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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.

Ipswich Town v Blackpool: A Dear Do

Ah Ipswich – one of my absolute FAVOURITE awaydays. Yes I know we’ve never won there and I know it’s at the end of the Earth but there is always joy to be found on the road with Blackpool FC if you know where to look. And we know EXACTLY where to look. 

Now the logistics of travel to away games is taking some readjusting on my part. It was easy at Chasetown (Market Drayton Town notwithstanding)… 

So Close Yet So Far Away

…because I could travel with fellow club officials, either in their car or on the club coach. However as a fan, it’s not always so easy. Of course it could have been, if I’d remembered that I could easily have booked a seat on the BSA coach. But I’d forgotten that (I need retraining). Plus that means of transport would have robbed me of my favourite part of the Ipswich awayday, as coaches are not permitted to stop at pubs in the town where we’re playing. 

So it was that I took the train to Ipswich. I figured Walsall was nearer, so I set off from there on Saturday morning, rising at 0430. 

I don’t mind early starts. I’d had a relaxing evening on Friday, tucking into a delicious takeaway from Khimuk in Aldridge. Check this out for a menu:

http://www.khimuk.com/Menu.html

I went for the North Indian Garlic Chilli Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala and Boiled Rice. It was all absolutely delicious. This is my new favourite Indian in Walsall. 

Suitably stuffed, I put my feet up, watched Corrie and painted my nails and I was in bed for 9pm. 

I’d been excited to find a direct bus into Birmingham, allowing me an extra half hour in bed. Thankfully I double-checked this before going to sleep – only to discover I had keyed in Friday instead of Saturday. Of course there wasn’t a direct bus on a Saturday. That would be too easy – and you know trips on public transport to matches are never easy…

On the two buses I buried my head in my book while I woke up. I’m currently reading Vox by Christina Dalcher.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37796866-vox

And oh my goodness it is so good! It’s been dubbed a modern-day Handmaid’s Tale. It’s set in a dystopian future where women are only permitted to speak 100 words per day. It really sets you thinking about the importance of language and communication – and how lost we would be without it. I had a breakdown when I lost my ability to write a few years ago. If you haven’t read it there’s a link below:

The Day The Writing Died

And now I’m in my element writing these blogs, editing the fanzine and helping Lee out with the awayday videos. I wouldn’t be able to do any of that without words. 

As the bus approached Birmingham I realised I hadn’t booked my train ticket to Ipswich, so called up The Trainline app and punched in my requirements. There was a reason I hadn’t booked my train ticket already – and that was the price. I kept waiting and hoping that the price would come down in the weeks leading up to the match. But no. 

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I was fuming about this as I trotted across Birmingham towards the station. So fuming, in fact, that I went the wrong way into Grand Central, heading up the ramp into the shopping centre instead of directly into the station. Hmph. However that did allow me the unexpected joy of hearing a clearly-inebriated Leeds fan loudly singing his head off in an otherwise empty (and very echoey) shopping centre. Making sure to catch his voice on video, I chuckled to myself as I made my way round to the escalators to take me down to the station concourse. 

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Oh. How do I get down, then? Panic! How was I doing for time? I needed to get food for the journey yet! I was becoming a little afraid now as it seemed everyone I encountered in Birmingham this morning was off their face. It was quite frightening. 

Mercifully I spotted another set of escalators that were working, so I floated down with a sigh of relief. And the escalators were beautifully lit up in tangerine and white too. Was that an omen?

I took up my position outside M&S Food, waiting for it to open. When it did, I decided to go full on indulgent (as I’d already forked out £92.55 for my train ticket, what’s a few prawns between friends?). I went for the Chilli & Coriander King Prawns, the posh cherry tomatoes that are just the best, a bottle of water (Prosecco would have been taking it too far – and besides I don’t even like the stuff) – and a Christmas wrap (turkey with all the trimmings). I had plans for lunch at the other end – but that was a long way away in terms of both distance and time – and I needed to make sure I didn’t get hungry en route. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry. 

Now I have been feeling the cold quite fiercely, having lost a stone and a half since last winter (it clearly makes a BIG difference not having that extra insulation). I’d been practically sitting in the fire to keep warm the previous night. So this morning I called in at Pret for a hot drink to set me up for the day. 

‘Can I have a rooibos cacao, please?’

(Yes, I’m middle class, let it go). 

‘A what?’

‘A rooibos cacao. It’s a red tea. With chocolate. I’ve had them from here before. I haven’t made it up.’

(Blank look). 

‘No, sorry – we don’t do those.’

They did, I knew, but I didn’t have the time for an argument (although a rage was beginning to build inside me). So I tootled off down to platform 6B to find my train. 

Now for £92.55 (have I mentioned the train cost £92.55?) I had certain expectations of this train. Nothing extravagant, just the basics:

  1. A seat. 
  2. A table.
  3. Heating. 
  4. At-seat refreshments. 
  5. Charging points. 
  6. WiFi. 

Was that asking too much? Apparently so. Points 1-4 were all covered, but there were no charging points (smugface as I had brought a portable charger). And as for the WiFi? Well don’t we all know how rubbish train WiFi is? I’d brought my laptop so I could put my 12h travel time to good use and work on Issue 3 of the fanzine, but was the WiFi sufficient for this purpose?

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Of course it wasn’t! 

I resorted to playing on my phone.  Now many years ago my friends and I had a teddy bear who we took to matches – and on holiday all over the world.  Dany Bear travelled with us on the epic train journey across Europe to Latvia – and even attended our friends’ wedding, dressed up in a suit.  During the boycott, Dany slipped into hibernation – but last week he resurfaced and he has been begging me to take him on an awayday.  So today I had a furry companion.  And now I had a LOT of time to kill, I set him up with his own Twitter account.  He put the train journey to good use, making a lot of friends within the furry community:

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Meanwhile Lee had woken up and had fed back to me that the audio on my videos was ‘a disaster darling’. Well how could that be? I’d been armed with a mic and the audio ought to be better than ever. After much faffing and stressing, it eventually became apparent that the adapter I’d brought was the wrong one. The official Apple product (which actually worked) was packed up somewhere amongst the stuff I was moving from Walsall to Blackpool. Great. 

So basically I was voiceless this morning. Considering the book I was reading, the irony was not lost on me. I took advantage of the relative peace at Peterborough station to have a good rant about my morning’s disasters. 

I wasn’t even expecting to be at Peterborough! I’d arranged to meet my pal at Ely. But when I checked my Trainline app en route, it told me that I needed to alight at Peterborough. What?! But what about my friend?! The only reason I hadn’t driven to Ipswich today was because I’d arranged to meet my pal at Ely! But if the app was telling me to get off at Peterborough then I guess I’d have to do that. So that’s what I did. Confused, I messaged my pal:

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I realised I could have stayed on the train I was on. But I’d been so desperate for a wee I’d darted off the train to make myself comfortable. By the time I realised I could have stayed on the same train, I heard it pulling away. 

As I sat on the station and observed a very lengthy freight train passing through the station, I was reminded of the world’s longest freight train that I’d spotted on the way to a pre-season friendly in Latvia in 2006. We’d been unsure where the match was taking place but Crossy knew, so we tagged along with him in taxis from the centre of Riga. Honestly the journey took ages. Partway there our journey was interrupted with a stop at a junction to wait for a freight train to pass. And I’m not joking when I tell you that we had to wait for 15 minutes for this freight train to pass – it was THAT long. Indeed it was that long that the taxi drivers decided to stay and watch the match with us, rather than drive back to Rīga without us. 

Anyway, the next train to Ipswich happened to stop at Ely in time to collect my pals so all was still running on schedule. The train was rammed, so my pals weren’t able to join me at my table until the train had emptied at Bury St Edmunds (where there was apparently a Christmas market). And we arrived in Ipswich in good time around 1130. 

Now we had to wait for a couple of our friends to arrive on other trains, so we decided to do so in the pub across the road from the station: The Station Hotel. This not being our Pub of Choice, I was unfamiliar with it. And I must confess I found it odd that I was searched on my way into the pub. And I mean properly searched: both my bags were thoroughly searched before I was allowed to enter the pub. Following this, I enquired whether I would get a frisk too, but yet again I was greeted with a look of surprise and told that, no, that wasn’t going to happen. Dammit.

After all that, the beer wasn’t all that exciting (it was a Greene King pub) so I ordered a Rocking Rudolph and took a seat in the window with some fellow Seasiders I’d spotted out of the corner of my eye. 

Now Mark was suffering crippling head pains with his sinuses.  As he was requesting drugs to help with the pain, I remembered that I had a drug pocket in my handbag (Ha! That was the one pocket that the man on the door had failed to search!).  I whipped out some paracetamol and hoped that would do the trick. 

Once the balance of our party had arrived, we crossed the road back to the train station and caught cabs to the Pub of Choice: The Fat Cat.   

Despite being out of town, this was the Pub of Choice for good reason. Not only was the beer excellent, but the pub allows us to have food delivered in, providing crockery and cutlery. For many years now, we have taken over the pub conservatory and ordered in a Chinese from the place across the road. 

On arrival at The Fat Cat today we were advised that takeaways were not permissible on weekends. Hmm. Did they not know who we were? And that we only came here for the Chinese? We talked them into it and, having established that the Chinese across the road wasn’t open, dipped into JustEat to order a delivery from the only Chinese that was offering deliveries: My Chinese Restaurant. 

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And boy did it not disappoint! I had the beef with ginger and spring onions (my Chinese staple) with egg fried rice – and it was delicious! The complimentary prawn crackers were the best I have ever tasted. So crunchy! 

The beer was great in here too.  I opted for the Beermats Midnight Mats (A black stout with hints of rum and raisin.  A real winter warmer.) and the Mighty Oak Old Man & The Sea (Rich black creamy stout with satisfying malt flavours of espresso coffee, dark chocolate and a hint of dark fruit.)  Mmm.  Very nice!

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Too soon it was time to jump into our pre-ordered cabs to the ground. En route I learned about why Armand Gnanduillet’s contract is up in the summer. I confess I’ve not really been following the fortunes of BFC over the past few years but apparently Gnanduillet (not massively popular in previous seasons) had signed for a club in South Africa, but they had exceeded their quota of overseas players, so we agreed to have him back on a short-term contract.  

On arrival at the ground we found the Dog of the Day: Zero, a Search Dog.  Now I have started looking for dogs on matchdays I see them everywhere – and they are now an important part of the matchday experience for me.  Zero wasn’t interested in sniffing me (no frisk, no sniff, hmph) so I proceeded into the ground.

As I was chatting with friends on the concourse underneath the stand pre-match, I received a call from the Ipswich fan I had met in the bank in Walsall the other week (you may recall Blackpool is his second team).  He asked if I would pick him up a match programme today.  I began explaining that I was already in the ground, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to help today…then I looked up and saw a man walking past with half a dozen programmes in his hand.  Still on the phone, I grabbed the unsuspecting man by the arm:

‘Excuse me, are you a programme seller?’

‘Er, no.  But you can have one of these if you want?’

And so I managed to procure a match programme for free.  Boom!  One satisfied Seasider/Tractor Boy.

I headed up into the stand and settled down in a seat.  I got so used to sitting / standing on my own at matches during my Chasetown days that I just do it automatically now.  I don’t even think to find friends to sit with.  At Chase I needed the solitude to fully concentrate on my match reporting duties (details/times of goals/substitutions and judging the referee).  

Speaking of referees, I was surprised and pleased to see today’s ref was Steve Martin, who I know from my Chasetown days.  As well as helping me out with arranging officials for our pre-season friendlies a couple of years ago, I remembered him for being a particularly good referee.  I knew we were in good hands today – and I wasn’t proved wrong.

At half-time today I visited the refreshment kiosk, as I fancied something sweet after my Chinese.  I stood on my tiptoes to seek out the chocolate and ordered a bag of Twirl Bites.  Just as the lady behind the counter went to fetch them, I spotted the man next to me with a cup of Bovril, so I ordered one of those too.  Mmm Bovril.  Guess how much that came to?  Some chocolate and a Bovril?  £5.60!!!  Blimey it was a dear do today!  It was nice, though…

As I stepped away with my wares, I received a call from Houstie, wanting to link me up with our friend Liz, who I hadn’t seen today.  He took me to her and we sat together for the second half.  One of the wonderful things about football is that it is a place for a community to come together.  Here today were friends from all over the country – all here in Ipswich because Blackpool were here.  It’s very special – and so wonderful to have this back. 

Ipswich scored early on with a lethal finish but Blackpool fought and fought, equalising through Joe Nuttall before going ahead from a Jay Spearing penalty (what a hero he is becoming).  Ipswich later equalised from the spot and the game ended up 2-2.  The Seasiders continued to create opportunities to the death and could have nicked the win.  It was a heroic battling performance and a draw at Portman Road is a very good result.  

As I exited the ground, I was excited to see a sign above the exit, directing away supporters to the railway station and bus station.  How good is that?  I really appreciate these lovely touches from away clubs.  It’s just a little thing, but it is so important.  It can be hard to get your bearings coming out of an unfamiliar ground.  I have lost count of the number of times I have asked a policeman for directions or had to get Google Maps out or have been asked for directions myself on exiting a ground.  Thank you Ipswich Town FC.

Of course I wasn’t going directly back to the station – but the pub was just across the road.  Alas, on arrival, the pub was shut!  However I managed to reconnect with my friends, who were standing outside it looking perplexed.  Someone said that the pub wasn’t opening until 6pm ‘when the traffic had died down a bit’, which seemed to make no sense, but it was what it was.  With too little time to hunt down another pub, we stood around aimlessly for a while before heading into the station to raid Greggs (a packet of Prawn Cocktail, a Christmas slice and a bottle of Fanta for me).

We caught the train back to Ely, where we parted company as my friends headed back towards London and I caught the train up to Birmingham.  By now my head was much clearer than it had been on the journey down, when I was stressed out by my tech issues, and I realised that I could bypass the rubbish train WiFi by accessing the hotspot on my phone.  Hence I spent the next two and a half hours working on the fanzine, making good progress and feeling much better by the time I got back to Brum.

Whilst rummaging in my rucksack for Christmas cake, I happened across the programme I’d secured earlier. And, now I was relaxed and my brain was working, I remembered I was in it! 

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I arrived back in Birmingham on time (for once) and strolled across to the bus stop.  By now the (clearly contagious) video stress had passed to Lee, who was completely lost with the order of the video clips for the second half of the match.  The signal in the ground had been poor, so the video clips had arrived with Lee out of order.  As I waited for my bus, I resent the clips in order and Lee was able to continue with the video editing.  Here is the result of our day’s stresses – I hope you enjoy it:

I arrived home exhausted but happy after a thoroughly enjoyable awayday.  Sure, it had been a long day (it was 2315 before I got home) – not to mention an expensive one – but I had made some wonderful memories, some new friends and gathered new material for the blog and vlog. This is what football is all about.  And I won’t ever let anyone take that away from me again.  UTMP.

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