Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Barrow Part Deux: Armchair Football v Live Football

I’m getting quite comfortable with this watching from home lark now. I’ve been surprised at how easily I’ve adapted to it. For the sake of my mental health I have faced the last six months with a positive attitude and tried to make the best of this bizarre new world. Football is proving no exception.

Ten Pros of Armchair Football

  1. It’s cheaper than going to the match. This is a big pro in the current climate. I never dared calculate how much watching Blackpool has cost me over the years, but I know it must run into thousands each season. The cost of match tickets alone borders on the obscene at times (I’m looking at you, Leeds). Then there’s the transport (train tickets up to £90), food and drinks. I’m probably looking at an average of £100 for an awayday. Multiply that by 23. Add on the season ticket and we’re already over £2,500. That makes £10 per match on iFollow look like a snip.
  1. It’s less exhausting than going to the match. I still haven’t forgotten how drained I was at the start of 2020, having travelled in excess of 1,000 miles this year alone. It’s a long way back to Blackpool from Down South – especially when you’re losing every week. Gone are the five-hour treks home after the match. I’m already home and I’m fresh as a daisy.
  1. The match doesn’t take up my whole day. I have time to go shopping on a Saturday. I don’t have to worry about using up my annual leave to make it to the match on time. I don’t have to go straight to bed after a midweek game. One of my absolute favourite things about lockdown is that I can’t remember the last time I set an alarm (let alone an 0430 alarm for an awayday) – and long may THAT continue. I hate being ruled by the clock.
  1. I’m comfortable whatever the weather. Too hot? I’ll stick the fan on. Too cold? Alexa – ask Hive to boost heating. Windy? Stormy? Lashing down? Face? Bothered? I simply chuckle at the screen and say ‘ooh I’m glad I’m not out in that tonight.’
  1. I don’t have to queue for the toilet at half time. And I know there’ll be toilet roll, hand wash, hot water and a towel in there.
  1. I don’t have to queue for overpriced, disappointing food and drink. I can help myself to anything from our kitchen without delay.
  1. My view of the match is unrestricted. There’s no stanchion or people standing up in front of me. I like that.
  1. I don’t have to endure racist/sexist/homophobic comments/chants during the match. It is still a thing.
  1. I can have a beer while I’m watching the game if I choose to. That came in handy during the penalty shoot-out against Stoke the other week.
  1. We’re getting more views for our watchalong videos than we were on our matchday vlogs, so that’s definitely a winner. Lee Charles TV is picking up subscribers for fun – from all over the world. Plus we don’t have to worry about officious stewards stopping us filming (you know I mean you, Rotherham).

That said, I’ve been itching to get back! Why? Well let me tell you, dear reader…

Ten Pros of Live Football

  1. The sound of the crowd. I never realised I relied so much on the sound of the crowd to understand what was happening during a match. Cheers for goals. Cheers abruptly stopping for disallowed goals. Cheers when a penalty is awarded. Shouting when there’s handbags or a bad challenge I might have missed. The sound of sheer joy when your team scores an important goal. Chants. Old chants. New chants for new players. We’ve only got chants for last season’s players and they’ve either gone or they’re rubbish (goal machine, indeed…).
  1. The opportunity to travel the country (and further afield) and explore towns and cities I would never have otherwise visited. I’ve watched Blackpool play in Inverness, Barnstaple, Wrexham, Ballymena, Douglas and Ventspils. Would I have gone to those places for any other reason? Unlikely. I’ve watched Chasetown play in Belper, where there’s a church at one end of the ground; and Colne, which is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Not only am I confident (in myself, not the rail companies) to travel independently around this country, but as a young woman I was taking flights overseas on my own to watch my team play. I’ve become a confident, independent traveller because of my love of live football.
  1. The football family. I have lost count of the number of dear friends and passing acquaintances I have met over the years watching football. The characters. The people I’ve never even spoken to but have simply been there. The man in the South Paddock who looked like George Best who always had a radio to listen for the other scores. BASIL and the Yorkshire Seasiders. Former colleagues who I’d have long since lost touch with if we didn’t have Blackpool in common. People from all walks of life who I’d never have even met if we didn’t have Blackpool in common. Random fans of other clubs I’ve shared beers (and tears) with on the train on the way home from a match. All part of the same family.
  1. The fact that every matchday is the same…but different. There’s the comforting ritual of checking the weather, checking the match is on, singing my heart out in the shower because I’m EXCITED about the adventure ahead, checking my tickets, heading out of the house to…wherever the fixture list dictates….an escape from reality. The moment I step out of the house, I’m transported somewhere else – a different time and place, away from everything else: home, family, work, chores, bills, worries, annoying neighbours. Today is MATCHDAY and that overrides EVERYTHING. ALL DAY. Switching on the TV for a couple of hours doesn’t have quite the same effect, somehow…
  1. The adventure of the awayday – not knowing exactly what is going to happen, who you’re going to bump into. ANYTHING could happen. I’ve bumped into famous people on the train, got lost in subways, been gifted a bunch of bananas by a stranger, made friends for life, discovered new foods (rag pudding), visited countless pubs of varying qualities…and will there be hot water in the toilets at the ground today? That’s always a lottery.
  1. The food. Of course this deserves a point of its own. The overcooked or anaemic pies that are so bad that I couldn’t help but emit a little squeal and clap my hands and jump on the spot when I found faggots and peas at Burton Albion. The penny sweets at Trafford. The balti pies at Bescot. The aroma of charred burgers. And Bovril. Mmm Bovril…
  1. The fanzine. Last season I brought the Blackpool fanzine back after a ten-year absence. What is to become of it now? People want a tangible magazine but I sell it outside the ground and there are no fans there to sell it to! I love standing out in all weathers and chatting to people as they stop to buy a fanzine (or just chat). I’ve even had presents from readers, including a chocolate orange! I want to bring the fanzine back and share more stories and nostalgia and funnies with people who want to read an actual magazine. I also get stupidly excited when I see fanzine sellers at other clubs and always buy a fanzine or two from them. The fanzine is such an important part of football culture and it cannot and will not die. Watch this space!
  1. The weather. Because you know I love a bit of weather. It makes me feel alive. One awayday from last season that I will always remember is Bristol Rovers, when I stood on an open terrace in Storm Dennis. There’s something comforting about wrapping up in ten layers of clothes, putting my big coat on, tying a scarf round my neck, pulling a hat on and heading out on a dark morning to brave the elements. I love the feel of the wind wrapping itself around me, like it’s giving me a big hug. And the rain on my face feels so refreshing. It’s funny but when I was living in the Midlands, I really missed the Northern Weather. There were often days when there was really no weather to speak of at all and that’s so dull. When it rained, my colleagues wouldn’t go out at lunchtime. I sat there thinking: if we did that in the North, no-one would ever go out. And so it came to pass… But I digress…
  1. The journeys. The train delays and cancellations. The missed connections. The rail replacement buses. Because they’re the journeys I remember. The night the train manager said the train would be stationary at Derby station for 15 minutes if anyone wanted to hop off and get some beers…only for it to pull away without them after barely two minutes. The day the trains to Peterborough were cancelled so we legged it to the coach station to ask if there was a coach to Peterborough and were looked at as if we were mental: “Why would anyone want to go to PETERBOROUGH?!” so we legged it back to the train station – hurdling the drunken Irishman sprawled out on the pavement (it was 7am) – and – hurrah! – the trains to Peterborough were back on and we got there fine and went to some great pubs and we made the play-offs and all was right in the end. Let’s face it, you don’t remember the straightforward journeys when you get there without any incidents…where are the stories to tell there? And what memories are made watching a match on the TV that you’ll tell the grandkids?
  1. Blogging and vlogging. Making the matchday experience tangible to people who aren’t able to be there themselves. Lee and I do what we do because we love combining our respective passions for writing and filmmaking with our passion for football. What we hadn’t anticipated was the extent of the effect that our work would have on others. We have had touching responses to our work from fans who are unable to attend matches for health reasons or live overseas. That real life, tangible, felt-like-I-was-there-with-you experience is not – and could not – be conveyed through watching a match on iFollow. It seems somehow detached.

Blackpool v Barrow

Well, we’ve had a variety of standards of tv coverage this (pre) season to date. We started with some shaky, hand-held, better-than-nothing footage from Southport; progressed to Premier League standard multi-camera action against Everton; and now we are stuck with iFollow for the foreseeable. To be honest, I’m not finding it that bad. Let’s face it, it’s all we have, so like it or lump it (or switch off and go and watch local non league football).

iFollow doesn’t seem to allow you to mirror your screen onto the TV. Instead of suffering eye strain on the MacBook like last time, we watched the EFL Trophy match against Barrow on the iMac, which worked ok. We set it up in the living room ahead of our watchalong on YouTube.

These watchalongs are going really well. We enjoy chatting with fans of both sets of fans – and neutrals – from around the world as we watch the match. We had a completely random drop in from India during the match tonight!

It’s great having this social interaction during matches – as you would with fans sitting around you at the match. When the match action dips – or play is paused – we focus more on the chat. When the play is exciting, we switch our focus to the match. It is working pretty well.

As with the EFL Cup tie at Stoke last week, this game ended 0-0 and went to penalties. However this time we won! We had shaded the play but Barrow had defended heroically. We got to see Bez Lubala and Dan Kemp properly for the first time tonight. The former looks a little rusty in terms of distribution and end product but he looked quick and exciting – and both players look like they have much to offer. I look forward to seeing more of them.

So that’s the warm up over – now let’s get down to business with the big (socially distanced, fanless) kick off in League One this weekend. I can’t say I’m devastated not to be making the long journey down to Plymouth. But I can’t help but start to wonder whether that’s just my coping mechanisms kicking in. I would love to be there really – to see these players in action in a real, live football environment. Will we be allowed back in October as originally mooted? Or is that on hold now? And, if so, for how long?

There’s something distinctly ‘meh’ about the start of this season. I guess that’s because we can’t do our planning, arranging to meet up with friends, checking how far the ground is from the station and which pubs are en route to the ground. But I’ll keep watching Blackpool on the TV, taking in live, local football at every opportunity (next stop Squires Gate). Because that’s all I can do. For now.

UTMP.

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