Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Reading v Blackpool: From Misery to Happiness

Two years ago I decided to take control of my life and implement an active self-improvement programme. I changed how I dress, worked on areas in which I lacked confidence, forced myself to confront challenges and worked every day towards making my life what I want it to be. This new attitude to life has opened up many doors for me and my life has become one big adventure.

The latest adventure began this weekend with the launch of my career as a radio presenter. I have no idea how this came about but, as with everything else, I’m taking it in my stride and going with the flow. Along with Lee, Tony Parr, Martin Curran and Ben Pearson, I am co-presenting the new sports show for Fylde Coast Radio. The show covers all sports across the Fylde Coast. The show airs from 6-7pm on Friday evenings on www.fyldecoastradio.org and you can also listen in online via the app, which you can download from the Apple store or Google Play.

During the course of our research for the show this week, we listened to an interview with Fleetwood Town manager Joey Barton, who complained about the number of games over the festive period being too much for players’ bodies to cope with. Never mind the players, Lee and I were similarly exhausted from constantly vlogging, blogging, flogging fanzines and editing videos over the ‘break’. And now we have a radio show to prepare for and host too! They do say you work harder when you’re doing what you love and that is so true. It has been particularly relentless these past few weeks. But we love this life.

I was still working on my blog from the Rotherham game on Friday and finally published it on the train home from Manchester. Lee collected me from Blackpool North and we set to work on finalising plans for the radio show. As well as offering my twopennorth on Blackpool, I want to specialise in non league football, as I loved my time in the semi pro game, so I researched the latest news on local North West Counties League sides Squires Gate and AFC Blackpool. I am keen to expand my knowledge on the local non league scene and hope to start taking in some matches over the coming weeks and months. I love going to new grounds and meeting new people and Non League Dogs and research for the radio show is perhaps the excuse I have been looking for.

We got to the studio in good time – only to discover that we were pretty much having to fend for ourselves on our debut show. After a brief panic, we took control, made a few adjustments to our planned content and just got on with it. I think we’re a great team, with each of us offering something different. Tony is an excellent host; Martin is our expert on AFC Fylde; Ben has good knowledge of a wide range of sports beyond football; Lee and I bring our experience of presenting from Lee Charles TV and also have a wealth of knowledge on Blackpool FC. We just need to summon up some enthusiasm for Fleetwood Town and we pretty much have everything covered; indeed we have established a good contact there, which will help enormously. It’s a great challenge and one I think we are all relishing. I’m even starting to get excited about researching the Pigeon Fanciers Weekend later this month: yet another new direction I had never expected to take!

After the show, once I’d done the washing and the tea – and we’d realised that we needed to be up at 0530 for the match tomorrow – it was time for bed. There had been no time for me to put my feet up, watch Corrie and paint my nails as planned – something I always used to do on a Friday night before my life went a bit crazy.

Of course it was hard to get out of bed on Saturday morning. Not only was it an early start but we really couldn’t get motivated for the match after four disappointing performances from The Seasiders. But we got up and on with it nonetheless. I needed motivational music this morning so went for a bit of Wham!

Sometimes you wake up in the morning with the bass line

A ray of sunshine

Sometimes you know today you’re going to have a good time

And you’re ready to go.

Hmm…

I packed bags full of food for the journey and warm clothes for the match while Lee prepared his vlogging kit. We set off at 0630 to meet the Blackpool Supporters Association coach at The Saddle Inn.

I’d spent some time researching how to get to the game today. My preferred method of transport is always the train (despite my recent traumas with Northern Rail); however this is not quite such an easy option since I’ve relocated to Blackpool. Previously I just needed to get myself to Birmingham and I could get anywhere in the country within 2-3 hours. Travelling from Blackpool is a little trickier (not least because it involves Northern Rail) – and also seems expensive (I need to get more organised here). The train to Reading was around £90 and I wasn’t having any of that. The drive wasn’t appealing to either of us. So we went with the only viable option of the coach.

To be honest, I’m getting into coach travel. It was never really an option for me in Walsall but now it’s probably the best way to get home as speedily as possible. The coach even stops off en route, providing an opportunity to explore a different town.

Lee was not so keen this morning. He is not a morning person at the best of times, is not used to travelling any distance to away games and advised me only late last night (giving me no time to do anything about it) that he got travel sick. He complained on the drive to the Saddle, grumbled as we waited for the coach and said anyone who did this every week must need their heads testing. How did I do it? I explained that I got up to go to work every weekday and I got up to go to football on a Saturday: it is simply part of my regular routine; it’s just what I do. He still didn’t seem to get it.

Lee chuntered away for hours and I whipped out my iPad and began work on a new series of blogs that I’m planning about Manchester (as if I don’t have enough to do). About three hours into the journey I became hungry so the bag of food was duly raided. Dear reader, after just one biscuit (left over from Christmas), Lee sprang to life. I don’t know what was in that biscuit but it inspired an epiphany in Lee. All of a sudden he got it. We were surrounded by fellow Seasiders on our way to an FA Cup away day, we were about to explore a new town (Henley on Thames) and enjoy an adventure together, making memories. Life is all about living in the now and sharing experiences with friends and loved ones, making memories you can look back on and treasure for years to come. I, too, came to realise that, in the wider scheme of things, it almost didn’t matter whether we lost today (as we were fully expecting) – we could still make some great memories. I can’t say I much enjoyed Blackpool’s 7-0 trouncing at Barnet 20 years ago but I REMEMBER it and it’s a story to tell and a memory to look back on and we can laugh about it now (as we got promoted and Barnet got relegated that season).

We drove over the Thames and parked up on the high street in Henley. We headed first to The Catherine Wheel, a spacious Wetherspoons pub and hotel, one of the better ones I have visited.

After ordering a well-earned pint of bitter we headed out to the massive beer garden to enjoy some fresh air. Four hours is a long time to spend cooped up on a coach and it got warmer and warmer as the journey had progressed. The seats had been comfortable though.

When we had cooled down we rejoined our fellow Seasiders inside, where we had some interesting debates on football. It is so wonderful to be able to talk and even have differences of opinion on the football again, after so many years disillusioned with the game.

Lee and I then headed out for a stroll around Henley. We found ourselves with a mermaid on the bank of the Thames.

This was a beautiful setting and one we would never have enjoyed together if it hadn’t been for the football. Lee now completely understood what these away days were about.

We strolled back down the high street, where we spotted an antiques shop with this sign outside:

Our warm welcome at Rotherham immediately sprang to mind. We stepped inside the antiques shop where we met and were allowed to fuss a dog called Alex. We liked it here.

We headed back to the coach early and I stood at the doors armed with fanzines to help fellow Seasiders pass the time on the journey. And it was a long journey. Everywhere seems a long journey from Blackpool, although at least there is no travelling involved for home games now.

The coach was much more lively now, after our two-hour pit stop, and the fans were in fine voice. En route to The Madejski Stadium we heard the team news. We were excited that Liam Feeney and Callum McDonald were starting for the Seasiders; but not half as excited as we were to learn that Reading had made 11 changes to their team, with 11 of their squad of 18 being youth players.

And no Charlie Adam! Frankly we’d been terrified of him in recent form; he would have torn us to pieces. Much as it would have been lovely to give him a warm reception, I was far happier with this outcome. Blimey. We actually had a chance of winning this match today! We certainly hadn’t been expecting that when we set off this morning!

We disembarked the coach and practically skipped up to the stadium. As we approached the away end I spotted a bag search desk and made my way over there. This is how I was greeted by the steward at the desk:

‘Good afternoon. You look fantastic!’

‘Why thank you, Sir – and a very Happy New Year to you!’

You see, Rotherham – it’s really not that hard to put supporters in good spirits before they’ve even set foot inside the stadium. Can we get them sent on a training course or something? More of this sort of thing!

Inside the ground I headed straight for the Ladies to make myself comfortable. As another quite new stadium, I was hopeful of good facilities here. There was a coat hook on the back of the cubicle door. Only one tap on the sink though…

I pressed it, expecting cold water. But no! The water was hot! Reading we love you! I confess I didn’t have fond memories of this place, it being the first new stadium to ban smoking (when I was a smoker). But today I made new memories at The Madejski Stadium – and they were all positive ones.

Next I joined the queue for the refreshment kiosk. I’d eaten a prawn sandwich (and half of Lee’s cheese and ham sandwich) on the journey down, deliberately so I wouldn’t have to endure disappointing football ground food. But there were chicken burgers here. I’d have had one of those. And chicken balti pies, which I think I might start meticulously reviewing next season, now I realise no two are the same. Today, however, I only wanted a bottle of water to consume during the match. Ahead of me in the queue was Paul, who pointed out to me that this queue was for card payments only:

Clubs really are getting down with the tech, aren’t they?

As we took our seats prior to kick-off we were approached by a man neither of us recognised. He introduced himself as the dad of Jack Sims, the young keeper who made his Blackpool debut at home to Accrington on Boxing Day. He thanked us both for our kind words about his son and said we made him feel so proud of his boy.

So how was the football today? Well rather surprising, as it turned out! The Reading youngsters started very brightly and ran at us with vigour, creating chance after chance. Blimey! We were going to be under the cosh today!

But then something shifted. We scored against the run of play…and proceeded to dominate. It became a game of men against boys, with Blackpool now pushing forward, with the young Royals unable to cope with the force of Big Armand Gnanduillet. Our passing was neat and damn we looked good! We were playing football. And it was delightful to watch.

Reading equalised but we brushed it off and went ahead again, with a storming goal from Gnanduillet. He’d knocked down the ball for the opener too. The man was on fire today. He attempted an overhead kick which he failed to connect with but, as astutely observed in this excellent new blog…

https://mclfoot.blogspot.com/2020/01/rotherham-vs-mighty-should-have-known.html

…the Ivorian is too cool for school and simply shrugs off howlers and gets on with it. I admire his bouncebackability. It is an admirable quality in a striker, which is such a confidence position.

So what happened next? Well Reading pegged it back to 2-2. But I still felt confident we would win. We were looking that much stronger. It really was men against boys. Then Gnanduillet was brought down in the box and there was only one man who was going to take the spot kick.

Dear reader, he tried to chip the keeper and the ball came off the underside of the crossbar. There was a melee in the box but the ball was ultimately cleared. And that was that. The game ended 2-2. So much for our fortnight off without a match. We now had a replay. And we were in the draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup.

We felt we ought to have won but it was impossible to be angry with Gnanduillet because he had played like a demon today. I remembered why I’d said he was the best big striker I’d seen since Dave Bamber (having forgotten in recent weeks). The man sitting behind me at the match referred to the big man as a ‘donkey’ and I was fuming. I’m a firm believer in listening to my body and gut feelings and the fact I was so livid with this comment clearly means I’m now emotionally attached to Armand Gnanduillet. I’m delighted about that. When we returned to Blackpool after years away, the connection with the players simply wasn’t there. We didn’t know them, let alone love them. But now that feeling is back. It’s official. I love Armand Gnanduillet. These feelings…they’re gradually coming back. I feared they’d gone for good at one point. But happily that’s very much not the case. Thank you Armand Gnanduillet for making me feel something for a Blackpool player again.

The coach journey home was looooooong (five hours, with a brief stop at Stafford services). Lee was much perkier on the way home and confessed to having had a wonderful day, after all that moaning in the morning. I started flagging on the way home, I think because I spent much of the journey writing (my Manchester blog), which made me feel a little queasy with slight travel sickness (which ironically hadn’t afflicted Lee at all). A hoisin duck wrap and some magic biscuits sorted me out though. We were home for 10pm. It had been a long day – but a good day.

But of course our work wasn’t done yet! Lee now had to edit his video of the day’s adventures. I pottered about unpacking and getting ready for bed while Lee set about transferring video clips. I eventually settled down to catch up on Corrie. I asked Lee if he wanted to Chipolo me to summon me if he needed me to help with the editing. I regretted suggesting this on Boxing Day, when I was summoned within two minutes of sitting down in the other room. But on that occasion Lee had wanted to show me a clip of the scoreboard from Bloomfield Road, which was finally spelling Nathan Delfouneso’s name correctly, which he correctly assumed I’d find exciting. Tonight he left me to it and I couldn’t make it to the end of the first episode of Corrie before nodding off. Lee came in to wake me at 3am to review the edited footage before uploading it to YouTube. I hope you’ll agree that the finished article was worth the 22-hour day. You can enjoy it here:

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