Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Birmingham – Part Two: The Bad and The Ugly

(If you missed The Good part of this adventure, please follow this link)

This Football Tourist Guide series came about as a way of surviving a full season following Blackpool on the road. Because it’s hard following your team home and away. I’ve been on the road with Blackpool for 30 years – including the particularly difficult Nigel Worthington years – but this would be Lee’s first season going through this hell, having previously only really done home games. Before the season started, I explained just how hard it was going to be: long days, terrible weather, heartbreaking results. I had been in tears at Lincoln during our last winter on the road, things were that bad. It takes its toll mentally.

Truth be told, it’s been a breeze this season so far – with Blackpool performing heroically and even the weather being unseasonably kind. The joy we had experienced on our travels thus far was to come to an uncompromising end today.

You may recall we were staying at the Park Inn at Bescot and the room was freezing. All night we could hear the sound of traffic on the M6 but it was strangely soothing, like waves on the sea. I’d heard worse noises in hotel rooms at night.

I had an exciting day scheduled today and was looking forward to it very much.

  • 0745 Alarm
  • 0830 Breakfast at Jack & Ada’s in Walsall. This is a cracking caff adjacent to Walsall Bus Station. Last night, Evo had informed me that they now had one of the exhibits from Walsall Illuminations (RIP) erected in the caff. ‘WALSALL ILLUMINATIONS?!’ I can hear you exclaim from here. Yes, it used to be a thing in Walsall Aboretum from 1951-2008 and you had to pay to get in. I went a couple of times to provide a chorus of ‘Blackpool rejects’. I was appalled to discover that they ran coach trips from Blackpool to Walsall for their illuminations.
  • 1000 Chance & Counters board game cafe. I had spotted board game cafes pretty much everywhere on our travels this season and decided it was about time we took one in. This looked particularly appealing, as it offered ten craft beers and jelly beans. I had us booked in for the opening session and was really looking forward to showcasing their offerings and taking in some new games.
  • 1400 Enjoy a nice 35 minute walk to St Andrews to burn off those pints of mild, taking time to observe familiar buildings as well as new things that have popped up since I moved away two years ago.

Today was surely shaping up to be a Good Day?

Now one of the first things I do every morning when I’m heading out – before I get dressed – is check the weather. It’s usually Alexa but, as we were away, I checked the app on my phone. Would I need my thermal vest? I typed in Birmingham and it came up with snow. I shook my phone – that was ridiculous. It was cold but it wasn’t bloody snowing!

And then I opened the curtains to this.

Oh. What do we do now, then? Would the game be called off? Was it safe to drive? Just exactly how cold was it out there? I turned to Twitter – always first with the news. I’ll confess I was hoping for the match to be called off so at least we’d be able to plan our day. But there was nothing, other than loads of Blues fans begging for the game to be called off.

Hmm. Perhaps today wasn’t a bad time to be playing them…?

We decided to ditch our plans for pre-match for road safety reasons. We headed down to the hotel reception (via a rhyming couplet in the lift) to see if we could hunt down some breakfast – after all, there was an onsite restaurant. Happily, we were allowed through for breakfast, so we could stay safe and warm for awhile longer.

Also on the hot breakfast counter were sausages, hash browns and scrambled egg, but I stayed SlimmingWorld safe – also having a fat-free yoghurt and a mug of Earl Grey (black).

The breakfast area was a bit like a treasure hunt, with the mugs hidden on a high shelf that I couldn’t reach (a kind fellow guest got one down for me) and the teaspoons hidden on a low shelf. It wasn’t quite a board game cafe, but that was to be all we were going to get this morning. I called Chance & Counters to regrettably cancel. However I did note they had a cafe in Cardiff – in addition to one in Bristol – so we would still get an opportunity to feature them later in the season.

After breakfast, there was still no indication that the match might be off, so we waited in our room for news. Lee took the opportunity to catch up on his sleep, while I caught up on last night’s Corrie, which made me cry. We were later pleased to see that the tv in the room offered Netflix, so we also took in a couple of episodes of How I Met Your Mother. There was no place for Squid Game on what was supposed to be a joyful away trip.

At 1230 we decided to make a move, which was a little annoying as I had only just figured out how the heating worked in the room and it hadn’t had time to get toasty. We got wrapped up and crunched through the snow to the car at the far end of the car park (Lee always parks as far away as possible, which is at least good exercise). We tapped ‘Birmingham City Football Club’ into the satnav and were on our way. The snow was melting as quickly as it came down so the drive into Birmingham was fine.

We found a parking spot within a five-minute walk of the ground, which we were chuffed with. We had toyed with the idea of taking the train into Birmingham from Bescot but this way would avoid standing around after the game in the cold. Wouldn’t it…?

We popped into the supermarket at the St Andrews Retail Park for some supplies before heading back to the car and towards the ground.

Because we were approaching the ground from a different angle than usual, we weren’t clear on our whereabouts, so decided to seek help from a friendly steward.

‘Excuse me – where’s the away end please?’

‘Well, you just get back on your donkey and f*** off back to Blackpool.’

Welcome to Birmingham City!

We manoeuvred the conversation into jovial banter and eventually extracted some directions from the stewards but I wasn’t entirely trusting of their directions, given the opening encounter. They were correct, though, and we soon found ourselves at the visitors’ entrance.

I left Lee behind at this point, as he was waiting around to meet a couple of fellow YouTubers to do a collab. I was far too cold to be standing around and was keen to get into the ground and find our seats. There was also a coach just arriving and I was hoping to avoid the concourse before it got too busy.

But I was too late. The concourse was rammed. I froze like a startled rabbit and my eyes zigzagged in search of the Ladies. I spotted a sign and mazed my way through. I felt ice creeping up my back as I sat on the loo and I was only there for less than a minute. Wrapped back up again, I was greeted with fucking cold water and paper towels. This was not a warm welcome.

I found my seat and it was – of course – in the coldest spot in the away end, right in the corner over a tunnel and close to the home fans. I remained in situ because at least it was unlikely that the standing up brigade would flock to these seats and block my view. I would brave the cold if I could sit down all match.

I had heard that large sections of the ground had been closed off since last December because a safety certificate could not be obtained. I noted that the lower sections of two stands remained closed off and wondered if that was because they remained unsafe.

I waited until around ten minutes into the match before I headed down to the deserted concourse to find a means of getting warm.

I took one glove off to send this Tweet and it took until half time for my hand to thaw out.

So now to the match. If I’m being perfectly honest, this was one of those games that is so fucking cold I just want it to be over. The conditions override pretty much everything else. I don’t even care who wins, really. I find it impossible to think of anything other than being cold. The last time this happened was an FA Cup match at Bloomfield Road two years ago when I was sitting (probably standing) in the North Stand and I hated every minute of it. I can’t even remember who we were playing (was it Accy or Morecambe?) or what the result was. This has also happened a lot at Auto Windscreens / LDV / whatever it’s called now midweek matches. And at Newport County in the FA Cup. It is usually a cup thing, I think. But it’s most definitely a thing. I simply don’t like being this cold at matches. And yet I still go. This makes no sense.

From what I could gather, it was actually an entertaining, end-to-end match, with both teams defending excellently but being a bit shit up front. Blues managed to score and we didn’t and – as if you hadn’t already guessed from the crappy day we were having – we went home with no points.

Except we couldn’t go home.

There was a line of police blocking the exit gates, keeping the Blackpool fans penned in. Was that sort of thing even allowed any more? We just wanted to get five minutes round the corner to the warmth of our car. What was the problem here? I hadn’t heard any announcement to say we were being kept in – and I couldn’t remember this happening since Deepdale 2007, when I’d assumed Wes’s cheeky chipped penalty had incited a riot amongst Preston fans.

As the crowd swelled, yet more lines of police broke through to take their position at the front, blocking our exit. They did at least say excuse me, although they didn’t stop to explain what they were doing. A conga formed behind the last line of police making their way through, which made me laugh heartily. I saw balloons drifting overhead as I wondered what we had done to deserve such treatment today. We were just here to have a good time – as we always are. This clearly wasn’t allowed at Birmingham City.

Dear reader, you know we seek joy everywhere we go. This was simply not possible on this occasion, on this day. As the police batons came raining down from above onto the Blackpool fans at the front, there was a backward surge as innocent fans shrinked away from the violence, at the same time as the people at the back were still trying to get forward to get away from the ground. I found myself crushed in the middle of all this and fearing for my life because there was no escape. I have never experienced anything like this at a football match in 30 years on my travels. It was disgusting and completely unnecessary.

Here’s Lee’s video. You can see me just in front in my Fritidsklader bobble hat.

As things began to settle down, I decided I wasn’t having any more of this and I pushed my way forward. I’d rather take my chances that the police wouldn’t dare to hit a 5’2 woman than risk getting crushed to death. I took the opportunity to follow a woman and children through the barrier and I was not stopped as I did so.

But where was Lee? I didn’t feel too bad for leaving him behind as he had run off with no thought for me when we were being chased by an angry farmer’s dog on a lockdown walk. Mercifully he soon called and he was safely out too. Finally we could head back to the car and get warm and get away. Couldn’t we?

Of course not! For this was one of those days. That ‘great’ parking space we had found left us stuck in traffic and it was an hour until we even got past the ground. But at least we were warm now we were in the car – small mercies and all that.

When we finally got back to the Park Inn at Bescot we were starving, so we headed back to the restaurant for a hot meal to get us through the journey home (we had already decided we weren’t staying another night, for fear of the snow freezing and conditions becoming more hazardous).

Now we were finally clear of Birmingham, it seemed our luck was finally on the turn. Not only had we just got in ahead of a coach party, who were expected 20 minutes later, but there was Chicken Jalfrezi on the menu.

If ever an evening called for a curry, tonight was it. I’d earned that!

When we returned to our room to collect our things, it was nice and toasty. Bloody typical, now we were just leaving…

I posted our room keys into the jar of unspeakable liquid and we made our way northbound. The Birmingham playlist could fuck right off, so I put on some Christmas tunes to lighten the mood.

It was around 2300 by the time we got home and we retired straight to bed. That was one to forget. I don’t like reporting grim stuff but, I’m sorry, I couldn’t gloss over what happened today by pretending everything was rosy. And if that’s the experience that Birmingham City want to offer away fans then you might well be better off staying at home.

Here’s our video of our adventures this weekend, predominantly focusing on ‘The Good’:

Next up: Luton at home & The Big Bash