After five months without football, the fixtures are coming thick and fast. Blackpool’s pre-season schedule has been announced – and the league fixtures are out on Friday. It’s great to have fixtures in the calendar even if we can’t plan our awaydays…
…oh but we can! I enjoyed planning last week’s virtual pub crawl around Southport, so have done the same for our awayday at Vale Park.
My last visit to Vale Park was in 2017 with Chasetown for their Staffordshire Senior Cup final against Stoke City U23s. That was a very different experience to my previous visits there, where I’d only seen the away end. This time I got to see the changing rooms and hospitality suite. It was a wonderful experience for us and the players to enjoy a match at such a huge, traditional stadium, when we were used to more…how can I word this…quirky and often ramshackle facilities in the Northern Premier League.
You may recall I had a great night out in Stoke after my epic five-hour trip to travel 38 miles to Market Drayton. What a journey that was! I’m almost beginning to prefer these virtual trips! They are certainly a lot cheaper and less exhausting. Of course it isn’t the same at all but it’s all I have for now, so let’s crack on with exploring the pubbage of Burslem (pre-match) and Hanley (post-match)…
Of course Staffordshire is Titanic Brewery territory. A cursory scout around Burslem reveals a Titanic Brewery pub. Yes! I’m all over that! The Bulls Head has ten real ales and ten real ciders – and not one but TWO real fires. Of course it’s scorchio here today so they won’t be needed. But I see fires in a pub as symbolising cosiness and homeliness – how pubs should be. This pub opens an hour earlier (11am) on days when Port Vale are at home, so seems an obvious first stop today. Titanic Cherry Dark is one of my very favourite beers, so finding that here today really would make my day.
Next stop is Johny’s Micro Pub. I confess the spelling of this makes me a little uncomfortable, but I’m prepared to let that slide for the sake of good beer in a good pub. The TripAdvisor reviews are promising: ‘a genuine friendly welcome’, ‘cosy’ and ‘quirky’ with ‘very good quality beers.’ Also, any pub with a log burner gets bonus points from me. Johny’s has particularly quirky opening hours…Google indicates that it doesn’t open until 2.45pm on a Saturday, although WhatPub does say noon, so I’m hoping that’s correct. I’d phone and check if I was going today but, as this is a virtual pub crawl, opening hours don’t really affect the ‘day out’.
Next on to Bursley Ale House. I love the look of this place!
This is a proper homely-looking pub with a fireplace in the middle of the room (it must get cold here in winter!). I imagine this pub would be hard to leave. It’s the closest pub to the ground, so I would probably schedule this as the last stop before the match. And/or perhaps the first one after the match…
Port Vale v Blackpool
But on to the match! Port Vale proved tougher opposition for Blackpool today than Southport last week. I was again very impressed with the Seasiders, though. They look so quick and exciting on the attack. I would be interested to see the possession stats from the game, as we seemed to pass the ball from player to (our own) player with ease and for long periods. This is such a breath of fresh air in comparison to last season, when the players couldn’t seem to string two passes together. We were shaky at the back at times – with a goal gifted to Vale – but attacking we look very strong. It felt reminiscent of the Ollie days, where we might concede but we knew we could score more goals than the opposition because we were deadly on the attack. Jerry Yates, Keshi Anderson and CJ Hamilton all look to be particularly exciting new signings. I’m starting to get very excited about next season.
Blackpool came out 2-1 winners today, our goals coming from Sullay Kaikai and Keshi Anderson.
Lee and I did another live ‘watch along’ on YouTube, which you can watch here:
Now onto Hanley for the post-match crawl. But why Hanley? Well on my previous visit (referenced above) I found myself quite taken with Hanley, but we’ll get to the best pub of the night later…
Of course I’m famished by now, and my research (TripAdvisor) reveals the best food in Hanley can be found at The Masons Arms, so let’s check them out.
BEER GRAVY?! I’m getting my coat and heading there right now!
This is also a Ran Ales tap house. I’ve enjoyed their Rum n Raisin Stout before now. I also see they do a Cherry Chilli Stout and a Choccy Wokky Stout. Again the spelling sends a shiver down my spine but hopefully the beer is tasty enough so I can overcome that.
The Unicorn Inn has great reviews on TripAdvisor:
Further research reveals this is a Heritage pub – and has a resident ghost!
The Woodman looks worth a visit. They managed to keep trading during lockdown by offering a collection service for ‘bag in a box’ beers from Beartown (including the lush Creme Bearlee) and kegs from Facers Brewery (including their North Star Porter). Now reopened, The Woodman offers two regular ales (Bass and Thornbridge Jaipur) and up to five guests.
The final stop of the night has to be the exquisite micropub and bottle shop called Bottlecraft, which I found on my last visit:
And my what a delightful little hostelry this is! The staff were warm and welcoming, the punters were amiable too (I engaged in Tiny Rebel Newport chat with a man who was thinking of visiting and told him he absolutely must) – and the beer wasn’t bad either! After a Thornbridge Brock on cask, I made a point of keeping a good distance between me and the fridge after the previous night, instead opting for a couple of beers on tap: Wild Beer Fruitbooter and Lervig Orange Velvet IPA (who can resist a Lervig?). I could have stayed here all night…
It’s only open from 2pm on Saturdays so pre-match wasn’t an option. Looking at their fridge at the moment, I’d be tempted by the Brew York Imperial Tonkoko. At 7.5% abv, I’d better make this the final stop of the day (i.e. nightcap).
Now the reason I last went to Stoke – and found myself in this pub – I was going to see The Lancashire Hotpots in concert. Ah remember gigs? I’ve actually been (virtually) attending a lot of gigs in recent weeks, including David Ford and Duke Special.
Tonight the Hotpots were doing their first full live set, so I finally got to see them play for the first time in eight months. Woohoo! This was Lee’s first experience of Hotpotting and, despite looking perplexed a lot of the time, he did readily join in with the singalongs and the dance moves (including a conga around the house to Lancashire DJ).
There’s a lot to be said for this virtual experience. I still get to plan my pub visits, drink beer, watch the match and a gig…and for a fraction of the price paid to do these things in person. There is still the social element, as we chatted with fellow football fans (including Vale fans) during our livestream and fellow Hotpotters (and Hotpots) during the gig on YouTube.
I appreciate, however, that doing things virtually does not help the pubs, restaurants, cafes and music venues. As part of my reintegration into society, I have started going out and about around Blackpool. In my next blog – covering Blackpool’s home game against Barrow – I will detail where I have been and how Blackpool’s pubs are faring in this new world.