Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Squires Gate v Bury AFC – Blackpool Town Centre Pubs

Well that was the shortest close-season ever! The play-off final was on 30th May, Euro 2020 started 12 days later – and then on 26th June it’s the first pre-season friendly. Not that I’m complaining (I am) because it is great to actually be back at football matches in person.

During the week I am doing my bit to help support the local pubs in Blackpool. I have been shocked to find how quiet they have been – even the beer gardens during glorious weather. I guess people’s drinking habits have changed dramatically during lockdown – drinking at home with friends and in converted pub sheds. Sure, it can be cheaper to drink at home, but pubs are special places and the community and characters are part of what makes them so wonderful. And, yes, there is still COVID about and many will be self-isolating or continuing to be ultra-cautious. However my experience of pubs is that they do feel safe. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be there. Some are better than others and some I’ll go back to and others I won’t. But boy is it good to be back out there?

Cask & Tap

On Thursday night I ventured into town, which is getting much better for pubs. There’s a great little triangle in the town centre now. First stop was Cask & Tap, which opened (briefly) in late 2020.

On cask tonight were:

  • Wantsum Golgotha (oatmeal stout)
  • Ossett Excelsius (premium pale ale)
  • Castle Rock Elsie Mo (golden ale)
  • Butcombe Original

I opted for half of each of the first two, followed later by a half of the Butcombe.

It’s usually pretty quiet in this micropub(?) and conversation often flows between drinkers at different tables. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable. For me, this is how a pub should be: comfortable, chilled, friendly, great beer.

This evening I was here to meet Rick, the Chairman of Blackpool Fylde & Wyre CAMRA to find out a little more about the branch and whether I would like to get more involved going forward. I am keen and passionate about encouraging people back into pubs – as well as widening my social (pubgoing) circle in my new/old hometown.

I also want people to know that Blackpool is no longer a beer desert. Sure, we might still be missing a specialist bottle shop, but we’ve got Booths, which has an awesome range; and there are new pubs popping up all the time. Watch this space for details of others.

The toilets are upstairs – and there’s a random picture of a duck in the Ladies, which I was rather taken with.

Albert’s Microbar

Before I headed out to meet Rick, one of my pub/Twitter/Untappd buddies posted this.

That one on the right is a chipotle smoked porter. I wasn’t missing out on that while I was in town – no siree.

Fortunately, Rick was heading this way too – and here I made some new friends. Sadly Deltrems was on his way out, but I was introduced to Alistair from CAMRA as well as a couple of other chaps on the next table.

The League One fixtures had been released earlier today, and I was bemoaning our away fixture at Middlesbrough on my birthday. A quick Twitter appeal had come up with the idea of staying in Whitby instead – somewhere I have long since wanted to visit for the Magpie Cafe (chippy) and Dracula heritage. One of my new friends went to Whitby every year for his hollibobs, so I picked his brains for a while. He recommended Silver Street Fisheries and the micropub on the station.

Alberts – situated beneath a b&b – is the quirkiest pub in Blackpool, complete with Punch & Judy (and the crocodile and sausages) and this picture of the Bee Gees, which I couldn’t take my eyes off.

The music in here is quirky too. My personal favourite from tonight was Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

Here I had a pint of the porter (obvs) before calling Lee to request collection, as I had now reached my preferred drinking capacity (despite what my virtual blogs might have you believe…). There was no answer from his phone – I knew he was busy working on his latest video – so I had a half of the Ulverston Flying Elephants.

There is a small range of food in here, too – but I forgot to photograph the menu for you, dear reader. I think toasties might have featured – and I ordered a packet of Flamin Hot Monster Munch. The act of eating crisps in pubs is much improved in these post-COVID times, as I am no longer expected to share my crisps. I never liked doing this anyway.

Lee still wasn’t picking up after my second drink – and the pub was closing for the night at 9pm – so Alistair and I headed off to Brew Room.

Brew Room

Now this pub has the best cask and keg range in Blackpool. It is a large, dark pub with lots of nooks and crannies. It was also the birthplace of Blackpool FC and sports lots of old Blackpool memorabilia.

As well as the five regulars brewed on site, the cask offerings here tonight were:

  • Tiny Rebel Peloton Pale
  • Saltaire Triple Choc
  • Bristol Beer Factory Fortitude
  • Saltaire Best
  • Cross Bay The APA

Of course I had a pint of old faithful Triple Choc. Towards the end of the pint, I managed to snap Lee out of his editing zone and he set off to collect me.

I got chatting to the pub manager, who came over and introduced himself and said he would be happy to continue to stock the Blackpool fanzine that I edit (Now That’s What I call Progress). I thanked him but said I was unsure of its immediate future at the moment, things being as they are.

Squires Gate v Bury AFC

Fast forward to Saturday – and it’s matchday. Yippee! As it was a local match, there was no need for an alarm or much pre-match planning. I switched to a larger handbag to accommodate my notebook, so I could note down any quirky observations at the match to share with you, dear reader. And I made sure the match tickets were in there.

A pre-season friendly in June! Whatever next?

In these post-COVID times of print-at-home tickets and e-tickets, it made a refreshing change to receive these in the post and they will look great in my match ticket scrapbook.

I spent the morning writing the penultimate chapter of my book ‘The Homecoming – Back To Blackpool’, which charts the memoirs of my 30 years supporting (and not supporting) Blackpool.

Lee spent the morning editing our latest video, which is my Virtual Awayday Review of the 20/21 season. In this video, I rank all the League One awaydays based on my – ahem – unique scoring system:

  • Rail fare (from Blackpool)
  • Pubbage
  • Food
  • Pubanimals
  • Quirkiness
  • Weekend-worthiness

With the wonders of time-travel technology – despite it only being Saturday morning in this blog – I can now bring you the final version of this video. Will Lincoln retain their crown?

Around 2pm, Lee was surprisingly efficient at getting his video equipment together, so I quickly checked the weather – hmm surprisingly warm – and we jumped in the car and headed down to the ground.

Car park full – we parked on the street
Bargain

On entering the ground, I was prompted to buy a copy of the match programme, which I’d written an article for earlier in the week.

I’ll be back in non league one day

I then pondered for a moment over the all (not very) important decision as to which way to complete the circuit of the ground. As you’ll note from my musings above, I do love the lack of segregation and the freedom to circumnavigate the grounds at this level (Gate play at Step 5, Bury at Step 6). Imagine my disappointment on being faced with the following sign.

Boo!

There was a segregated bit, providing social distancing for the benches, which I couldn’t have (m)any complaints about. I altered course and headed in the direction of the clubhouse for that all-important beer.

There was a short queue for the bar and, when I got there, I ordered a John Smiths and was asked if I’d like a pie with that. They were really on their A-game sales wise today. And, with a bumper sell-out crowd of 500, I couldn’t blame them. Bury were here in their numbers at the start of their new adventure.

Top flaggage

It was here that I spotted my favourite Blackpool podcasters: Rob, Al, Josh and Tom from The Middle Aisle Podcast. They were easy to spot in their branded tees. It was lovely to put faces to voices. Their podcast reviews the quirky items that they find in the middle aisle of German supermarkets. I had listened to their latest episode before we left the house this afternoon and, as always, was howling with laughter. If you haven’t tuned in yet, here’s where you can find them. The episodes are short enough to enjoy without taking up a chunk of your day.

After chatting with the lads, I spotted this disturbing item of clothing.

No they’re not.

Only earlier this week, driving past the climbing walls en route to Bloomfield Road, Lee had remarked what a waste of time it has been building them, as we’ve never seen anyone climbing them. For me, walls are for keeping the neighbours out, thank you very much.

I headed back into the clubhouse for another beer before taking my place behind one of the corners (with my beer, because non league fans are treated as civilised human beings).

Not ideal for a hot day but I could, so I did.

Another thing I love about non league grounds is their heterogeneity. For example, where does this little gate lead?

Narnia?

I spent the first half watching alone from the corner, before joining Lee at his camera during the second half. Sometimes I like the solitude, the peace, the space of non league football. That’s why I always like to arrive early – to soak up the feel of the place. It is where I feel most at home – and it’s the same at every ground in Steps 3-6.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy making new friends here today. The Bury lot were a lovely bunch – as we already know the Gate to be. We spent more time chatting to the Bury staff this afternoon predominantly because Gate were rushed off their feet. It’s far more chilled at away games than home games for the club officials.

The highlight of the match for me was the Bury photographer running from one end to the other when a penalty was awarded for Bury, before running back down the other end when Gate were awarded a pen. I’m not sure he made either of them – I almost screamed for the ref to hold fire – but it was fun to watch.

The game was really entertaining, with Gate on top and looking the better side that they ought to be, being a division higher than their opponents. Bury came back towards the end but it ended 4-3 to Gate. Here’s our video memory of the day.

After the match, we caught up with former Blackpool forward Keigan Parker, who made a cameo sub appearance for Gate at the age of 39. It was nice to see him back on the pitch again. We whisked him away to Water’s Edge for some tea. Here I enjoyed a Chicken Tikka Masala (which had a nice spice) and a pint of Joseph Holt IPA.

I have only recently noticed – through sitting in the beer garden here – that Booths supermarket is directly across the road. This is quite dangerous as, not only do they have the best bottled beer range on the Fylde Coast – as already mentioned – but they also have lots of naughty food. We now cannot go to Water’s Edge without popping into Booths afterwards to select something naughty for pudding. Plus lots of other naughty snackage. This evening I limited myself to these three items, none of which I could resist.

Jazzies – nice!
Fizzy and chewy with a slightly sour kick – recommended.
Best tote bag ever. Prove me wrong.

As it was Saturday night, when we got home, we nestled into the sofa with our exciting snackage and caught up on the latest instalment of America’s Got Talent. Check out this amazing singer from this episode.

And that, dear reader, was my first blog of the 21/22 season. There are many more adventures to come – hopefully none of them virtual – over the coming months. I hope you’ll stick around and join me.

If you haven’t subbed to my blog yet, you can do so via the link on the right (if you’re on a desktop device) or below (if you’re on your phone).

Next stop…my beloved Lincoln for the Lincoln Imp Trail. Will they let me in after the 20/21 rankings are revealed? Will I get gravy on my chips this time? Stay tuned and we can find out together…

Meanwhile, take care, stay safe – and support your local pubs if you can.

UTMP.

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