Dear reader, it’s official: I have a new local for home games. No 10 Alehouse has a choice of well-kept ales, a friendly vibe and an outdoor seating area. Tonight I arrived just after 1700, strolled up to the bar and was delighted to find one of my favourite beers was on.
As I headed back towards the door I spotted Don of Fylde Coast Radio fame. You may recall Don as the bad influence friend from my Morecambe trip. I joined him and his friend Andy at their table and was regaled with tales of their adventures on the continent back in the day. I also learned that Fourpure Brewing Co is within walking distance of Millwall’s ground, so jotted that useful snippet down in my writer’s notebook.
We were approached by a confused Sunderland fan, who had spotted a Brett Ormerod Testimonial scarf on the wall.
‘Excuse me. Could I ask why Brett Ormerod’s Testimonial was played at AFC Fylde?’
We invited our new friend Malcolm to join us as we provided a potted history of recent goings on at Blackpool, including the five-year boycott, during which Brett had his testimonial.
We learned that Sunderland were outraged when Paolo di Canio was appointed manager, owing to his political views contradicting those of the locals. Malcolm and many others were pleased that his tenure was only short-lived.
As I came to the end of a pint of the above, Don asked if I wanted to join them in their taxi to the ground. I do usually walk (it’s only 15 minutes, and it was a nice night) but Don is carrying a football injury, so taxi it was.
Or was it?
Taxis are pretty hard to come by at the moment as there are driver shortages. Don stepped outside to try and hail a passing cab while we waited (possibly in vain) for ours to arrive. Ten minutes later and still no joy. I was dying for the loo by this point, but didn’t want to miss the taxi if it did turn up, despite Andy’s assurances they would hold it for me.
With no sign of a taxi and time ticking on, Don resorted to some outside-the-box thinking. He placed an order for an invisible pizza to be delivered to Bloomfield Road and, when the delivery driver got to his car, we all piled in to join him for the ride. It was genius. I like Don a lot.
Blackpool v Sunderland
I did a little preview of the match for a new Sunderland podcast, in which I gave an airing to my Embo song (they insisted, honest).
Last night Lee and I had put out a video discussing Fan Engagement, which is a subject I feel passionately about. Some weeks after Lee first asked me what fan engagement means to me, I have deduced that it is how valued I feel as a football fan / paying customer. I find the topic fascinating, especially since that each individual football fan has different values and expectations when it comes to the fan experience.
One area that we discussed was the importance of the matchday steward and how the initial contact with them can set the tone for the next couple of hours. You may recall I was delighted with the greeting I received from the stewards at Bournemouth and Donny; and quite distressed with their counterparts at Rotherham. I remarked how a nice few words from a steward can really put a spring in my step and make me feel valued.
As I approached the turnstile for the West Stand tonight (the South having been given to Sunderland fans), a steward asked if she could check inside my bag. I said of course and opened it up for her.
‘Ooh you can’t fit much in there, can you?’
She made a little joke! I was delighted. Indeed my bag is tiny and there’s no room for any contraband items in there on top of my brolly, hand sanitiser, tickets, cards, cash, perfume, phone charger, mask, pen, writer’s notebook and business cards (I gave one to Malcolm!).
I chuckled as I headed to the refreshment kiosk (no queues in the West at 1915 – yippee!) and bought a Snickers Duo (my tea) and a bottle of Fanta Zero.
We had great seats tonight – padded seats on the end of the row (by the wall) directly above the home dugout. This was such a great view and we also got to have a good nose at the personnel on the benches (does Stuart McCall dye his hair?). Embo was on the bench for Sunderland tonight and it was lovely to see him back at Bloomfield Road – even if he was in the wrong colour kit.
Blackpool’s team tonight was a mixed bag and I got the impression that Critch wanted to have a look at some fringe players to see if they are ready to introduce into the first team which, lets face it, could have started the season better.
The standout players for me tonight were Sonny Carey, who looked hungry, and Jerry Yates, who looked a handful when he came on off the bench. I was also delighted to see Tyreece John-Jules (who I call Kitten, as he’s the nephew of Cat from Red Dwarf, Danny John-Jules) making a few Kaikai-esque sweet passes to the forwards running into the box. I’m not writing any of the players off because I know Critch will develop them and, if they’re not receptive to that, they will be out the door sooner rather than later. Our defence is looking distinctly ropier this season. Is that because of a change in personnel? Stronger opposition? The fact that we don’t have a right back on our books? Certainly that needs addressing swiftly then we can look to build up to ending the season in swashbuckling stylee. But we’re not there yet.
I couldn’t fathom many of the referee’s decisions but in reality we cannot blame officials for our results. We need to rise above this and let our football do the talking. At the moment it is a little hoarse (I know that’s crying out for a donkey joke but I’m not going there).
Here’s our video memory of the night:
Lee chuntered about the result all the way back to the car and all the way home, as is the norm. I drifted off into the weird and wonderful world inside my head (as I do, to avoid things I don’t want to be thinking about). Back home, I retired straight to bed. Amen to not being an exiled fan any more. The Land of Nod is never far away after a home midweeker.
Next up: Millwall.