Ah the final midweek match of the season. I was looking forward to this one. I skipped to Manchester Piccadilly station, made my way to Platform 14 and took my customary place, just to the left of the puddle, where the train doors would appear in a matter of minutes (puddles are landmarks in Manchester). Alas I noticed just in time that the Blackpool North train was cancelled ‘due to lack of train crew’. Was this yet another knock-on effect of coronavirus? The trains have been only slightly but still noticeably quieter this last week or so. It’s all rather ominous.
Strangely, the cancellation of the direct train means I can actually get to Blackpool sooner, as I jump on the Edinburgh train, which travels more speedily to Preston, where I can change and board an earlier train to the Gold Coast. This isn’t my journey of choice, as (a) it involves a change, thus breaking up my relaxing journey, such that I have to be concentrating on where I am as opposed to absorbing myself in what I’m doing (be that reading, writing, studying, watching tv or replying to correspondence); and (b) it involves at least 15 minutes on Preston station. Tonight, instead of waiting on the grim Platform 1, I made my way to the facilities to get changed for the match. It appeared to be a mild evening but it was better to be safe than sorry. Ne’er cast a clout and all that. And, by the time I had got all my layers on (thermal vest, jeans, thin jumper, thick jumper, body warmer, coat, hat, scarf) and strolled over to Platform 1, the Blackpool North train was just pulling in. Perfect timing.
Now Lee was busy pre-match meeting a Tranmere fan who he was interviewing for tonight’s video, I wasn’t selling fanzines tonight and hadn’t arranged to meet any friends. I mulled over what to do. Hmm. Chippy tea? Well that’s more of a Friday thing and I wasn’t really all that hungry. Well that only left the pub, really, didn’t it?
Muscle memory drew my feet in the direction of Brew Room because, quite frankly, it is the best pub in the town centre. And here’s why:
Dear reader, this is a very hard pub to leave, but at 7pm I knew I had to set off for Bloomfield Road if I was going to comfortably make the match. The mild weather made for a delightful walk and I was feeling great on arrival at Bloomfield Road. I haven’t been walking enough recently and look forward to getting out and about more now the evenings are getting brighter and the storms have finally buggered off.
In the Ladies in the South Stand councourse, I was amused to find a woman at the sink smiling gleefully with her hands under the tap:
‘Ooh warm water!’
It’s the little things in life, dear reader. I don’t think we football fans are TOO demanding. Be friendly, provide hot water, edible food and decent football and we’re pretty much happy. We don’t expect padded seats and cup holders everywhere (although I confess I AM looking forward to the former at Milton Keynes next month, coronavirus permitting).
I headed next to the refreshment kiosk, where the queues were small as the concourse was relatively quiet, and purchased a lucky Snickers, a bag of Quavers and a bottle of Fanta.
I headed up to the stand to take my seat with Lee, where he presented me with another lucky Snickers. I was feeling good about tonight’s match and couldn’t see anything but a Blackpool victory on the horizon. We had the feelgood factor that came with our new manager, Neil Critchley, we were unbeaten in four matches and our opponents Tranmere were struggling at the foot of the league. What could possibly go wrong?
First of all, the Tranmere fans were remarkable. They did not stop singing for the duration of the first half. And they had THREE drummers! And on the pitch, Tranmere were lively and spirited and…2-0 up by half time.
So what happened to Blackpool?
Well I could see what they were trying to do. The style of play had changed markedly even from Saturday. I could actually see – for the first time this season – what they had been working on in training this week. The shape of the team had changed, the movement and passing was neater, we were finding more space. But this was all new to them. This is effectively pre-season for this team under the new manager. It will likely take weeks before it really starts coming together. Fortunately time is our friend right now, with nothing to play for in terms of promotion/relegation battles – only pride.
Another issue is of course our lack of firepower. Samlesbury Hall came up trumps again with a goal from nowhere but he can’t be expected to provide all the goals every week from midfield. It was good to see Armand Gnanduillet getting 45 minutes tonight but he’s not quite there yet after his injury and we have been relying on his goals all season. When I speak of having squad players in the first team this is nowhere more apparent than up front. With Ryan Hardie seemingly unrecallable from his loan at Plymouth (whose decision was THAT?), Nuttall and Fonz were our only options tonight and that really does need addressing as a priority over the summer – especially if Gnanduillet does leave at the end of his contract (which I hope does not happen, now we have the feelgood factor back in the dressing room).
I have been pleased to see our new boy Ben Garrity from Warrington Town on the bench for the last couple of matches as he gets to full fitness. I can’t wait to see what this surprise package has to offer and I hope he gets his chance soon. The end of this ‘dead’ season is the perfect opportunity to try out unknown quantities to see how they fare at what is the business end of the season for a good number of clubs.
It dawned on me at half time that, being pretty full after my pie and crisps, I had failed to consume either of my lucky Snickers bars. I immediately dug one out of my bag and gromphed it down. It did hurt a bit, as my mouth was full of blisters, as I had been a bit too eager to eat my pie before it cooled. I was told by a colleague earlier today that I eat food ‘like it’s about to be taken off me’ and I had to concede that she did have a point.
The Blackpool players were sent out early for the second half and actually played out of their skins for the subsequent 45 minutes, creating chance after chance after chance and not giving Tranmere a sniff. Even their fans quietened down. But they only managed the one goal – albeit a cracker from Samlesbury Hall – and the game ended 2-1 to the visitors.
I was happy, though, because I had witnessed a marked improvement. Blackpool had looked good tonight. A little rough around the edges, but much better. The work ethic was there. The improvement was there for all to see. They even turned up for the second half, which we haven’t seen for weeks. Critch, we love you already and we understand it will take time to craft those 3-0 wins that we crave. Realistically, it’s probably going to be next season before we get to see that.
If coronavirus does put paid to the rest of the season now, with matches called off or played behind closed doors, I will at least be happy with those green shoots of spring that I saw on the (still beautiful) pitch tonight as our players begin to blossom under Critch’s leadership.
Back at home I headed straight to bed while Lee set to work editing tonight’s video, which you can now watch here:
I am not sure what time Lee woke me to watch the finished article (I never look at the clock because I don’t want to know the time, preferring to imagine that I still have eight hours sleep remaining, even though I know I didn’t have eight hours remaining when I got into bed in the first place) but what I do know is that, when I snuggled back into bed, I couldn’t get ‘Super White Arrrrrrrrmy’ out of my head and it was to this tune that I dozed back off…
Next up Sunderland at home and I reckon that might be it in terms of games attended for a while as coronavirus looms ominously on the horizon, with games (and leagues) across Europe grinding to a halt or taking place behind closed doors in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. Bloody typical just as we’re finally starting to play well! I’m trying desperately to find a positive in there somewhere and the avoidance of a 14h return road trip to Portsmouth on Easter Monday I confess is a big silver lining. Seriously, though, dear reader, stay safe. I’ll keep on writing regardless (as long as I am able), for these are interesting and unprecedented times…