Ah Sunderland away the morning after the Christmas party. What genius scheduled that one? Still, it forced me to be sensible on Friday night.
Of course, there are limits to being sensible on a Friday night – and, after a Southwold Christmas Ale and a Carlow Irish Stout from Marks & Spencer, I was happily introduced to a brand new secret bar (not a speakeasy, according to the owner) beneath a barber’s shop. In One Eight Six, I enjoyed an Alphabet Juice Springsteen (a Session IPA, with generous additions of Pineapple, Mango, Passionfruit, Guava, and Mandarin). Apart from the delicious local beer (which tasted not unlike an Orange and Passionfruit J20, but nicer – and obvs boozier), the highlight of this place was the toilets, where I was offered a free hair and make-up touch-up by a kind lady. I wasn’t sure whether to be delighted or insulted but opted for the former. I didn’t take up her kind offer, though.
Next we headed to James Martin Manchester, where I enjoyed a three-course Christmas dinner consisting of:
- Confit Duck Terrine, Salt baked beetroot, mulled wine, fig, duck fat brioche
- Free Range Turkey with Cranberry & Orange Stuffing, Pigs in blankets, anise braised carrot, maple glazed piccolo parsnips
- Chocolate & Fig Christmas Pudding, Mince pie ice cream, macerated winter berries
The Mince Pie Ice Cream was particularly yummy. This is a fine restaurant indeed.
I left straight after dinner (in a taxi because I had very hurty feet in my non-sensible sandals, which were also hardly practical for a wet Manchester). Happily the 9pm train was delayed by 20 minutes, so I ran for that (yes in those sandals) before settling down to catch up on Corrie on the 90 minute journey back to Blackpool. This was the first time I had caught a non-commuter (drunk) train home and we probably shouldn’t have laughed at the man who woke up on the train with no idea where he was, having dozed through his stop, because, let’s face it, we’ve all done it. In fact, I’m surprised I haven’t done this on my commute, as I’m usually asleep for part of the journey.
I had been confused for two successive nights now by the departure board at Salford Crescent displaying the destination of my train as ‘Blackpool N Pole’. Despite not being strictly sober on either occasion (it is Christmas, after all), I couldn’t have been mistaken on two occasions, could I? When I alighted the train, this is what greeted me:
I guess I’m in for a cold winter…
Now this isn’t the first time my eyes have perplexed me after a Christmas party. A few years ago, I opened the curtains in my living room to see a pterodactyl in a tree in my garden. I know. That’s what I thought. Can’t be real, right? What was in those cocktails last night? Oh it was real all right…
By way of background, I’d bought the house in late spring and hardly had the curtains open since the nights had drawn in – it being dark when I left for work and dark when I got home. I was usually at football on Saturdays but this was around the time I stopped going, hence being at home during daylight hours. I had therefore never seen this tree without its leaves before this morning. The pterodactyl must have been in there all along.
I was too terrified to move him. Was he real? Don’t be daft, woman! Was he a spy camera, looking into the house all along? I was too scared to check! How long had he lived there? I don’t recall seeing him listed in the Fixtures & Fittings Form when buying the house. He filled me with terror for years and of course I’ve left him behind for my buyers…
On Saturday morning I woke croaky as ever thanks to my lingering cold. I packed my throat sweets, water, emergency snackage, fanzines and vlogging accessories (tripod and microphone). I had arrived home to a gift from Lee of a new adapter to attach the mic to my phone (you may recall my audio battles from Ipswich). I was ready for the long trip to Sunderland.
I was taking a new method of transport today for variety: the Poulton Bus. I boarded at the Boars Head and took my seat at the front of the coach – a prime spot for filming both down the bus and through the front window. I immediately spotted a man walking a couple of dogs sporting Santa outfits and just knew this was going to be a good day. This was a most comfortable mode of transport, a Mercedes with comfortable seats and on-board facilities. Our driver was amiable and accommodating – and our host, coach organiser Ashley, proved most entertaining.
It really is wonderful how Blackpool fans have come together now. Seasiders have come to the fore to work not only for and around the club (e.g. Martin Booker as Business Development Manager for BFC and Christine Seddon as Manager of the BFC Hotel), but also independently, offering services such as this coach today. There were differences in political opinions from passengers on the coach today – some happy with the result of Thursday’s election, some less so – but all remained in good spirits and the unifying thread of us all being Seasiders proved stronger than any differences. Happiness and peace come when people find – and focus on – things they have in common. These truly are special times for Blackpool fans.
The coach stopped off at Kirkby Stephen, the halfway point en route to Sunderland. Our first refreshment point was the Black Bull Hotel, which proved unfortunate timing for the barmaid, a self-confessed Fleetwood Town fan. Of course she took a light taunting as she poured our beers, following our victory over the Cods last week. This was a pleasant traditional pub, where I enjoyed a pint of Black Sheep (the other offering being hoppy) as I listened engrossed to tales of things that had happened during the boycott that I hadn’t really followed at that time.
Next stop was Kings Arms Hotel, which was brimful of happy Seasiders by the time we got there. After chatting with new friends over another swift pint of I can’t remember what but it wasn’t any more exciting than the Black Sheep, it was time to head off to the North East.
The singing and joviality spilled out back onto the coach and the atmosphere was wonderful. This was going to be – nay was already – a good day no matter what. Old songs and new were belted out all the way to Sunderland, our host keeping the atmosphere bubbling, not only leading the singing but also treating us to some hilarious impersonations (as you can witness for yourself on the matchday vlog below).
I’d sold some fanzines to my fellow passengers, too, and it was pleasing to see them reading and hearing them remarking on the content, including the article on the match at Bloomfield Road when four players had to go off with hypothermia (I don’t think I need tell you they were Southern). There was also admiration for the Lego models of Bloomfield Road (pre- and post-redevelopment). Want to take a look? You can find it here:
I also won the raffle on the coach! My prize was a gin and chocolate hamper, courtesy of (and to raise money for) Brian House Hospice in Blackpool. I don’t drink gin (just one glass causes me to catastrophise…indeed I’m doing it already just having it in the house); however I do, of course, eat chocolate. I’d have to rehome the gin somehow.
When we arrived at the Stadium of Light around 2pm our options were: (a) another pub; (b) the fan zone; or (c) head straight into the ground. I opted for the fan zone, having had such a great time in the one at Accy earlier in the season:
Sunderland’s was a far more civilised affair though, disappointingly, so after a quick mooch it was into the ground. It took me ages to get into the ground, having my two bags searched (I must start travelling lighter) and receiving a sniff from a dog (but again no frisk). It then took me ages to climb all the stairs up to the away end. So high was the climb that we had entertainment at the top of each flight of stairs.
But at least it wasn’t as high as Newcastle (nor, I think, Wolves, where we could see the roof of the adjacent stand). I was hungry by the time I reached the top, though, and ordered a Chicken Balti Pukka Pie.
Dear reader, we have a strong contender here for Pie of the Season. It was delicious and cooked to perfection. It even had little sprinkles of cumin on top. I had this accompanied by a bottle of water which was decanted into a plastic pint pot for me (grr, that’s such a nuisance).
As I took my seat I realised I’d forgotten to buy a programme on the way in (I had a double-page spread in today’s issue). Alas they weren’t on sale in the ground (why?) but I was told I’d find a programme seller on the way out (I didn’t) or, failing that, in the club shop (I didn’t have time). Grr.
I ended up sitting (well standing) with the young boisterous Seasiders which was an experience but not one I’d like to repeat every week! Standing up for 90 minutes is not ideal when you’re 5’2 and vlogging. The atmosphere was great though.
But I was having microphone trouble again today. Lee had been providing feedback on my audio (pun intended) on the coach and I still hadn’t perfected it (it isn’t easy) but was getting there. On my climb up to my seat I’d managed to lose the microphone (I retraced my steps and found it again – phew!). And just before half-time I lost the mic cover (which, after a mild panic, I located under the seat in front). I really wasn’t getting on with this microphone. Not only is getting the audio right tricky but I found the lead incredibly faffy. Lee later said he got along with it fine and used it every week. My problem is I only film on awaydays and this was only my third outing with the mic. I need practice. Or a wireless mic. It’s hard work this vlogging lark.
Now onto the match. I was confident of a Seasiders victory today, with us in great form and Sunderland in disarray and on a bad run. Indeed we started brilliantly, taking the lead with a wonder strike from Matty Virtue after just four minutes. We continued to control the game before conceding against the run of play ahead of the break.
The queue for the TWO cubicles in the Ladies at half time was out the door. As I waited I was asked if I had any fanzines with me and sold one while I was queueing (was she going to read it on the toilet, I wondered but didn’t ask). The sinks were fitted with what is becoming customary (or should I say – ahem – bog standard) EFL attachments of dummy hot taps. They turn on but nothing comes out, other than a trickle of cold water. It’s the same at Bloomfield Road. They just TEASE with the fake taps. It’s cruel.
Alas The Mackems started the second half more brightly and we failed to score again, despite our hosts going down to ten men with 15 minutes remaining. This was a disappointing point. We should have won today. We are better than this.
It was FREEZING on the walk back to the coach, but happily it was nice and toasty once we got on there. We remained jovial as we headed back across the country.
We stopped at Kirkby Stephen again for an hour on the way home. By now I was ravenous, so sprang off the coach and strode apace towards the chippy. And what a welcome we got there! Despite our coaches bringing lots of business to their counter, I was greeted with utter misery.
‘Mini fish and chips please.’
‘We only do one size.’
‘Oh…ok…well one of those please. Oh and gravy.’
No question about where I wanted the gravy (probably just as well) but it was poured over the fish which, as you know, I’m perfectly fine with, but even I know it’s not de rigueur. I paid, resisting the Dandelion & Burdock in favour of the bottle of water I had on the coach) and took a seat in the booth opposite the counter.
About halfway through my (very nice) chippy tea, a man in an apron approached the table.
‘It’s extra to eat at the tables.’
‘Oh. Well I’m happy to pay extra. How much do you want?’
‘You can’t. It’s table service. With plates.’
With that, he scuttled back to where he came from. Had he been asking us to leave? As he hadn’t explicitly said that (and I was almost finished anyway) I stayed where I was. Well this certainly wasn’t Cleethorpes, was it? They might call me a savage and threaten to burn me at the stake for having gravy on my fish and chips in Clee, but at least they let me eat it in peace – and even give me free beer to go with it. You can read all about my epic trips to Clee here:
Frankly this experience put me off my food anyway, so I headed out of the chippy (taking my rubbish with me to avoid being chased down the street with a fish knife) and treating myself to a tube of Orange Smarties (just a pound) from the more welcoming shop across the road.
Who knew that you could buy a whole tube (and a big one at that!) of Orange Smarties? I usually have to fish out the orange ones so I can save them til last (they’ve always been my favourites). Did you know the orange ones have orange-flavoured chocolate in them, as opposed to ordinary milk chocolate in the other colours? I think Blue Smarties had orange chocolate in them too.
As I walked into the Black Bull proudly showing off my Orange Smarties, I was chastised by two separate people for not knowing they were, in fact, Tangerine. Of course! What was I thinking?
I chatted with new friends about music over another pint of Black Sheep before paying a visit to the excellent facilities before boarding the coach. And my these WERE excellent facilities! The walls of the Ladies were decorated in old copies of Jackie magazine. Oh I could have stayed in here for a good hour if we didn’t have to get moving.
We arrived back at the Boars Head at 2130 and I jumped into a taxi with the gin and chocolate hamper I’d been presented with when we’d stopped at Poulton. What a great day today had been. Sure, we’d only come away with a draw when we ought to have had three, but it had been a great day out with friends old and new. I hadn’t really known any of my fellow passengers too well prior to today’s trip but I wouldn’t hesitate to travel on the Poulton Bus again. It really was magnificent. Keep your eyes peeled (horrible phrase, sorry) for details of their future away trips and offer them your support. I haven’t had such a laugh on a coach to a match for many years.
I was still buzzing when I got home, so caught up with Corrie and made some ground with The Apprentice before drifting off to sleep happy. It’s so great to be back, Blackpool. I love you enormously. UTMP.