Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Southport v Blackpool: 151 Days Later

It’s been a funny old close season. Frankly I was glad to see the back of 2019/20, which actually seemed longer than any season since Nigel Worthington was manager. But in recent weeks, with exciting signings aplenty and the announcement of the start date for 2020/21, I’ve found myself almost looking forward to going back to Bloomfield Road.

I’ve become a bit of a hermit since our last match, at home to Tranmere on 10th March some five months ago. At that time I was exhausted, with a 3h daily commute (at best) into Manchester on top of over a thousand miles travelled watching Blackpool in 2020 alone. To say my life has changed immeasurably is an understatement.

I’m sitting in the garden writing this blog (they’ve historically been written on the train). I’ve got to know the family of blackbirds that lives here – as well as the six regular feline visitors. I’ve found a blackberry bush that we didn’t know was here. We’ve finally got the lawn looking good thanks to Morty the mowbot. And it’s so peaceful…despite a cacophony of sounds, from low-flying planes to crying seagulls. It’s home. I’m finally home.

I haven’t set an alarm for five months. I haven’t been on public transport, let alone been disappointed by it. Oh the irony that Northern Rail (or whoever owns the franchise now) finally got that Blackpool to Manchester train sorted out – with sexy new stock and extra carriages – only to lose all its passengers. Will they ever go back in the same numbers as before?

So how have I coped without the football? You know I have coping mechanisms to actively manage my mental health? Well this includes ways to enjoy football when the football isn’t particularly enjoyable (or indeed being played at all). I write about football, talk about football, read about football and watch football programmes on the tv.

In recent months I’ve taken to reading and reviewing football books and magazines. Reading about the emotions and experiences of fellow football fans has helped remind me exactly why I fell in love with the game in the first place. Sure, it’s a proper slog at times, but it can be a truly magnificent, life-enhancing whirlwind of magic.

Lee and I made a point of sticking to a strict football timetable to help us (and others) through lockdown. Every Saturday at 3pm we’ve been hosting a football chat show, engaging with football fans from all over the world. At 8pm on a Tuesday night we’ve been hosting a football quiz. I’d quite forgotten how much I enjoyed writing quizzes!

On Friday night we were surprised to learn that Blackpool actually had a match the following day – a pre-season friendly at Southport – and it was being live-streamed on YouTube. We couldn’t go, of course, but how exciting that we’d actually get to watch a match! We already had our livestream planned for Saturday at 3pm…so we decided to make it a ‘watchalong’, where we’d chat to fellow fans whilst watching the game on the big screen. Well it would be different!

We haven’t watched any football on tv since lockdown. As a rule, if I want to watch a match, I’ll go to it. The only exception to this is England matches in the Euros and World Cup finals (I don’t even watch the qualifiers). Football on the tv simply isn’t a thing for me – and never has been since I went to my first match back in 1991 (Blackpool v Halifax Town). The Premier League, Champions League, etc. hold no interest for me whatsoever. They are so far removed from what football means – and is – to me.

So, Blackpool away at Southport, eh? I’ve been itching to go to Southport for several years now. Why? Because the beer scene looks bloody magnificent! Whenever I find myself in a pub in St Anne’s or Liverpool and search for exciting local beers/pubs on Untappd (@blackpooljane if you want to add me), it throws up enticing beers/pubs in Southport. They might be close as the crow flies, but really aren’t when you’re on a pub crawl on public transport (remember that?).

Of course I wasn’t going to Southport for tomorrow’s match, as it was behind closed doors. The late notice also robbed me of the chance to get excited about the game through the week. But the main thing I felt cheated out of was planning a pub crawl round Southport. Not to be defeated on that last point, I decided to take a virtual look around Southport and see where I could have gone…

Southport CAMRA confirms are three breweries local to Southport. Southport Brewery appears to lean towards bitters, but their Black 5 Stout would have been my tipple of choice today. The Parker Brewery has a Dark Spartan Stout that I’d have been all over. Red Star Brewery do an oatmeal stout called Havana Moon that I’ll certainly be looking out for. Sure, it was a hot day to be drinking dark beers, but that’s the beauty of a virtual pub crawl…

I went to Bury a couple of summers ago during that mega heatwave and ordered a pint of mild in Trackside…and the weather made it almost impossible to drink. Thick dark beers taste so gloopy in hot weather! On arrival at Thirsty Fish, I soon switched to Timmermans Peche over ice, which went down far better. Mmm…

But I digress. We’re not in Bury (for the foreseeable, sadly). Well, we’re not in Southport either but let’s keep the pretence going. Next area of research: micropubbage. These are in no scant supply in Southport, which is brilliant. I’m also now beginning to see that not being allowed entry to the match could actually be a blessing. How could I fit all of these pubs in during a three-hour pre-match window? This place looks worthy of a full day’s crawl – or a wacky weekender.

First to the Tap & Bottles. This was Saturday’s menu:

LOOK AT THIS FOR A BEER MENU!!!

Nice touch having the Seacider on: that always makes me smile when I see it. I’m not a cider drinker, though (unless I see a particularly exciting one, like rum & raisin). The oatmeal stout might have been a winner on another day. However, when there’s Fierce Beer on the menu, I’m never going to have anything else. Fierce are my favourite brewery because their flavours are just exquisite (don’t miss their Fuego Feroz, Tangerine Tart and Dirty Sanchez if you ever see them). So, at a whopping 12% abv, it’s the Coconut VBM in here for me. Hmm. Better put this one at the end of the crawl…

Next on my research list was The Barrel House – a dog-friendly cafe with a magnificent bottled beer shelf resembling that at Wigan Central (which I hope to visit again very soon). I’d surely find something fruity to drink over ice in here today. Trip Advisor reviews range from ‘quite strange’ to ‘grotty’ to ‘interesting’ and I just KNOW I’d love it here.

Next up? The Beer Den, Southport’s newest micropub, owned by the aforementioned Parker Brewery. You know what I’m having here – and I’m saved a trip to the brewery. Boom!

The Bottle Room is described as ‘friendly’, ‘the best pub in Southport’ and has also been commended for taking social distancing seriously. Dog-friendly with comfy seating, hand pumps, bottled beers and real ciders…I’m now wondering if any pubs I find in Southport AREN’T going to make the list…

Food is, of course, an important factor on any pub crawl (I’m beginning to think I’ll need to factor in two meals in Southport to soak up the 12%er alone). And so begins the next stage of my research…

The Phoenix looks like a proper pub grub sort of place. It’s name has me singing the Eurovision winner from Conchita Wurst. Have you seen the Eurovision Movie, by the way? We watched it last weekend and it’s AMAZING! We were smiling all the way through and immediately purchased the soundtrack. It’s even MORE Eurovision than Eurovision, if you can believe that. Here’s the trailer:

But, again, I digress. So now I’m hungry and here’s the menu at The (Rise Like A) Phoenix:

Well you can’t go wrong with a curry, can you? As my new (non-haunted) bathroom scales will attest, I’ve been overdoing the Indian food recently, enjoying regular takeaways from Gulshan. This place does the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten…and I ate a LOT of good stuff during my time in Walsall.

But…wait…what’s this? Curry with a ‘warm tortilla’? What’s that all about then? The research continues…

Hang on…what am I thinking? I’m at the seaside. And that means I must seek out the best chippy! The top-rated chippy in Southport on Trip Advisor is The Swan. But does it do gravy…? Yes! It’s on the menu! As is Homemade Apple Pie and Custard. Yes please! But back to the gravy. I drilled down a little further in my research, typing ‘gravy’ into the search filter on Trip Advisor.

Well that’s where I’ll be eating then!

Now let’s look for some good old traditional boozers. The Guest House – an Edwardian pub – looks good. AND it serves hearty pub grub. Hmm perhaps lunch here and a chippy tea later? I see Homemade Lancashire Hotpot with Red Cabbage and Bread is on the menu – another food item I find hard to resist. This pub also has up to 11 real ales and acoustic folk nights, so I know it’s going to be up my street.

And now for the next stage of my research, dear reader. It’s now over to you! Do you know Southport? Have I missed anywhere amazing/quirky (pubs or anything else)? What points of interest are there? Is there a better chippy than The Swan? Does it have a local museum? Let me know and I’ll update this blog to make it more comprehensive, plot all the ‘points of interest’ (pubs) on a map and we can head off to enjoy the delights of Southport.

Meanwhile the match! This wonderful blog by Mitch Cook’s Left Foot sums up the camerawork beautifully:

As you’ll see from the livestream footage below, it took me a while to settle into watching Blackpool on TV – but the exciting football soon won me round.

It’s great to be back, dear reader. It’s been a lockdown full of ups and downs for me mentally but I think I’ve come out of it stronger. We’re now living in an alternate reality of masks, no cash transactions (fortunate as we have no cash!) and table service in pubs, getting more use than ever from Netflix and Alexa (more from her next time). I hope we’ll be back at matches soon but who knows when that will be? Meanwhile there’s always beer and blogging so I’ll be back soon with more of the same…

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