Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Reading v Blackpool – The Lucky Orange Aero Strikes Again

Sandwiched between two epic weekenders, we opted to go to Reading on the coach. Long-distance midweekers are generally a huge pain for travelling supporters but sometimes, dear reader, they can be worth it…

I packed a phone charger and healthy food bag (tomatoes and emergency Prawn Cocktail Quavers and Fibre One 90 Chocolate Popcorn bar).

I made a point of leaving the Lucky Orange Aero in the cupboard – if I had it with me I might be tempted to eat it and I was taking my diet seriously (I lost 4lb last week despite Nottingham). Lee was not happy about this.

‘You need to take the Lucky Orange Aero. It’s a thing. You can’t start a thing and then take it away. You didn’t take it on Saturday and look what happened.’

I stood my ground. They’d have to learn to win without the magic powers of my chocolate. I wasn’t getting fat for their benefit. I was wearing my lucky Fritidsklader tee and that would have to be enough.

At 1100 we left the house to meet the Blackpool Supporters Association coach at the Saddle. We were on time but the coach wasn’t and we waited in the rain for ten minutes. I’d got my big waterproof coat and hat on and got my brolly out. I don’t mind a bit of rain.

I’d been up since 0730 finishing off my Football Tourist’s Guide to Nottingham so I could relax on the southbound journey.

Now I’m spending more time on the road (and railway) I’m finding time to read again. I’d recently started reading the latest Peter James (‘Left You Dead’) and was looking forward to getting stuck back into reading on the road to Reading. And that’s exactly what I did.

We stopped at Norton Canes Services and I headed off in search of some healthy food. Was that a thing at service stations? There was nothing tempting in Spar, so I headed to WH Smith, where I picked up a punnet of grapes. I took them to the self-checkouts where the walls were covered with Lucky Orange Aeros on special offer.

I shouldn’t really but…was it fate? Fuck it. I bought one. Lee was pleased. I handed it to him to hide from me so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat it.

Back on the coach I buried my head back in my book and got to the halfway point by the time we stopped for our pre-match libations.

We were stopping in Newbury this afternoon.

(‘Newbury / Newbury / We’re the famous Blackpool FC and we’re going to Newbury.’)

I’d never been there before so spent much of the previous day steadfastly researching the pubs of Newbury. My criteria was different now I was on my diet: I wanted a pub with a healthy food offering. This was not a mean feat in Newbury, where they apparently like their food dirty. My search was therefore fruitless (literally).

I was still searching on the journey down. I refused to go to Spoons. It wasn’t going to happen.

I eventually resorted to restaurants and came up with Blues Smokehouse, which only opened on 1st October. Brisket and Burnt Ends? That’ll do nicely. Sorted.

As the rest of the coach piled into Spoons, we headed down the road (in the wrong direction initially) and back again to Blues. Only to find the doors closed. Oh. Well it was 1645 now – perhaps it opened at 1700? We retired to a tempting pub we’d passed whilst getting lost to research this on my phone.

The Spare Wheel

This is the sister pub of The Catherine Wheel, which we’d also passed. This was purely a tap room, with craft beers aplenty on offer.

I knew I was going to like it even before I set foot inside. I mean, look at the doorstop.

We were greeted at the door and directed to ‘sit anywhere’. We were offered the options of table service or ordering via the app. Ooh the app sounded exciting.

The beer menu was immense. All I could see was WILD WEATHER leaping out at me (there are some words I simply cannot see past – other examples being ‘curry’ and ‘trifle’).

‘Ooh they’ve got Fierce beer on.’

Oh Lee – you’re supposed to be a good influence on the drinking front. Now I wanted more beer.

But the force of Slimming World is strong. My eyes became drawn to the foot of the beer menu.

Cast your mind back to my virtual pub crawls from last season – in particular Ipswich (remember them?). I found a brewery called Big Drop who specialised in alcohol free beers that actually sounded delicious. And here they were on a menu in front of me when I’m on a diet. It was clearly meant to be.

Look how the drinks were presented.

And here’s what I had.

So, how was it? Well it was a little more watery and thinner than a regular milk stout. But the flavour was good. And I think after a couple of alcoholic beers if I switched to this I would possibly forget it had no alcohol in it and could happily continue on it. And indeed I could probably enjoy a session drinking this alone. It beats Diet Coke and J20 hands down.

Can you spot me on the beer board?

There was an impressive haul of tees adorning the wall behind us and one in particular took my eye. Hmm. Should I buy one?

Oh it was so cool though. I began to imagine myself pulling it on when I was feeling particularly morningy.

‘How much are your tees please?’

‘Ooh which one?’

‘The Wild Weather one.’

‘Oh I’m sorry. The only ones we have on sale are our own ones. That Wild Weather one is really popular. I used to work for them. They’re out of print now. We’ve been offered a lot of money for that but we’re not selling.’

I slunk back to my seat. I’d gone from being nonplussed about this tee to imagining myself wearing it and REALLY wanting it. But it wasn’t to be. Que sera sera. Whatever will be will be. No t-shirt from Newbury. Que sera sera.

I remembered I was supposed to be looking up what time Blues Smokehouse opened. But that turned out not to matter because, according to their website, it was fully booked this evening. Drat. Where were we going to eat now?

Slug & Lettuce

Not my usual choice of pub but beggars can’t be choosers. And it was actually really nice.

It was nicely decked out for Halloween.

And there were also a couple of token snowflakes by way of promo for Christmas.

I ordered a Diet Coke and a Veggie Thai Curry with Cauliflower Rice and Chicken.

I was proud of myself for practising good diet behaviour whilst at the same time researching pubs. I hope I’m doing ok Martin.

Then it was back on the coach for the short hop to Reading.

Reading v Blackpool

The coach pulled up outside the ground around 1915 for a 2000 kick off.

I wasn’t happy about the late kick off; we’d be late enough getting home as it was. But this did now allow me time to chat with a few friends before kick off.

Note to self: when there’s a food kiosk outside the ground, use it to buy a drink to take inside the ground.

Stood outside by the burger van I asked Lee if he’d got the Lucky Orange Aero. He patted his pockets and looked alarmed.

‘Shit! No! I’ve left it on the coach! I’ll run and get it…’

There were loads of my friends here tonight, as many of them live down south and attend games local to them. This match was more sparsely attended than most of our matches this season and, if I’m being honest, I prefer being amongst a smaller crowd.

When I started following Blackpool we were in Division Four – and it was almost 20 years before I’d see us climb out of the lower leagues. By that time I’d become conditioned to being in small away followings and pretty much knowing everyone at some matches. It certainly wasn’t hard to find my friends in an away end. I found the Premier League season particularly hard in terms of following Blackpool away. Who were these people? I didn’t recognise any of them. That’s why I was so uncomfortable at Forest at the weekend. And perhaps why I’m more comfortable at non league matches.

Here was Houstie and Karen and Paul and John and Phil. Here was Rob from Bournemouth with more Dorset Apple Cake for the travelling Tangerine Army. Rob is a legend. I also met his dad, whose voice appeared at the end of the Bournemouth video.

I spent so long nattering that it was ten to kick off before I joined the queue for the refreshment kiosk for my customary bottle of water. Whilst the queue was short, it moved painfully slowly. I read the menu for something to do.

EXCITING PIE ALERT!!!

Damn this diet. And how much for a bottle of water? Did I really need one, given I wasn’t dehydrated from alcohol intake? Hmm apple cake though. Why isn’t this queue moving?

Finally towards the front of the queue, I realised there was one man serving two queues. What madness was this? The man at the front of the other queue engaged in friendly banter with the man serving because he had a Blackpool logo on his pinny. FFS. Just take your drink and bugger off! But I did appreciate this was a delightful encounter and the man serving was giggling his head off so I controlled my impatience.

At last I got my water – and an impulse purchase of a packet of popcorn for Lee – and made my way up to my seat.

And up and up and up and up. This was a steep stand! And up and up and up and up. Until I finally reached row GG.

And then promptly moved because there were people standing up blocking the view of the nearside goal.

What can I say about the first half? Blackpool tore out of the traps, creating chance after chance after chance but failing to put any of them away. Reading won a free kick and scored from it.

It was at this point I asked Lee to hand me the Lucky Orange Aero. It clearly wasn’t working in his pocket and needed to be about my person to benefit directly from my witchcraft.

Then Dan Grimshaw – making only his second first team appearance, the first being on Saturday at Forest – put his defence under pressure with a short pass which ultimately led to a second goal for Reading. I was mortified for him. Come on Aero! Why aren’t you working now?

Blackpool continued to win free kicks and corners but still lack a decent set piece taker. The refs might as well not award us any, for all the use we make of them. I’ve long since stopped getting excited even when we win a free kick in a ‘dangerous’ position.

At half time it was 2-0 but I knew this match wasn’t over. Reading were very fortunate to be leading. Would they rest on their laurels, thinking ‘struggling Blackpool’ were dead and buried? If we could just get one back then who knows…?

I was stopped on the concourse by a desperate Adam at half time.

‘Have you got your Lucky Orange Aero?’

‘Well yes but I’m not eating it because I’m on a diet.’

‘But you’ve got to eat it!’

He was pleading now.

‘You’ve just got to. Just break a couple of pieces off and put them in your mouth and eat them. You’ve got to!’

Lee was right; this really was a thing now. The Blackpool fans were depending on me.

But I wasn’t sure the Lucky Orange Aero even worked midweek, as we’d lost against Huddersfield on a Tuesday night. Nonetheless I moved it to my inside pocket and resolved to get it out as and when required.

And that’s exactly what I did. I knew I didn’t need to actually eat the Lucky Orange Aero – that had been proven at Wembley, when we’d won despite my Aeros (I took three as it was such an important match) melting in the hot sun, rendering them practically impossible to eat.

Tonight I simply took the Aero out of my inside pocket and held it and caressed it and waved it in the air and later bit the corner to add that little bit of extra contact.

Dear reader, it only bloody worked!

Boom! Owen Dale scored off the bench on his debut.

Boom! Jerry Yates – on fire all night – got his third in three matches.

Boom! After about six refuted penalty appeals we were finally awarded one and Yates rammed it home from the spot (before promptly being subbed because Critch infuriatingly ALWAYS does this when a player is on a hat trick).

What. A. Comeback.

Quite honestly that second half was a worldbeating machine against schoolboys. Reading offered nothing. And Blackpool were outstanding.

And so it came to pass that Blackpool came out 3-2 winners.

This is why I do what I do – getting up at stupid o’clock and travelling hundreds of miles and spending all of my disposable income on football, which is a thoroughly miserable business quite a lot of the time. It is all worth it for nights like this.

Here’s our video of the whole adventure:

Of course we floated home hours quicker than the journey would have seemed with a different result. I wrote this blog on the northbound journey to Norton Canes before catching up on Corrie on the remainder of the journey.

I’ve learned a little more about the Lucky Orange Aero tonight:

1. It works for WEDNESDAY night matches (I’m still unsure about Tuesdays).

2. It might not need to be eaten but it does need to be given a lot of attention during a match to work.

3. It sulks if you forget to take it (‘if you’re only going to pick me up halfway through your journey then I’ll only work for half the match…’).

Watch this space for further developments as the season progresses…

Next Up: Preston at home: An Actual Derby.

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