Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Reading: As If January Wasn’t Depressing Enough

Cup fever. I know it’s a thing because I felt it only recently with Chasetown. And I remember it with Blackpool. I remember beating Birmingham City and Sheffield United in the League Cup. I remember being so excited about the former that I fell down the stairs the following morning. I remember the two LDV Trophy wins, when I went to every match on the road to, er, Cardiff. But, despite the FA Cup being OUR cup, I can honestly say it’s never filled me with THAT much excitement. At the weekend, to get me in the mood, I even listened to a great podcast on the 1953 final, through which I learned a lot of things I didn’t previously know. Perhaps you’ll give it a listen if you’ve got half an hour:

https://player.fm/series/the-football-ramble-53763/the-blizzard-blackpool-4-3-bolton-1953

A home draw to Carlisle or Cardiff in the fourth round hardly had us salivating and so when Reading came to town there was little hunger for this fixture. Much as we’d eaten too much over the festive period, we’d also had our fill of Blackpool’s terrible football. We’d perked up, though, in the original tie at Reading. The Seasiders had their swagger back. I was fairly confident tonight (or rather I wasn’t quite so convinced we’d lose), but excited would be pushing it.

My stomach wasn’t doing somersaults on the train in from Manchester. I was more than a little annoyed that I’d allowed my AirPods to run out of charge so I finished watching an episode of ‘You’ on Netflix with no audio and subtitles. But I was tired and nodded off before the next episode. I’ve been dreaming a lot lately – I think because I’m back in full-on creative mode, immersing myself in my novel – and this evening I had acne all around my face, which spread and became red raw and eventually black, along with my lips and tongue.

‘We will shortly be arriving at Preston.’

These train announcements are so loud it was surprising I got to sleep at all. Much as I find my dreams useful inspiration for my writing, this one wasn’t helping to build my non-existent cup fever, so I shook myself awake. Why wasn’t I excited? Is it because my most prominent memories of the FA Cup are the home defeats to Hednesford and Yeovil?

I scrolled through Twitter and Facebook to try and get me in the mood. I read that ticket sales for tonight hadn’t been going so well, which surprised me (although I’m not sure why). This was the FA Cup (being devalued by Reading playing their kids). Charlie might be back (but Storm Brendan has been here since yesterday and it’s so much COSIER in the house/pub). We might win (but our home form has been so poor of late). Was Blackpool REALLY up for the cup?

I read rumours that tonight’s match might be off, which actually flooded me with hope and relief until I realised that, no, the rain had stopped now and the pitch was in remarkably good nick. Was I really dreading the football? That thought has only just occurred to me and it’s more than a little disturbing. I had thought the inclement weather simply provided me with a fine excuse to not sell fanzines tonight. I really wanted the night off. Ten days without a match had been a blessed relief and I hadn’t missed the football (and all that comes with it) at all. It had been like a little holiday.

I left it up to Lee to decide whether to bring the fanzines or not but REALLY hoped he wouldn’t. I fancied pre-match in The Corner Flag, where it was warm and there was hot food and beer. I needed all of those things. Was it getting to the stage where I needed beer to get me through the match…?

Dear reader, he brought the fanzines. My heart sank. I left them in the car. It wasn’t raining any more but it felt like it OUGHT to be. We approached the lobby to the Blackpool FC Hotel and, despite there being three staff in there, none of them opened the door for us. I’d been getting used to having the door opened for me. I’d LIKED that. But never mind. The night would surely get better?

In The Corner Flag we were greeted by many friendly familiar faces. It seems this is the new place to be pre-match. And why not? It’s handy. And the Theakstons XB is quaffable. We took up our position at the corner of the bar and ordered some cheesy chips.

I was chastised by Lytham Kev for lashing ketchup on my cheesy chips but he promptly followed suit. I looked on with envy at Harry biting into his chip butty and wondered why I hadn’t ordered one of those (gravy wasn’t available; someone asked).

The time flew in here. We actually talked about football. We never used to do this pre-match, always talking about anything BUT the football, about other things we had in common. Indeed on Saturday afternoon over lunch, Lee and I found ourselves engrossed in Soccer Saturday (something I have never been particularly interested in watching before) and following the fortunes of other teams in our league (and Ian Holloway’s Grimsby Town, who appear to be my new second team). Having been detached from the game for so long, we are immersing ourselves in it now. Even though Blackpool are rubbish at the moment, we’re finding interest and drama elsewhere. Blimey, Sunderland beat Wycombe 4-0 – where did THAT come from?!

Tonight someone had calculated that, without Armand Gnanduillet’s goals, we’d be fourth bottom in the league. We do seem overly reliant on his goals because they simply aren’t coming from anywhere else. This team is desperate for creativity and another goal-hungry centre forward (or two or three).

It was time to leave before we knew it. I wanted to stay. The beer was good. The cheesy chips weren’t chippy chips but they were better than the food on offer in the ground. I reluctantly headed out of the bar, down in the lift and began the long trek around to the North Stand, where we were housed tonight, owing to the South Stand being shut. Why were sections of the ground closed for a third round FA Cup match against Championship opposition? Were people put off by not being able to sit in ‘their’ seat? We didn’t really want to sit in the North.

I was pleasantly surprised to see queues snaking out of every entrance. Dear reader, they came! In the past I might have been annoyed at my probable late entry into the ground as a result of these queues, but wasn’t at all bothered tonight because:

(a) ongoing stress management; and

(b) shit football.

The queues were managed very efficiently and it was only one minute after kick-off when I entered the ground. I made my way through the concourse and up into the stand. I enquired of a steward where my seat could be found and he was incredibly helpful, telling me it was up the stairs just there and my seat was on Row T on the left. I found my seat (and Lee, who had left earlier to get some pre-match video footage) with ease.

The seats and view were really good. We were in Block D and no-one was standing in front of us, blocking our view, like our last time in the North. The football was even ok in the first half. Reading looked quicker and sharper like last time but we were also passing well at times and creating the odd chance. It seemed an even match, just like in the original fixture. Or was I seeing what I wanted to see? But…hang on…what was going on down the left? Their right winger was in acres of space ALL THE TIME. James Husband was on his own out there; was he supposed to be? Surely Larry could see this gaping hole in our team. Were the players just not acting on his instructions? Surely he would sort it out at half time?

Dear reader, he didn’t. And it got worse. The swagger was now well and truly sapped out of the team and the enthusiasm duly sapped out of the fans. Reading went 2-0 up and it was game over.

And then there was Charlie Adam. This was a strange and emotional return. We’d gone from having been terrified of him playing against us and ripping us to pieces…to being overjoyed to see him because he provided a few moments of joy in an otherwise thoroughly depressing encounter.

Our returning hero spent more time applauding the home fans than being actively involved in play and it was clearly an emotional return for him. The Blackpool faithful sang his name and urged the powers that be to ‘sign him up’. Oh if only. This team is crying out for a player of such influence and talent.

As the final whistle blew, Charlie quickly applauded the travelling Reading fans before rushing over to the North Stand to say hello or goodbye or thank you or I love you to the Blackpool fans. By this point I was crying because this was a reminder of the love that we used to have for players that we cared about and who cared about us and Blackpool FC.

I mentioned above that I’ve started looking out for Grimsby Town’s results now Ollie has gone there. It’s partly because I’ve got a strong affection for that part of the world (having fallen in love with Cleethorpes a couple of years ago). But it’s mainly because I want to relive that love, that happiness, that coming together of a community inspired by that one special person at one special seaside town. Ollie has alluded to the parallels. He wants to make amends and finish the job there that he started with Blackpool. And good luck to him and to Grimsby Town.

BUT I WANT THAT JOY BACK AT BLACKPOOL!

Lee always takes home defeats worse than me. Maybe I’m more affected by poor away performances because I’ve invested more in travelling there and it’s taken up my whole day (or whole weekend sometimes). Whilst Lee ranted away, I took it all in my stride. Playing shit at home is simply what we do these days, isn’t it? I’m becoming hardened to it. It’s not right but I’ve been following this lot for almost 30 years now and I’m a survivor of the Nigel Worthington era; I have coping mechanisms. I have my writing and I have beer and I’ll always find something to entertain me on a matchday. For example, in the Ladies tonight, I complimented a woman on her leopardskin flask. It was a rare moment of joy.

Here’s Lee’s video of the night:

And here’s a wonderful blog that made me howl out loud when recalling the match, which is no mean feat, let me tell you. Matt is such a wonderful writing talent and we are lucky to have his like at Blackpool; he is a ray of sunshine in a profoundly grey season:

https://mclfoot.blogspot.com/2020/01/dead-dreams-mighty-versus-reading.html

Having waited what seems like an age for this transfer window to arrive, the incoming signings have been encouraging. The Wendies (a Championship club) were gutted to see Jordan Thorniley leave – and he seems genuinely excited to join us.

I’m thrilled with the return of our player of the year from last season, Marc Bola. Goodness knows we could have done with him tonight! He is better than anyone we currently have in his position and is a genuinely exciting player. And god knows we need some excitement right now! I know some of our fans are complaining that we’ve signed yet another defender when we are crying out for a striker and creative midfielder. But the truth is we need to strengthen all over the park. Many of our current first team players should be squad players and not automatic picks because they’re simply the best we’ve got. We need to be better everywhere.

The loan extension of Ben Heneghan is another boost. We actually have competition for places at the back now and that’s a really good thing. Curtis Tilt is looking cool and confident again and it’s all good.

And let’s see what Grant Ward has to offer in terms of creativity from the wing. We need other outlets so we are not so dependent on Liam Feeney.

But of course we need more players to come in. Many more. Simon Sadler is backing his manager, his choice, bringing in a good support network in terms of player recruitment personnel and now coaching personnel, with the arrival of David Dunn. Sadler is taking the playing side very seriously as it is of course the most important thing. Is he happy with how the team is performing? How can he be? But he is backing his manager.

I loved Larry last time around. Under his tenure we began our rise up the leagues and boy it was fun! It was his team that Ollie inherited and transformed into being good enough for the Premier League. But that was last time around. If that hadn’t happened and I was just judging Larry on his performance this time around, would I (and Simon Sadler) be so patient with him? Is he simply dining out on his past successes? I always loved that Larry stood up for his players in his interviews – and I get that even more, having worked at a football club and seen how close-knit the playing staff can be. But as a fan it is so bloody frustrating not knowing what’s REALLY happening in the dressing room and what’s happening in training in the week. For gods sake, these are full-time professionals and their performances are deteriorating week on week, with only rare glimpses of something good. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. What is that down to? Tactics? Morale? Man management? Lack of motivation? These players ARE capable of more than they are currently giving. And that is simply not good enough. What is the solution? Replace the players? Replace the manager? Motivate the players? Counsel the players? Remove the poison? Incentivise the players (not that THAT worked against Reading)? Well we can only speculate and wait for the football to improve. And it will. It has to. Answers on a postcard…

UTMP.

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