Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Stoke City: The Shovels & Cryptic Crossword

After three wins on the bounce it was time to return to Bloomfield Road for a night under the floodlights. As I’m doing well on my diet (8.5lb down in three weeks) I again avoided the pub so I’ll cheat a little here and give you a review of a pub I visited recently (as I’ve had complaints when I don’t include pubs in my blog).

The Shovels

This Greene King pub has a large outdoor seating area – and is equally massive on the inside. It can feel like a completely different pub depending on where you sit. It’s full of nooks, window seats, balconies…there’s even a pool table, which I only discovered recently when I saw them advertising for pool players.

Here are the beer offerings from my most recent visit.

I have visited several times and note that there is always a dark beer on. Kirkby Lonsdale and Big Bog seem to be favoured breweries but I’ve also enjoyed Conwy beers as well as the lush Titanic Plum Porter.

They offer a CAMRA discount on real ales – and have also recently introduced a ‘buy five pints, get one free’ offer to reward regulars, which is a nice initiative. This pub is becoming a regular haunt of mine.

The food is good here, too. Happily, their Chick’n’Mix provides a SlimmingWorld friendly option, so I can dine here without worries about falling off plan.

But the best meal I have had here by far is the Mango Chilli Chicken Skewer – it’s bloody delicious!

And the bonus was that I was still hungry afterwards, so I got to try the Cherry Bakewell Tart.

NB this was pre-diet…

The Shovels is so dog-friendly that it’s almost tempting me to get a dog! Check this out.

Anyone got a dog I can borrow on 3rd December…?

In summary, good beer (with discounts), good food, dog-friendly, diet-friendly…what’s not to love about The Shovels?

Blackpool v Stoke City

Lee and I headed straight to the ground for tonight’s match. It had been getting decidedly nippier this week, so I decided it was time to give a debut to my new hat from Fritidsklader.

I layered up, too, with my thermal vest, Fritidsklader tee, fleece and Big Coat. I also went for the thermal trousers becuase my legs have been getting a bit cold in my jeans on recent walks and I’m still refusing to wear tights post-lockdown.

We arrived at the ground around half an hour before kick-off and I joined the medium-sized queue for the refreshment kiosk to buy my customary bottle of water. The queue seemed to be moving quicker tonight, which was encouraging. Perhaps the staff are getting up to speed. While I waited, I observed the nachos at the back of the kiosk and wondered if anyone actually bought them. I should pay more attention to what people are buying.

I still don’t know my seat number without referring to my season ticket (I only moved there last season and only sat in it for one match, when we were allowed back in for the play-off semi-final), so I made my customary check and headed up the steps.

I’m usually stopped on the steps before I get to my seat and tonight it was Chris, who shoved the Telegraph cryptic crossword in my face.

‘Give it me back when you’ve finished it.’

Chris lives in the West Midlands and we often used to travel to matches together, tackling the crossword on the train and usually finishing it between us. But I’m out of the habit now and certainly not in the head of the crossword compiler. I took my seat and was keen to set my brain to work on the missing clues.

I’ve spent a good percentage of matches on my own over the years: travelling to away games on my own, sitting on my own in my designated seat at away games, sitting on my own at home games when my friend and neighbour isn’t there. But there’s a community – a family – forming around me now. Stephen wanted to talk about his last visit to Sheffield United, which had been our previous win there in 1977, when we won 5-1. And I received offers of help for the crossword.

‘Two down is PNE ARE SHIT’.

I completed one answer almost immediately. It was really one of the long clues that was the key to completing it.

What on earth was it? I couldn’t get it out of my head for the whole match (I’m even thinking about it now).

The match kicked off and Blackpool settled in quickly. We were looking sprightly up front. Jerry Yates was looking hungry – and we were causing Stoke no end of trouble down the right hand flank, where Gabriel linked up well with Mitchell. It was beginning to look too easy to get past Stoke and I worried that their manager would sort out their defensive chaos at half time. Could we score before then? The game became feistier as Stoke became more frustrated and the hard tackles started flying in before we even managed to get out of our own half. The first half was a booking fest. And it ended 0-0.

At half time I noticed some new signage on the West Stand.

There was a new sponsor for this stand, too – a broadband provider. I wondered if we’d finally get decent signal on our phones in the ground now?

On the subject of ground improvements, we could actually hear Tony Parr, the stadium announcer, tonight. At half time he interviewed Charlie Adam on the pitch and we could hear every word. This was a nice improvement to the fan experience. I’m getting into this remaining in my seat at half time lark – it beats battling with the crowds on the concourse.

I did pop down, though, to return Chris’s crossword to him. I hadn’t finished it (although I did finally figure out the solution to that pesky clue the following morning, when an error was identified in one of the answers providing one of its letters).

As I waited for Chris, I was approached by a passing Seasider.

‘Have you got your Lucky Orange Aero?’

‘Yes – don’t worry, I’ve got it in my pocket.’

This was the archetypal game of two halves. The second half was all Stoke – and they did manage to score, after hacking us into submission as the game progressed.

Our corners and free-kicks are so bad I even came up with a little song for them, adapting The Lancashire Hotpots’ ‘Chippy Tea’.

‘Her inspiration’s Ready Steady Cook

Can we score from free-kicks…?’

I’ll leave you to add the rhyme to that line…

The game flew by and we lost 1-0.

Here’s the match vlog.

I’d say this is conclusive evidence that the Lucky Orange Aero doesn’t work for midweek home games. Was it because I was too preoccupied with that pesky crossword clue and not giving my Aero enough attention? On our way out of the ground, someone suggested the Aero (which works perfectly well at away games) needs to be taken out and shown a few sights before a match. There might be something in that. So that’s it – I’m taking my Aero out for a three-course dinner and entertainment ahead of Saturday’s home match. Let’s see if that does the trick…

Next up: Tony Green’s 75th Birthday Party & QPR at home.

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