Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Blackburn Rovers & Longridge Town v Blackpool: Friendly Double-Header

So the new season is almost upon us – and the excitement is building. The Seasiders had scheduled two friendlies for the final weekend of pre-season. I’d have to be mental to consider fitting in both of those on the weekend the fanzine was due at the printers, wouldn’t I…?

I drove up to The Fylde Coast on Friday evening. I got my tunes on and followed Waze’s directions up to Penkridge before joining the M6 in the 50MPH zone. Now I’ve finally figured out that Siri doesn’t listen to me when Waze (my sat nav app) is running (a jealousy thing?) and this can lead to problems when my music malfunctions. This happened today when my music failed to come back on after a traffic update – and I was forced to switch back to the radio. Happily Radio Stoke were playing chart hits from 1985 so I sang along to Madonna. But let me interrupt you again with a traffic update rant. Not only are the interruptions irritating but the traffic they refer to is NEVER anywhere near the route I’m taking. More often than not, I get updated on traffic news from somewhere I was a good hour previously. And on what planet is Hinckley on my route to Blackpool? Plus I’m not sure I’d even want to know if there were jams ahead of me on my actual route. I’d much rather spend the time singing my head off, oblivious to any forthcoming problems. Because who wants to waste time dreading problems ahead? Not me. 

I arrived in good time tonight – the journey taking just over two hours – and spent a relaxing evening collating content for the new Blackpool FC fanzine (‘Now That’s What I Call Progress’) and allocating pages to content. With a late rush on advertising, there was some juggling to be done to tighten up the content and I had to be ruthless and cut out a couple of contributions. The result is a fanzine packed to the rafters with quality content and I’m pretty chuffed with it. 

On Saturday morning, ahead of Blackpool’s home friendly against Blackburn Rovers, I headed to one of my three Pubs of Choice for pre-match sustenance. You know I’m a big fan of fine ale and the best Blackpool has to offer can be found in abundance at Brew Room, No.10 Alehouse and Bloomfield Brewhouse. Coincidentally(!) these are exactly the sales outlets I have chosen for the fanzine, so if you visit any of these fine hostelries from next Saturday morning (well Friday night, traffic permitting), you’ll be able to purchase a copy of the fanzine to enjoy over your pint. Today I was visiting Brew Room, where I enjoyed the lush Cross Bay Two Four, a brown ale with pecan and maple syrup. I’m quite the fan of the produce of this Morecambe microbrewery and am pleased to find them across the Fylde Coast, which was once an ale desert – but no more! 

I settled down on a sofa in Brew Room and pulled out my laptop to recommence work on the fanzine. However I didn’t get very far before I was joined by Jonathan, a Seasider friend I had not seen for a number of years. We chatted at length and I learned that he had BFC memorabilia dating back to the turn of the century. I hope to feature some of this in a future issue of the fanzine as I’m sure Seasiders would be interested to have a glimpse into the club’s history. 

The walk down to Bloomfield Road was WET. I didn’t bring my coat but was nonetheless prepared by dint of the weather station in my handbag, which equips me for every weather eventuality. There’s a hat for when it’s windy, my Maui Jim sunglasses for when it’s sunny – and a brolly for days like today. Up it went and off I went. 

Now Lee had been in charge of match tickets today (it’s refreshing not to have to do everything myself) and had upgraded us to hospitality. I made my way round to the main entrance, vigorously shaking my brolly in an attempt to dry it off (I couldn’t very well leave it open in the boardroom to dry!), smiling at the programme seller and rummaging in my handbag for my match ticket to show to the beefcake on the door to the main entrance. After a bag check, I was pointed in the direction of the lift that would take me up to the Matthews Suite. I stopped briefly to say hello to Martin Booker, who had returned to the club this week as Business Development Director. I remember Martin from the late 90s so that was a blast from the past. It’s so great to see everyone coming back to the club now. These are special times indeed. 

In hospitality I chatted with Francis from BST (another I have known since the 90s) and Steve from Leyland & Chorley Seasiders, who was telling me all about the forthcoming 50th anniversary of that supporters group. Then it was time to locate Lee (who I had only seen in passing when he poked his camera in my face) and my seat for the afternoon’s proceedings. 

I don’t mind a bit of hospitality on occasion. Indeed for the past two-and-a-half years I’ve enjoyed it at every ground whilst working for Chasetown FC. The best bit about it for me (apart from the food, obvs, which frankly was of mixed quality) is the shelter from the weather – particularly pertinent on a wet day like today. Lee expressed his concern for groundsman Harry as the players emerged on his pristine (but now very wet) pitch. I felt his pain, as I often had it in the ear from the Chase groundsman, Bob, insisting I ask the visiting players to do their heavy warm-up work off his precious pitch. We enjoyed a great view of the match from the balcony above the West Stand and remained dry and cosy on the back row. 

Having not eaten since a banana and yoghurt at breakfast, I was interested to see what food was on offer at half time. We weren’t expecting a meal to be included with our £12 ticket but there had to be some sort of food offering, surely? I was pointed in the direction of a pie counter and eagerly ordered a meat and potato pie (if you haven’t already noticed, my diet goes out of the window EVERY matchday). However I was told I had to go to the bar to order a token to allow me access to the pies. This seemed a bit of an unnecessary faff but I complied because I had little choice. I got my pie eventually, before remembering I’m not a big fan of pies, apart from the Pukka Chicken Balti pies you can get at Bescot, etc.  I like moist food, you see, and the crust on this pie was too hard for me. It has been suggested that I might take a flask of gravy to matches and that’s not a bad shout. This of course necessitates me learning how to make gravy, which is another challenge in itself. I’ll get on it though, because it is important. Anyway I had a Snickers for pudding and they never disappoint.

It’s always a bit of an odd, detached matchday atmosphere in hospitality. There wasn’t a crowd today either, with only the West Stand open to home fans, so we could only really see the away fans in the East. Rovers were value for their 2-0 win but Blackpool didn’t look bad either. The pitch was the star of the show, though, looking quite stunning. You can tell it’s getting a lot of love. 

While I was drying off after the match, I caught up on Friday night’s Corrie over a takeaway from Lee Raj. I completely overfaced myself purely to meet the £20 criteria for the minimum order but managed to heartily enjoy the Chicken Chaat Puree starter with Coconut Rice, before having a token taste of the Mono Hari and Butter Bean Masala I had also ordered. Now it was time to get back to work on editing the fanzine, which I did for five hours (I know how to rock a Saturday night). I hope you enjoy it, dear reader, as a lot of love has gone into this first issue. 

On Sunday morning I referred back to my fanzine layout spreadsheet to see what I had left to do: proofreading, headers and footers, resizing and converting to PDF. This took me until 1pm – perfect timing, as I now had to head off to another match, this time at the other/wrong end of the M55, where the Seasiders were taking on Longridge Town in a 2pm kick off. 

Now I do like to research where to park before setting off anywhere (parking not being my strong point) and had earmarked on Google Maps a car park in the centre of Longridge that looked to fit the bill. The aerial image of Longridge Town’s ground looked like a bombsite and any parking facilities there weren’t apparent. However, in my haste to set off, I was unable to get Waze to compute where this car park was, so I decided to head straight for the ground and hope for the best. I fuelled up and headed down the M55. 

Much as I love motorway driving, I know that I need to practice general road driving (yes, and parking) so I’m not averse to hitting and hoping where Waze is concerned. I’ll go wherever the woman tells me to go (except off the M6 when I’m already on it), irrespective of whether it’s country lanes or whatever. It’s good practice for me. When I came off the motorway I followed her lead and soon took the turning for Longridge Town FC, where I was delighted to see plenty of roadside parking. Yippee! 

My matchday experience was taking a new turn today, as I had agreed to provide Lee with video coverage of the event for his YouTube channel. You can see how THAT turned out at the link below. Do bear in mind this was my first attempt and I will take constructive feedback into improving future coverage. 

As I mention in the video, I’m not sure why there was a man with a cigarette up his nose (not lit, I hasten to add), but it is one of those things that you see at non league football grounds (in Preston). 

As I undertook my customary circuit of the ground (filming as I went), I was greeted by two passing Seasiders:

‘Bloody hell Jane – you’ve not come all the way from Walsall just for this match, have you?!’

‘Of course not – I stayed overnight in Blackpool. I’m not mental!’

As I walked off, I pondered the times I thought nothing of travelling solo to Liverpool Airport to catch a flight to Riga for pre-season friendlies and surmised that, yes, I was of course mental.  I’ve slept on train stations after matches I couldn’t get home from.  I’ve set off for matches when revellers are still out on the town from the night before.  I’ve (regularly) got in from matches at 4am.  I’ve spent a week on the Isle of Man because Blackpool were playing friendlies over there.  It’s what I do.  I lost track of who I was these last few years.  But that is exactly the sort of thing I do.  

I learned that Longridge Town were entering the FA Cup for the first time this season as they face Barnoldswick Town in the Extra Preliminary Round on 10th August. Having been involved in the early rounds of the FA Cup with Chasetown the last few years, it has helped me rediscover the magic of the competition. It is really important to non league clubs in terms of prize money (even more so since this doubled last season). It also injects excitement into the start of the season, with the competition starting so early in the campaign. It really is a special competition. I hope that Blackpool can begin to enjoy the competition again as we enter the new era. How amazing would it be if we could win it again? After all, we’ve seen in recent years just what can be achieved with strength of belief. Besides, its been prophesied in a Nolans song:

‘We won the cup in 53, we’ll do the same again.’

I was thrilled to see three non-league dogs at the match today. It could have been four, as a Seasider I was chatting to had left his in his car, wrongly assuming his dog wouldn’t be allowed in. I was never such a fan of dogs until I found them in non league football (check out @nonleaguedogs on Twitter) and they began to form an important part of the matchday experience for me. I even started a column in the Chase match programme called ‘Canine Corner’, where I interviewed non league dogs that I encountered on my travels.

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The food at Longridge Town was typically random. I have made it my mission to actively review food at away matches this season – and was left with little choice today as I had been so absorbed in the zine this morning that I’d forgotten to eat (I have lost half a stone since rediscovering BFC and writing obsessively). I found the tea bar and was faced with this menu:

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I made enquiries about food, only to be told by the woman in the tea bar that she couldn’t be trusted with anything other than soup, so she directed me to the clubhouse, where actual food could be found. The queue here was three deep so I snooped around with my camera while I waited for the bar to clear. The hot food here consisted of meat and potato pies, so I ordered one of those as well as a bag of sweets (random penny sweets) for pudding. Much as I consider campaigning for healthy food at football grounds, I do think they should all sell bags of sweets. I got halfway through the pie (tastier than the one I had at Bloomfield Road yesterday) before I looked at its contents and wished I hadn’t. I was heckled by the visiting Blackpool faithful for my food choice and did point out that it wasn’t as if there was salad on the menu. Just as I was finishing (leaving half of) my pie, my eyes were drawn (away from it) towards the condiments table by the tea bar. As well as the usual milk, sugar and spoons, there was an extra treat (and a wonderful non league quirk: a Tupperware container of biscuits. Dear reader, I was so excited, I immediately discarded my pie and raced over to help myself to a Bourbon cream. Lunch had just got a whole lot better!

As is probably clear from the video, I do need to start paying more attention to the match action, hence I will start arriving at grounds much earlier to conduct my research of the facilities. 

I almost forgot to review the toilets for @nonleaguetoilet but nipped in on my way out. The Ladies cubicle was locked but there was an adjacent portaloo, which was very well provisioned with paper, soap, towel, water (one tap only, as I’m coming to expect) as well as a mystery gold object that I was unable to identify. Any ideas?

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The drive home was very slow owing to the persistent rain and took an hour longer than it ought to have. To add to my frustration, my music was playing up again. I’d put my Driving playlist on, but the songs weren’t shuffling, so I was being forced to listen to Gregorian chant after Gregorian chant. Just to explain the Gregorian chant thing (I feel I need to), this is the soundtrack to a pre-season tour of Latvia, when I was dining in Rozengrãls, a medieval restaurant in Riga, with my friend Ian (formerly Bedford Seasider, now residing in Kings Meaburn). Over dinner we heard an interesting cover version of ‘Losing My Religion’ in a Gregorian chant stylee. We rather liked it and, after some research when returning home, we discovered the (British) band Gregorian, who have released several albums of similar covers. And it was this I was listening to in my car today. But it didn’t make for particularly uplifting driving music. I tried the radio but it was rubbish. When stationary I did manage to at least get the playlist back to ‘A’ and was accompanied the rest of the way home by ABBA, Adam and the Ants and Adelitas Way. That was better. 

Back home, I made one final tweak to the fanzine before pinging it off to the printers. Can I have a relaxing week now? Can I ‘eck! Now to get to work on an online/subscription service for the fanzine while my fingers are well and truly crossed that the printers don’t f*** up after all the hard work that has gone into this publication. Football and writing have well and truly got under my skin and there’s no escaping this time. And I bloody love it! Roll on the start of the season and fanzine launch day on Saturday. UTMP. 

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