Right then. A big derby match tonight at home to strugglers Bolton. Surely THIS one was winnable, right…?
I caught the train from Manchester Piccadilly towards Blackpool North. This train passes through Bolton and Horwich, so I expected it to be rammed with Trotters, but it seemed no busier than usual, although it did smell of weed. I busied myself replying to Tweets. It seemed I’d upset both Haydon the Womble and Bloomfield Bear by rating Minty the Kendal Mintcake as the top football mascot.
I arrived at North station to find it full of policemen – at the end of the platform, on the concourse and still more outside. But there was also Lee, armed with my jumper, hat, scarf, fanzines and a kiss. It was raining and I was not looking forward to standing outside selling zines tonight.
I was also hungry, so we stopped off at the shop that sells nice turkey sandwiches (I’ve lost the spirit of Christmas since Lincoln and I wanted to summon it back). While Lee went in to get the food, I changed into my winter layers in the car park outside. Happily it had stopped raining already and I resolved to leave my light sabre umbrella in the car.
Lee despatched me at the ground around half past six (returning home to pick up the season tickets he had left on the table) and there were already hundreds of people milling around Bloomfield Road. I assumed my sales position and my hands were cold within two minutes, despite the fingerless gloves.
I scanned the faces of the Blackpool and Bolton fans trudging past and it seemed like no-one really wanted to be here tonight, by dint of the terrible football and depressing weather – both of which have been plaguing us for months now. Oh roll on the summer on both counts! Meanwhile we have Coronavirus to look forward to, so we can’t even book a holiday for fear of entering a contagion zone. I feel like I’m living in a horror movie right now, as the virus edges ever closer.
The Bolton fans were queueing right by me and I ended up chatting to a few of them. They seemed like normal people, like us.
One enquired after the badge man and I explained that he wasn’t here any more but persuaded him to buy a fanzine instead, even though he didn’t know what one was.
One asked where the nearest chippy was and I directed him towards the top end of Bloomfield Road in the direction of Bloomfield Chippy, assuming it was still open, but not really convinced, but knowing there must be something on Lytham Road at any rate. I didn’t feel I was as prepared for that question as I should have been, as an authority on chips. I now know that C Fresh on Lytham Road is the correct answer.
One was wearing a leg brace and had no shoe on his left foot but he assured me it wasn’t cold because he had seven socks on.
Speaking of left feet, tonight also brought the brilliant blogger Mitch Cook’s Left Foot, who I chatted to briefly as he bought a fanzine, which he also features in this time. You can read his blog here. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
Lee had joined me by now, filming interviews with passing fans for tonight’s match video. It was sad to hear the Bolton fans’ resignation to their current plight; they really are in a much grimmer position than us and I was really starting to feel for them as football fans and human beings.
As yet more Bolton fans arrived, practically surrounding me, I opted to head into the ground early. Which was just as well, as it proved ridiculously difficult to get through the turnstiles tonight. There were fans struggling with getting the barcode on their tickets to scan (it is at a jaunty angle that requires some origami) and, at the adjacent turnstile, a man seemed to be having a row with someone on the other side of the turnstile and that queue wasn’t moving either. I was almost tempted to pull out my sandwich while I waited.
At length I entered the ground with trepidation concerning just how cold it was going to be. I trudged up to my seat next to Lee and settled down for a couple of hours’ entertainment (haha).
Almost immediately I was presented with a Fox’s Glacier Mint from David on the row in front.
I gazed at it and wondered: ‘Is this a lucky mint?’ Clearly as fans we need to start changing our routines to find that je ne sais quoi that will shift the Seasiders form. We’ve clearly forgotten its importance during the wilderness years.
‘Ooh what have you got there?’
‘Ooh is that your lucky turkey sandwich?’
I tried to remember the last time I had a turkey sandwich at a match. I think it was Boxing Day, when we lost at home to Accrington. I kept my mouth shut and kept on chewing. What was I doing? Perhaps I needed to start eating the pies in the ground again? I think we were winning when I did that. Hmm. Come to think of it, I had a pie at Southend and we won; I definitely had pies at Gillingham and Sunderland, where we got points away from home. Could there be something in this?
I had a Snickers (not a Marathon – boo!) for pudding, washed down with a bottle of (accidentally) sparkling water. Bah! I drew the line at drinking THAT stuff every week if we won tonight!
So how was the match? Well the first half was good! We attacked with relish and even scored a wondergoal, courtesy of Connor Ronan, who is doing ever so well for us. When he signed on loan I enquired of my Walsall and Wolves friends what they thought of him. They liked him but thought he was lacking something. However, from what I have seen, he has clearly developed and makes a tricky little player at League One level. He’s proving very popular amongst Seasiders and this goal only served to add further value to his stock.
We weren’t happy with the ref, who might have awarded us a couple of penalties. Was a one-goal lead going to be enough? I really thought so, as our opponents had little to offer. Bolton looked defeated and dejected and their body language was all wrong. I really felt for them. They reminded me of us over the past few months, looking like no threat at all and panicking when they were on the ball.
Blackpool took their foot off the gas in the second half. That was a dangerous game, with such a slender lead. The North Stand were in fine voice, finding a chant that they stuck to for most of the second half:
‘Bolton get battered everywhere they go
Bolton get battered everywhere they go
Everywhere they go.’
At this point I really began to feel for the Bolton players. How must hearing that make them feel? They were already looking so despondent. How depressing must it be to go out and play every week knowing it’s for nothing, that you’re going to be relegated anyway, that you’re likely going to lose? And then to hear that chant? It’s like rubbing salt into their wounds.
But why was I feeling so sorry for Bolton, when I had so little sympathy for the Blackpool players, who were also clearly struggling of late? They appear to have been suffering a similar crisis of confidence and I was getting so bloody frustrated with them.
How depressing that neither team had anything to play for in a match in February, Bolton resigned to relegation and Blackpool just doing nothing, only safe (barring a disaster) by dint of the terrible plights of Bury and Bolton and terrible form of Southend and Tranmere.
Lee was the prophet of doom, insisting that a one-goal lead wasn’t enough. Despite my earlier protestations, I was now starting to believe him. Keeper Chris ‘Mighty’ Maxwell was having another blinder and was keeping us in the game. He’s fast becoming my favourite player. But now we were under the cosh and creating nothing. We had been whipping balls across the face of goal but there was never anyone there. If only we had a goal-hanger (Ryan Hardie?) we could be scoring three or four every week. But tonight we didn’t even have Armand Gnanduillet, so what hope did we have?
We were looking so impotent up front that I found myself wanting Joe Nuttall to come on – and he did, with ten minutes to go. Was that too late?
‘Come on Joe! This is your moment. This game is crying out for you. You can do this!’
Oh how I wanted him to score. We needed this.
Dear reader, Bolton equalised on 88 minutes.
I was absolutely livid, screaming with frustration, tears of anger pricking my eyes.
Now I’m one of life’s putter-uppers. I’ll tolerate things for an unnecessarily long time, keeping my feelings bottled up until they manifest themselves in some form of mental and ultimately physical illness. Eventually I snap and then there’s no going back. I’ve disowned people, quit jobs, ended relationships. Look after me and I’ll look after you but make me suffer and I will up and move on. I’ve left Blackpool before because it got to the point where I was crying at matches and not wanting to be there. It wasn’t so much a conscious political boycott for me, more that I had reached the end of my tether. But I came back last year. When I was perfectly happy at another club. Because things changed. And I fell in love with Blackpool all over again.
But they say never go back. It was the wrong move for Larry, wasn’t it?
I know things will pick up. And they did almost straight away, Blackpool refusing to accept the draw, Samlesbury Hall scoring a belting winner in the 90th minute.
But I left the ground still fuming. Why had they just put us – and themselves – through that? I was chuntering all the way home.
‘Why are you so angry? We just gave the Bolton fans a glimmer of hope, then snatched it away within minutes. It’s brilliant. And very funny. How can you be like this when we’ve won?’
But this had happened before. In 2001/2002 Blackpool romped their way through to the Northern Area Final of the LDV Trophy, sweeping away any opposition that were put in front of us, as follows:
First Round: Blackpool 3-2 Stoke City
Second Round: Mansfield Town 0-4 Blackpool
Quarter Final: Chesterfield 0-3 Blackpool
Semi Final: Oldham Athletic 2-5 Blackpool
Northern Area Final (First Leg): Blackpool 3-1 Huddersfield Town
Do you remember what happened in the second leg of the area final? Let me refresh your memory. Within three minutes, keeper Phil Barnes conceded a reckless penalty and was lucky to stay on the pitch. The Seasiders were 2-0 down half an hour later. I was fuming. We’d skipped our way this far through the competition. What were they playing at? The game ended up going to extra time and in those days we had the Golden Goal, whereby the first team to score in extra time won the match. Cue my favourite player Martin Bullock with the matchwinner in the 103rd minute. The travelling Seasiders were ecstatic. But me? I ran down to the front of the stand yelling at the top of my lungs:
‘How DARE you put us through that?!’
Now Blackpool’s CEO Ben Mansford last week spoke of the ‘Blackpool Way’. First of all, sack the PR person, because that should have been ‘Seasiders Way’. But that’s by the by. So what is the ‘Blackpool Way’? Well the above are prime examples. Heaven forbid we can just enjoy ourselves. There has to be pain and heartbreak and anger and…passion and feeling and love.
Oh they say you have to experience bad times to truly appreciate the good. But haven’t we had it bad enough these past few years? Isn’t it time for the tide to turn now, instead of inflicting further pain on us? Because I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…
I had to medicate myself before getting into bed, otherwise I knew I wouldn’t get to sleep in such an agitated state. Lee woke me at 2am to watch the video he’d spent the past four hours editing, which you can now view here:
Then I promptly went back to sleep, before waking at 6am tired but recovered from the night before. Or so I thought. I began writing this blog on the train back into Manchester. By the time we passed the Reebok Stadium (or whatever Bolton’s ground is called these days) and Bolton itself, the three-carriage train was rammed full of irate commuters and there was snow on the ground outside. As we crawled into Manchester, I came to recall the 88th minute of last night’s match and had to stop writing for several hours while I went to work. What a place to leave it! What had been two minutes of suffering last night was prolonged to last the WHOLE DAY and quite frankly left me feeling unsettled and distressed.
‘How did you get on last night?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it. It’s too upsetting.’
‘Oh dear. How many did you lose by?’
‘Oh we won.’
There can be no doubt that my mental health is suffering as a consequence of Blackpool’s current form. Why couldn’t I enjoy that win last night? The match wasn’t the worst per se but, viewed in the context of the past few months leading up to it, it is all becoming too much. I envy those fans who don’t endure every match and suffer like this. I’ve been here before, of course, and I know it will pass as it always does. Meanwhile thank heaven for my Lee, beer, chips and chocolate. I’m going for a lie down now.