Sometimes we just need a little reminder about why we love football. After the wave of excitement and hope that comes with (almost) every pre-season, more often than not we are soon grounded by the reality that football really can be a bit rubbish.
This weekend Blackpool were meant to be playing Bury at Gigg Lane. And isn’t that just the epitome of why football in the lower echelons is just awful at times? I cried when I heard the news that Bury had been expelled from the (F**k-The-)EFL. It wasn’t that I had a particular soft spot for Bury, but it was heartbreaking and just WRONG – and I knew that it could so easily have been us or any other club. The events of recent years have really rammed that home. I care more for other clubs and the wider football family now because we are all the same. That reality can often be lost on football fans, who laugh at other clubs’ misfortunes. Of course Preston’s perpetual play-off failures will never NOT be hilarious, but the torture of clubs and fans that is happening up and down the country all the time is just plain wrong. But is there any stopping it?
There’s a good article in the new fanzine (did I mention there was a new fanzine?) about football governance – as well as a story of hope, charting Maidstone United’s progress since their extinction from the Football League in 1991. I know I’m the editor and may be biased but this magazine really is packed with great content. If you haven’t read it yet please do so via the link below. There are some great articles on football throughout the years, including a match report from 1894, stories from the terraces watching Stanley Matthews in the 1940s & 1950s, youth and reserve team football, rivalries, memorabilia, funny stories, highs and lows – and even poetry.
But I digress. This morning I didn’t particularly have anything to get out of bed for, so I scrolled through my phone as I enjoyed a rare lie-in. Oh, what’s this? Chasetown have made a new signing: Dan Westwood. Ooh he’s a striker. And he hosts a non-league podcast. Interesting. I’ve never really got into podcasts but I thought I’d give this a listen, as I was in no particular rush to get out of bed.
And boy was I glad I did! What a cracking show this is! By the time I bounced out of bed I had my football va va voom back and remembered EXACTLY why I was so in love with the beautiful game. The enthusiasm of the Alvechurch chairman explaining why he got involved with the club and all the work he has done to get the club back on its feet, the relationships between club chairmen and managers and players, the structure of the different teams within the club from the kids teams right through to the first team, the banter between the wider Midlands non-league football family…it was simply wonderful and it all came flooding back how much I loved being involved in that scene.
Dear reader, do have a listen to this podcast. The content is fascinating.
With Chasetown being at home this afternoon, there really was only one place I was going to be. I never wanted to leave Chasetown, where I worked as Match Secretary for over two years during the Blackpool boycott. I left because the pull of Blackpool was too strong – and I simply had to follow my heart. I’ve been back to The Scholars Ground for a couple of matches in recent weeks and it has been like I have never been away (nothing changes!) – except that I am no longer running around like a blue-arsed fly on matchdays, chasing up secretaries and managers and having stern words with referees!
But first I had some errands to run. I caught the bus into Walsall and headed to the bank to pay in the takings from the fanzine from last week so I could afford to pay the printers. There was a big queue but I was in good spirits so I didn’t mind that. The man in front of me in the queue turned around and we smiled at each other before engaging in conversation to pass the time. Of course the conversation turned quite quickly to football and it turned out he used to play for Blackpool back in the day and The Seasiders were his second team. He was an Ipswich fan and was looking forward to visiting Bloomfield Road in February. I told him to look out for me selling fanzines outside the ground that day.
Next stop was my little flat to check on the recent decorating work. Dear reader, if you know of anyone who might be interested in purchasing a one-bed flat in Walsall do let me know as this will help expedite my relocation to Sunny Blackpool.
Finally it was back into town to Boots to join yet another long queue to pick up a prescription. Whilst waiting I picked up a Raspberry Coca-Cola (ok but not as nice as the Mango one), a bag of Peanut M&Ms and a bag of Wine Gums.
Is there any other way to eat sweets?
Errands duly run, it was now time to head to the match. I skipped across to Walsall Bus Station and boarded the 10A to Brownhills West. The bus took me to the edge of Chasewater Country Park and I had to walk the rest of the way to the ground. I was pleased about this because I was apparently vlogging my match day experience today. In my excitement this morning I had suggested to Lee that I might do a vlog on the Chasetown v Cleethorpes Town match today, but I’d see how I felt later on. Apparently, though, now I’d suggested it, I was committed to doing it, so I supposed I had to get on with it!
I was a little bit gutted that this wasn’t an away fixture for Chase today, as Clee is my favourite away day EVER. It’s such a delightful seaside resort and home to lovely folk. That said, I was almost run out of town on my two visits there for having gravy on my chippy tea (NB Clee is home to the BEST CHIPPY EVER!). You can read all about my adventures here at the links below. If you don’t book a weekend in Clee after reading these…well all I can say is you’re missing out on a right treat.
The walk through Chasewater to The Scholars Ground is a stunning one. The walk begins alongside a huge reservoir, home to wildfowl, jet-skiers, sailing boats and speedboats (and midgies in the summer!). Then comes the wood, home to deer – and recently an escaped family of wild boar. It really is a beautiful walk. I’ve cycled it a few times too, startling a few dogs (and their walkers) with the clown horn on my bike.
As I emerged onto the car park of the ground, I stopped to chat with Alan and Colin, who were surprised yet pleased to see me, before continuing on through the turnstiles and straight towards the refreshment kiosk.
THEY’VE GOT GRAVY ON THE ACTUAL MENU NOW!
I actually fancied a cheeseburger this afternoon, but how could I not have gravy when they had taken the trouble to add it to the menu for me? Chips and gravy it was. I don’t much like their chips, to be honest (they’re more like fries). Maybe I’ll just have a cup of gravy next time? It’s £1 cheaper than Bovril.
After stopping to chat with a few friendly faces, including a former Premier League referee and a couple of the players’ dads, my chips had gone cold, so I disposed of them and made my way round to the stand behind the goal that Chase were attacking. I was disappointed not to see Bentley here today, the Non League Dog who had kept me amused during the second half of my last game here. The football was not great, if I’m honest, with former Blackpool favourite Scott Vernon giving Clee a 1-0 lead, which they carried into the break. Chase hadn’t really turned up.
At half time I caught up with the Chase Match Secretary/Photographer Pam and Kitman Dave outside the dressing rooms, where it was audibly apparent that the Chase management team were not best pleased with what they had seen during the first half. The rollocking had the desired effect and Chase pulled their socks up and put in a shift during the second half, following the introduction of Jack Langston from the bench. George Cater scored a beauty (as he does) and the game ended 1-1. That was a good result against a team riding high at the top of the Northern Premier League Division One South East.
As Chase hadn’t lost, I felt it safe to stick around after the match, so made my way towards the clubhouse. I was thrilled to bump into a particularly exuberant young Non League Dog along the way. You can see him (and the rest of the day’s events) in the match day vlog below:
I enjoyed catching up with friends old and new in the clubhouse over a couple of pints of Banks’s Mild. I made a point of seeking out our new striker/podcaster Westy to tell him how much I enjoyed his podcast (I forgot to mention his performance but he did provide the assist for the goal). He pulled out his Grassroots Gossip scarf, which Dave displayed proudly behind the bar. It’s great to see a player giving something back to the football community like this. The podcast really is a great advert for the non league scene.
I was offered a lift home by Trevor from the Supporters Club and now it was time to put my feet up and relax for the evening. As I find myself eating on the fly most of the time these days, I don’t have much food in, so I picked up my phone and referred to Just Eat. Hmm yes I liked that Indian I had from Khimuk the other week. Hmm and they do Pan Asian Fusion food too. So tonight it was Wasabi Prawns, Sweet & Sour Chicken and Coconut & Lemon Rice. That’ll do nicely, thank you very much. And relax with the new series of Spiral on BBC iPlayer…
On social media tonight, my friend Brian suggested compiling a Top 10 Fantasy Refreshment Kiosk for food at the football (which generally disappoints me so much). Of course this is right up my street, so here goes:
Corned Beef Lobby with Red Cabbage/Beetroot & Crusty Bread (enjoyed at Atherton Collieries)
Bed’Uth Broth (mystery soup sold at Bedworth United)
Lancashire Hotpot & Red Cabbage (like they had in the old supporters club)
Cornish Pasty (a proper nice and spicy one like they have at games in Devon)
Proper Chippy Chips & Gravy/Mushy Peas/Curry Sauce
Those Nice Gourmet Pies They Sell at Crystal Palace
Pick’n’Mix (they had bags of sweets at Longridge)
Orange Twirls (I haven’t tried one yet but I’ve got one coming on Tuesday so watch this space!)
What are your thoughts, dear reader? Are you happy with the fayre on offer at football grounds? Much as I’d love to put more money in clubs’ coffers by eating in the grounds, you’ve seen how hard I am finding it. Give me a menu like that above and I’d arrive in the ground for lunch, tuck in at half time and stay for my tea afterwards!
Mmm that’s me famished now! Excuse me while I raid the pantry for the Lebkuchen I’ve just stocked up on from Aldi (yay for German Christmas food!).
See you at the Wycombe game, folks…. UTMP.