report on the Seasiders’ away games over the coming season. Lee has his own YouTube channel and reports on Blackpool FC as well as things going on in and around Blackpool; however he will be unable to make many away matches, so I have (been?) volunteered to record video on my travels, as I’ll be at all the matches anyway. Well, I do enjoy learning new skills – and this will be another string to my bow. Plus it could be fun!
Now the journey from Chez Moi to Blackpool is punctuated by a 50MPH zone that seems to last the whole of Staffordshire. Little did I know that today this was going to be the speediest part of my journey…. Having for weeks been complaining that Waze was providing me with maps only and no audio, she didn’t bloody shut up today, nagging me to come off the M6 from J19 onwards. Of course I wasn’t having any of that – I know where I am with the M6 – and wondered (a) if I had input the correct destination; and (b) she told me to come off the M6 every week, only I had just never heard her before. Sure, there was a bit of traffic, but…
…then it got gradually worse and worse and was even stationary at one point, when the rain was coming down so hard it was not safe to do anything other than (front) crawl through the surface water. This gave me the opportunity to try out my phone via bluetooth in my car – another first for me – as I called Lee to confirm I would be arriving much later than anticipated. I was receiving regular traffic updates from local radio stations via my car – something I hadn’t asked for and found both annoying and helpful in equal measure. I made a mental note to try and figure out how to switch off these updates for my next journey. In the end, the journey took four hours, as opposed to the usual two. But the sun burst through the clouds just as I turned onto the M55 and I was buzzing by the time I arrived on the Gold Coast (still in plenty of time for the weekend’s revelries, as I had as always set off ridiculously early).
Before heading up to Barrow, we had a pit stop to make at Squires Gate FC, where we were attending the Lee Hindley Memorial Cup, a five-a-side football tournament organised by the Muckers Supporters Group (MSG) to raise money for charity. This was a good event and, as Lee strode off to record video footage of the event, I took the opportunity to chat with fellow Seasiders. These last few years have been strange times for Blackpool fans. I have seen more about them on social media than I have spent time amongst them. Today I met up with a number of Seasiders who I knew of very well, but had never actually met, including members of the MSG and Blackpool Supporters Trust (BST). It was a great event but unfortunately we were unable to stay for too long as Barrow was calling.
I’m still getting used to driving and do not yet feel comfortable enough to cope with the distraction of passengers, so it was Lee who drove us up to Barrow. The weather forecast was RAIN and Lee was wrapped up in a fleece, scarf, hat and coat. I threw my hat and coat into the boot in case of a monsoon, but had little to no intention of wearing them, as it was far too warm, instead heading out in just my dress. At Chasetown I was often derided for walking around the ground wearing just a dress – even in winter – but I simply don’t feel the cold like other people. Perhaps 20 years of watching Blackpool in all weathers has hardened me – but I simply get too hot wearing a coat when it really isn’t cold. Besides, this was July!
As we passed through the Lake District on the way into Barrow, the scenery was of course stunning. As part of my vlogging apprenticeship, Lee asked me to take some video footage, but I couldn’t do it justice (in my defence, the foreboding clouds didn’t help). I spotted a lighthouse atop a hill but it was masked by trees before I could catch it on camera. Having not spotted it, Lee didn’t quite believe that I had seen a lighthouse at all. Indeed it was later pointed out that this was not, in fact, a working lighthouse, but the Hoad Monument, which is what is known as a Lancashire Folly.
So, what is a folly? According to Wikipedia:
‘In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but suggesting through its appearance some other purpose, or of such extravagant appearance that it transcends the range of garden ornaments usually associated with the class of buildings to which it belongs.’
Well, you learn something every day, don’t you?
I have been very excited to learn about the Lancashire Follies – and this website offers a number that I would very much like to visit:
Indeed I have actually stood on one of them on one of my adventures last season (Clam Bridge in Trawden Forest).
On our way to the ground we also spotted the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, situated (we later learned) in the building where Stan Laurel was born.
We parked up close to the Furness Building Society Stadium (Holker Street) and headed in to join our fellow Seasiders on the terrace behind the goal, which wound around the ground and led up to a stand, which also housed a number of Seasiders (there were 400 of us here today).
I was mightily hungry by this point, so headed immediately in search of the refreshment kiosk. A friendly steward noticed me walking round looking lost and tried – and failed – to direct me to food. I soon found it by myself – it was tucked away down an alley behind a bin. This was a great ground and l loved it already! The menu comprised of Meat and Potato Pie, Cumberland Sausage Roll and Black Pudding Scotch Egg. Hmm. None of those were good for my diet! But what choice did I have? I plumped for the sausage roll, washed down by a Strongbow Dark Fruits.
I then went to review the toilets for the @nonleaguetoilet Twitter account (this has formed part of my pre-match ritual for some months now). I had already reviewed the facilities at Squires Gate earlier today, being surprisingly pleased that there were two taps on the sink (in my experience, most non league clubs tend to have a cold tap only). However the photograph I took there had received negative feedback as there was a bar of soap as opposed to the more hygienic handwash. I was pleased to report that there was handwash in the Ladies at Barrow – however only the one (cold) tap. Bah!
It was lovely to catch up with some familiar faces – some not seen for years – as well as making new acquaintances, with the tangerine family being such a happy bunch now, we are all eager to enthuse and pretty much talk to anyone! I was even presented with some Werthers Originals on my walk round the terrace. I soon found myself standing with a Seasider called Ged who lives in Barrow. He told me that the Barrow players have a training camp in Rotherham, as it is too difficult to attract players to Barrow to train during the week. Quite why Rotherham (of all places) was considered a more attractive proposition, I don’t quite know, but I guess it is at least geographically more accessible. (NB I have since learned that the training actually takes place in Rochdale, which makes a little more sense).
How was the game? Well Barrow dominated for long periods but were unable to convert their possession into clear cut chances and goals. Blackpool came out 3-0 victors – now with five goals and two clean sheets this week, following their win at AFC Fylde in the week. During the first half at Fylde, Blackpool did look rusty in front of goal, so it is pleasing to see they have got their shooting boots on now (although one today was an own goal).
We seemed to get stuck in the Lakes after the match and I am not quite sure how that happened! On the way in I had spotted a sign for Stott Park Bobbin Mill – a place that had been recommended to me by someone who knows I have a penchant for visiting quirky museums. Lee suggested we called in to see if it was open. Well it was and it wasn’t. It was due to close at 5pm but it was still accessible at 6pm, so we had a quick mooch around. After all, who doesn’t want to see how bobbins were made? I used to make tanks out of bobbins when I was little (with the aid of a piece of wax, a matchstick and an elastic band).
On the way out of here we spotted Lake Windermere on the horizon and turned off down Lakeside to take in the scenery.
As we parked up beside the lake, we saw a ferry pulling in and mused it would be nice to head out on an impromptu cruise. Sadly it was the last boat of the night, so we remained landlocked. We took a stroll down the jetty and saw a sign advertising Kinder Bueno ice creams – how exciting! But the shop was shut, so we didn’t get to try these.
By now we had taken the decision to stop for a drink – and perhaps a bite to eat – and headed towards a hotel on the lakeside. Of course, carrying on with the theme of the evening, it was not open to the public tonight as it was hosting a wedding. Not to worry, we thought – we’d just call in to the pub we had passed on our way in (Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge). This place promised good food and real ale, so it was already a winner for me. We perused the menu board and were practically salivating as we stepped through the door.
‘Can we have a table for two please?’
‘Sorry, you need a booking for the restaurant.’
Of course we did. Was nowhere accessible to us tonight?
‘But you can take a seat anywhere in the bar area and order food in there.’
Yippee! We took a seat in a quiet corner with our drinks and ordered our food. We weren’t quite sure how we had set off home from the match and ended up doing all this touristy stuff and going out for dinner, but it made for a very pleasant interlude and broke up the journey home very nicely (not that we had got very far!).
We did eventually make it back on the road home to Blackpool but landed a lot later than expected. It had been a delightful day – despite the entire Lake District seemingly being closed – and even the weather had been kind to us, as it had been a bright summer’s evening.
The second leg of my journey home (to Walsall) was mercifully less rainy than the northbound torrent! Driving-wise, I’m never happier than when I’m driving at 70MPH singing along to banging tunes – and that’s exactly what I was doing most of the way home (until I got to the 50MPH bit that goes on forever). I smiled as KT Tunstall came on the playlist. Her ‘Eye to the Telescope’ album was the soundtrack to Blackpool’s pre-season tour of the Scottish Highlands when Colin Hendry was manager. The album caught my ear in a pub in the Kyle of Lochalsh (or Plockton, I can’t remember which), which was actually nowhere near where the Seasiders were playing, we just went there on a cross-country day out (this was the day we met a one-legged German called Helmut on the train, who taught us the German for ‘pterodactyl’, which is ‘fleigen saurier’, if you’re interested.) Funny how songs can evoke memories.
Once again my tunes were interrupted by traffic updates (less relevant now I wasn’t encountering problems – but I still hadn’t figured out how to turn the updates off). It’s not really so much the traffic updates themselves that irk me – more the fact that it can sometimes take minutes for the radio coverage to turn off at the end of the traffic updates. I had to endure almost the entirety of a country song at the end of one irrelevant update on traffic in Poulton – and I found myself screaming at the radio to SWITCH BACK TO ITUNES!!!
As well as singing at the top of my lungs, with no-one around to hear, I also do quite a lot of shouting in my car. Well, you don’t often get the opportunity in built-up areas, do you? I’m finding it quite therapeutic. I scream instructions to Waze and Siri several time per journey, with little success to date. I am determined to master voice-activated controls, although suspect this may take me all season…
So for those of you who were concerned about missing out on my public transport disasters now I have a car, (a) I’m more than capable of having an argument with voice-activated controls and radios – I don’t need a coach driver to wind me up; and (b) I will be heading off to a number of away matches on the train this season, so there is still plenty of scope for drama!
It sure is great to be back in the tangerine fold. Have I bitten off more than I can chew, with the blogging, the fanzine and the video reporting on away games? Have I ‘eck! I’m simply doing what I do best and immersing myself in this beautiful game and my beloved Blackpool. And I couldn’t be happier. #UTMP
PS You can see the vlog entry of our day on Lee’s YouTube channel at the link below: