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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.

Bristol Rovers v Blackpool: We’ll Win Again

So, what did you get up to this Valentines weekend? Lee and I spent the early part of Valentines evening in the Fylde Coast Radio studios discussing the sacking of Simon Grayson. It’s great going out with a fellow Blackpool fan. You can get away with living the football life ALL THE TIME and it’s perfectly acceptable. We’d been on a road trip the day before and spent the entire journey listening to the Seasiders Podcast and it was brilliant. Tune in if you haven’t already:

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I made a cheeky suggestion for our Valentines meal:

Alas time restrictions put the kibosh on the pre-show meal, but we called into Harrowside Chippy for a takeaway on the way home. I hadn’t tried this chippy previously but it had come recommended by fellow Seasiders. I ordered my standard fayre of mini fish, chips and gravy so as to test out each of these vital components of a Chippy Tea.

Well, dear reader, let’s start with the fish. It was very meaty, not too crispy and definitely the highlight of the meal. Indeed I’d go so far as to say this was one of the best fish I have ever eaten at a chippy. So that was a great start. The chips were good – and less dry than those from Yorkshire Fisheries on my recent visits. The gravy was great – however the portion size was too small. This is an issue I often have. I suspect it might have been sufficient for the chips alone but of course I smother it all over the fish too. I must remember to ask for a double portion next time. All in all, the chippy was very good and gets the thumbs up from me. They do battered spam as well, which I must try next time. Oh and not only do they have Dandelion and Burdock but also something even more exciting (and rare): cans of Rio. Anywhere that sells Rio is likely to get top marks from me. I’ll be back here.

The above was enjoyed at home whilst watching the latest episode of Picard on Amazon Prime. What a fine evening with my Valentine.

‘I don’t want Lobster Thermidor with Raspberry Coulis

It’s Friday night – I’m within my rights: I want a chippy tea.’

An early night was followed by yet another early morning, for the Blackpool Supporters Association coach was departing from the Saddle Inn at 0710 on Saturday morning, Bristol Rovers our destination today. What with chippygate and Valentines the night before, I’d completely forgotten to prepare any food for my journey. I frantically grabbed everything I could from Naughty Corner (a Christmas tin of butter biscuits, some Go Ahead bars and a gingerbread man picked up on my recent trip to Lincoln) in case there wasn’t time to go to the shop (Lee was struggling to locate his keys). Happily, we made it in good time to pop to Tesco, where I picked up a Chicken & Sweetcorn sandwich, some Fruit Pastilles and a bottle of Fanta.

I wasn’t in the best of spirits this weekend and I wasn’t sure why. I’m thinking the football is really starting to affect me now. I really wasn’t looking forward to the game or the journey today. I’ve simply not been used to travelling great distances to matches. I spent less than two years following the Seasiders on the road every week from Blackpool before moving to the Midlands. And nowhere was very far from there. Sure it took two hours to get to every home game, but it rarely took more than three hours to get anywhere. Then when I was with Chasetown, the league was regionalised, so there was even less travel (Kendal notwithstanding; they ought to be playing in the Scottish League). So it’s been a bit of a shock to me, having regular 4-5 hour away trips (seemingly every week in 2020). Losing every time only makes it worse. But I carry on because it’s what I do. I’ll get used to it. And it will get better when we start winning. Oh is it June yet…?

I was, however, looking forward to visiting a micropub today: Snuffy Jack’s Ale House in Fishponds, Bristol.

I took to my phone to research food options, wondering if the pub sold hand reared pork pies (which always has me imagining little pork pies running around in a pen) or maybe scotch eggs. But – oh no! – what’s this? The pub doesn’t open until 3 o’clock? But that was the one thing I was looking forward to today! Dear reader, I could have cried…

I immediately set to researching other pubs in the Fishponds area but there really didn’t seem anywhere better than the Wetherspoons and that was quite depressing. And I wasn’t really in the mood for a pub crawl AND of course we were in the middle of Storm Dennis:

So I was putting myself at risk of death travelling to this match today (which we were probably going to lose AGAIN) – and I couldn’t even enjoy one last delicious pint in a micropub. Well wasn’t THAT just great?

It became a case of just find ANY pub and hope for the best. Sometimes this proves a great strategy. Indeed this is one of my favourite pastimes on European city breaks, descending into random cellar bars (where I discovered the delights of Žubrowka and Apple Juice in Kraków) and pool halls (where I discovered my ability to psychologically torture an opponent in Vilnius). What would we discover in Fishponds today?

Our first stop was Old Post Office – one of those pubs that looks like it either wants to be a Wetherspoons or once was a Wetherspoons. We stepped inside with trepidation but were pleased to see some cask ales on offer:

I plumped for the Wadworth Dirty Rucker, being a ruby ale, as you know I prefer the darker ales. Sadly it didn’t delight my palate; however I had been on a coach for four and a half hours and frankly I just wanted ANYTHING by this point, to get me through the match rest of the day. The toilets were interesting, though, with a selfie corner (you see, it’s not just me that takes photographs in public toilets) and motivational(?) words in each cubicle. See the video at the foot of this blog for ‘Jane’s Loo Review’ (which seems to be a thing now!).

The menu looked pretty good here and I might have been tempted by this little beauty:

We called into The New Moon – where we had heard there was a pubdog – however alas there was no cask ale, so our visit was fleeting (no sign of a dog, either).

So Spoons it was: The Van Dyck Forum – complete with flying fish:

Now I do like a quirky Spoons. When I first moved to Walsall there was one in the town centre called The Imperial, which was full of dinosaurs. And I mean FULL of dinosaurs. The centrepiece was a MASSIVE diplodocus(?) that you had to walk round (or underneath) to get to the bar. There were also pterodactyls handing from the ceiling and it really was quite wonderful.

When I started a new job in Walsall, I was eager to show off this pub to my new colleagues and suggested it for a works night out:

‘You MUST see this pub. It’s full of dinosaurs!’

Of course they thought I was nuts but I couldn’t wait to show them. You know I enjoy sharing quirky things and places.

Dear reader, when we got to the pub, all the dinosaurs had gone. Every. Single. One. I’m only grateful that job was on a short-term temporary contract because god knows what they must have thought of me. Did they think I’d made it up or, worse, actually hallucinated dinosaurs in there on a previous visit?

This experience has plagued me for years and I’d have thought I was going mad myself had my friends not remembered the dinosaurs too (else what WERE our drinks spiked with that night…?). I’ve spent a long time trying to find evidence of the centrepiece dinosaur online but he (of course, being a dinosaur) had lived in pre-internet age. We had heard what had become of him. He had relocated to Drayton Manor Theme Park, where he had failed to adapt to the outdoor conditions and sadly died. So we couldn’t even go and visit him there.

Dear reader, I’ve only gone and finally found him online! He really did exist! Dear reader, meet Dinky:

http://andrewpaulblake.co.uk/dinky-dinosaur/

Anyway, back to the Bristol Spoons.

The only beer I fancied was the 4.8% Port Stout – and I hadn’t had much to eat yet. Of course I ordered a pint anyway, fearing that this was going to be the only decent pint I’d get all day. I promptly followed up my order with…guess what?

I figured we just about had enough time to fit in one more pub, so we strode off towards Cross Hands. Now this was a lovely pub with a reasonable range of beers.

Mmm Bath Gem for me please.

But this was a necessarily short visit, as we now had to get back on the coach to take us to The Memorial Ground.

And so to the match…

Well Storm Dennis had arrived before us and we were standing on an open terrace today. Bloody marvellous. In my defence, I hadn’t anticipated the storm at the time of buying my ticket. Seating had been an option; however I always choose the standing option if there is one. It’s cheaper, of course, but also we don’t get so many opportunities to stand on terraces in the league these days, so I like to do so when given the opportunity. I also like the freedom of being able to move around and stand where I choose, not being penned in with restricted movement for 90 minutes.

But I always check the forecast before dressing for a match. I knew today was forecast to be ‘wild but mild’, with raging winds and lashing rain but a pleasing 12C temperature. I therefore dressed accordingly: boots, waterproof trousers, big coat, hat, scarf, bodywarmer with hood, thermal vest, shirt and jumper. I was going to be warm enough without overheating – and suitably protected from the wind (hat) and rain (waterproofs and hood). They do say there is no such thing as inclement weather, only inadequate clothing – and my wardrobe is able to withstand most forms of weather.

Thus it was that, whilst there were grown men (and women) around me whinging about having to stand on an open terrace amidst a storm (and wimping off to the covered seating), I was actually in my element here. I’d been feeling somewhat out of sorts all day but here, now, in the middle of a violent storm, the wind wrapping itself around me and the rain viciously stabbing me in the face…dear reader I felt exhilarated and refreshed and HAPPY. I remembered matches from yesteryear where I had been subjected to similar conditions (at Springfield Park in Wigan, standing on that perpetually muddy bank; at Bristol Rovers and Plymouth seemingly EVERY TIME we played them; at Brentford when we lost 5-0 and almost drowned; at Deepdale when Wes showed us the power of the Panenka when applied effectively; and at Wembley (I forget which year, we’ve been so many times) when we were Singin in the Rain (‘Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face’).

When we went 1-0 up I honestly couldn’t have been happier. We looked good value for it, too. It seemed the players were happier following the departure of the manager who, from what I’m hearing in addition to what I witnessed on the pitch, didn’t seem to be the best motivator in the world. Might we actually win a match here today?

And then Ben ‘Beneghan’ Heneghan went and got himself sent off for a reckless challenge by the dugouts. Perhaps this was a slip as a consequence of the prevailing weather conditions. But nonetheless it ultimately cost us the game. We can’t win a game with 11 men, so had no hope with ten!

At half time I reluctantly went to check out the facilities in the toilet portacabins. Dear reader, these were the most cramped toilets I’ve ever been in, in terms of overall (lack of) space both outside and inside the cubicles. The wind was howling in through the open window and there was no lock on the cubicle door. I was now thankful for the limited size of the cubicle, which meant even my incredibly short legs could reach the door to hold it closed. But at least there was toilet roll if, of course, there was no hot water.

Bristol Rovers stepped up the gas (see what I did there?) in the second half, equalised with a wondergoal, went ahead with a deflection in the 84th minute and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. For the remaining six minutes, plus five minutes of added time, Blackpool played like demons, absolutely determined that they weren’t going to lose again. They fought hard for every ball – and even keeper Chris Maxwell came up to join the attack for a late corner. I like Maxwell a lot. He has a quick brain and always looks alert. I hear a lot of people saying he’s a bit short for a keeper but he’s 6’1 and that’s not short (believe me I know what short is, being 5’2 myself).

Sadly the score remained 2-1. We’d lost again. And now had a four and a half hour coach trip to endure. Whilst soaking wet. Great stuff.

Here’s the video story of my day:

#BackingBlackpool #BackingThePlayers #BackInLove? #BackToReality #BackToBackDefeats #BackToLeagueTwo? #BackNextWeekRegardless

#UTMP

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