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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.

Rotherham United v Blackpool: New Year in New York

Ah my first New Year back on the Fylde Coast. For the first time, being back home seemed a bit weird, because all of my friends with whom I would normally see in the New Year were in Walsall and I wasn’t. Last year was particularly memorable, as we ended up playing Cards Against Humanity with some barking mad strangers with a Norman Bates doll who plied us with shots. This was in Katz (actual name The Victoria), which is a great pub for many reasons, not least the Church End Gravediggers Mild, which is the most delicious and quaffable mild I have ever had (I keep checking, just to be sure).

This year, however, I was home alone. Lee was out working and frankly I was glad of a night in to catch up on a bit of football and writing admin. I seem to be much busier with all things Blackpool FC than I ever was when I was with Chasetown but it is of course a labour of love and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I learned the hard way following my breakdown a few years ago how important it is to immerse yourself in the things you love.

https://janestuart.co.uk/2019/07/09/the-day-the-writing-died/

Tonight I was gathering together testimonials, which you can find here:

https://janestuart.co.uk/testimonial/testimonials/

Well aren’t you a lovely lot, dear readers?

I was also preparing for the radio show that Lee and I have been invited to co-present. This is an exciting new venture for 2020 as we relaunch the sports show on Fylde Coast Radio. This is a digital platform so you can listen in from anywhere in the world. You can download the app or tune in via the website www.fyldecoastradio.org. I hope you’ll give us a listen from 6pm every Friday – starting on 3rd January (this week!).

Now every so often I resolve not to drink at home. This shouldn’t prove difficult, as I no longer buy booze for the house. However alcohol keeps being thrust in my direction and I appear powerless to stop it. My friend gifted me a couple of bottles of Titanic Plum Porter a few months back, which of course I wasn’t going to leave behind in the move; I had a can of IPA forced on me whilst travelling first class on the train last month (apparently if they have an empty trolley at the end of their shift they don’t have to stock take and can go straight home); I won a gin hamper in the raffle on the coach to Sunderland the other week; and Lee got a bottle of Salted Caramel Baileys for Christmas. I was also given a year’s beer tasting subscription as a leaving present from work. Do you see how difficult this is?

It was my mission this week to rid the house of all alcohol. It’s not that I was planning a Dry January or anything (I don’t agree with that and, besides, Manchester Beer Festival is this month). I just don’t like having the temptation in the house. Drinking at home can become a habit and it’s a slippery slope. So tonight I was determined to complete the job. The beer had been disposed of over the last couple of nights. Tonight the Baileys was going to be polished off. It was no great chore and it was gone by 10pm. Hmm. What now? There was only gin left – and I catastrophise when I drink gin. Was this a good idea when I was home alone for new year? Sod it. It needed getting rid of. And besides it was only a miniature. What harm could it do?

When I opened the fridge to find the accompanying tonic that was also in the gin hamper, I realised that there were an additional two cans of gin and tonic. Oh gosh. I didn’t want to drink all that gin but it simply had to go. Hence by midnight I was pretty well lubricated – although fortunately not at all catastrophic. Perhaps it’s only the posh gins that have that effect on me? Or perhaps I’m so content with life right now that my mind can combat it? Either way, I still have no intention of drinking it again – just in case.

We had a nice lie-in on New Year’s Day but it was still a struggle to get out of bed at 11am for a noon departure to Rotherham. It didn’t help that we were struggling to motivate ourselves for the match today, following three uninspiring performances from Blackpool. Plus it was Rotherham.

‘Is Rotherham going to be like Doncaster? It was great there.’

‘Er…no. It’s not like Doncaster at all. When we used to play Rotherham (or either of the Sheffield sides, for that matter) we’d always drink and stay in Donny. Donny is just a bit special.’

‘Why is Rotherham different?’

‘You’ll see…’

Remember our trip to Donny? It was my birthday game and we had the BEST time, chatting away with the stewards, taking penalties under the stand and getting a last-minute winner. What a night that was!

I asked Alexa to play some Duke Special as I was getting ready but she appeared to be playing up (as usual) this morning. Dear reader, Lee and I never row with each other but can often be heard screaming in frustration at Alexa or Siri. After singing to Freewheel at the top of my lungs, Alexa played Freewheel again. It’s a good song but was that all she knew?

‘Alexa! Next!’

She then played something completely random that most definitely wasn’t Duke Special (his strong Irish accent is unmistakeable).

‘Alexa! Play Duke Special!’

Cue Stevie Wonder. WTF?

‘ALEXA!!! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?! PLAY DUKE SPECIAL!’

Finally she played Our Love Goes Deeper Than This and I could resume my morning toilette. It was only later that evening that Lee confessed he had been controlling the music himself from his phone in another room. Oh what larks. Clearly he was in a mischievous mood today…

Of course we were late leaving the house, forgot to fuel up the car and had to return for Lee’s mittens. How I laughed when I found out Lee had mittens but they’re really toasty and I’ve actually got myself a pair now. I’ve also purchased these beauties to keep my hands warm when I’m selling fanzines:

The weather couldn’t make its mind up today: it was cloudy and dull with intermittent bright sunshine. The forecast was a nippy 4-6C for Rotherham today (I always ask Siri for the forecast immediately before getting dressed). I gave my new thermal North Face trousers an airing (a Christmas present from Lee) and took care not to forget my lucky scarf and hat.

The drive across the Pennines was pleasant and quiet, with most people nursing hangovers following the new year revelries and not trekking across the country to watch lower league football like us. Lee pointed out the farm in the middle of the M62 and was surprised I wasn’t aware of it. Of course I had to find out the story behind exactly why the motorway was built around this farm and the answer is here:

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/why-house-middle-m62-motorway-16416520

On arrival in Rotherham, Lee wound down his window outside a deliciously aromatic burger van (I was STARVING, having rushed out this morning and only eaten a few squares of Galaxy and a handful of Jelly Babies en route). Lee asked for directions to the car park, which we duly located and parked up at for a bargain £2. We strolled back in the direction of the New York Stadium and the burger van was again in sight. Boy was I hungry! But Lee was in full-on vlogger mode and walked straight past the burger van, hastening in the direction of the stadium. Grr. I had no choice but to follow as I hadn’t got any money on me today, having spent all my cash on a nice new pair of shoes to weather the Manchester winter (my previous pair lasted three months and began rotting over Christmas).

I had recently downloaded the SkyBet EFL Rewards app, at the bidding of the BFC Twitter account. This looked like my kind of thing. You can check in at each ground you visit and have the chance to win prizes such as match tickets. On the approach to the ground I opened the app and checked in. I was then given the opportunity to spin a wheel for a prize.

Ooh so close!

My hanger got the better of me as we got to the ground and I distributed the tickets and set off to make my own way to the refreshment kiosk inside the ground. As I sought out the away turnstiles in haste, I was grabbed by a man:

‘You can buy a team sheet here for 20p.’

Dear reader, I didn’t even WANT a team sheet but I now felt like I ought to buy one, as this man had been ever so helpful (and quite forceful, actually) in pointing it out. I even waited after they ran out while the stocks were replenished. It made a change for me to be on the other side of the team sheet. For years at Chasetown I was the one producing the team sheets, with a queue of people waiting for me to hand them one. I never charged for them, though. Some clubs charged 50p, which I thought was outrageous.

I was just about to give up when the team sheets appeared and I duly handed over my 20p, only to find out that Liam Feeney had been dropped. I was tempted to ask for my money back.

I located the away end and was delighted to see a sniffer dog at the entrance. Now you know I like a good dog review at an away match so this was particularly exciting for me. What was he called? Would he give me a sniff? Was he a good boy? How did he get into the drug business? I had so many questions for him.

‘Keep moving please. Don’t touch the dog!’

Dear reader, we’re not in Donny any more. I could already see why Rotherham hadn’t won Away Fan Experience o’t Year. I daren’t enter my usual enquiry for a frisk let alone take a photo of the dog. I walked on as instructed.

Inside the ground I immediately joined the fairly lengthy queue for the refreshment kiosk. I said hello to a few friends. It was quieter here today than at Tranmere, with only around 500 travelling fans, and I prefer this as the away end is more intimate and less hectic and you get to see more people you know (usually a lot of the same ones each week). James popped up to say hello before rejoining his dad further forward in the queue.

As I neared the front of the queue, realisation dawned on me that I didn’t have any cash. Panic! Where was Lee? I couldn’t see him anywhere and I didn’t want to lose my place in the queue as I was ravenous by now. In desperation I hollered loudly ahead:

‘JAMES!’

He waved in recognition before turning away, steadily balancing his two pies in one hand.

‘JAAAAAAAAAAAAMES!’

I beckoned him over vigorously and a wave of relief washed over me as he strode towards me.

‘Can I borrow a fiver please? I haven’t got any money and I’m STARVING!’

He handed me his wallet with his free hand and invited me to help myself. What a hero! I took a tenner (his smallest note), thanked him profusely, returned his wallet, promised to pay him back straight away (as soon as I hunted down Lee) and stepped back towards the counter.

It wasn’t until after I’d secured my chicken balti pie and bottle of Fanta that I spotted the card machines. There had been no need for any of that, as I had my cards with me. Doh! It is great that some clubs are now moving into the 20h century with payment technology. You could even pay on the gate via contactless at Tranmere. It’s how it should be.

Pie in hand, I immediately sought out Lee, relieved him of £20 (his smallest note) and headed straight back to James, offering him an immediate 100% interest on a loan that lasted barely three minutes. I felt a bit bad for my cheek but he was well recompensed. And I was sure he’d buy me a drink sometime. Of course I didn’t know yet about Lee’s little prank with Alexa this morning but now I do I’m perfectly ok with relieving him of that £20…

Phew! Now I could finally relax and enjoy my pie. I never ceased to be amazed by the variety in quality of so-called Pukka Pies of the chicken balti variety. They look and taste so different they cannot possibly be the same pie. And yet they are supposedly the same brand and same flavour of pie. Rotherham United even have a stand SPONSORED by Pukka Pies. Are some clubs telling porkies about the brand of pies on sale? This pie was markedly different from the Pie of the Season I had at Sunderland. The filling was very tomatoey and there was no cumin sprinkled on the top. Will the real Pukka Pie please make itself known?

Phil pointed out the abundance of Ladies toilets, in the correctly assumed knowledge that I’d appreciate that. I paid a visit. Now if any stadium was going to have coat hooks in the toilet cubicles it was going to be Rotherham. The new (York) New York Stadium did not disappoint in this regard. I smiled.

But of course, this being Yorkshire, the club operated the ever-popular one-tap strategy and there was no hot water to be sourced. There was a hand drier though, so at least I managed to get my hands warm.

We really did like this stadium. It was neat and cleverly designed. The disabled sections were spacious, elevated and under cover. The dugouts were set at a good distance apart from each other, with plush leather seats that would not have looked out of place at Real Madrid. The two sides were of different heights and the roof of each end stepped down from left to right in front of us. It was quirky but I liked it. Someone had really put some thought into designing this stadium and it hadn’t been thrown together hotchpotch over the years like so many we see up and down the country. The pitch was beautiful too. It was a stark contrast to Tranmere.

There was a great scoreboard, chock-a-block with advertising and information. There were even latest scores scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Action replays were shown of near misses straight after they happened. This is what a scoreboard SHOULD be. Indeed as the game gradually sapped my energy and enthusiasm, it offered a welcome alternative source of entertainment. I recall being similarly impressed by Donny’s scoreboard and wonder if they were provided by the same company. Alas the scoreboard and the geographical location were all Donny and Rotherham had in common.

In the car on the way here I recalled how we used to see the same stewards at Rotherham and other clubs in the area. Dear reader, let me assure you that the stewards at the New York Stadium and the stewards at Doncaster Rovers are not only resolutely not the same people, but are practically a different species. Now I know it’s not nice to host a match on New Years Day. We all want a lie-in and a nice easy away day where we don’t need to do any work. But for goodness sake if you’re dealing with fellow(?) humans you could at least ATTEMPT some form of pleasant interaction: maybe return a smile with something other than a sneer, wish someone a happy new year instead of telling them not to pet a dog, listen with pride when someone tries to tell you how much they admire your stadium and wants to show it off to fans who haven’t been able to make the trip today, instead of officiously busybodying and making the fan experience unnecessarily uncomfortable. When people are nice to each other it makes for a better experience for all concerned. Today was an abjectly miserable experience.

The match itself made me want to cry. It wasn’t that it was especially terrible per se – indeed there were some positives: Jay Spearing played well, Matty Virtue is winning plaudits every week, there were a few good moves. But it’s the cumulative effect of the fourth successive match of sloppy passes, no sense of urgency on or off the ball, failure to grab a game by the scruff of its neck and BOSS it like we know we can – and ultimately failure to win. And we KNEW this was going to happen today. We weren’t excited about coming. We didn’t want to come really, but we had bought our tickets and had the day planned in advance. Not coming didn’t seem like an option.

Here’s the video memory of the day:

On the way home I grumbled about how I was dreading going to Reading for the FA Cup match on Saturday.

‘So don’t go then.’

It seems so simple when it’s put like that but really it’s not at all. How can I not go? Blackpool Football Club is my life again now. The years without them were horrible and barren. Is this better, this constant suffering? Always YES! Put simply, I CARE again now. A year ago I wouldn’t have known if or who Blackpool were playing on any given day, let alone been arsed if they won or not. Now it matters again. It matters more than anything. It affects my mood and temperament every day.

‘How was your weekend?’

The answer is they’re always good – just some are much better than others. Sure, Rotherham was thoroughly miserable but the journey, the time spent with Lee and my friends, the pie, the scoreboard, the coat hook and the cold water, the utterly miserable stewards, the actual hysteria of the old woman sitting next to me when Joe Nuttall fluffed yet another chance and my deep breathing exercises to counter the same…it is all making memories and by God it makes me feel alive.

So I’ll go to Reading because that’s what I do. I’m not expecting a win. I’m not even expecting to enjoy the game. I’m a lower league football fan (have been for most of my life) and this is simply how it is. The football is mainly rubbish. But it’s ALWAYS an experience: one to share with friends and loved ones and people you’ve known for years but have no idea what their name is. It’s about making new memories and LIVING. Sure it’s shit at the moment but we have hope again now. It’s January, Larry’s going shopping and things will be good again. But probably not on Saturday. UTMP.

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