Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Fleetwood Town: When Is A Derby Not A Derby?

Derby: a keen sporting contest, esp one between neighbouring teams (The Chambers Dictionary).

When is a derby not a derby?  When Blackpool are playing their nearest ‘rivals’ Fleetwood Town, apparently.  Since the two clubs don’t have a great deal of shared history, a lot of Seasiders don’t deem the Cods a valid rival.  Of course, under the ownership of Blackpool fan Andy Pilley – coinciding with the self-combustion of Blackpool in recent years under previous owners – the plights of the two clubs have brought them both from different directions to League One.  Are we therefore on an even keel now?  Blackpool fans would disagree.  We have a proud history and a great future and can already hear the Prem Championship calling us back.

My weekend began, as usual, in another town.  Friday night took me to Wigan, where I had a night’s Hotpotting lined up.  During the wilderness years, I travelled around The North having weekend adventures following The Lancashire Hotpots on tour.  

This provided opportunities to explore and celebrate The North, as well as spending a couple of hours with like-minded nutters out to have a good time.  If you’ve never been Hotpotting, I’d thoroughly recommend it.  They’re on at The Grand in Blackpool in July, so get yer tickets booked!

https://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/event/the-lancashire-hotpots-chips-and-giggles-tour/

The Hotpots were at The Old Courts in Wigan tonight for a rare Friday night gig.  Of course I had to go along, Wigan being one of my favourite towns for reasons you can find here:

The Road to Wigan Beer

I only had a couple of hours in Wigan ahead of tonight’s gig, so I had to be selective as to which of the town’s many wonderful hostelries to visit.  The previous night, I happened across my Pub Map of Wigan:

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Hmm.  So many pubs, so little time!  I selected the two with the best beer ranges – alas they were on opposite sides of town.  Northern Beer Temple is a wonderful little bottle shop that was open for on-sales on my first visit there – but hasn’t been on any subsequent visits.  I wanted to call in here tonight as the beer range really is magnificent.  It’s one of those places where you want to buy EVERYTHING you see on the shelves.  

https://www.facebook.com/Northernbeertemple/

On the train to Wigan, I gave them a call to see if they were open to drink in tonight.  Sadly, they weren’t and, as I wasn’t stopping over tonight, I couldn’t very well call in and buy any beers to take away, as it wouldn’t really have been practical.

So hello Wigan Central!  You know this is one of my favourite pubs in the country.  Situated in the railway arches at Wigan North Western station, this place really does have everything for the beer connoisseur: cask, keg, bottles, cans, live music, scotch eggs, live train departure boards, tables with charging points, great service and great company.  I just love it here.  I was more than happy to spend a couple of hours in here before the gig.

So, what did I have to drink?  Thornbridge Christmas Pudding Lucaria, Chapter 3 1/2 Sticky Fist (treacle smoked porter), Glen Affric Chocolate Orange Brose and Mad Squirrel De La Creme (milk stout).  For people who say they don’t like the taste of beer, I’ll say you simply haven’t found the right one for you yet – and keep trying!  I love finding beers (and foods) that delight my palate: it is one of life’s joys.

As for my tea?  Well the gentlemen whose table I gatecrashed (I wasn’t staying stood up with two beers in my hands) kindly offered me their Bombay Mix, which was very tasty, but wasn’t quite going to soak up all the beer.  As I listened intently to their stories, absorbing their wisdom about how learning improv stand up comedy is great for developing negotiation skills in meetings, guess which Scotch Egg I was tucking into?

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Clue: My mouth was on FIRE!!!

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Soon it was time to head off to The Old Courts, where I joined the queue of flat-capped people snaking out of the building.  After making use of the excellent facilities, I made my way to the front of the room, right by the stage (I’m too short to be able to see from anywhere else in the room), enjoying the hilarious warm-up act, Stu Penders:

As we waited for the Hotpots to come on, I decided to pop to the bar to grab a pint to enjoy the gig with.  This was their ‘Beerhemian Rhapsody’ tour, after all, and I knew they would be singing a lot of songs about beer.

As I took my place back at the front, I made friends with a fellow Hotpotter, Debbie, and we sang and danced and conga’d our way through the next couple of hours.  She even put her flat cap on my head at one point – and bloomin’eck it was hot dancing around in one of those things!

It was a brilliant night as always and, after a post-gig chat with the band (they know me now, I have been to see them that often), I headed back to Wigan North Western to catch the train home to Blackpool.  I had to change at Preston, but fortunately I managed to hop on an earlier connection than expected, avoiding the half-hour connection at one of my least-favourite stations (largely because I have spent hours and hours waiting for connections there over the years…and the price of food and drinks there offends me).

My train home from Preston was one of the new super-duper Northern trains that we have been promised will replace the cattle rattlers in the new year.  It was nice and shiny – and had tables and charging points.  It remains to be seen whether my commuter train to Manchester will have enough carriages to accommodate all the passengers, but better quality facilities will be a good start.  

Lee collected me from Blackpool North on his way home from work and I soon collapsed into bed, looking forward to a rare lie-in tomorrow.

Saturdays are always hectic chez nous.  It is our busiest day and there is always so much to prepare.  This morning I was counting out fanzines to deliver to Bloomfield Brewhouse, No. 10 Alehouse and Brew Room, as well as packing copies for myself and Harry to sell outside the ground before the match.  Lee prepared his camera kit, ensuring he had everything he needed for the day’s vlogging, such as camera, spare batteries and microphones.  We grabbed whatever we could find to eat whilst frantically packing our bags.  This is always hard for me on a Saturday morning, as I’m never really that hungry, but I don’t know when I will next get an opportunity to eat.  I shovelled a couple of these down my neck and hoped for the best.

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They’re really delicious and have tiny gingerbread men in them so they make me smile while I’m eating them.

We headed out to deliver the fanzines to the pubs before arriving at Bloomfield Road in time for the official opening of the new BFC Community Trust building in the old club shop.  Our owner and saviour Simon Sadler gave a speech and cut the ribbon.  As I loitered a little with my fanzines fanned out in front of me, encouraging buyers in my direction, Linton Brown sidled up to me and enquired after a fanzine (now I knew who he was): ‘Any chance today?’  Ash Hackett, CEO of the BFC Community Trust, said: ‘You’re the one who does the away games, aren’t you?’.  I’m thinking about having that printed on a t-shirt.  What do you think?

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With that, I strolled round to Bloomfield Road to take up my usual fanzine-selling position outside the old No.1 Club / Sam Tai Casino.  I read this week that this building is being redeveloped into an Arcade Club, which frankly sounds ace!  Having been brought up in the arcades of Blackpool – and seeing them gradually close and being hard-pressed to find a pinball machine anywhere in town these days – this is a very exciting development.  I really hope they have Pac Land, which I used to love playing on North Pier.  Perhaps I’ll put in a request.

I had a great couple of hours selling fanzines, despite the rain.  As always, I got some interesting visitors.  There was a lady who was familiar with the lighthouse in Ulverston (remember the one that I didn’t manage to catch on film en route to Barrow and Lee thought I’d been hallucinating) and was equally as excited about it as I was.  She said you can go into it but have to climb a big hill to get there, which has put her off.

I sold out of fanzines by 2.45pm and, after meeting up with my sales team, headed into the ground in good time for kick-off.  Today was to be my first game seated in my actual season ticket seat (there being no spaces by Lee) – and I was really pleased with it.  My neighbours were friendly and the view was great.  There was a lot of standing up to let people in and out but I’ll just have to find a way of managing that stress (e.g. keeping my bags underneath my seat or on my knee, so I don’t have to keep moving them every time).

As for the match?  Wowzers.  Blackpool were great once again, scoring some cracking goals (Kaikai WOW!).  It is so enjoyable watching the Seasiders right now.  This is how it was under Larry last time – and under Ollie – simply going along and relaxing and enjoying the football, knowing full well that you are going to get a good performance from the team and be EXCITED by what is happening on the pitch.  This really is the life.

The ground looked fantastic today, with some cracking visuals.  Blackpool was initially designed as a strikingly-visual town, with the Tower, illuminations and piers providing a unique landscape.  So it is in keeping with the town’s traditions that Bloomfield Road should create a strong visual impact too.  Today we had the new signage both outside and inside the ground, promoting the club’s new ‘Backing Blackpool’ campaign to ‘step up the club’s efforts to re-connect with fans, businesses and the wider community’.  There was signage, perimeter boards and flags waving in tangerine all around the ground when we scored our goals.  The fans, too, were bouncing, creating quite a spectacle themselves.  This truly is a great time to be a Blackpool fan.  So much care and thought is being taken to engage with the fans and community.  We have simply never known this before.  It cannot help but reap dividends.  Treat your customers well and they will return. 

The disturbance on the pitch marred an otherwise wonderful day.  It did appear as though the stewards were reluctant to manhandle the pitch invader.  It is one thing to be instructed to be nice to fans but they must have the authority to deal with situations like this as they arise.  It was shocking but not surprising that a couple of Blackpool fans took it upon themselves to self-police the situation (where were the actual police?).  Is such self-policing a sign of the times, with police cutbacks nationwide?  Is this a sign of things to come?  It will be interesting to see what comes of this situation. 

Here’s Lee’s video of a brilliant day out at Bloomfield Road, including a cameo from me at the end:

After the comfortable 3-1 win, I headed up to The Corner Flag to meet Karen, who I was heading out with tonight.  I had already been messaging Karen to warn her I was ravenous and MUST eat something soon, otherwise I would get hangry (and you know you wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry).  We had provisionally agreed to go to The Washington for food (as she didn’t fancy a chippy tea grr) but I had just remembered it was the boxing tonight, so I suspected the pub may be rammed and not ideal for getting food in a relative hurry (we were due at The Grand for the panto at 7pm).  As I stood at the bar in The Corner Flag waiting to order my Theakston XB, I spied a basket of crisps out of the corner of my eye.  Yes!  A big bag of Quavers would stave off my hunger for now at least.  When Karen arrived with a bonus pork pie she had snaffled from hospitality, that was me happy.  

As we were in the lift back down to the BFC Hotel reception, we were discussing how things had changed for the better at the club over the past month or so, and I remarked:

‘What I particularly like – and you’ll see this in a minute – is how there are people holding doors open for us all around the club.  It’s such a little thing, but it makes me feel really special – like I’m valued.’

We laughed aloud as, when we got to reception, we had to open both sets of doors for ourselves.  When we replayed our conversation to the two men in reception, they laughed along with us and apologised for having been daydreaming about what they were going to have for tea.  Having been starving all day myself, I could sympathise totally and we carried on chuckling as we headed round the perimeter of the ground.

As we passed the Main Entrance, we spied the imposing (and totally superfluous) Fleetwood Town coach.  Honestly it looked like they were playing at Wembley (‘3-1 in your cup final…’).  Could they not have just got the tram?  Joey Barton was signing autographs and chatting to fans before he boarded.  We resisted the urge to taunt him – not least because we were on a tight schedule now.

Next we passed the police loading their horses into vehicles to transport them away. 

We were heading in the direction of West Coast Rock Cafe for tea (they surely wouldn’t be showing the boxing?) but, as the clock ticked towards 6pm, time really wasn’t on our side.  I spied a newsagents and decided to dart in there to stock up on chocolate and sweets for the theatre.  That would simply have to do.  Now newsagents are often little treasure troves when it comes to snackage.  Tonight I discovered not one but THREE exciting new things: Snickers Crisp, Vimto Jelly Beans and Bournville Buttons.  Well, that would do very nicely, thank you very much!

Now with food and oodles of time banked, we headed off to Brew Room for a pre-show beer or two.  This really is the best pub in Blackpool in terms of beer range (cask, keg, bottles and cans), so I knew there would be something to delight my palate.  Two beers, in fact!  I enjoyed a half of Oyston Grinch (blueberry stout) and Bristol Beer Factory Future Proof (mild) as I tucked into my Snickers Crisp (which was rather filling).

I was also very tempted to sign up for this tournament, for the free mince pie if nothing else:

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Now it was time to head to The Grand for the evening’s entertainment: Peter Pan.  Whilst vaguely familiar with the story, knowing Peter was a boy who refused to grow up (don’t they all?), I don’t think I had ever read the book or seen the story played out on the screen or stage.  

The Grand is such a stunning theatre and we admired the view from our front row seats in the Upper Circle.  The detail in the decor really is incredible.  We are so lucky to have such a beautiful theatre in Blackpool.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the panto – and the show was stolen by comic Steve Royle, who played Smee.

’15 years in panto at The Grand – and are you even on the Comedy Carpet?’

‘Yes…well…I’m on the underlay.’

What a cracking evening’s entertainment that was.  Peter Pan is on at The Grand until 5th January and I would urge you to go and see it.

https://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/event/peter-pan-pantomime/

Post-theatre we headed to Layton Rakes for further beerage, as it was handily situated for our transport home.  Here I was delighted to see an exciting selection of Christmas beers.  Wetherspoons (ok technically this was a Lloyds Bar) certainly know how to do Christmas beers.  Indeed it was a Wetherspoons that converted me from a lager drinker to a real ale connoisseur.  I was in the Bankers Draft in Sheffield ahead of our Boxing Day match at Hillsborough in 2008, when a Christmas-spiced beer leapt out at me from the bar and it was love at first taste.  Tonight in Blackpool I enjoyed the Wolf Santa Paws (a full-bodied chocolate ale with a caramel dry finish), Otter Claus (dark ruby premium bitter) and Little Critters Plum Penguin (festive plum porter). 

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Despite the late hour (it was now 10pm), when I spotted the food menu on the table, I perused it to see if food was still being served.  Result!  Food was served until 11pm in here.  I promptly ordered a Chicken Tikka Massala, as I realised I hadn’t actually had a meal all day and could really do with one.

Well what a pleasant afternoon and evening’s entertainment that had been!  It was raining quite heavily now but I didn’t care because I’d had a great day – and besides the bus stop was only across the road.  As I waited in the shelter (quite a good one, successfully protecting me from the wind and rain), I found myself bopping away to Whigfield, which was blaring out from Branningans across the road.  God, I love Blackpool.  I’m so happy to be home.

And it is the revival of Blackpool Football Club that has finally brought me home, after 20 years away.  The rush of love for the club these past few months has been overpowering.  Despite having been perfectly happy at Chasetown FC these past few years, the lure of Blackpool was simply too strong.  So strong, in fact, that I need to be back home in the midst of this special community that the club is now at the very heart of.  These really are magical times for the club and the town.  My club.  My town.  My world.  It really is great to be home.  UTMP.

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