Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Barrow: The Season Ticket Dilemma

Well this was certainly a matchday like no other. Lee and I headed down to Bloomfield Road an hour before kick-off. We weren’t going to the match, though, which was being played behind closed doors. We were purchasing our season tickets for the 2020/21 season.

The Season Ticket Dilemma

For a good 20 years, buying a season ticket required no thought whatsoever. It was simply what I did, year after year. But that stopped. In the summer of 2014 I bought a two-year season ticket for Blackpool, covering the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons. I got just two games use out of that season ticket before I became completely disillusioned with what was happening at Blackpool Football Club – and didn’t return until the Homecoming in 2019.

Even then, back in love with Blackpool, the decision to buy a season ticket for the first full season back home (2019/20) was not an easy one. During the ‘lost years’, I had been volunteering for Chasetown FC as their Match Secretary. I loved it there. The job was perfect for me – an administrative job working in football, signing players, monitoring club discipline, liaising with the match officials and opposition secretaries, organising the end of season presentation night… It was a very involved job and I felt so much at home at the heart of a football club.

But I couldn’t do both, could I? A vital part of my role with Chase was being involved on a matchday: meeting and greeting the officials, preparing the teamsheet and reporting to the league/FA/Press Association after the match. So I had a tough decision to make. To go back to being a fan after working at a club would surely be tough.

I agonised over my decision all summer – and it wasn’t until pre-season was getting underway that I finally made my decision. By this time I had fallen in love with Lee – and with me working in Birmingham in the week and going to Chase on a Saturday, I would never have got to see him. So it was with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to Chase. By this time I had already purchased a 2019/20 season ticket for Blackpool. Irrespective of how much use I was going to get out of it, I simply wanted to support the club.

So much has changed since then. I’m now living with Lee in Blackpool. And it seems I’m fated not to get full value out of a season ticket, with the 2019/20 season curtailed because of COVID. Frankly, I was relieved that last season ended early, as the football was bloody awful.

But things have changed now. Blackpool have a new manager, Neil Critchley, and some exciting new players. 2020/21 is going to be different. I genuinely believe we are going to (finally) start heading back in the right direction.

So why was the decision to buy a season ticket still hard?

Well we don’t know when fans will be allowed back into matches. We were expected to buy something without knowing exactly what we would be getting in return. How many matches could we attend with that ticket? We don’t know. And the club advised that there would be no refunds for any matches played behind closed doors, as they would provide access to watch these matches online. This is not an ideal situation. But we want to support the club. But do we really need four season tickets for the family to watch the match online? It makes no sense. But this is football. And we all know that football is not part of the real world and often makes little sense.

We bought all four season tickets in the end because we fell for the club’s marketing strategy once again (fools for love that we are). Blackpool announced on the last day of ‘early bird’ pricing that they were capping season tickets sales at 4,000. This seemed to indicate that capacity would be capped at 4,000 when fans were eventually allowed back in. And we didn’t want to miss out on the earliest opportunity to go back.

Back at Bloomfield Road

Hence at noon on Tuesday – an hour before kick off in our pre-season friendly against Barrow – we found ourselves at the ticket office at a pretty empty Bloomfield Road. There was the odd member of matchday staff milling around outside the stadium – but only around a dozen fans at the ground, queueing in masks for their season tickets.

The queue was out the door – but was not lengthy. Gone was the snaking queueing system and instead the queue was socially distanced, with two-metre spaces marked on the floor of the shop. There was a ‘social distancing monitor’ on the separate entrance and exit doors. Even with so few people there, we knew a good few of them and had a socially distanced chat.

The club shop has an impressive range of stock now we have the new Puma gear. The training wear is stunning, the new home kit is great, but there are so many other good quality items. Even the footballs looked great.

When we got to the front of the queue, we saw that there were panels on the counter to provide a protective barrier between the staff and customers. The service was friendly and our season tickets were duly bought.

On the way out of the shop we were each presented with a complimentary Blackpool FC face mask, which was a lovely touch.

It’s the little things like that which make our club a much more pleasant place to be these days. I’ve previously remarked on having doors held open for us which again means so much but costs nothing.

Blackpool v Barrow

We made it home in just enough time to wolf down lunch (salad – we’re dieting) and I quickly did my hair (which wasn’t dry when we headed out in a panic to make sure we met the season ticket deadline) before the match kicked off. How strange to be rushing AWAY from the ground to watch the match!

The match was live on YouTube and I quickly set up the big screen, found the Blackpool FC YouTube channel and clicked on the livestream link. Meanwhile Lee was setting up our own livestream, as we concurrently broadcast a ‘watchalong’, chatting to fellow fans (of not only Blackpool and Barrow, but random others) on Lee Charles TV on YouTube.

These live watchalongs are going really well. We get to watch the match and interact with fans before, during and after the game. It’s great to have that immediate, live interaction to get a feel for the fans reactions and feelings. It’s not the same as being there at the match (or in the pub before/after the match) but it is the next best thing. It’s different but it’s not bad.

I suppose the worry is that people will get used to watching matches from the safety of their living rooms and not return to crowded stadiums once we are allowed back in. Ultimately, it is far cheaper to watch from home, without the expense of transport, food, drink, match programme, entrance fee, etc. As I mentioned on the video above, watching matches on tv is not something I have really engaged in historically, but I can now see the appeal. It’s warm and cosy at home, too!

It will be very different when we return to grounds, of course. I read with interest this week the Planning for Social Distancing guidance published by the Sports Ground Safety Authority.

This seems to indicate that we may be allowed to take in our own food and drinks to avoid congestion in concourses. We will also be encouraged to walk or cycle to the match (which frankly I hadn’t previously considered) to avoid parking/public transport congestion. The proposed seating plans are interesting, too. As a short person, this should mean that I should have a much clearer, unobstructed view of the game (unless I’m redistributed behind a sanction in the East Stand, of course!).

We enjoyed the match today. We have some exciting new players and the quality of football is in a different league to that played under Simon Grayson last season. I don’t profess to be an expert on football, having never played the game myself, but have found myself beginning to take more of an interest in the wider game during lockdown. I guess this is in part because I have more time (no commute, no travelling to matches, less time in pubs). In terms of style of play, I know Liverpool (and presumably now Blackpool) adopt Gegenpressing, which I’ve been doing a bit of research on:

Blackpool do have some very fast forwards who would seem to fit into this style of play well – CJ Hamilton and Sullay Kaikai are already standing out in pre-season. Now I have a little more understanding of what we are trying to achieve, I have more sympathy for the likes of Marvin Ekpiteta and Teddy Howe at the back, who have been prone to losing the ball under pressure – although do look strong in other areas. If Gegenpressing is being practised in training, perhaps they are being put under a lot of pressure on the ball…but if this is being regularly practised they ought to improve in pressure situations. Indeed, if Critch does what he says on the tin and develops young players, this will be the desired outcome.

Even if we do make the odd mistake at the back, I still always feel that we will score more goals than the opposition, we look so menacing up front. Again today, we hit straight back after conceding, so determined are this team not to be pegged back. It’s refreshing and it’s a joy to watch.

Barrow proved strong opposition today – on a high after achieving promotion to the Football League (I don’t want to call it the EFL, as I feel that brand is becoming increasingly tarnished). Of course they have since lost their star manager Ian Evatt to Bolton – a move which has hurt Blackpool fans as much as our Barrow counterparts. This is the rEVOlution video I mention in the watchalong:

It is a great video, urging the community to pull together and get behind Bolton Wanderers. At the same time, it is sickening for a Blackpool fan to watch, as there is no love lost between us and Bolton. It’s also painful to watch Evo assembling a team comprising his former Blackpool teammates over there. I wonder if he was watching his two former teams facing each other today.

Football Quiz

Later that evening it was time for our football quiz, which we have been hosting every Tuesday night throughout lockdown.

We have decided to call time on the quiz now because we now have football back to fill that Tuesday night slot. With 13 league midweekers – as well as cup games and, next week, a pre-season friendly – we will be busy enough with the football going forward.

I know I promised you a review of Blackpool hostelries this week but I feel I’ve rambled on enough for now! However, with two further home games in the next week, I’ll be able to slot the pubs (and restaurants) into those blogs. I’ll also be visiting a couple more in the meantime, so you’re in for a corker when it does come!

Stay safe, folks – and please remember to keep social distancing and washing your hands, so we can get back to football as soon as possible. UTMP.

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