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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.

Bolton Wanderers v Blackpool & Chasetown v Carlton Town

A weekend off from football. Hmm. What to do? Well, find some football, of course! After spending Saturday morning working on the fanzine (Issue 2 of ‘Now That’s What I Call Progress’ is out on Saturday), I decided to reward myself with an afternoon at The Scholars Ground to watch Chasetown taking on Carlton Town. 

Now it’s a nice walk through Chasewater Country Park to Chasetown’s ground but I decided to take the car because that’s what I do now. It helps to keep in practice – and also parking at the ground can be tricky and I definitely need practice at parking! Today the car park was full, so it was street parking for me. I managed to secure a spot with my nose to a cone so it would be easy for me to get out. 

I said hello to John the Gateman, who was so surprised to see me (he was actually in Blackpool when I was at the Scholars Ground for the FA Cup match last week) that he forgot to give me the torrent of abuse that I’m usually greeted with. Indeed the same can be said of the folk in the burger van, where I picked up a cheeseburger and bottle of Rio today. 

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Honestly the food at non league football grounds is way superior to that at EFL grounds. Perhaps catering for fewer people allows them to be more inventive with their dishes (can’t see Blackpool serving up leftover Chicken Chasseur, but it would be nice!).     

After saying a quick hello to a few familiar faces, I prioritised taking a seat to give my food my full attention. I suppose it’s a mindfulness practice, focusing solely on food when I’m eating – and it does make the experience much more enjoyable. You might have noticed that I enjoy my food, so why not give it my full attention?

I did look up mid-munch and spotted Pam, who has taken over the position of Match Secretary following my departure from Chasetown this summer. As if that job wasn’t enough in itself, she is continuing in her role as club photographer – and she was busy snapping Will Whieldon being presented with his Player of the Month award for September. I waved but she was focused on the job in hand. Alas she did catch me in the background of this photo mid-munch – not my most flattering look. Thanks Pam! 

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Still peckish as kick-off approached, I headed to the bar for snackage in the form of a bag of Red Leicester Mini Cheddars and a KitKat. My preferred seat in the stand had been taken, so I decided to stand behind the goal for the first half, where I tucked into my second course. It was good to be back here and I think it will always feel like home now. Sadly The Scholars went in at the break 1-0 down following a goal close to half-time.     

I took to the stand behind the other goal for the second half. I was pleased to see that also switching ends was the magnificent Non League Dog I had the pleasure to spend the first half close to. Bentley provided a high level of entertainment, wanting all the fusses from all the fans, trying to tunnel onto the pitch and wanting to play with all the other Non League Dogs in attendance (I counted at least four and it wasn’t even Non League Dog Day!). 

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The visitors nicked another goal at the death and it wasn’t a happy day for The Scholars. Thank heaven for Bentley, who was happier than a happy thing and put a smile on everyone’s faces simply by being himself. We could all benefit from being a bit more like Bentley, I think. He’s the epitome of pure joy. 

I headed straight off at the final whistle, as I know the atmosphere after home defeats is not the best. Plus I had arranged mid-match to meet up with my friend Wendy for beers. I had earmarked tonight for painting my nails, so we agreed to spend the evening chez moi so I could still do this. Now this offered an exciting – and long overdue – opportunity to visit the famous offy by Chase’s ground (Simply Local). And oh my goodness did it not disappoint! I was like a kid in a sweet shop, eagerly grabbing bottles and cans of exciting beer off the shelves. I had to stop looking at the shelves when I had five beers in my arms and switched to tunnel vision mode as I headed to the cash desk. What did I buy? Well let me tell you!

Saltaire Triple Choc

Box Social Kaffir Lime Leaf

The Vine Inn Vanilla Porter

Wild Weather Full of Beans (IRISH CREAM COFFEE STOUT!!!)

Marble Cranberry & Ginger Dark Sour

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I quickly paid and stood by the door while I waited for Wendy to complete her purchases. Oh but look – they have sweets! Jelly Babies for a pound! Orange Aeros! 

‘Wendy! I’m going to stand outside! I’ll buy the shop otherwise…’

Of course this made for a wonderful evening. It goes without saying that I needed a good tea to soak up all this lovely beer, so I ordered a delivery from Khimuk in Aldridge, as I hadn’t heard of it before and it had an exciting menu and a five-star food hygiene rating (I always check this via www.scoresonthedoors.org.uk since a disturbing incident with a prawn dish in a Walsall restaurant several years back – I don’t touch anywhere with a rating of less than three now – try a zero or one and you definitely know about it!). My Tandoori Murgh Masala and Firewalker Rice was soon demolished. I’ll be ordering from there again! 

Well that had been a thoroughly enjoyable non-matchday matchday, despite the result. You know I can always find enjoyment around the football somewhere. Usually with beer and food: two of life’s great joys. 

***

On Sunday I travelled up to Blackpool ahead of the Bolton away match on Monday night. Bear with me here. You know a matchday is never just a matchday! With Monday set to be a busy day (more of that later), this left Sunday evening to record a video with Lee to promote the new fanzine. I took the train today for practical reasons, taking into account my plans for the following few days). This involved a bus to Walsall, a bus to Wolverhampton, a train to Manchester, a train to Preston and a train to Blackpool. But you know I love travelling so I skipped out of the house eagerly looking forward to my latest adventure on the road (and rails) following The Mighty Tangerine Wizards. 

I called in at Sainsbury’s at Wolverhampton and was pleased with myself for buying the diet (remember that?) friendly chicken, banana and tomatoes. Where had this willpower come from? I was certainly pleased to have rediscovered it, as it has been noticeably absent for a good few months now. 

My companion for today’s journey was Snap by Belinda Bauer, a cracking crime novel. I haven’t had much time for reading in recent months, what with the fanzine, blogging, vlogging, etc. But this week I was devouring books with a vengeance. I’d rattled through The Institute by Stephen King and definitely had my hunger for reading back! I will make more of an effort to find the time for books going forward (including the one that I’m writing). I’ve got to fit in my Open University English Language course in somewhere too but you know I’ll manage it all somehow. There’s always room for the fun stuff you enjoy, or else what’s life for?

On the train at Preston, I found myself seated by the buffet trolley. Uh-oh! KitKat and Haribo for pudding it was. Oops!

Lee collected me from the station and we headed to The Half Way (sic) House for tea before recording the fanzine promo video, which you can watch here:

***

On Monday I headed to Blackpool North station, where my eyes were drawn to the big screen, advertising Blackpool FC as well as the resort’s other attractions. It is wonderful that the club is being recognised as an attraction, because that’s exactly what it is (and should be). We have many exiled supporters who have moved away from the town, returning to watch the Blackpool matches. But we also have so many supporters who first came to a match when they were visiting Blackpool on holiday. They keep coming back because of their affiliation with the football club, which in turn drives tourism. When out selling fanzines, I often speak with people who are up on holiday and taking in the match. I’m delighted that the club is now in partnership with Visit Blackpool and being recognised as the attraction that it surely is (now).

Now in Manchester I headed to a restaurant I had been wanting to visit for some time: The Armenian Taverna. Now I’ll confess it was predominantly the high billing for VODKA on the billboard outside the restaurant that was proving tempting (I love a good vodka menu – something I first discovered on a trip to Eastern Europe following The Seasiders to Latvia). But an Armenian restaurant? I’d never been to one of those before – and I love trying different world cuisines. So in I headed. 

I had the restaurant to myself and my amiable host seated me with a menu and put on some music. Hang on – I recognise that track. But what is it? I opened my SoundHound app to capture and identify the tune. It was Останусь by город 312 – a tune I have on my Russian playlist (yes I have one!). 

As I perused the menu, I was delighted to see that I was still on time to take advantage of the lunch menu deal of two courses for £16.95 (including a Ukrainian beer). That would do very nicely, thank you very much! Here’s what I went for:

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Zangezyr Soup: Boiled kidney beans with butter, onion and flour, gently spiced with Armenian herbs – served with feta cheese and black bread. 

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Kaghambov Dolma: Cabbage leaves filled with minced beef, rice, onions and herbs. 

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Rum baba! I wasn’t planning on having dessert – and it takes a super exciting dessert menu to tempt me – but how could I resist this?!

And not forgetting the vodka (which I usually have in lieu of a dessert, but today had in addition to a dessert). Here’s the menu. Can you guess what I went for?

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Sadly they didn’t have any of the particularly exciting vodka left (they are such teases) but I was brought four bottles to choose from – and I opted for the Wisniowa Cherry Soplicia. Mmm…

As I stood to leave the cellar restaurant I began to feel the alcohol… but nonetheless headed to the pub, because there was still ample time before I had to catch the train to Horwich. Or so I thought…

Now you know I’ve taken a liking to Joseph Holt pubs in recent weeks, so I decided to call into The Old Monkey, a traditional boozer in the City Centre…which, it turns out, sells Holts Dark Mild for less than £3 a pint. I’ll have me some of that! Lush it was, too. 

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Whilst here, I received notification from Mundial that the video Lee and I recorded with them last week had now been released. After letting Lee know, I excitedly yet somewhat nervously pressed play on the video. Here it is:

Emotional stuff, eh? 

Soon it was time to reluctantly head to The University of Bolton Stadium. I had a bad feeling about tonight that I just couldn’t shake. This was a high-pressure local derby in front of a 2,000-strong away following – and live on Sky. Bolton had been shipping five and six goals on a regular basis. Were we expected to batter them tonight? I wasn’t convinced this Blackpool side was equipped mentally to withstand that sort of pressure. 

On arrival at Manchester Piccadilly, I was greeted by a group of fellow Seasiders armed with luggage aplenty, having just returned from their hollibobs in Gibraltar. We made our way down to Platform 14, where we found several more Seasiders. Before long, however, we were greeted with the announcement that our train to Horwich had been cancelled, owing to emergency services attending to an incident on the route. Hmph. It was half an hour until the next train – which we weren’t entirely confident would turn up either. As there were now 11 of us congregated, we took the collective decision to jump in taxis to the ground. It couldn’t be that expensive between us all, surely? 

The taxi I was in charged us £77, which we baulked at, but it was only £13 each, so we just got on with it. At least it would get us there in good time (and it did – we arrived just after 7pm). As the others hiked off to despatch their suitcases on the supporters coach, I immediately joined the queue for the away turnstiles. I was pleased to see a woman being frisked outside the turnstiles and looked forward to having a frisk myself. As I got to the frisk point and was having my bag searched, I enquired:

‘Will I be getting a frisk today? I do like a good frisk!’

‘Well yes – unless you want to stop me doing my job.’

And I didn’t get frisked! That’s the second time I’ve expressed eagerness to be frisked and not been frisked. Maybe my keenness alarms them? I’m going to stick a smoke bomb down my bra next time. That ought to guarantee a frisk!

The concourse at the ground was already heaving with Seasiders in good voice. I made my way through the crowds in the direction of the refreshment kiosk. I wasn’t hungry after my three-course meal, of course, but I did need water to sustain me through the match. On my walkthrough, I found Lee and asked if he wanted any refreshments. As usual, he said no, but I knew he’d want a drink, so resolved to get him one anyway. The queue was long, the concourse was hot and space was at a premium. Now I really don’t like being in crowds (hence why I follow lower- and non-league football) but my discomfort tonight was somewhat abated by seeing the pure joy on the faces of the surrounding Seasiders. We were all so happy just to be here supporting our team – and it was truly wonderful. 

I finally escaped with two bottles of water (sans lids, grr) and headed back to Lee, who – true to form – immediately relieved me of one of the bottles. I continued on to check out the facilities before heading back out onto the concourse. I spotted the lads who we’d met at the station and enquired how they’d got on in their cab. The driver took them the wrong way (into Bolton) so they were much later arriving – but they were only charged £40. Perhaps we had been done there by our expensive taxi, but I’m more sympathetic to taxi drivers these days – and they do, after all, have to earn a living like the rest of us, so I don’t begrudge him. 

Dear reader, I’m afraid I can’t really bring myself to recall the game. It was truly dire. It was like a Carry On film at times, some of the balls were that bad. Alas the Seasiders were not up to the task tonight, just as I had feared. They don’t appear to be enjoying their football or prepared to run through brick walls for their teammates and their manager (let alone the supporters). Frankly, they didn’t seem arsed tonight. The performance was the worst of the season so far – and was reminiscent of the team at the back end of last season. But of course these are the same players we had then, give or take. But they are professionals. They are capable. We have seen it. So what’s happened? 

In the car back to Blackpool we conducted a post-mortem. I recalled our exceptional performance at Southend at the start of the season. Lee reminded me of my comments that day:

‘You said they looked like they were on steroids, they were that fired up for that match. Tonight they played like they were on spice…’

We arrived back in Blackpool within half an hour and Lee resolved to put together his video of the matchnight experience. Normally, I’d sit with him and support him with the editing process, but I was so sickened by tonight’s performance, I couldn’t bear to relive it, so went straight to bed. 

Here’s Lee’s video memory of the night, featuring some good concourse action:

We’re up to fourth in the league! How has that happened? We could walk this league if we had a bit of va va voom, confidence, swagger, resilience. Where does that come from? Frankly, I expect Larry to have a busy transfer window at this rate. Much as I love Larry and how he stands up for his players, his post match interview tonight was a little too upbeat, considering the standard of the performance. Who knows what he says in the dressing room. He’s turned it around before – and I hope and believe he will again. It’s a tough job, Larry, but Blackpool expects and believes again. I only wish the players did too. Because they’re bloody good enough – we’ve seen it. Just not tonight…    

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