Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Bristol Rovers: Back Home

Dear reader, six weeks ago I took the decision to launch a new Blackpool FC fanzine (‘Now That’s What I Call Progress’) and quit my job at Chasetown FC. I have been overwhelmed with support from the Blackpool tribe in this new venture, in terms of contributions, offers of help and good wishes. I’ve worked hard every day to create a publication to be proud of, writing and editing and promoting and even answering a call to provide an online version, which gave me the biggest headache, but I found a solution. 

I was so nervous but equally excited to collect the finished article from the printers on Thursday evening. Would it look ok? I was so keen to see the zine in print that I called in to collect them as I was passing on the bus, instead of going home to fetch my car first. I had my wheelie suitcase with me to transport them home. What could possibly go wrong?  I explained that I was here to collect the Blackpool fanzine and the boxes were brought out to me. I tore into one and flicked through the glossy pages. Yes, this looked good – and felt good! Phew! I thanked the man, packed the zines into my case and set off back in the direction of the bus stop.

Now I’m not a massive fan of hills at the best of times (see ‘A Conga In Colne’, where one almost did for me https://janestuart.co.uk/2018/05/15/a-conga-in-colne/), but when you’re lugging a heavy wheelie case you don’t half notice even the slightest of inclines. The walk to the bus stop was 12 minutes but I couldn’t even make it halfway. What had I been thinking? I collapsed onto my case and ordered an Uber. 

Back home I loaded the zines directly into the boot of my car, taking just enough inside so I could prepare to post them to subscribers. After recording an excitable video promoting the fanzine, I settled onto the sofa to write envelopes and catch up with correspondence. I’d spent up to seven hours a day for six weeks working on the fanzine and there was still work to be done!

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Zines now posted out to subscribers, I headed up the M6 on Friday evening. My season ticket hadn’t arrived but I wasn’t concerned – I’d sort it out in the ticket office in the morning. I encountered slight congestion south of Manchester but how could I be frustrated by this when in the next lane there was BIRDMAN – PARROT RESCUE from Blackpool? I chuckled every time this van came into my eyeline and wondered if it was Ben Burgess. There weren’t too many traffic updates interrupting my music today so that helped with my mood too. In fact, I don’t recall shouting at/in my car at all during the course of this two-and-a-half-hour journey. I find driving relaxing. I was also incredibly excited about the start of the new season, the launch of the fanzine – and just being home in Blackpool, my happy place. 

There was still work to do when I got to the Fylde Coast, dropping off fanzines to the pubs that had kindly agreed to stock them for me. First stop was No. 10 Alehouse, which I was pleased to see was enjoying a thriving trade. Next up was Brew Room, where I caught up with owner Rob Wynne for a chat about some ideas for the fanzine and the pub. 

The final port of call was Bloomfield Brewhouse, where Lee and I met up with a couple of lads who had travelled across from Scunthorpe for tomorrow’s match. I encountered a moment of awkwardness when I was asked (by a man I’d never met previously) what I would like to drink. Having already surveyed the real ales on display, I chuckled nervously into my hand as I struggled to get the words out. 

‘Can I have a Bear Ass please?’

Well it was an ice-breaker! And this bitter from Beartown Brewery was rather tasty. 

When I’d researched this venue as a rendezvous point, I’d failed to realise there was karaoke on tonight. But you know it provided an interesting backdrop to the evening – and there were some cracking singers. The locals were having such a good time (who doesn’t like seeing people smiling and having fun?). Our ears did start to bleed slightly when a girl got up to sing Celine Dion but she was actually very good – and even Celine Dion herself makes our ears bleed. The highlight was the brief appearance of a dog on the dancefloor, which I’m beginning to think I imagined now, as no-one else saw it. Well I had had three pints and no food since lunchtime…

The following morning brought a wave of emotion. Lee and I had been discussing how today was completely different to the homecoming match against Southend in March. Whilst that match represented a purge (exorcism?) and offered the opportunity to return to the family, today was very much the start of a new era, with our new owner Simon Sadler, new manager Larry Grayson, new pitch, new changing rooms, new shirts (sort of), new fanzine… This was the resurrection of Blackpool Football Club and a very special day indeed. 

I cried as I recalled just how horrible the matchday experience had been during the handful of games I had attended over the past few years. I remembered being livid with Barnet for moving grounds, necessitating me attending an FA Cup match there that I really didn’t want to be at. I’d had to build a day around it to encourage myself to go, calling in at Watford Beer Festival on the way. I remembered sitting in the stand, slumped in my seat, arms folded, leaning my head against a post and really not wanting to be there – only there to tick off a stupid ground and what for? What did that even matter? Was it worth it? At half time in the (very nice) bar under the stand I cried as someone recalled that it had been five years to the day since we won at Anfield in the Premier League. When I looked at the clock it was twenty past four and none of us had bothered to go back up to watch the second half because none of us cared about the football any more. At that point I walked out (to a chorus of ‘we can see you sneaking out’ from my friends who were now back in the stand). Why had I bothered going? My body and my gut and my heart and my head were screaming ‘THIS IS WRONG!’  Football should never be like that. It should bring joy. 

Today was a stark contrast to that day. We were excited. We were buzzing. It felt so right. We wanted to see the new players and Larry’s team and the pitch and be amongst excited fellow Seasiders (family) in their new shirts. Boy it felt so good! Now we want to immerse ourselves in everything tangerine (or blue stripes thanks to Errea messing up the home kit order). I’d spent six weeks working on the fanzine because Blackpool FC were on my mind, filling my head and my heart and I needed an outlet for that. Football is an absolute joy again and it’s just the best feeling ever. We have a bright future to look forward to. We can hope and believe again. God we were so happy today! Could we actually win and keep this momentum building? Oh please please…

After I’d released and promoted the link for online fanzine subscriptions (which is here, by the way):

https://issuu.com/blackpooljane/docs/ntwicp_-_issue_1

I found on social media a beautiful poem written about today by the multi-talented artist Rob Purdon. As I read it aloud to Lee I found myself choking on words halfway through before full on sobbing in his arms by the end. We’d been through so much hurt these past few years. It really had been horrible. But we can now be proud of our club again. We’re back now. Here’s the poem – do grab a tissue and have a read:

https://twitter.com/purdonkey7/status/1157584490253959168?s=21

Lee dropped me and the fanzines at the ground at 1.15pm, where I had arranged to meet my matchday sales team and put them in position. By 1.30pm I was in position myself at the front of the old No. 1 Club / casino on Bloomfield Road. There were already hundreds of fans of both sides milling around, eagerly waiting for the gates to open. It was the first game of the season and we were all so excited! 

The fanzine went down a storm. It was lovely to see old faces and meet people I’d only previously encountered online. I was thanked for the work I’d put in on the fanzine, had nice feedback on my blog and my appearances on Lee’s videos – and was told I was much shorter in real life than I appeared on camera! I had a chat with someone with an idea for a new feature for the fanzine, a referee’s assessor who I had somehow missed during my time at Chasetown hosting match officials, a man who’d been at Chase’s last game of the season but hadn’t managed to catch me as the day had been too hectic (the travelling Radcliffe hordes had been dancing on the tables) – and a subscriber who paid for his subscription to Spain in person as he was over for the match today. God I’d missed this! The weather was scorchio and I was feeling a little faint as I constantly bent down to pick up more fanzines and rummage for change before standing upright again and waving zines in the faces of passing fans. I was so pleased I’d had the foresight to bring a bottle of water – and frankly that didn’t last very long. 

By 2.45pm I had sold out of my stash of fanzines – and only now remembered that I wasn’t in possession of a match ticket. Oops! I prayed that the ticket office would still be open and ran straight there. Mercifully it was open and I was provided with a makeshift ticket to get me through the turnstiles today. I was advised to call if my season ticket didn’t arrive next week. I’d have picked it up at the Blackburn friendly if I hadn’t been advised at that time that season tickets were being posted out. Another unnecessary faff but I wasn’t really bothered because it’s only a minor inconvenience that matters not in the scheme of things. I was back at football and buzzing and that was the important thing. 

I’d heard the club shop had sold out of away shirts since these had gone on sale the previous day. I’d been astounded at the number of Seasiders I’d seen wearing these today. God we’ve been starved of our club for so long. It’s so good to be back and do all this regular fan stuff again. 

After reconvening with the zine sales team, I could finally head into the ground at 3.10pm. The refreshment kiosks have no queues at this time so I took the opportunity to purchase a bottle of water before heading up to find Lee in the South Stand. I had no idea where I was sitting so asked a steward for directions. Finally I sat down, frazzled, exhilarated, faint and hungry. It was hard to relax and focus on the match.  At half time I queued for food in sweltering conditions and had to lean on the barriers to remain upright. People were trying to talk to me and were asking me for fanzines but it was all I could do to stay on my feet. Finally, armed with a pie (meat and potato with brown sauce), a Twix and another bottle of water, I headed back up to my seat, having missed Armand Gnanduillet’s power header in the process. I really must be more organised next time – and certainly factor in food to my pre-match routine.

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I felt much better after my feed (a functional meal which served a purpose but in retrospect I should have gone for red sauce on the pie – or had the steak pie, which might have been more moist). I finally relaxed and enjoyed the second half. We played so well – against good opposition, who’d have won if only the goals had been a foot wider. Kaikai looks so exciting, lighting up the pitch every time he gets possession. Tilt was so composed and a rock at the back. Fonz was looking back to his best. We’re a big team of professionals and on this performance – winning comfortably 2-0 – we have a lot to be excited about this season. I’m so pleased that Larry is back. I have every faith in him being the man to take us back to the Championship. He has us playing such good football and spends money so wisely. Remember he brought in 15 players in the January transfer window in 2007, transforming that Blackpool side from almost certs for relegation into somehow gaining so much momentum that they won their last (perfect) ten games on the bounce to win promotion. We know Larry can do this. Plus he’s got so much more experience now. I was thrilled when he was reappointed. I love Larry – he is a bringer of joy. 

Having missed Gnanduillet’s goal (now seen on t’internet – very good!) the highlight of the match for me (aside from Jay Spearing’s penalty) was the tekkers of the man seated at the back of the South Stand. As the ball came hurtling over our heads towards him, he nonchalantly rose to meet the ball with his head and directed the ball with precision all the way back 50 yards onto the pitch, to a chorus of ‘sign him up’. That was a supreme effort from such a distance!

On the walk back to the car I was still being approached for fanzines by passing Seasiders, which was lovely. I do hope it is being enjoyed by all the new readers. 

Food was now a priority so we headed out for a pub meal. Alas my lasagne was a little gristly but I made short work of the accompanying chips. I was too excited to eat too much now anyway. It had been an exhilarating day. I resisted the temptation of another beer even though I’d bloody earned it because the offerings were only Greene King IPA, Abbot and Speckled Hen. Why dampen a great day with a meh beer? Besides I still had work to do managing subscriptions and replying to correspondence while Lee spent hours editing the video footage of the day. He works so hard on these videos and is such an inspiration to me with his work ethic and passion for Blackpool. Check out his video of today’s fan experience here (I make a cameo appearance towards the end):

I’m now spending more time living and breathing football than I ever did before – even when I was working at Chase. I think about it from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed. I was even thinking about fanzine subscriptions when I was on the treadmill in the gym on Wednesday – supposedly having some down time. But you know what? I absolutely bloody love it. We’ve got our club back – our hearts and our lives – and I honestly could not be happier right now. Thank you so much to everyone who played their part in bringing about this new dawn, this new era for Blackpool Football Club – and for Blackpool itself, which cannot help but benefit. The heart of Blackpool is beating strongly. Who knows how far we can go this time? All I know is I’m sure as hell going to enjoy the ride. Up The Mighty Pool. I bloody love you. 

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