Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Millwall v Blackpool: Capital Punishment

A bit of a change for us this weekend. We did not travel down to London the night before to research our latest Football Tourist’s Guide because:

  • I’m still a bit scared of London;
  • it’s expensive;
  • I’m a bit scared of London transport; and
  • we had a prior engagement on Friday night…

Wonderhall: Tom Jones

When my friend Louise asked if I fancied going to see Tom Jones, I got it booked straight away. Whilst there was no Lytham Proms this year, there was a weekend-long festival at Lytham Hall with a host of great artists. There was no way I was missing out on seeing Tom Jones when he was playing just down the road. At 81 years old, he still has a wonderfully strong voice and keeps on producing great music. Given an option of standing or take-your-own-seating to this outdoor venue, we opted for the latter. It would be more comfortable and more COVID-safe.

We had a lift to the venue and, on the way, Louise asked if we had our proof of COVID vaccination. Had we not received the email? Er, no, we hadn’t. Mercifully I had my vaccination card in my handbag. Lee frantically downloaded the NHS app and spent about 15 minutes answering questions and punching in his details as we got out of the car and walked through the entrance towards the festival.

It is a long and scenic walk up to Lytham Hall and I enjoyed the view as Lee continued his battle with the NHS app. As we reached the first line of security, I flashed my vaccination card and Lee flashed his app, which he had accessed just in the nick of time. We then joined the slowest queue (as is always the way) through security for our bag search and ticket check. Then another scenic walk towards the open grounds.

I never knew Lytham Hall was even a thing until Lee was here for his Antiques Roadshow video a couple of years back.

As we entered the main grounds, we passed a number of exciting food stalls on our right: fried chicken, Thai food, pizza. The stage was ahead to our left, just beside Lytham Hall itself.

Our seating area was at the back of the main standing area, further along on our right. We stopped to have a wristband applied before finding a gap towards the front and pitching our camping chairs (on loan for the night from Louise). The chairs had empty cup holders, so I headed off in search of a drink.

Further on to our right was a bar, an alcoholic lolly stand, a march stall and a real ale and gin bar. Of course I headed for the latter.

The beers on offer were Black Sheep Bitter and Black Sheep Pale. I plumped for a pint of the latter. I wasn’t sure I had tried that before. It was £5.50 and was quickly served as it was pre-poured and I paid by card. It was flat but it was beer and it would do. Whilst I love to enjoy a pint of quality real ale, I am learning that sometimes I have to endure a poorer quality of drink for the sake of spending time in a relaxing environment with friends.

And it was lovely here. We were sitting in a prime people-watching spot and there was a constant stream of people passing by as they entered the venue and headed towards the bar. I recognised none of them, bar Lee’s mate Mark.

The opening act was AJ Brown, who ‘began his career singing with The National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Since 2015, AJ Brown has supported Tom Jones, Burt Bacharach, Lionel Richie, Alfie Boe, Collabro, Cliff Richard, Simply Red, Rebecca Ferguson, Marti Pellow, Will Young and Jools Holland, and a 22-date UK tour as special guest of Katherine Jenkins, as well as performing on Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’.’ He simply played the piano and sang and it was beautiful.

In the interval before the next act, I headed back to the bar to stock up on beer. I bought two pints this time, to save me having to go back. I had planned on not drinking tonight but I find that beer helps me relax into the music at live gigs and three pints of weak stuff couldn’t hurt.

The next act were the Brand New Heavies. I’d heard of them but couldn’t think of any of their songs. As their set progressed, I recognised loads of their hits from yesteryear – although they didn’t play their most famous one, Midnight At The Oasis. They were brilliant and really got the crowd going.

So that was already two artists that I had added to my Apple Music library. One of the great joys of going to see live bands is the discovery of other artists who are playing in support. Indeed that is how I discovered my all-time favourite singer, the wonderfully-talented David Ford, who was playing in his former band Easyworld in support to The Bluetones around 20 years ago.

I was pleased to find some toilets very close to where we were seated. It was a portaloo job but the queues weren’t horrendous, nor the facilities gross (this was Lytham, after all).

I continued to people-watch. This was an older and predominantly-female audience, so different to the crowd of faces I am used to seeing at the football. I smiled as I watched them singing along and dancing. These were scenes of pure joy. It was truly wonderful to be back at a gig.

I strolled over to check out the food kiosks as I hadn’t had any tea. The Thai food was a must-try – and the queue was mercifully short – and I opted for the massaman. It had quite a kick to it and was delicious.

Then, around 2100, came the main man himself, Sir Tom Jones. His voice was strong and powerful as expected. He belted out a number of his favourites, opening with What’s New Pussycat (woh-wo-oh-wo-oh). However, the arrangements were such that it was tricky to sing along. I appreciate that he may well be tired of singing Delilah after so many renditions over so many years, but I couldn’t help be slightly disappointed. It was still a great gig, though, and I enjoyed the whole event tremendously.

With so many thousand in attendance, there was a throng of people at the exit and it took some uncomfortable minutes before we managed to squeeze out the exit barrier. Then we took the long stroll back out into civilisation, chuckling at the drunk man weaving zigzaggedly in front of us, amazed at how he managed to remain upright. We soon met our lift and a good night was had by all.

BSA Coach to Millwall

The alarm went off at 0500. Of course I hadn’t had enough sleep but it was an awayday and they always feel like hollibobs (at least before you get to the match) so I sprang out of bed. I couldn’t face any music, so quietly conducted my morning toilette before grabbing the pre-packed bag of snackage, adding the refrigerated items and pacing up and down the drive waiting for Lee. He wasn’t late this morning, as we would have missed the coach otherwise, so we set off a little early before parking up close to the Saddle Inn, where we were meeting the Blackpool Supporters Association coach to take us to the capital.

This coach is a reliable and affordable form of transport to away matches. Today cost £30 each, whereas it would have been c£155 for the pair of us on the train. It was well-organised, too, with seats reserved for us towards the front of the coach so we could sit together.

It was strange being on a coach and being surrounded by people and noise. The radio, the snatches of conversation, the laughter, the banter, the engine, the aircon. The smells of the food and the sweat and fortunately not the toilet, as we were quite far from it. The sight of the smiling faces and the tangerine shirts and hats and trainers and nails. The slight pang of anxiety on hearing someone say they had had a notification they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive but it was ok, they didn’t need to isolate.

Travelling via coach also offers the opportunity to put the travel time to productive use. I couldn’t remember the last time I had read a book and today that was going to change. I scrolled through my Kindle and selected Roar by Cecelia Ahern. I had added this to my library after reading about it in Writing Magazine. It is a series of short stories about empowered women. I found it inspiring and uplifting after I had endured some online abuse earlier this week for my opinions on fan engagement.

I also took the time to catch up on last night’s Corrie as I munched my way through my latest new chocolate find.

Bit salty for my taste

After a pit-stop at Norton Canes (where Oldham fans – en route to Sutton United – appeared to have trashed the place and I nearly slipped on a huge spatter of hot chocolate in the entrance), we soon found ourselves arriving at our pub-stop. Initially, we had planned to stop at Greenwich, which excited me greatly, as I had researched this on my virtual crawl ahead of the Charlton match last season. For Charlton-related reasons (they were at home today, with a protest planned), we ended up switching to Welling.

Hmm, Welling. What’s there, then? The BSA Pub of Choice was a Wetherspoons, so there was no chance of me spending any money there. Having spent more time with myself over the past 18 months, I find I know myself much better and find I have stronger values. So Spoons is out for me. I don’t need their politics ramming down my throat, thank you very much. Plus I’d much rather support indies than big chains.

As the coach crawled down Welling High Street, I spotted The Door Hinge on our right. That was on the list! After a quick Spoons toilet stop, I found myself marching back down the High Street towards this micropub. En route, I passed another pub which looked interesting, but it wasn’t open until 1300 (less than half an hour off), so I made a mental note to pop in on my return journey. Welling High Street is full of weird and wonderful shops and I stopped to photograph a dinosaur before continuing on to quench my thirst.

The Door Hinge

The Door Hinge is a wonderful traditional micropub. A sign on the door instructed customers to put their mobiles on silent. I entered and approached the counter. The beers were housed in a little room behind the counter, with the beer drawn straight from the cask. I surveyed the beer board.

‘A half of stout and (long pause) a half of Jake The Snake please.’

‘Ooh they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum.’

‘Well yes. I really want the stout but I feel I ought to have something lighter first, as it’s technically my breakfast.’

I was delighted to find these cost a total of £3.60, after the £5.50 flat Black Sheep from last night. And we were down south too.

As I studied my beer mat, I realised that I had enjoyed a Mighty Oak beer previously in the Fat Cat in Ipswich.

There was a lovely local feel to this pub and I felt at home immediately. Everyone was chatting to each other across their respective tables. One man was busy on his laptop putting his house up for rent, which led to a discussion on stopcocks. Two cockney men entered and immediately engaged in banter with the landlord, Geoff. I learned that this pub was the first micropub to open within the M25. Kent is, of course, the home of micropubs. And this was a fine example right here.

Indeed, I was in two minds whether I should stay here or visit the other pub. But, as Retired Martin the pub blogger had expressed his disappointment in me settling in one pub earlier this week, I resolved to reluctantly move on.

The Hangar Welling

As I marched back up Welling High Street, I realised this was where I felt most at home. I love exploring new towns and cities and not knowing what is round the corner. It’s what I do. Whilst I had been in the company of others all day on the coach down here, I had really been alone with my book. And now I was really alone, walking down an unfamiliar street in unknown territory, I was in my element. I knew who I was and where I was going and what I wanted and I was completely content.

I paused to photograph the Russian Cannon that I had read about on Trip Advisor as one of Welling’s top attractions.

And then I arrived at The Hangar. In a stark contrast to The Door Hinge, this was a modern craft beer hipster joint. There was boothed seating on the right, then the bar. Further through was more seating in a dimly-lit area, a cloakroom and toilets, then an outdoor walled and ceilinged patio, where I would have sat, had it not been reserved for a private function from 1400. I’d be long gone by then, but I didn’t want to clutter up their area in case they were early. I was currently the only customer, but a group of ladies arrived shortly afterwards.

If you look closely at the beer board, you can see what I ordered. As in the previous pub, both were lush – and I left happy.

I was almost tempted by the pavement market when I saw these:

But not at that price for one cupcake.

I reconvened with the others and we were soon back aboard the coach, battling our way through the traffic into That There London. I looked out of the window to admire the street art because it stopped me looking at the clock, which was ticking down quickly to 1500.

Past Me would have been anxious at the possibility of arriving late and missing kick-off. But I’m quite relaxed about such things these days. It simply doesn’t matter. Que sera sera. I could always watch the highlights online later if necessary.

Millwall v Blackpool

As it was, we pulled up at The New Den around 1450. I disembarked, handed my ticket to the man who scanned it in for me, then headed for the Ladies, where I admired the ceiling art…

…before approaching the refreshment kiosk for two bottles of water (decanted into pint glasses, grr).

Our seats were excellent – on the front row of the upper tier. I had forgotten how steep the stand was at Millwall and I always get a bit of vertigo if I’m seated further back. The view was perfect, with no fans standing in front of us, blocking our view of the match.

Note the Southern chimney in the background

I was intrigued by Millwall’s shirt sponsors, Huski Chocolate, who I hadn’t heard of. Dear reader, you know I am a great lover of chocolate. How could I have not have heard of these? Well, I’ve looked them up and am disappointed to find they are simply a chocolate drink manufacturers. Far less exciting that I had imagined.

As for the match? Well, Blackpool played really well, with lots of neat passing and great moves. It was reminiscent of last season in League One. But was that because we were improving or because Millwall were weaker opponents? I think there was a bit of both at play this afternoon. It cannot be disputed that our opening goal was an exquisite work of art from the wonder-pairing of Bowler (assist) and Lavery (goal), who connect beautifully, having played together in the past at Everton. By that time we were already down to ten men following the dismissal of Callum Connolly, our makeshift right back (leaving us with not even a right-back-who-isn’t-even-a-right-back, let alone an actual right back on our books, despite having lost both of ours as long ago as May). Happily, Reece James slotted in there nicely and Blackpool continued to apply pressure and play well. I remained confident we would come away with something here.

At half time, Guy – who I hadn’t seen for two years, since an awayday at Scunthorpe – was passing by just as I was chuckling away to myself alone in my seat. He stopped to enquire what had tickled me, so I showed him the tweet.

But, Blackpool being Blackpool, this being London, the ref being the worst of the season, us starting the season disastrously as usual, we ended up losing 2-1 – and that was that.

I was livid when the final whistle blew and stormed straight out of the stand. I strode to the Ladies, the door slamming against the wall as I opened it (nothing to do with my anger, it had done this on my previous visits). After I had battled in vain with the crappy half-hearted hand-dryer…

…I bit my lip so as not to complain to the stewards about the need for a door stop and a Dyson Air Blade.

Here’s our video memory of the day:

The Long Journey Home

My rage was compounded when I opened my bag of comfort food back on the coach.

Although I did chuckle when I looked out of the window and saw Jesus with a pigeon on his head.

And this Sideshow Bob tree.

We called in at Warwick Services on the way home, where we bumped into some happy Wrexham fans on their way home from a 2-0 win at Eastleigh in the Bananarama League.

I immersed myself back in my book, which I finished and enjoyed immensely. I attempted to listen to my audiobook (Billy Summers, the latest Stephen King), but the background noise on the coach was too distracting and I also kept nodding off (unusually for me, I did manage some brief spells of sleep on the coach). I started another book, Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, which I’d read the blurb of when attending a poetry recital at Stafford Library a few years ago. I got three chapters in by the time we landed back on The Gold Coast.

Back home, I retired to bed, exhausted, and remained there for over 12 hours. It is wonderful to have the luxury of a lie-in and a long weekend, this August Bank Holiday. It is both physically and mentally exhausting being a full-time football fan (especially when your team is not winning). I am pleased we have an international break now and a couple of weeks off. What am I going to do with myself? Well, I’m off to the football, of course…

Next up: AFC Blackpool v Garstang in the NWCFL on Monday & Squires Gate v North Shields in the FA Cup Q1 on Saturday.