Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool – Oxford United: Play Off (and Pub) Special

  • Monday 17th May 2021: On The Piss (Without Jerry Yates)

    I’ve got the week off! Yippee! It’s a fluke that it happens to be playoff week…and Eurovision week…and the week the pubs open. I’ve actually taken the week off to finalise my end of module assignment for the Open University.

    James messages me in the morning, asking what pub we’re meeting in that evening. I suggest Cask & Tap because I’ve never been. I spend all day looking forward to it – and make sure I’m dressed for the occasion.

    Then, just as I’m finishing my tea, I get a message saying can I meet them in the Armfield Club instead. I am not impressed – and promptly decide head out straight away so I can get my Cask & Tap fix in.

    Dear reader, this is now officially my new favourite pub in Blackpool. A pub decorated with love, four cask ales, a craft beer offering, friendly service – and one of those pubs where conversation flows with strangers. This is exactly what I want from a pub.

    As I sat alone in the window, sun shining in on me, savouring a half of HPA and a half of Gorlovka, not a care in the world, I realised I had missed this more than I realised. I love the peace and solitude of sitting alone in a pub. I’ve done it since I was 18. The pub has always been a home from home for me. And it was utterly blissful to be back in one tonight.

    James and Michelle were running behind schedule and rang to invite me along to dinner with them at The Corner Flag. I declined (as I had already eaten) and advised them to take their time. I was perfectly happy, thank you.

    Coat hooks in the toilets. It’s the little things…

    I was joined at my table by Ray from Blackpool CAMRA. I felt like I was on Mastermind with all the questions he was asking me, but he kept buying me beer, so I wasn’t complaining. It was nice to be making friends in the pub in my new hometown. I also got chatting to a beer tourist from the West Midlands, so it was nice to reminisce with him about Birmingham pubbage. The landlord is a friendly chap, too, and I learned a lot from him about what is happening in Blackpool, as well as recommending a craft beer to add to his collection (Cassels Milk Stout – lush stuff!).

    I also managed to get someone barred by accident, as he decided to take his anti-mask rant out on me. I understand that it is going to take time for people to learn to socialise again – and social media encourages extremism – and I guess with the pubs being open all day (and he had been in all day) this sort of thing is going to happen. Yet another side effect of COVID. I did get a bonus drink out of it from the barmaid – and another local was also defensive of me. I was being looked after here and that was lovely.

    I moved on at 9pm when the pub closed, heading over to Brew Room (the pub where Blackpool FC was formed) to meet my friends.

    The beer offering here was as follows:

    • Youngs Double Chocolate Stout
    • Oakham Inferno
    • Cross Bay The Blonde
    • Youngs Copper Ale
    • Cross Bay Citra
    • West Coast Oyston Stout
    • West Coast Blackpool Blonde
    • West Coast Golden Mile
    • West Coast Wonky Donkey
    • West Coast Tangerine Dream

    Chocolate Stout for me, of course.

    It was ‘normal’ in here, with the pub quiz on and regular opening hours. I honestly don’t mind checking in on the NHS app – and it’s nice to sit at a freshly-sanitised table. And, to be honest, I’ve always preferred a pub that isn’t rammed. As with Cask & Tap, here we were allowed to approach the bar to review (photograph) the pump clips before ordering at the table.

    My friends finally turned up and it was lovely to see them – although it does all get a bit hazy at this point.

  • Tuesday 18th May 2021: Oxford United v Blackpool

    Got up at 11am. That was hard work. Supposed to be working on my assignment all day. Not happening. Hard enough to perform basic functions. Tried to read the paper. Lee buzzing round the house. Made lunch. That was difficult. Felt a bit better after food.

    At 3pm it was time to head to the Armfield Club. We were doing our livestream on location today, so we needed to get down early to set up the studio. I was slightly anxious about this. We have tech issues when we are livestreaming from home. Something was bound to go wrong on location.

    The Armfield Club – the new Blackpool supporters club opposite the ground on Bloomfield Road – is a huge indoor space. There were three floors full of excited Seasiders waiting to watch the away leg of the playoff semi-final. We had a separate room, which Lee soon transformed into our studio, while I sat there eating a ‘sharing’ bag of Fruit Pastilles to try and give me some energy to host tonight’s watchalong.

    How would we get on tonight? Both teams were in good form heading into the playoffs. But Oxford hadn’t scored against us in two league fixtures – and had offered very little. We won 2-0 at the Kassam a few weeks ago. Could we replicate that?

    Yes, there were a couple of technical hitches – and an alarm going off in the club mid-match – but that’s live tv for you, folks! It was great to bring the atmosphere of the pubs around Blackpool into the feed – including Lee with his roaming mic in the Armfield Club. I also get a little bit excited when the goals go in. This match means a lot. Watch how we got on at the link below.

    And here are the match highlights. 3-0 away from home. Bloody hell.

    I was delighted for Ollie Turton finally getting his goal – which has been coming. As for Ellis Simms? What a player he is becoming. Premier League? Definitely. International? I should say so. Everton must be delighted with his progress. Clubs ought to be begging us to take their players on loan if we can send them back so far improved like we will Simms. I’d still like him on loan for another season, though…

  • Wednesday 19th May 2021: Curry O’Clock

    Spent all day on my assignment. Can get a 12h extension if I need it, but I plan not to. It’s coming along well – and at pace.

    At 6pm I head out to Blue Diamond to meet a friend for a curry. Inside an actual restaurant. One of life’s great pleasures that I have not enjoyed since, I think, October?

    The food was good and the service warm. When remarking about the outstanding service, I began to realise that this was not necessarily specific to restaurants, as I had experienced this in four out of the five restaurants I have been to in Blackpool since returning here. No, I do believe it is the Blackpool people as a whole who are warm and engaging. It’s a Blackpool thing. Whilst I didn’t suffer particularly bad service in the Midlands – Northern warmth is really on another level. The service in restaurants, pubs and shops is above and beyond. These are the people who have been unable to work through COVID – and yet they return with a smile on their face and cannot do enough for you. And it’s delightful. It is wonderful to be back in Blackpool.

    After the great scallop debate on my Twitter feed recently, I couldn’t resist ordering them from the starters menu tonight.

    Not the chippy variety

    I was gently ribbed by the waiter for ordering scallops in an Indian restaurant but, in my defence, they were right at the top of the starters menu – and it wasn’t as if I was selecting something from the English alternative section. Anyway, they were very tasty.

    For mains, we shared the following dishes.

    Louise was in the mood for a drink after a testing day at work, so we headed to Dunes for post-dinner drinks. Here, it was Greene King IPA for me, as the only cask offering. We put the world to rights and stayed until last orders because apparently that’s what we do when the pubs don’t shut at 10pm (or when it gets dark). It is lovely to have the time to relax with friends in the warmth of a pub. I have missed this a lot.

  • Thursday 20th May 2021: Eurovision Binge

    I made sure I got up early so I could finish my assignment and submit it in time for the noon deadline, which I managed with a minute to spare. Could it have been better? I could have kept editing and tweaking forever, as is the same with any piece of work. I was happy enough with it. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what grade I get. The point of the course is to aid my mental wellbeing and improve my craft – and it has succeeded on both points.

    And relax!

    Finally I could put my feet up and chill out. I hadn’t had the telly on all week. Now it was time to catch up on Corrie and American Idol, which we’re really enjoying. Check out Ava August, who makes me cry every time I hear her sing. Dear reader, this girl is just 15.

    We’d missed the first Eurovision semi-final after all the excitement of the playoff semi-final on Tuesday night. We caught up on this – and watched tonight’s second semi-final – in a Eurovision binge, which was awesome and full of joy. We particularly love this one from Iceland, which epitomises Eurovision at its finest:

  • Friday 21st May 2021: Blackpool v Oxford United

    Playoff second leg day! I woke up buzzing and unable to settle. I should have spent the morning writing this blog but I was too excited! I banged on some Eurovision anthems (Bucks Fizz winning the competition is my first memory), got ready and then paced around the house a lot. Lee was keen to get his filming head on, so we recorded an intro for the match vlog and went live for a match preview show. I couldn’t sit still during the show and headed off mid-stream to get my coat on.

    My first stop of the day – around 2pm – was Cask & Tap. And why not? I wanted to show it off to my friends. There were already some familiar faces in there – the staff and the chap from the Midlands from the other night. The HPA was on its way out (shame, as it was lush and a great session beer) so I had a pint of Shropshire Gold.

    Next stop – with friends now in tow – was Yorkshire Fisheries for food to soak up today’s beers. What better than a chippy tea? I don’t even need to look at the menu in here because I have the same magnificent dish every time. It cannot be surpassed. Fact.

    Washed down by the old faithful.

    It was raining heavily at this point, so we headed back to Cask & Tap to take shelter (and, go on, a half of stout while I’m here…).

    The rain didn’t look like stopping, so we reluctantly boarded a bus (for the first time in a long, long time). It’s not so much of a faff, as you can tap your card on the reader at the front of the bus and there are no tickets issued. You tap again when you get off the bus and it’s like magic. I had my little bottle of hand sanitiser with me and we all lashed it on profusely after alighting the bus.

    Next stop was Waterloo Music Bar, which has had a massive revamp since I was last in there (for a Buckcherry gig). It was a magnificent rock venue before but it is off the scale now. I can’t wait to get back in there for a gig. There was rock music playing from the big screen at the rear of the stage, somewhat reminiscent of Hard Rock Cafe. And, of course, the ladies toilets are just the best.

    I do love a bling toilet seat

    The service was splendid. There was food available from Burgerhain – a huge favourite of mine. I was gutted I didn’t have room for one their burgers after my chippy tea – but I’ll definitely be back for one. Indeed, they are available for delivery via Blackpool Eats, so might just have to take advantage of that very soon.

    It was lovely to catch up with my Seasider friends in the Waterloo. It was wonderful to laugh long and hard – with hardly a word uttered about that night’s match. Ian heard me raving about the glasses and approached the bar to buy one for me (bless), so I’m now the proud owner of this:

    Coming soon to a livestream near you…

    Now it was time to head to the ground. As we walked down Central Drive at 7pm, we could hear the songs emanating from the fans heading towards Bloomfield Road. Everyone seemed to heed the advice to head down early – perhaps just excited to get back and perhaps slightly mistrusting of the electronic turnstiles – and there were already long queues at the turnstiles.

    Scooby Doo spotted on walk to ground

    I popped into the corner shop for some food to take into the ground, as I knew there was none on sale tonight. I was hoping for a sandwich but there were none. I was happy enough with a huge Orange Aero and a big pack of Roast Beef Monster Munch.

    I met up with an exiled friend to deliver his shopping from the club shop that I picked up earlier in the week before joining my queue. While I waited patiently (it was early, after all), I was approached by an excitable fan for a selfie, which made me smile (ping me a copy, if you’re reading!).

    Navigating the ground was a bit of a faff – especially as I needed the loo, which necessitated me walking past the door it was just the other side of, to the front of the stand, along the stand, back into the concourse via another door and along to pretty much exactly where I was to start with. I understand why, though, and I did feel safe in the ground at all times.

    I had heard the club were handing out free bottles of water to fans on entry to the ground, but I didn’t get one and the stewards looked at me blank when I asked. Mercifully, on arrival at my seat, Lee had one, so I didn’t go thirsty.

    And so to the match! Oxford took an early lead (of course they did!), so I followed up my crisps by comfort eating my chocolate. And – as if by magic – bang! A belter from Embo. Bang! Another from Ooh Kenny Dougall. I had my mouth full of chocolate for both goals (remember I was once told I eat like it’s about to be taken off me) and was leaping around like a mad thing with my hand covering my mouth, even though my mask was already doing that for me. It was pure joy. That’ll teach you, Oxford, for coming here and scoring. We’re not letting you back into this tie, thank you very much.

    Blackpool certainly put on a display for the returning fans – all 4,000 of us, being the permitted 25% capacity. And boy did they look more exciting in the flesh than on tv. I think I have been doing them a disservice in saying they don’t play with flair and are not as exciting as previous playoff winning teams (a la Larry and Ollie). Watching them live is edge of your seat stuff. Jerry Yates is so exciting when he gets the ball. By gosh, I can’t wait to see CJ Hamilton in real life! And Ellis Simms is something else – what a player he is. Watching on iFollow, you don’t appreciate the work these lads put in. This is a very special team indeed.

    In the second half, Oxford scored again. I pulled out my Orange Aero again and stuffed it into my mouth by way of consolation. Then – bang! Jerry Yates scored straight away. Dear reader, I think this is lucky chocolate!

    Oxford scored another to make it 3-3 but by this point I had run out of chocolate but I figured it was too late for them to come back. And thus the score remained 6-3 (just like Swansea away) and the Mighty Tangerine Wizards are going to Wembley! Woohoo!

    I’m happy

    With us being at the match tonight, there was no live watchalong, which we felt a little guilty about, as we had been providing these for our viewers all season. What we did do, however, was what we used to do before we were locked down: a matchday vlog, showing the fans who couldn’t be there exactly what it was like to be there. Here’s what we produced. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed the night.

    And here are the official match highlights. I particularly love how the Oxford goals are greeted with complete silence. What an odd experience that must have been for them.

    Next stop Wembley, dear reader! Will we get tickets, with only 10k available? If so, will we manage to get there, with it being a Sunday and engineering works on the line? Or will we be doing another live watchalong from home or on the road? Watch this space (and Lee Charles TV) and find out…

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