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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.

Fleetwood Town v Blackpool: The Hen Do

The moment I heard the news of Neil Critchley’s appointment as Blackpool ‘head coach’ on Monday, I headed directly to a passionate Liverpool fan for the lowdown on their erstwhile U23 coach. Dear reader, the signs were good. He looked crestfallen at the news of Critchley’s departure and frankly still hasn’t recovered. I learned that Jurgen Klopp had said that he would ‘trust him with his life’. At Liverpool at every level the teams play in the same way. And we all know how brilliantly they play. Critchley has coached a number of players through from the U23s into the first team, although not so many lately, since the first team have become one of the best in the world. He was rated so highly by Liverpool that he took charge of the first team for a couple of cup games and is being considered as a potential first team manager at Anfield in the future.

Critchley sold himself well, too, in his first interview at Blackpool, insisting he will develop players and take control of matches. He was flattered to be approached by Blackpool and seems genuinely excited to be here. Finally things can start progressing on the pitch the way they have been off it. We, too, are excited again. My outlook has changed from wanting the season to end to looking forward to the next game – and to next season, when we genuinely might have a real shot at League One.

Come Friday night I was buzzing. This was going to be a good weekend. The sale of my house in Walsall had finally completed, the storms had dissipated and the cloud over my head had shifted. And now here was Lee meeting me at the station with a chippy tea.

This was from Grasmere Chippy and the portion size was perfect for me. But how were the three key components of the meal? Well the fish was good – not too soggy, not too crispy. The chips were acceptable but a little tasteless. They could have done with some more salt and vinegar. I wasn’t sure if these had been applied at all. And the gravy? Well I’m only glad I chose to leave it in the pot for dunking. It tasted of black pepper. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like black pepper. On a steak it might have been very nice. But not with fish and chips. It’s a no from me. If I ever do visit this chippy in future, I’ll be trying out the mushy peas or curry sauce instead.

We popped to the shop for some pop:

I wonder if it prevents gout? It certainly tasted very orangey but I do prefer Fanta.

Now it was time to head to the Fylde Coast Radio studio for our Friday night sports show. We had plenty to talk about, what with the new manager and the match against fellow Fylde Coasters Fleetwood tomorrow. If you haven’t tuned in yet please do from 6pm on Friday:

www.fyldecoastradio.org

After the show I headed to Bloomfield Brewhouse to meet the girls for the start of a hen weekend. I was disappointed to find no real ale in here tonight – they appeared to be favouring a selection of lagers – but there was one real cider, Lilleys Colider, a cola cider. This is acceptable to my palate as it tastes like Panda Pops Cola and nothing like cider (I don’t like cider). I was cautious with it, though, as I know cider can be cruel the morning after. I stuck with two halves of this.

But was this shrinking juice?

The mirrors in the Ladies were not much use for touching up my make-up.

Next stop was Brew Room, where I knew the beer wouldn’t let us down. I was pleased to see a beer from one of my favourite haunts in Wigan, Martland Mill Brewery’s Arctic Convoy, a chocolate and oatmeal stout with a rich roast palate. That being deliciously quaffable, the company being great and knowing that I could have a lie-in tomorrow, a few pints were consumed. We even met a nice dog called Simba, who I thought the girls had dognapped at one point, before realising they had been charged with looking after him while the owner went to the bar.

I was pleased to spend the evening in what truly is a wonderful pub. The acoustic indie singer was just the right volume so we could tune into him or the conversation at the table as required. The beer was magnificent. The menu here is expanding too:

I really must try the pie and gravy next time I’m here. Not to mention the flights of beer.

Lee collected me around 11.30pm and, because I had lined my stomach with chips and not drunk anything contentious (cider notwithstanding), I was confident I’d feel just fine in the morning (after a lie-in, of course).

***

It was 11am before I roused from my slumber on Saturday morning. After my migraine last week I have been taking care to get as much sleep as possible this week (to the point of near-hibernation) and have been feeling so much better for it.

Karen called to enquire if I’d be in Strawberry Gardens pre-match, but I said no because (a) I was still in bed, (b) we had plans to see a Spitfire at Blackpool Airport, (c) I needed a full English and (d) I was still scarred from my last visit to Fleetwood pubs, where the beer was scarce and what there was had to be returned (Spoons notwithstanding).

It was 1pm before Lee and I left the house and we realised we were rapidly running out of time. We scrapped the Spitfire in favour of breakfast. Surely there’d be a cafe somewhere en route to Fleetwood? We drove through Bispham, where there was not a cafe in sight. Ooh perhaps we could grab a breakfast from Spoons in Cleveleys? Oh but it’s 1.30pm now – they’ll have stopped serving breakfast. And so we carried on to Fleetwood and hunted down my favourite cafe there, The Corner Cafe.

I quickly perused the menu and placed my order with the confused waitress:

‘Please could I have the Vegetarian Breakfast but with a normal sausage instead of a vegetarian sausage?’

‘…’

‘And two banana milkshakes.’

‘Er…do you just want The Big Breakfast?’

‘No I don’t want all that.’

‘It’s got the same as the Vegetarian Breakfast but with a normal sausage.’

I wasn’t convinced.

‘Oh don’t worry, I’ll just have the vegetarian sausage.’

Over breakfast (which WAS The Big Breakfast after all that, with bacon and black pudding that I didn’t really want, although it did come with toast, which I did want) we debated who was likely to contract coronavirus first. Lee insisted it would be me because I work in Manchester and regularly use public transport. I argued that it would be him because he’s a taxi driver with regular hospital runs and he has been the one who brought the last two colds into the house. We discussed a suitable forfeit for the first to contract the virus and I thought Lee’s suggestion of sleeping in the garage was a little harsh.

Whilst I wouldn’t say I was worried about coronavirus, it is starting to impact my plans now. That flight I booked to the Portsmouth match, from Manchester to Southampton, to avoid 14h travelling by road or rail? It was serviced by FlyBe, who have now entered administration. Should I book alternative transport? Will I even be able to attend the match on Easter Monday, if the virus is running rife by then? Might the game be postponed or played behind closed doors? These are certainly interesting and unprecedented times and we can only really look at Italy in trying to predict what might happen over here over the next month or so. I’m not worried but the spread of this virus is certainly an undercurrent to every day at the moment and we cannot ignore it. Perhaps we should hurry along the garage roof repair…?

But back to the caff. I spotted an intriguing poster on the wall:

Wow you’d need a MONSTER hangover to demolish all that lot!

Now it was time to head to Highbury for the big match. We were looking forward to some good football and maybe even a win this afternoon!

The area surrounding the ground was swarming with police and I hoped Fleetwood Town were bearing the cost of what appeared like complete overkill in terms of security. I could not comprehend why Fleetwood had decided to give Blackpool such a small ticket allocation for this fixture when we could have sold out the ground for them (and partially covered the cost of the policing for them in ticket sales). I was pleased that Blackpool had turned the situation to their advantage, screening a beam back of the match at Bloomfield Road. It did seem like sour grapes on Fleetwood’s part after a feisty encounter at Bloomfield Road.

I did get a frisk prior to entering the ground, which is always a treat, and headed immediately to the Ladies to check out the facilities.

Two taps but no hot water. I would have thought hot water would be more effective and hygienic than cold but apparently cold water can be just as effective at ridding your hands of some bacteria. I’m not convinced though. I’d much rather hot water (if available) to be on the safe side – especially with coronavirus lurking on the horizon.

We took our place in the Percy Ronson Stand, which was actually a terrace. I thought a ‘stand’ always had seats but clearly not (e.g. in the old Bloomfield Road, the seats were in the South Stand and the standing area was the South Paddock). The terrace was busy and I struggled to find a place where I could have an unobstructed view of the match, being a short person.

The atmosphere was electric in the away end and there were lots of new chants today.

‘Oh Chrissy Maxwell. He used to play for Preston but he’s all right now.’

‘You’re just a shit Simon Sadler.’

‘Half your fans are in the trees.’

I thought that last one was harsh, as I was sure they had housing and even electricity in Fleetwood now.

It was about ten minutes before I spotted this:

With Barton serving a touchline ban today, I wondered if he was one of these watching from the tree…?

The game went pretty well, with Blackpool on top for most of it. We were pretty much camped out in their half throughout the first half, indeed taking control of the game just as the new gaffer had promised. It seemed he was having an impact already. Dammit the players looked liked they had actually TRAINED this week. They looked keen to do something with the ball when they had it, other than the usual ‘shit, shit, what do we do now’ when they found themselves – almost surprised to be – in possession around the edge of the box.

The second half was more Fleetwood but we weren’t overpowered by any stretch of the imagination. We never looked seriously under threat, despite some questionable decisions from the officials. Indeed I’m not sure either keeper had a save to make all match.

The game ended 0-0, so that’s four unbeaten now for Pool and another clean sheet for Maxwell. The tide is certainly starting to turn.

Post match we met up with the Fleetwood Town vlogger Ben of Cods Vlogs fame and even did a little bit of filming for him at the end. Here’s his video:

And here’s our video memory of the day:

I was despatched in town, where I was meeting up with the girls for part two of the hen weekend. I understood that tonight was to be less sensible than last night and headed into Hogarths with some trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised to see real ale on sale in here – and more Martland Mill beer, too – this time the Wobbly Weaver, a light ale with English malts and Mosaic hops, citrus and tropical fruit flavours. I ordered a half of this.

By the time the next round came around, I felt confident enough to switch to pints. Alas when my pint was delivered, it came with a shot. Oh it was going to be one of THOSE nights, was it?

Now just to put this into context, I had been out a couple of weeks ago and overindulged on the vodka. I had therefore resolved not to drink spirits or shots again, much as I don’t drink wine at all, simply because I don’t know where I am with it, whereas I do with beer. And tonight was DEFINITELY too soon for shots.

Dear reader, of course I necked it, because what choice did I have? I wasn’t going to be the party pooper and, besides, it was still early, so it wasn’t going to do any damage at this stage in proceedings.

I did, however, see THIS on the wall and began to wonder if I was hallucinating (much like when I first spotted the pterodactyl in the tree in my garden).

Next stop was The Bank for dinner. This was my recommendation, as Lee and I had been here for our Valentines dinner (as well as the chippy tea, although not on the same night) and had found the service to be exquisite and the food very good also. This is currently number two on Trip Advisor for restaurants in Blackpool (behind McHalls Bistro, which does not cater for hens).

Here’s what I had:

Obligatory Cocktail: Dark ‘N’ Stormy (dark rum, ginger ale and lime juice). Very boozy. Penis straw not provided.

Starter: Pâté (‘our own homemade chicken liver pâté lightly seasoned and slow cooked with cream, onions and a splash of brandy served with sliced garlic toasted baguette and butter’). Lush. Couldn’t eat it all. Wish I’d asked for a doggy bag.

Main: Bank Burger (‘seasoned Cumbrian beef burger patty, tomato, lettuce, pickles and relish…served on a brioche bun with a mixed leaf garnish, coleslaw, a frickle and your choice of chunky chips, regular fries, Paprika fries or spicy chilli fries. Upgrade your fries to Halloumi fries for £2 (why not add onion rings for £1’). Because I don’t like onion rings and all that was ENOUGH. I went for the spicy chilli fries.

Dessert: Double Baileys.

One of the girls ordered a side, mistakenly thinking that, because the menu was quite expensive, the portions would be small. This was not the case. You get an ABUNDANCE of food here – and the service really is exceptional. Please do give this place a try. I promise you won’t regret it.

Dear reader, these were my kind of girls. One of them ordered a steak purely because one of the sauce options was ‘beef dripping’. Later, when I remarked on the beautiful colouring of the Tequila Sunrise, she announced: ‘Oh yes. That’s the same colour as Manchester City’s third kit.’

After a fleeting visit to a dive bar round the corner that I never knew existed but would like to go back to…

…I made the call to Lee to whisk me away before I drank anything else dangerous. I’d had a great weekend with the girls (making a refreshing change from spending weekends with the lads at the football) but the memory of the vodka was too recent and I had to stop myself before I hit the point of no return (and became intimately acquainted with the bathroom floor again).

Back to Bloomers on Tuesday and Saturday. Can we manage a couple more home wins? Yes we can! In Critch we trust.

UTMP.

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