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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.

Wycombe Wanderers v Blackpool: The Ongoing Saga of Gravygate

Following my epic weekend in Lincoln (and the accompanying on-pitch disappointment), I cant say I was disappointed when the Tranmere match was postponed and I had last weekend off.

‘What are you up to at the weekend?’

‘Well the football has been postponed so…I’ll probably find some football to watch.’

Perhaps that was just what I needed: some football I could actual enjoy; a change. Chasetown were at home and, with a bit more notice than a postponement after extra time on a Thursday night, I’d have popped down there. As it was, I decided on my debut at AFC Blackpool, who I cover for Fylde Coast Radio. It would be a new ground for me and my first opportunity to connect with the local non-league scene (I’ve seen Fylde a few times but I’m not sure I can class them as proper non-league because their facilities are too good and the National League is not too far from League Two these days).

But first I had my Friday radio commitments to attend to. Now I had attained some notoriety in Lincoln since my visit there for last week’s match. My blog of my epic weekender – charting how I fell in love with this quirky little city – went viral in Lincoln and I had spent much of the week chatting with my new found friends on the other side of the country. Then on Thursday night I was contacted by a producer from BBC Radio Lincolnshire, asking if I’d be interested in appearing on their breakfast show the following morning to talk about my specialist subject: gravy. You may recall I had been traumatised by the unavailability of gravy at the chippy in Lincoln:

https://janestuart.co.uk/2020/01/20/lincoln-city-v-blackpool-why-did-no-one-tell-me-about-lincoln/

Well it seems my penchant for putting gravy on my fish has caused outrage once again in Lincolnshire (they REALLY don’t approve of it over there) – and I took an absolute pasting. Presenter Scott Dalton said if I was going to put gravy on fish, I ‘might as well throw it on the floor’, which I thought was a little harsh!

Lee called in to the show and even he ended up chastising me for gravygate, leaping to the defence of Blackpool, saying it certainly wasn’t normal or accepted over here.

All I can say is: don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it. Why not try fish, chips and gravy yourself tonight, dear reader?

You can listen in to our appearance on BBC Radio Lincolnshire here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07y7ssy

I’m at 1’08 and Lee pops up at 2’44 but this ‘blogger from Blackpool’ is berated regularly throughout the show…

On Friday evening we returned to the Fylde Coast Radio studios to host our weekly sports show. We had a special guest tonight, one Derek Spence, who was promoting his new book, ‘From the Troubles to the Tower’, which you can find here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1787234274/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_ss9mEbW1N370K

***

On Saturday morning I woke in two minds as to whether to go to the AFC Blackpool match or not. I liked having the freedom to NOT go, if I felt like it – which simply isn’t an option when it comes to Blackpool FC (and, believe me, I find myself increasingly wishing it was). I had a few things I could get done today, so pottered about in the morning before heading into town to do a spot of shopping.

After a successful mission at Boots, where a beautician told me I had ‘lovely skin’, I resolved to catch the bus to Jepson Way to take in the match. I consulted Google Maps, which directed me to Bank Hey Street, where I was to catch the 17 bus. When I got there, could I find the 17 bus stop? I consulted Google again and apparently I was in the right place. And yet the bus stops didn’t agree. I could get the 6 or the 7 from here. Was it definitely the 17 and not the 7 I needed? I double-checked. Yes, definitely the 17. I decided to refer to the Blackpool Transport app – and that wanted to send me down a road that didn’t appear to exist, walking through buildings to catch a bus seemingly inside TK Maxx. Hmm. I decided to walk back into town, where perhaps there was another stop somewhere more obvious.

Now a little pushed for time if I was going to make kick-off, I powered towards the Tower, where I was stopped in my tracks by a friendly chugger from British Heart Foundation. I tried to make a quick getaway by promising her all my furniture but to no avail. By the time I finally escaped time was really starting to press. As I turned down Church Street I suddenly remembered I still had ginger on my shopping list – oh look and there’s Marks & Spencer…

Dear reader, here my plans for the afternoon turned. I managed to secure the ginger…but then found myself in the clothes shopping zone and all was lost. In my defence, I did need a new pair of jeans, having dropped a dress size in the last year. And I DID only have two jumpers – and one of those is a Christmas jumper – and it IS much colder Up North. Hmm and some new thermal socks for the football wouldn’t go amiss…

I needed to get myself out of shopping mode – and quick. Now too late to make the AFC Blackpool match, there was only one thing for it: PUB!!!

As I was already on Church Street, it would have been rude not to call in at the home of the best beer range in Blackpool: Brew Room. My eyes lit up when I saw the West Coast Rock Black Forest Gateau.

My, I love this pub. I love the fruit beer that they brew (their blueberry stout is particularly lush). Oh, and what’s this? Tiny Rebel Rhubarb & Custard Sour? Yes please! So, a half of each of those it was.

I took a seat after removing three layers of clothing. I was dressed for a cold afternoon at the football, not bustling about town. And relax! As I sipped and savoured my beers, I took some time to look around the pub. As I was again pondering why this magnificent boozer isn’t busier, I spied a very exciting sign:

Now dear reader the one thing I have felt Brew Room was lacking was a decent food offering. Sure, they have pizzas (but cheese is a migraine trigger for me) and hot dogs (which I do eat about once every two years before being reminded that I really don’t like them) but nothing that has ever tempted me to eat there. But a proper pie from a butchers…WITH GRAVY! Well I couldn’t get my beer down quick enough to give myself an excuse to get back to the bar.

Somewhat annoyingly, the pub had suddenly got busy, so I twitched in my seat waiting for the bar to clear. I had my shopping bags with me and I didn’t want to leave them unattended for long. As I shot daggers towards the gaggle of girls hogging the bar, my eyes were drawn to another exciting sign:

Woah! Now I am partial to a flight of beer. I simply love the concept of being able to try a range of beers in a pub where there are so many options. I discovered this practice at Wetherspoons which, for all their (largely political) sins, are often very good for beer (indeed it was in their Bankers Draft in Sheffield that I was first tempted by the amber nectar). Spoons offer flights of three thirds of beer during their beer festivals. But I have never seen five or ten thirds offered anywhere before. This was marketing genius. Had I been aware of this on entry, I could well have been tempted by five thirds.

My impatience got the better of me and I approached the bar.

‘Have you got pies on?’

‘Yes but it’s a half hour wait for food at the moment. We’re quite busy. Is that ok?’

My heart sank. No, it wasn’t ok. I needed food before I had any more beer really. Dejected, I slunk away from the bar, piled on my winter layers and headed round the corner in the direction of Albert’s Ale Microbar. They had pork pies. And good beer.

Albert’s is Blackpool’s hidden gem, situated beneath a guest house on Albert Road, accessible down a flight of steps off the street. It is the quirkiest little bar and I adore the place.

Alas the pork pie was not available today (why do Saturdays never fail to deliver pie disappointment?), but I was offered a cheese board. Alas for reasons detailed above, this wasn’t an option, so I enquired about crisps instead. And oh my these have to be up there with the best crisps ever:

As I settled back with my crisps and a pint of Dunham Massey Dunham Dark Mild under the watchful eyes of Punch and Judy (and a crocodile) – outdoor clothing suitably removed – I heard a voice from my right:

‘You’re Blackpool Jane, aren’t you?’

And so it was that I engaged in conversation with a man I’d never met before, discussing the delights of the pubs of the Fylde Coast. He reads my blogs but has no interest in football.

‘But you don’t focus on that, do you? I like your observational stuff.’

1500 words in and not even at matchday yet, I can’t think what he meant…

I have a train crawl in the pipeline (one might argue that with Northern Rail every journey is a train crawl…) and we discussed pubs in Kirkham, Poulton and Layton that will form part of that itinerary. Watch this space for further developments on that front…

Now I figured I had room in today’s schedule for one more pub before heading home. I hadn’t intended for today to involve a pub crawl but, heck, I don’t get days off very often – and Lee was out at work – so why not?

So No. 13 Bonny Street it was. Now I’d been in a bit of a huff with this place. It was our Pub of Choice for home games before the boycott, when it was the Pump & Truncheon (and run by the people now at Brew Room), but it is now under new management, with a new name and revamped decor. It wasn’t that I was determined not to like it, but…well maybe there was an element of that…it simply wasn’t the Pump that we knew and loved any more and that was sad.

I was of course in desperate need of a meal by now but wasn’t holding out much hope as I noticed no menus on the tables here and enquired of the barmaid:

‘What food can you offer me?’

‘Well…we could rustle you up a hot beef roll with some chips?’

Dear reader I could have kissed her! That sounded EXACTLY what I needed right now. I’m not ashamed to say I probably emitted a little squeal at this news.

Now armed with a Cross Bay Velvet Blizzard, I took a seat in ‘our corner’ at the back of the pub. Back in the day, this pub was brimming with Seasiders pre-match and we had some wonderful times here. We’d share Christmas dinner, share stories of what was going on in our lives outside the football – and we laughed so much. Occasionally we’d talk about the football but mostly we didn’t. This was where we came pre-match to enjoy each other’s company (and a few beers) and we spent hours and a lot of money in here over the years. Now the pub was practically empty. But this was Blackpool out of season and you know I kind of prefer it quiet like this, with still the offchance of a group of men walking in dressed as mice or Smurfs.

My food soon arrived.

Just how good does THIS look?! I surveyed the little pot of *unknown substance* with suspicion. What was it? A Chinese sauce of some description? Brown sauce? I resolved to brave it and dip a chip in it.

Dear reader: it was gravy.

I must have squealed again as the couple at the next table (the only other customers) darted a slightly disturbed glance in my direction. Not that I cared.

I tore into the roll and was delighted to find the bread very soft and easy to pull apart. The roll and roast beef melted in my mouth and – oh, what was this added delight? Gravy on the sandwich as well! Oh how wonderful! I was back in love with this pub, make no mistake! I dunked the roll in the pot of gravy to add to its moisture. Mmm… And the chips? Oh they were so much nicer than they look in this photo: proper home cooked chips with the perfect consistency, texture and flavour. I might even go so far as to say that they are the best non-chippy chips I’ve ever had. You simply MUST eat here on a pub crawl of Blackpool, dear reader. It is such a treat!

And thus the non-matchday delivered a most pleasant impromptu afternoon around Blackpool, not ruined by terrible football. Hurray for a happy Saturday!

***

But soon enough it was Tuesday and matchday once again. Blackpool were playing away at Wycombe Wanderers tonight and it was going to be a long day…although I hadn’t anticipated quite how long.

I’d been to Adams Park a few times, but not for many years. My memories of it included:

1. Meeting my friend Ian there for the first time.

2. Frequenting The White Horse pre-match, a hostelry with naked ladies, which I never thought to question at the time, but suppose it must be a strip club of some description (I’ve just looked it up and it is, in fact, a ‘strip pub’ – who knew that was even a thing?).

3. Hearing Brett Ormerod’s leg break from the halfway line.

4. Seeing a woman doing her ironing in the house in the corner of the ground.

Today I was travelling with BSA and was quietly confident their itinerary wasn’t going to include strippers, but I began to question my memory of the ironing woman and looked forward to seeing if I could spot her at Adams Park tonight.

For, dear reader, we are now at that point where the football is inspiring so little enthusiasm that one simply MUST find other sources of amusement on a matchday (including during the match itself). The dawn of realisation that IT’S NOW AS BAD AS IT WAS UNDER NIGEL WORTHINGTON is incredibly depressing. Oh I try and put a brave face on at the start of every matchday, every video, but honestly I’ve really been struggling for weeks now. I’ll keep going because that’s what I do and it’s really not all about the football. I need the routine, the time spent with friends old and new, the shared experiences, the new memories made, the quality ‘me’ time spent travelling solo, exploring this wonderful country, the regular adventures to look forward to and write about and share with you, dear reader.

Lee dropped me at the coach rendezvous point, Saddle Inn, half an hour before the coach was due. I like to be early and of course there was the added bonus of chugging down a cheeky pint before setting off. I got the feeling I was going to need beer to help me through today.

But first we recorded the intro to today’s matchday video in the beer garden. This took a little longer than expected and we were the subject of polite enquiries about our business by the landlady. Satisfied by our explanation for loitering, she invited us in:

‘You’ll be wanting to see our TARDIS then?’

Dear reader you may recall that I spotted the TARDIS in someone’s garden in Lincoln last weekend. Was I being stalked by The Doctor?

And, sure enough, there was a TARDIS in the pub. Well I hadn’t been expecting that! I needed a drink.

‘Can I have a pint of Inveralmond Bard, please?’

‘Sure. That’ll be £1.95 please. We have discounted cask ale on Tuesdays.’

Well how wonderful was all this? I collapsed into a seat in amazement and enjoyed my pint all the more for it being a bargain.

Speaking of bargains, the coach to today’s match was only £20, so it was a good value day out really. We’d also called in at Asda on the way to the pub, so my rucksack was filled with snackage so I wouldn’t (a) get hangry at any point; or (b) have to splash out on any disappointing and expensive food at the ground.

Now southbound on the coach, I worked on formatting Issue 4 of Now That’s What I Call Progress, the Blackpool fanzine, which was now almost finished. Once again I have been delighted with the wonderful content that has been provided by fellow Seasiders for this issue. The historical stuff is quite fascinating – and the funnies had me howling with laughter. Please don’t miss out on this publication because it is so good. You can read and subscribe online here:

https://issuu.com/blackpooljane

If you want hard copies please email me at jane@janestuart.co.uk and I’ll pop some magazines in the post to you.

The coach dropped us off in Bicester for a couple of hours exploration and relaxation and, crucially, enjoyment before the match. Whilst the majority headed into the local Wetherspoons, I strolled on down the high street to do a spot of filming while it was still light – and see what else this previously unexplored town had to offer.

Of course I paused at the first pub I happened across: The Bell. I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d like it, spotting the NO DOGS sign in the window (you know I like dog-spotting these days). I stepped inside almost reluctantly and was surprised to find the pub smelt like…dog. Hesitantly I crept towards the bar, peering over the shoulders of the decidedly unwelcoming locals (who all had their backs to me) to see what beers they had on. I was relieved that there was nothing exciting on – and made a sharp exit. I can’t put my finger on what it was – I usually like smelly pubs with character – but this one wasn’t doing it for me today. I walked on…

…and boy am I glad I did! The next pub along was Angel Inn, home of Bicester Brewery. What a happy find!

I was immediately greeted by two men who were sitting in the window, asking if I wanted them to say cheese for the camera. I had a good scope around the stunning interior and was so entranced by my surroundings that it took me a few moments to notice the absence of staff. But then, as if by magic, the barkeep appeared.

‘Ooh hello! Have you got any Bicester beers on?’

‘Not today, I’m afraid. It sold out – it’s really popular.’

‘Oh that’s a shame. Well can I have a pint of Rebellion Winter Royal please?’

I found a magnificently regal seat and settled back into it with little intention of moving for the next two hours. How delightful!

And dog friendly! Without smelling of dogs…

Every time I looked up something caught my eye. Look at that delightful painting over there…

Of course it was necessary to rise from my seat to obtain further refreshment…and, hang on a minute…what’s this?! There were two table tennis bats and a ping pong ball resting on the bar. They hadn’t been here earlier. Surely you couldn’t play table tennis in here?

‘Oh yes. There’s a marquee out the back. When it’s not being used for private functions you can have a game in there.’

Ooh there was more to explore! I headed out into the yard. Here was the microbrewery, a street food eaterie, an eerie marquee that was ‘closed for a private function’ yet empty.

On my way back to my chair, this poster piqued my interest:

What on earth is a brush party? I had to ask the barmaid.

Apparently it’s a gathering where a local artist goes through the process of creating a painting step by step with budding artists – with a drinks break, of course, and opportunities to meet locals with similar interests. She cited the painting I had spotted earlier as an example of the work that is created during such a party. What a delightful concept and a great idea for a pub event. I’d be very tempted to go along to something like this local to me.

Finally I spotted some Seasider friends at the bar and invited them to join me at my table. They had been talking about Canadian rugby league club Toronto Wolfpack, who play in the English Super League. Apparently in their first season in the English sport, they paid for all their opponents to travel to Canada for their away fixture there. We discussed the prospect of travelling to Canada for an away match as a supporter of a top flight English club. Of course it is unfair on the fans but a couple of us thought it would make for a great away day. It certainly makes the prospect of Celtic and Rangers joining the EFL seem like nothing in comparison.

My companions enquired if I had been to The Bell. I explained about my fleeting visit and they agreed with my synopsis – before pointing out that there was a resident pubdog, which of course explained both the aroma and the admittance of other dogs

Their visit was fleeting, as they were off to their fourth pub of the stop, and I was left to polish off my pint in peace. Much as I do enjoy a pub crawl, this afternoon I wanted to sit back and savour this special place.

Of course the coach was a little more lively on the drive into Wycombe. The team was announced to a somewhat bemused response. Debuts for new signings Jordan Thorniley and Connor Ronan…but only places on the bench for Feeney (our best crosser of the ball), Dewsbury-Hall (who can demonstrably create a goal out of nothing from midfield), Tilt (who has been looking settled and confident again at the back), Virtue (who has been earning the plaudits of the fans in recent weeks), Gnanduillet (leading scorer by a mile because NO-ONE ELSE CAN BLOODY SCORE) and McDonald (who hasn’t been on the losing side in a Blackpool shirt).

It was very cold at Adams Park tonight. I was sporting my new jumper, jeans and thermal socks – and I’d brought my new super thermal fleece-lined woollen fingerless gloves with mitten hoods.

On arrival in the ground we were advised that the game would not be kicking off at 7.45pm as planned, owing to a medical emergency. The air ambulance needed to land on the pitch to attend to a supporter who had been taken ill in hospitality. We looked on as the helicopter landed on the centre circle. Around 8.15pm we were updated that the game would be kicking off at 8.50pm and the helicopter took off shortly thereafter.

The players took to the pitch to recommence their warm-up and they, as well as the travelling Tangerine Army, seemed in good spirits. Was tonight going to be the night when things finally turned around for this team? There was still a modicum of hope – for what is football without hope? – largely down to the introduction of numerous new signings during this transfer window. Perhaps they would make a difference tonight? Please…?

Dear reader, we were 2-0 down after eight minutes.

I wanted to go home. What little hope there had been – poof! – was gone. Just like that. God I really hate football sometimes.

When the whistle blew for half time, a woman within earshot said: ‘I want to go home.’ From the ladies at half time (one tap, hot water, rejoice!) I heard fellow Seasiders bidding their friends farewell as they left the ground to head home. Oh how I wanted to join them! If ever there was a game when you knew you wouldn’t miss a bloody thing if you left early, this was it. But of course I couldn’t go anywhere because I was (a) filming my breakdown matchday footage for Lee Charles TV; (b) on the bloody coach, which meant I couldn’t leave until the match was over; and (c) a masochist.

As I trudged across the front of the stand, I spotted my friend Houstie and immediately dived in for a much-needed massive hug. We caught up briefly before Wayne approached with a woman even shorter than me (no mean feat). Out of nowhere the couple began ballroom dancing at the front of the stand: a wholly unexpected but rather refreshing moment of entertainment. I love my friends; they never fail to make me smile.

The football did pick up in the second half, with the introduction of some of our better players. Samlesbury Hall (or whatever his name is) even scored a wondergoal out of nothing. Sadly this came with just five minutes remaining. The game finished 2-1 and we left the ground cold and dejected.

The journey home was long and late. While I was trying in vain to fall asleep on the coach, Lee was at home editing the video footage I had been sending through to him for several hours. Around 3am he sent me the finished video – condensing my 15-hour adventure into 15 minutes – which you can watch here:

Sadly the following morning we learned of the passing of the Wycombe fan who had been taken ill at the match. RIP Mark Bird.

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