Jane Stuart – Writer

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

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Bristol

Bristol City away first game of the season. What with the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta fortnight in full (well, COVID-restricted) swing and roadworks on the M6, we opted to travel down the day before the match so we could relax and enjoy Bristol in a stress-free environment.

There is so much to do in Bristol; putting together the itinerary for this Tourist’s Guide was pretty tricky. On the one hand, we wanted to do everything; on the other, we wanted to avoid all the rushing around. It was raining long and hard and much of the same was forecast for the whole weekend in Bristol. I had therefore ruled out some of the outdoor activities, such as Brandon Hill. Besides, we’d done a park last week and wanted to maintain some variety.

We headed off around 0830 on Friday morning, popping to Asda for petrol and Home Bargains for the obligatory Chewems and bottle of pop (7Up Free) for the journey. I banged on the Blackpool @ Wembley playlist and away we headed down the M55, M6 and M5.

I hadn’t eaten before we had left the house (I can’t eat first thing in the morning) but, around 0930, my tummy began to rumble. I was looking forward to a lovely lunch at Bristol Marina – which I didn’t want to spoil – but I couldn’t wait that long to eat. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry. We made an emergency stop at Sandbach Services and here is what I found.

What a result! I started with the Yorkie (now girls are allowed to eat them). The orange flavour was subtler than a Terry’s Chocolate Orange but it was good. I just find Yorkies a bit cumbersome to eat, much like Toblerones. I put the other half in the glovebox to revisit later and tucked into the Maltesers. Hmm – I wasn’t getting any orange flavour at all. Disappointed, I shoved them in the glovebox too, satisfied that I had eaten enough to stave off my hunger without damaging my diet too much (I had lost 3.5lb this week so far from sticking to Slimming World, drinking no alcohol and easing myself into daily training on the static bike).

Miraculously, the rain abated for our service stop, but continued as soon as we were back on the M6. Did Sandbach have its own microclimate? Like the reverse of Wigan?

The traffic was quite heavy in places but we weren’t stationary for long – if at all. However our arrival in Bristol was going to be delayed by around an hour. Having set off a full day in advance of the match, this presented no stress.

Gloucester Services

I’m grudgingly accepting the fact that service stations can be places of joy – despite and because of the life-sized Percy Pig who doesn’t oink at Lancaster Services. But just how special could a service station be? Let me introduce you to Gloucester services, recommended to me by my friend MG as THE place for a pit stop en route to Bristol.

The first impression was good. It doesn’t even look like a service station. Since watching Clarkson’s Farm (another tourist spot not far from Bristol), I have come to appreciate how some buildings are designed to blend into their surroundings. Even the litter bins here (as at Williamson Park in Lancaster) are made from wood and are unobtrusive.

There was no WHSmith, M&S or Burger King here. The farmshop was brimming with local groceries: fruit, veg, meat, flowers, cakes, chocolate, fudge, eggs…you could easily do your weekly shop here. I wandered around in awe. As I perused the cooked meats section, I spotted this:

Was that a posh version of the Lincoln delicacy stuffed chine? It was visually more appealing (less transparency in the packaging). Compare and contrast:

There was a canteen-style cafe in the centre of the building, allowing the opportunity for a proper hot sit-down meal. And there was a sandwich/coffee shop for takeaways.

I could have mooched around here for ages but, in truth, this was only a quick toilet stop, as we had a new city to explore. Almost reluctantly, we left Gloucester Services behind so we could continue our voyage of discovery.

Google Maps directed us to Bristol Marina, where we arrived to glorious sunshine. Well, this wasn’t forecast – but we weren’t complaining. We parked up close to the SS Great Britain – ‘Bristol’s number one visitor attraction, with two museums and the lovingly restored Victorian ship, a leading research centre, a wedding venue and a purpose built conference facility.’

My stomach was growling again now, so we continued on in search of somewhere suitably exciting to eat. I had planned two eateries for this weekend, but left this lunchtime free to explore and find somewhere on spec. This proved to be a genius move.

Steven Seagull 🙂

At the end of a delightful stroll on Spike Island, down the Bristol Feeder Canal, we arrived at Wapping Wharf. Here was a little hipster corner of Bristol, with several eateries and drinkeries. One in particular caught my eye.

Wild Beer Co Wapping Wharf

Oh please please let them serve food so we can stop here for lunch! Dear reader, they did. What joy! We were seated on the outdoor terrace so we could continue to enjoy our surroundings.

The menu was available online by scanning in a QR code – how very COVID-friendly and environmentally-friendly. This has the added advantage of them being able to indicate on the menu when items are currently unavailable.

Whilst fully intending to order a pint of Millionaire (which I always think ought to have two n’s), another beer on the menu caught my eye. A few people on Twitter had pointed out that my Orange Yorkie and Orange Maltesers constituted two of my five a day, which got me wondering if fruit beer would take me up to three. Cue raspberry beer…

How cool are those pint glasses? If only I was armed with my oversized handbag…

But now it was time for food which was, of course, ostentatiously why we were here. I opted for the Harissa Marinated Lamb Rump: Moroccan couscous + Pomegranate + Pesto + Homemade tzatziki.

Lamb is something I rarely eat at home, so is always a pub/restaurant treat. This was exquisitely presented and tasted every bit as good as it looked. For bonus points, it even came with one of my favourite steak knives.

Who knew it was possible to have a favourite steak knife? Not me until I held one of these babies for the first time at Marco Pierre White’s in Lincoln last month. I loved it so much I ordered a set immediately. It just feels so lovely in my hand and is also visually pleasing. Apologies if I’m beginning to sound like some sort of urban gangster.

Anyway, Lee ordered the Salmon en Papillote. Now I knew from my recent Gousto cooking exploits that this means ‘cooked in paper’. I remember this because this was how I set our new (electric) oven on fire. Note to reader: do not let the paper touch the elements of the oven. Hence Lee was ordering this in a restaurant because it was nice but I can’t be trusted to cook it again.

We had moved indoors to eat because the promised rain seemed to be arriving – and the sky looked very angry and full of it. I have taken to sitting outdoors now, where possible, as I am more comfortable for COVID reasons. Sitting inside I feel I suppose slightly agoraphobic, finding the air harder to breathe. It’s nowhere near as bad as I had it back in my early 20s – when I had to sit with my back to a wall, because I couldn’t bear the sensation of people walking behind and around me – but it is present nonetheless. I suppose this is all part of the COVID hangover.

And yet sitting inside you get to see and appreciate so much more of the character of a pub. As I ordered the obligatory pint of Millionaire (sic), I admired the magnificent mural on the back wall.

What a treat to have accidentally stumbled across this place. It simply oozes quality in everything it does, from the beer to the food to the cutlery to the decor. Places like this fully deserve to thrive and it is important that we continue to support them. Perhaps controversially, I am not of the opinion that all pubs should survive simply because they are pubs and thus important community hubs. Some pubs are shit. But truly good pubs – gems like this one – deserve our support. It was pleasing to see this one doing good trade on a Friday afternoon (despite what the picture may indicate!).

Nice view

M Shed

Now it was time for the first museum of the weekend. As part of our Football Tourist’s Guide series, it is important that we find out a little about the history and culture of the places that we visit. M Shed seemed the ideal place to do just that.

I thought recognised this terrifying creature from a pump clip. This is Bristol Jack In The Green, who ‘dances through the streets to mark the coming of summer on the first Saturday in May each year.’

Remind me to never visit Bristol on the first Saturday in May.

The toppled statue of slave trader Edward Colston – retrieved from the river – has a temporary home here while they figure out what to do with it.

There was a nice display on the city’s two football teams – City and Rovers – including some Bristol Rovers condoms.

We learned about Alfred, the famous gorilla who was housed at Bristol Zoo – another outdoor attraction we had forsaken because of the weather this weekend. His Wikipedia page is well worth a read, telling of his aversion to ‘bearded men, double decker buses and aeroplanes’ and how he wore woolly jumpers and was taken for walks around the zoo gardens. When Alfred died he was preserved by a taxidermist, such was his international fame and popularity.

There was a Banksy on display here too – the street artist being a famous son (or daughter) of Bristol.

We took a wrong turning on the walk back to the car – but even this uncovered yet more delights of Bristol. We found ourselves at Aardman Studios, home of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.

Since our arrival, we had noticed people zipping about quite literally everywhere on electric scooters. Having had our movement restricted to our house and immediate vicinity for most of the last 17 months, we had been unaware of the electric scooter revolution that appears to have taken the nation’s cities by storm. We had spotted them in Manchester earlier this week and further investigations revealed they were all over Birmingham as well. Who knew?

Lee was keen for us to have a go but I pointed out that I had been drinking and he couldn’t get the app to work in an area with dodgy signal, so it wasn’t to be. This will happen in a future city, though, mark my words.

We headed out of the city to our hotel. There was nothing in Bristol for under £150 a night, which seemed somewhat extortionate. On arrival, we unpacked and relaxed for a short while before the next stage of our Bristol adventure. I took the opportunity to put in my contact lenses, which happily I’m now able to wear again after a couple of weeks in my specs. According to my new and improved optician, if you haven’t worn them for a while, you need to build up tolerance by wearing them for a few hours a day at first.

I also took a call from Jo at BBC Radio Five Live, who wanted to feature me on tomorrow morning’s breakfast show. We had a lengthy chat so we could each prepare ahead of the interview. I’ll confess I wasn’t best pleased about the 0645 slot – especially given that I’d already pushed BBC Radio Lancashire back from 0720 to 0820 – but being able to prepare my answers in advance is important as it means I’m able to at least form sentences at that time in the morning when practically still asleep. During our conversation, I was asked about matchday rituals – and suddenly I realised I’d forgotten to bring my lucky Fritidsklader tangerine tee! We were unbeaten at the end of last season since I started wearing that tee! I did have my Fritidskader tangerine cagoule with me and prayed that this would be lucky too.

New Bristol Brewery

Now this was my absolute Must Not Miss place of the weekend. I discovered New Bristol Brewery on my virtual brewery tap crawl of Bristol last season, in which I found a whopping 13 (THIRTEEN!) breweries with tap houses in Bristol. New Bristol stood out because of their particularly interesting beer range: Irish Cream Stout, Chocolate Banana Milk Stout and Cinder Toffee Stout. I have been ordering their beers ever since – but tonight I was finally getting to try them straight from the tap.

And look who’s there on the logo, which I’d never thought to interrogate before. It’s Alfie!

Our host, Tom – and his dog, Jess – were incredibly warm and welcoming. Tom gave Lee a guided tour of the brewery while Jess played fetch with anyone who was interested (and a man who wasn’t but played along anyway).

I mentioned that I was trying out local produce as part of these Tourist Guides but was hesitant to try cider, as I didn’t like it. Tom let us in on a little local secret squirrel knowledge. He recommended we visit the Coronation Tap – up by the Clifton Suspension Bridge – and try the Exhibition Cider. Strong and only served in small measures, I was assured that this was the most local of local drinks and it would earn me kudos if I could say that I had tried it. I added it to the list for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, where to begin with this list?

Of course I could see no further than the Salted Chocolate Bigger Cinder Toffee Stout – even though I knew this was really a ‘last beer of the night’ offering. Just a third can’t hurt, right? I followed it up with a Bristol Lager, as it was lager kind of weather, despite the forecast. I also bought a New Bristol Brewery tee because I do like to promote brands that I love. And New Bristol is right up there with Fierce, Mad Squirrel and Ride as one of my very favourite breweries.

Now it was time for dinner. I was delighted to see the top restaurant on TripAdvisor was just around the corner from the brewery, so we headed on foot to Baba Ganoush Kitchen. Sadly, on arrival, we found the restaurant had closed early – and I didn’t have a Plan B.

Part of my research for this weekend included referring to Retired Martin’s excellent pub blog. I was delighted to find his Bristol pub highlights – and took notes on his favourite pubs. There must be hundreds of pubs in Bristol and Martin is a man who I hold in high esteem for his opinion on pubs. Why trawl through Google when I can just refer to Martin? We headed off in the direction of one of Martin’s top five Bristol pubs that appeared to serve food.

Hillgrove Porter Stores

Driving through Bristol it is impossible to not notice all the graffiti. It is everywhere, to the point of vandalism, obscuring road signs. Was it like this before Banksy? Or is this part of Banksy’s legacy?

We approached this Dawkins Brewery pub with trepidation. Where had Martin brought us? This wasn’t in the most salubrious of areas and we would never have found it independently.

But what a joy we stepped into! This is a good old-fashioned traditional pub – the like of which I have yet to locate on the Fylde Coast.

I ordered a pint of Dawkins Foresters Black and a bag of Mini Cheddars and headed out to the beer garden to find Lee. It was getting a little nippy now, so we soon retreated into the warm and homely surroundings of the pub.

On the table we noticed a menu. Ooh – Japanese food, courtesy of Kansai Kitchen. Well I hadn’t expected this! Now it’s unlike me to be hesitant to try new food – and unlike Lee to be experimental – but Lee was all over this menu. I think I was just sulking because there was no Katsu Chicken Curry on there. Lee ordered us the Fried Kushikatsu On Sticks (King Prawn) and Edamame Beans in Pods. I was delighted he did because both dishes were delicious. Although I did manage to pop quite a few Edamama Beans on the floor. I got the knack by the end of the bowl…

Despite being a traditional-looking pub, the clientele was quite young and hipster. I had to compliment one man on his fabulous parrot shirt (sorry, no photo). Despite being initially reluctant, Lee (not really used to frequenting pubs, as he doesn’t drink) soon settled into the pub environment and realised it was pretty cool. Pubs truly are one of life’s great joys and I’m pleased to be introducing Lee to this world. Indeed alcohol is not required to enjoy these unique hostelries. There is so much more to them.

We were tired now after our long journey and busy day, so we retired back to the hotel. After all, I was on the radio at 0645 (eek!).

Back at the hotel, I lay on the bed scrolling through the tv channels (as you do). I happened across the opening credits to Hammer’s ‘The Horror of Frankenstein’ on Talking Pictures TV, a channel I was not familiar with but was already in love with. Ralph Bates. I know that name. Was he Dear John? I looked him up. Yes, that was him. Oh – and he was from Bristol! What a funny coincidence. And – I recognise that woman – I looked up the cast – ah of course: Kate O’Mara. Hang on, she’s playing a 16 year old? She looks no different that I remember her in her fifties.

And, before I knew it, I was settled into the film. I grew up on Hammer Horrors, Hitchcock, Tales of the Unexpected and the like. They really don’t make horrors like they used to. It probably wasn’t the best idea to stay awake until 2345 but I really was getting engrossed now. Lee pointed out that I would have nightmares, watching a horror movie before bed, but I dismissed this and continued watching.

At 2345 I realised I had miscalculated – and the film was on for another hour after that. Well, there was no way I was staying up that late, when I was on the radio five hours later. But it wasn’t as if I was at home and could record the rest of the film. Reluctantly, I turned off the tv and sank into bed and a much-needed sleep.

I dreamt that I heard a new Coldplay song on the radio and I liked it. I was fighting against it because Coldplay (along with Adele) are my musical nemesis and I have to turn the radio off whenever they come on. But this new song was a rock anthem and I loved it.

Lee had warned me about the nightmares.

I woke organically around 6am. The room was dark – thanks to some excellent overlapping blackout curtains – but the traffic noise from outside alerted me to the hour. Once I had tuned into it – ooh that motorbike was loud – I found it hard to return to sleep. Besides, did I really want to return to a world where I liked Coldplay? I wanted my mind to be alert ahead of my national radio appearance, so I began rehearsing what I wanted to say.

I was interrupted by the opening bars to the Shaun The Sheep theme tune (my ringtone) at 0622. Who had that been? They hadn’t given me time to answer. No Caller ID. That must have been BBC Radio Five Live. Who else would be calling me at this hour? I didn’t know because my phone was usually in night mode between 2200 and 0800. Maybe I often get calls at that time? I resolved that it was a subtle wake-up call from the BBC and continued preparing what I was going to say. Oh hurry up and call so I can get back to sleep!

At 0640 my phone rang again.

‘Hello?’

‘Oh hi – it’s BBC Radio Five Live here. I’m sorry but we won’t have time for you this morning as there’s too much Olympics news to cover.’

‘Oh – well thank you for letting me know.’

Lee was livid. I just wanted to go back to sleep. But of course my mind was now active and this was proving difficult. I could have stayed up to watch the end of that film after all. Will I ever find out if Victor brought his monster to life? Will I ever understand why he made it from many different body parts instead of just using one whole body that he had plenty of at his disposal? I wish I’d stuck with 0720 on Radio Lancashire now. It must be coming up to that time soon? I hope I’m not tired all day now after this. I don’t want the first game of the season ruined. I don’t like being tired. This is why we set off yesterday, so we could be awake and relaxed today. There’s a lot of traffic out there. I wonder what time the Good Night’s Sleep Guarantee applies until? Although this isn’t the fault of Premier Inn – it was the BBC interrupting my sleep. And all for nothing…

I was woken by Shaun The Sheep. It was Radio Lancashire – and it was 0816. Perhaps I’d managed half an hour’s sleep? Nonetheless, I managed to sound awake (I think) and cover off everything I had planned: how great it was to be back as well as a cheeky promo for our Football Tourist’s Guide (which the presenter labelled ‘genius’).

By now it was of course time to get up – breakfast was booked for 0900 – so I grabbed a shower (no music, so as to not wake any sleeping neighbours), put my contact lenses in (yippee!), adorned my New Bristol Brewery tee and headed down to the Brewers Fayre for breakfast.

Now I don’t usually breakfast at all, let alone in hotels, but Lee wanted breakfast and we hadn’t actually had that much to eat yesterday (only one proper meal), so it probably wasn’t a bad idea. I ordered a cooked breakfast and ventured over to buffet corner to try and figure out the rest. It is a complicated business (for me, at least) trying to navigate breakfast items in a place I have never been to before. At length, I found the orange juice, glasses, Earl Grey, mugs, milk, bread and butter. What, I was expected to toast my own bread? How does that thing work?

I returned to the table with my juice and too-subtly appealed to Lee for help. He didn’t notice and continued tucking into his breakfast. I returned to the machine. It couldn’t be that hard, surely? I thought I could see it moving, so I picked up a slice of wholemeal bread with the tongs and placed it in the strange contraption. What could possibly go wrong? I mean, it’s not like I can set an electric oven on fire with a piece of salmon or anything…

Miraculously, I managed to successfully toast two slices of bread. I cannot begin to express how chuffed I was.

It was a nice breakfast. No complaints from me, other than – if I’m being picky – no honey to go in my Earl Grey.

Suitably sustained, it was now time to head out and do something touristy.

Aerospace Bristol

Following our recent visit to Carlisle, where we had seen a Vulcan bomber at Solway Aviation Museum at Carlisle Airport, a friend recommended something special if we were ever down Bristol way – they have a Concorde. Well, that simply had to be done.

On arrival at Aerospace Bristol – where the sun continued to shine brightly in defiance of the forecast – we were greeted by a friendly Czech who was a self-confessed plane geek. He spoke with such enthusiasm about what was in the museum, which culminated in the piece de resistance of Concorde in the far hangar. We were delighted to learn that we could actually board Concorde. Finally, I was getting Lee inside an actual plane! This was all falling neatly – and quite accidentally – into place for my Grand Masterplan to get him on a plane to Hawaii for my Next Big Birthday.

The first hangar charted the history of flight, from the Wright brothers, to the first flights in the UK, when flight was viewed as entertainment, through the mass production of planes to help with the war effort, the introduction of commercial flights, rocket-fuelled missiles and the journey into space.

Quite apt at the moment!
Look how close your luggage is to you on a plane
Mk II Bristol Bloodhound Anti-Aircraft Missile

We learned that Bristol was central to the British Aerospace industry – indeed its home – and the locals are rightly proud of this. The pub where we had taken breakfast this morning was called The Concorde. Because it was here in Filton that Concorde was built. It is therefore fitting that one remains here on display following her final journey.

Concorde
Tangerine seats from Concorde
Taken from inside Concorde
Lee onboard a plane

I was confused at first sight. This didn’t quite look like the Concorde I remembered from my youth. Had she had some work done? All was explained here.

Lee and I both agreed that this was the most amazing museum we had ever visited. How on earth do we top this in our Football Tourist’s Guide series? We’ve been on Concorde! Have we peaked already on Day One of the Championship season?

Clifton Suspension Bridge

As we drove back south into Bristol, the sky began to look pretty furious. Thunderstorms were forecast for this afternoon. The rain began to pour – and the traffic was heavy. By the time we arrived at Clifton Suspension Bridge, I was satisfied to remain in the car. It is a short bridge but the drop is frighteningly vast. I even began to feel queasy crossing it in the car.

Tom had recommended a viewing point overlooking the bridge – on the right hand side as you approach from the Bristol side. Lee was determined to head up there, so began searching for a parking spot. It is impossible to find parking on a Saturday in Bristol. It was all permit holders only. Just as we had given up and decided it was time to head to the ground, I remembered that the Cori Tap was round here somewhere. Perhaps they had a car park?

Nope. Plus it was shut until 1900. Boo on both counts. Onwards to Ashton Gate!

Bristol City v Blackpool

Dear reader, I repeat: there is no street parking in Bristol. We must have arrived at the stadium around 1300 but nada zip nowt nothing. Sainsburys? Two hour max stay. We found a nearby car park on an industrial estate that looked like it was going to take an age to get off at the end of the game. It was £10 but beggars can’t be choosers, so we drove up to it. But of course they wanted cash and we didn’t have any, so it was back to Sainsburys and back again before we could finally park up. Note to self: research parking ahead of next Championship match. Lee had severe parking rage – in addition to his pre-match tension – at this point, so anything that can be done to dissipate this must be done.

On arrival at the ground, I spotted a fanzine seller, which is always a treat – and a rare sight these days. I had been in contact with the editor ahead of the match and he had provided some top tourist tips. Did you know that Only Fools and Horses was filmed right here? Nelson Mandela House is right by Ashton Gate, as is Boycie’s Car Showroom and Peckham Market.

Not unlike at Wembley, our tickets were checked on the perimeter of the ground before we were allowed entry into the general vicinity. And boy did we not expect what was awaiting us here. It was mind-blowing. We had been impressed with a chippy van and steak butty stall at Carlisle – but this was another level entirely. We aren’t in the lower leagues any more…

Well, where do I start? There were beer and cider stalls, a live band, a huge indoor sports bar, an indoor cafe and a number of food stalls, including a chippy van (NB no gravy on the menu – we’re not in The North any more…).

And we hadn’t even gone into the ground yet – this was all outside! It was sensational. Even the Premier League hadn’t been like this. Is that what it’s like now? Had we really become that sheltered these past 17 months that the world was now almost unrecognisable? But in a good way? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were hundreds – nay thousands – of people here already enjoying all these wonderful facilities.

It felt alien and uncomfortable to be thrust amidst such a huge crowd of people – without a mask in sight (it’s as if football is a different world where all thoughts of COVID evaporate). I stopped to chat with James and his new girlfriend, Lisa, who was (willingly) at her first Blackpool match. I hoped it was a good one for her. We could have another recruit here.

I went for a nose inside the sports bar – I mean, how could I not? It promised Bristol Beer Factory beer and everything.

It was pretty rammed inside and, as I queued for the bar, I began to feel uncomfortable. I longed to be inside the ground early, seated in a sparsely-populated stand, to soak up the atmosphere in solitude.

I was delayed, as Lee insisted we wait for Bristol City vlogger Ben, who wanted to interview us before the match. I was glad we had waited, as Ben was a lovely lad. We also learned from him that our new signing Reece James’s brother was playing for Bristol City today.

Finally, I entered the ground onto a cramped concourse. There are few places I like less than a crowded, cramped concourse. This was the case even pre-COVID. I simply don’t like being in a tightly-packed crowd of people. Never have.

James was here again – with our friend Chris, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years and thought was on holiday on Rhodes. He arrived back last night and had travelled pretty much straight to the match. Epic. I wanted to stay and chat but I was also uncomfortable and had my pre-match admin to do: I needed a wee and something to drink and something to eat. There was a tiny serving hatch for refreshments and the concourse was too compact for a queue to form, so I joined the throng in the general vicinity for what felt like an hour but was probably only ten minutes. Everyone was too close and I didn’t like it but what choice did I have? I needed water and you can’t take your own in, can you? There really is quite a lot about football that seems inhumane to me.

Finally at the front of the queue, I ordered two bottles of water (I wasn’t going back down there at half time) and some sort of meat pasty. It was hardly Cornish Pasty quality but it didn’t give me indigestion. I should have eaten something outside, of course – in the knowledge that most football ground fayre is crap – but you live and learn.

It was already busy inside the ground and, as I tentatively nibbled on my pasty, I became conscious of the crowd closing in around me. Perhaps I could have done with a beer to take the edge off. And where was Lee?

The players came out and – hang on – was that keeper sponsored by Tiny Rebel Clwb Tropica or what?

As if I wasn’t feeling uncomfortable enough, this was, of course, one of those games – like Forest away in the playoffs – where everyone stands up. This was the view from my seat.

The atmosphere in the away end was rocking. The singing began before kick off and did not abate throughout the 90 minutes – or beyond. Blackpool are back – and in full voice.

Just before half time, Chris Martin scored the opener for Bristol City. That nightmare coming back to haunt me again. Bristol City were value for it, though. This was a good match – and they were a strong side. This definitely wasn’t League One. Our forwards were really struggling to find a way through – in a repeat of the most part of last season – as they weren’t giving us any space. City had a few chances, but we weren’t giving them much space either – and their shots had been going high and wide. Callum Connolly – despite playing out of position at right back because we haven’t got a right back following the departures of Ollie Turton (to Huddersfield) and Jordan Gabriel (back to Forest after his loan) – played well, with some heroic challenges.

I remained in my seat at half time. I was dehydrated enough after yesterday’s beers to not need a comfort break. And I had plenty of water. Finally, I could sit down, after having to spend the entire first half standing. My legs were stiff after a few sessions on the static bike this week. I pulled out my phone to check the socials. Oh – MG had brought me some Lincolnshire Plumbread – what a star. He suggested we meet at full time, as he was sitting right at the back. Hmm – I wasn’t far from the back. I looked around – and spotted him almost immediately. I trotted over to say hello and walked away with his bag and the Plumbread. I felt bad taking his bag – a BFC backpack – but we arranged to meet for a chippy tea next week so I could return it. Lee rocked up at this point too, so all was right with the world again.

We headed to our seats ready to tackle the second half. It was much of the same for the first half an hour or so. Then came the sea change. Josh Bowler came on and things started to improve. Then, with ten minutes remaining, on came Shayne Lavery. These were our supersubs. We know – and Critch knows – they can change matches. But was ten minutes enough?

You bet your bottom dollar it was! Lavery ran the tired Robins ragged and, well, it was only a matter of time. I told Lee as much.

‘We’re going to get a last minute equaliser here, trust me.’

‘Nah. There’s no chance. It’s too late. He’s left the subs too late.’

‘Honestly, there’s no way our fans are going to sing like that for the whole 90 minutes and go away with nothing. It’s not right. We’re going to score. Imagine the scenes.’

‘No. It won’t happen.’

Dear reader – it happened. Of course it happened. Just like the rain had held off while we had been outdoors all weekend (not for others, who had been soaked), my witchcraft came through again. We were meant to have a happy ending today and so it came to pass. It was Lavery, of course – following a cross from Bowler.

Last minute goals are the best. I was overcome with a wave of emotion but – ever since my eye injury – I find myself unable to generate tears. Even today they wouldn’t come. Strange but true.

The cherry on the icing on the cake was the news that Preston had lost 4-1 at home to Hull.

Such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you. Such a perfect day. You just keep me hanging on…

Yes, it took us ages to get off the car park. No, we didn’t care. And, bizarrely, once we were free of the car park, there was not a single car on the road ahead of us.

We called at Gloucester Services for some tea and so I could remove my contact lenses. I saw MG here and returned his bag and we reminisced about the game with him and some other Blackpool fans.

We called in at Wendy and Daz’s wedding reception in Rugeley and had a cheeky pint as I caught up with some old friends I hadn’t seen in yonks (Wendy’s hen night was on the night of the last away match we were allowed to attend 17 months ago – remember the penis straws?).

We chased the satnav countdown to arrive home bang on midnight. It was freezing back in Blackpool but I refused to put the heating on for snoring reasons. Plus it was August! I unpacked my stuff, put on my jim jams and was in bed within half an hour. To sleep perchance to dream about something other than Coldplay.

So, how do we top that? Going on Concorde and scoring a last minute goal? This is only the first awayday of the season. Is it all downhill from here? Of course not! We’ll always find new adventures and keep sharing them with you here and on our YouTube channel, which you can find below. Keep reading and viewing and we’ll keep the adventures coming. We’ve got a couple of home games this week then our next Football Tourist’s Guide will be Bournemouth. See you there!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCohyWZEokbt9OOssfv2j5TA

%d bloggers like this: