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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.

AFC Wimbledon v Blackpool: Saturday Nights Are Not Alright

Elton John once sang:

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday

Saturday, Saturday,

Saturday night’s alright

That was obviously written before he got involved in football. Because, quite frankly, dear reader, Saturday nights are anything BUT alright.

But let’s start with the fun bit:

The alarm went off at 0520. I stumbled into the shower to the dulcet tones of The Wombles. I do love a bit of comedy feelgood music and The Wombles never fail to put a smile on my face.

Of course we were playing AFC Wimbledon today – and I was excited about seeing a real life Womble!

God bless Lee, who drove me to Blackpool North station and sent me on my merry way to our nation’s capital. I was armed with a rucksack full of supplies to get me through the day. We’d remembered to go to the shops last night – and Lee suggested Morrisons for a change. My immediate thought was ‘ooh Marathons!’

Yes Snickers has been relaunched as Marathon for a limited time only, exclusively to Morrisons supermarkets. Of course we had to buy some for old time’s sake. Marathon rebranded as Snickers in 1990 and I’m not sure anyone has ever been happy about this. That said, I was just about getting over it and this may have set back my recovery.

As I settled back on the 0632 Northern Rail service to Manchester Piccadilly, I remembered I wasn’t up to date on Coronation Street, so whipped out my iPad and fired up ITV Hub. I really can’t get my head round Gary and Maria as a couple and wonder if that’s a deliberate ploy by the writers to make the viewers feel uncomfortable. I reckon if Ali had his hair cut he might be in with a chance.

I had a 15-minute connection in Manchester, where I strolled across to Platform 6 to board the train to London Euston, which was already waiting on the platform. Now I’m really struggling to get my head around these seat reservations at the moment and I’m sure it’s something to do with this split ticketing thing unnecessarily confusing matters. I had requested a window seat at a table. My reserved seat turned out to be an aisle seat and it wasn’t even reserved. Hmm. It never used to be this hard! I took the window seat anyway, plugged in my phone to charge, tucked into my Morrisons The Best Ham Hock & Egg sandwich (very good alternative to a breakfast sandwich if you don’t like sausage or bacon like me) and settled back to finish watching Corrie.

However I looked up momentarily and saw my friend Paul, who I used to travel to matches with 20 years ago. I invited Paul to join me at my table and we spent the journey reminiscing about Blackpool. It was wonderful to recall some great trips from years gone by and remember just why we keep on following Blackpool even when the football is terrible. Our love of the game has taken us to towns and cities that we would never have otherwise visited; we have met some great people; and we have made so many memories and have hundreds of stories to tell. And sometimes the football has been great too. We remembered Leeds away and what a bloody amazing night that was. Just watch these highlights:

Oh how I long for another night like that!

On arrival in London we called into The Rocket, a football-friendly pub that does cheap breakfasts. Having resolved not to drink alcohol today – because I abstained on the only away day win (remember them?) I have vlogged this season – and also not being hungry, my visit here was a fleeting one. I did, however, stay long enough to review the toilets, the toilet roll dispenser proving the highlight:

Now I’ve never been a big fan of London. I find it too big, crowded and difficult to navigate, with an underground that is unbearably hot and uncomfortable. Oh I want to like the city and keep resolving to try and warm to it. But I’m from The North and I’m not even sure that’s possible. Yorkshire Seasider Wilf had answered my appeal for an escort across London today, alleviating my panic at navigating the Tube. I was to meet him at Kings Cross Station, so I ambled down the road in that general direction. I had a little time to kill, so called in at St Pancras Station for a mooch around. Now this is part of London that I DO like. This gateway into Europe is a stunning building with lots of interesting shops and even a piano that anyone can sit down and play. I spied Paddington Bear in Hamleys and read with interest what was banned on the escalators:

I headed across to Kings Cross and looked for a suitable meeting point where Wilf would be able to spot me. There were some green balloons in the middle of the concourse, where some people were giving out free samples of Kefir, a bio-live drink containing gut-friendly bacteria. I still wasn’t hungry so I didn’t partake myself.

Wilf arrived and we headed down into the underground, where I switched into ‘follow’ mode. I have tried but I simply get too flustered when attempting to navigate the Tube on my own. It seemed an awfully long way down and through the rabbit warrens but finally we boarded the service to Vauxhall. It was very hot and stuffy on the Tube and also very loud, the train screaming along the tracks and an automated message repeatedly announcing line and station closures. I was relieved to be back above ground as we emerged at the other end. Our overground connection to Kingston was almost immediate and somewhat more comfortable, aboard a shiny new train.

On arrival in Kingston, we headed for breakfast at the Wetherspoons, the Kings Tun. This place was rammed with Seasiders, the BSA coach having just arrived as well as a large party celebrating Deano’s 50th. It took an age to get served at the bar and, by the time the barmaid came to pull our Harviestown Haggis Hunter (obvs I WAS going to be drinking today because I was going to watch Blackpool), the barrel was empty. I wasn’t too disappointed, as I hadn’t really wanted it anyway, the choice not being the best for me in here. I plumped for this instead:

The other options were Oakham Inferno, Kissingate Chennai Premium IPA, Oakham Attila and Surrey Hills Ranmore, as well as the standard Abbot Ale and Doom Bar, which my brain doesn’t even register as real options.

By the time we went to join our friends from the Blackpool Association of Supporters in London (BASIL), they were moving on to the next pub, but they kindly saved their table for us. This allowed us to order food but obvs we weren’t going back to the bar, so we ordered via the Wetherspoons app. I was excited to see there were some new items on the menu so resolved to order one of these:

This was the Fish Burger: freshly battered cod fillet, gherkin, mayonnaise, rocket and spicy coated king prawn, with chips and six onion rings. I confess it was the gherkin that swung it for me. It was nice and I would have it again, although I left the onion rings and the prawn. To top off the dish, Wilf offered me some of the gravy that came with his steak pudding, so that was me happy.

Suitably sustained, we headed off to join the others at The Albion. We’d been here before and knew this pub to have a cracking range of beers. (Sharp intake of breath before I list all these): Big Smoke Underworld, Big Smoke Solaris, Big Smoke Cosmic Dawn, Rooster Capability Brown, The Woodford Experiment Super Session Blonde, Ampersand Bidon, Thornbridge Peverel, Stonehenge Danish Dynamite, Limestone ESB and Tiny Rebel Stay Puft Caramel, as well as Ascension Wrath Cider, Flash Harry’s Mango & Lime Cider and Two Trees Farmhouse Perry. I didn’t even dare look at the numerous draft beer lines behind the bar. I settled for a half of each of the Underworld (a milk stout) and of course who can resist a Stay Puft? Certainly not me!

After much laughter with some good friends I don’t see nearly enough of, it was time to stroll on to the ground. I was still in ‘follow’ mode for the 20-minute walk to Kingsmeadow, which sounds grand and picturesque but is really just a tiny football stadium. The away terrace is not very deep or elevated and, being a short person, I struggled to find a spot where I could view the match. Given the way we’ve been playing of late, I didn’t consider that too much of a problem. I like it here though. It’s unpretentious and doesn’t feel like London. It has a non league friendly community feel about it and I like that.

And of course there’s the resident Womble.

Sadly my late arrival at the ground didn’t allow time to seek out Haydon before the match but I must make time for him next season. I simply LOVE the Wombles – and this mascot has to be one of the best in the country (although Mr Minty the Mintcake at Kendal Town is my current number one).

Of course my report wouldn’t be complete without the customary loo review, would it?

Two taps. Both cold. Bah!

And so to the match. Well it was the same old same old tosh. They get forward quite a lot but just can’t bloody score! With Armand Gnanduillet missing through injury, there was no hope really. We do rely on the big man a lot – not only for his goals but also his excellent defensive attributes, heading the ball clear from danger (up to no-one, of course, because he isn’t there). The game ended 0-0 against a poor side even further down the league than us (and we’re 16th now, having been 3rd at the start of this terrible run of one win and four draws in 14 games).

I really am getting tired of this football now. All I want to do – all I’ve ever wanted to do – is write about how wonderful it is following Blackpool and it’s getting progressively harder.

I munched away on these in a bid to brighten up my afternoon:

I boarded the Blackpool Supporters Association coach back home to Blackpool, this being the cheapest and quickest mode of transport. It still took five hours but I kept myself amused, chatting with fellow Seasiders, finally getting up to date with Corrie – and watching Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway to cheer me up (what a great feelgood show that is).

I also used this time to look ahead to forthcoming away fixtures and plot my journeys. Hmm. Portsmouth away on Easter Monday. The prospect of 14 hours on a coach for the return trip filled me with horror. But it was simply impossible to get there on the train on the day – and if I went the day before, it would involve a seven-hour trip with four changes, including a rail replacement bus between Preston and Crewe. That seemed an awful lot of trouble to go to a match I probably wasn’t going to enjoy anyway. I might have been tempted if the train was £20 but they wanted £120 for that! Was not going an option? Please…?

I messaged Karen to enquire if she was going and, if so, how? She recommended a flight from Manchester to Southampton. I looked into it immediately and was delighted to find flights considerably cheaper than the train, with a journey time of just an hour each way. I’ll have me a bit of that! Result! Of course I hadn’t factored in the, er, challenging train service between Blackpool and Manchester Airport but that’s going to be a story for another day…

I arrived back in Blackpool around 2215 and Lee collected me from the coach. All the while I’d been travelling home, Lee had been assembling the video clips I’d been sending him all day, charting my adventures, editing yet another Lee Charles TV classic, which you can now watch here:

We love you Blackpool, we do, but you don’t half put us though the mill…

#UTMP

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