Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Squires Gate v Blackpool U18s: A Warm Welcome Back

I love Squires Gate. They are such a welcoming club. I am beginning to feel very much at home at The Brian Addison Stadium. You may recall I was here last week for their friendly against Bury AFC, which you can read about here. As Lee and I strolled through the gate and down the side of the pitch, past the little stand, past the newly-erected sign in memory of Jordan Banks, towards the clubhouse behind the goal, we were greeted with many familiar faces – from both clubs – and it was just as if we had never been away. There was Kicksy – a Blackpool fan and Squires Gate season ticket holder – standing in his usual spot. There was Don from Fylde Coast Radio. There was Crossy. There was the man who brought me a bag of Midget Gems at an AFC Blackpool match last season. And there was another former Blackpool fan who now follows Gate home and away. We paused to look for Keigan Parker on the pitch and he saw us and waved frantically. Never mind football’s coming home – football is home.

I stopped for a chat with Natalie, a groundhopping vlogger, who is living a life that I somewhat envy. Imagine the excitement of going to a new ground – or an old favourite – every week? I get such a buzz from exploring the quirks of new grounds and meeting new people. As I followed Blackpool from Division Four up to the Premier League and (picked up the new grounds on the way) back down again, I’ve done pretty much all the 92, barring the following:

  • Brentford (new ground)
  • Spurs (new ground)
  • West Ham (new ground)
  • Wimbledon (new ground)
  • Forest Green Rovers (new to league)
  • Harrogate Town (new to league)
  • Salford City (new to league)
  • Sutton United (new to league)

Hence no new grounds in the calendar for the season ahead – unless we get one of the above (or another non league team) in the cup. I therefore need to find other things of cultural interest to discover on a matchday – but more of that later…

I popped into the clubhouse for my customary pre-match beer. The 3.6% ABV of John Smiths has worryingly little impact on me after a lockdown of 10% cherry chocolate stouts and the like. But I do need to get back to lower ABV beers if I’m heading back out on the road again, as I know how dangerous the strong stuff can be in uncontrolled conditions. There was a short queue for the bar and I took time to admire the wall art, which always makes me smile.

I particularly love the wind and hedgehogs in Autumn

Squires Gate are doing a lot of things right. Their match programme is full of great content (not all adverts), including articles about people and fan culture. Tonight’s excellent edition included an article by a football shirt collector, a football book review and a piece on Blackpool bands.

I spent the first half chatting to a friend of Lee’s about the darts and we secured tickets to go to the World Matchplay at the Winter Gardens next weekend. The darts is one of only two things remaining on my sporting bucket list (the other being the World’s Strongest Man finals) so I am excited to be ticking this off. You see, that’s the thing about going out and about – it least to conversations that lead to yet more going out and about. It was nice to be reminded. Perhaps I have missed people more than I thought.

At half time I popped to check out the facilities in the clubhouse to review them for Non League Toilets (an important element of the non league experience).

    I spent the second half standing with the BSA crowd, who were quite knowledgeable about Blackpool U18s and I learned a lot from them. I also compared Southport pub maps with Brian and found there was no overlap for pre-match tomorrow (he was doing Cask Marque, I was hitting the micros).

    The game ended 7-0 to Blackpool. They looked very impressive and there is a lot to be excited about here. I have always enjoyed watching youngsters play with freedom and enjoyment, which all too often appears to be sapped out of them as they progress through their careers. I don’t know if this is through rejections, upheaval from transfers, injuries or life getting in the way. All I know is that there is something pure about the way young footballers play. And it is a joy to watch.

    After the final whistle blew, we hung around and relaxed and chatted with our friends a little more. This isn’t a ground we want to head straight out of. It’s a treasure – and a pleasure to be here.

    Here’s Lee’s video of the evening:

    We made the short journey home and I caught up on Corrie to wind down before heading to bed. I confess I’m loving ITV Player offering the whole week’s episodes to air at once. I hope this continues after the Euros.

    It had been a long time since I had set an alarm, so I set two (on my phone and Alexa) to be on the safe side in case I did it wrong. The alarm was set for 0545. Why? Well, I’ve found that extra je ne sais quoi that can add something new and quirky to the awayday experience that could just be a thing for the season ahead. Next stop Southport. Watch this space…

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