Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Blackpool v Luton Town: A Day to Forget & A Night to Remember

I woke up buzzing this morning. The football makes me feel like that sometimes – although not as often as it used to. But this morning’s excitement was because I was going to the gig of the year: The Big Bash. I’ve loved watching The Lancashire Hotpots for several years now but this was their biggest gig ever, supported by Black Lace and The Wurzels, at Manchester Academy.

I leapt out of bed and blasted out Black Lace as I conducted my morning toilette. I’d got the Agadoo moves cracked and I was ready for this! Here’s what I put on.

I also swapped my handbag for my bumbag – more practical for the dancing to come tonight – and was pleasantly surprised to find four fivers in there. Are these still legal tender? I haven’t seen one in 18 months in this new, predominantly-cashless society.

The gig was hours away but I was itching to get moving and at least feel like I was on my way there, so I left the house at noon. After all, we had no food in the house (in a bid to empty the freezer to defrost it), so I needed to hunt down some breakfast somewhere.

Oh my the weather! Blackpool was blustery and it was also raining. As I walked down the road the cold rain stabbed my face and I pulled up my Fierce snood to protect my cold cheeks. I couldn’t spend all day wearing wet jeans, so there was only one thing for it. Pub!

The Highfield

I called in here for a hot breakfast – and also to have a beer. My fellow Hotpotters were already on the lash in Manchester ahead of tonight’s gig and I didn’t want to be too far behind them. I had no time for pre-bash drinks this evening (or so I thought) so I needed to get started immediately.

In terms of cask ale, they only had Doom Bar on but that wasn’t a problem. My first taste of cask post Lockdown I was a Doom Bar in this pub, so I had fond memories of it (any cask would have done at that point). There appeared to be a bit of a problem with it on this occasion, as it was coming out all frothy, but the barrel was checked and there was plenty left. I was asked to taste it to see if it was acceptable and, as I had my drinking head on (just as well, as things transpired) and it smelled and tasted fine, I accepted the pint and took a seat.

As I waited for my breakfast, I was amused to listen in on the conversation a man was having with Siri about tropical fish. It was nice that he was doing his research. Much as I love the serenity I feel from watching fish gliding around a tank, I wouldn’t trust myself not to kill them. I kill most plants (even a cactus, which took some doing), although our Venus Flytrap, Jaws, is still thriving.

Having been chastised by a reader for not having toast with my breakfast last week, I resolved to have some today. There was no brown bread so I had to settle for white. I left half the toast, the hash browns and the sausages but ate the rest, which included a tomato and mushroom hidden from view in this pic. It was a nice breakfast and I would recommend it. Sam behind the bar is also a big Blackpool fan so it was nice to go and support her.

But now it was time to brave the elements again for the next leg of my journey. I set out this morning with no plan and had no idea where I would end up next.

Waterloo Music Bar

This imposing pub was too inviting to walk past. The Waterloo was a frontrunner for the pre-match Pub Of Choice when we returned to Bloomfield Road after the boycott. However there are often ticketed music events here on a Saturday, which rule out its availability some weeks. But it was quiet today, so I seized the opportunity to have a drink here.

I was greeted warmly on arrival by the staff and customer (singular) alike and I remained at the bar chatting to them. I liked it here.

Even the beers here are music-themed.

Ooh a stout! I’ll have a half of that please. It was lush but I had no idea what I was drinking because of the branding. This was the start of what would prove to be a very tricky day on Untappd. How could I check in a beer I couldn’t identify?

I love the quirkiness of this pub, which is packed with music memorabilia and random stuff.

This was the first time I noticed the motorbikes on the ceiling – and also the lights made from drums.

There was also a mini over the door.

But my favourite was the dog gallery.

There has been a lot of work done on this place in recent years. I love a pub that is decorated with love and there is so much of that here.

It’s a brilliant music venue, too, with some great bands on. I saw Buckcherry and The Treatment here a couple of years back. Sadly the former have cancelled their UK tour because of COVID so I’ve missed out on them this month; and the latter play here the day we are away at Luton, so those pesky Hatters are getting in the way of two gigs this season, which is a nuisance.

Anyway, check out their listings here and get something booked.

Before I left there was a trickle of Seasiders arriving for pre-match drinks and I was pleased to be recognised by one of them (and also later the man sitting next to me in the ground) for my writing (as opposed to my more recent fame on YouTube on Lee Charles TV).

But I needed to move on to complete my hat-trick of pre-match pubs.

Shickers Micropub

The warmth of this little pub was too much to resist. Again I received a nice welcome here and was asked what I wanted before I’d had chance to survey the pump clips.

Obvs it was the locally-brewed stout. I wasn’t sure I’d tried one of this Blackpool-based brewery’s beers before, although I have seen them on sale at pubs I haven’t been in at the time (via the Blackpool Fylde & Wyre CAMRA Facebook group).

And here was my next Untappd challenge of the day: it wasn’t on there and I couldn’t remember how to add a new beer to the app, despite having done so a couple of times previously. I googled it, though, and got there in the end.

I took a seat at one of the cosy tables for two, plugged my phone into the lamp to charge and was pleased to see Buxton v Morecambe on a tv I hadn’t even realised was there.

Loving the tinsel, but it did cover up the scoreboard, as I later discovered.

It was 1400 by now so I checked out Blackpool’s starting line-up on Twitter. Ooh Chris Maxwell was back in goal and Jerry Yates up top. Bowler and Lavery still on the bench though. But picking the team is Critch’s job and he knows what he’s doing.

Now onwards to Bloomfield Road…

Blackpool v Luton Town

The walk down Lytham Road to the ground was a blustery affair. At times I was stopped mid-stride by a particularly strong gust of wind. A Turkish barber said hello from the shelter of his doorway as he observed the awe-inspiring Blackpool weather. There weren’t many of us nutcases out there braving it because why would you? What a day I had picked to walk to the ground! It wasn’t cold, though (although my face would disagree). Not Birmingham cold like last week. It was 7C today and I had chosen not to wear my Blackpool FC bodywarmer and didn’t think I would need it.

When I reached the shelter of the ground, I visited the Ladies and was glad of the warm water. I then caught up with Karen to hand over her Huddersfield ticket and discuss what I wanted for Christmas now I was on a diet (it’s usually beer and chocolate). I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t beer or chocolate, so I suggested the New Bristol Brewery Stouts of Christmas (writing it down here to remind you, Karen, as you hinted you might not remember). I mean, look at this beauty.

I was also pleased to meet Simmsy, a friend from Twitter who comes over from Northern Ireland to watch Blackpool.

I then joined the queue for the refreshment kiosk. I’ve got the taste for Bovril now, so bought one of these.

It has been recommended that I try this with a sprinkling of black pepper – apparently a game changer, giving this winter warmer an extra kick – so I will have to give that a try.

I also bought a bottle of water for Lee and was annoyed that this was presented to me with the lid taken off. Is this yet another case of a civilised adult human being being penalised for the actions of idiots who may or may not use a bottle of water as a weapon? Because I’m starting to get pissed off with this now. It’s one thing having the lid removed at a random away game occasionally but quite another to have this happen at home games. It’s a bloody nuisance, impacts on my enjoyment of the day and, true to form, half of the bottle was wasted when it was accidentally kicked over during the match. If you want to keep the lid, install cup holders please. And that’s not even to mention that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and the health implications of carrying around an open bottle of water that people could accidentally spit into while they are talking to you (this happened to me earlier this season). Please reconsider this move, Blackpool. I’m a human being and would like to be treated as one. If people are throwing bottles, identify them and ban them; don’t punish me for something someone might do. I appreciate you’re being pre-emptive but this negatively impacts the fan experience and that is not a good thing. Rant over.

The match was shit and I don’t intend reliving it here. It’s done and forgotten. We lost 3-0 and it did get cold at half time and that’s all you’re getting. Oh that and this vlog.

I left early as was always intended to catch the 1728 train to the gig. Does that make me a bad fan? As I argued with a Hull fan on Twitter only this morning, the players don’t turn up for 90 minutes week in, week out, so I’m not going to feel bad about leaving early once in a while when I have somewhere else to be. The club don’t own me for 90 minutes; I’m there because I choose to be. Or not.

The walk down Central Drive into town was hard. When I walk alone my mind drifts off into thinking mode and it was important that I took myself off somewhere else as Blackpool was grim today. Again my face was stabbed by cold rain and I couldn’t walk in a straight line for puddles everywhere. I narrowly avoided being drowned by a passing car around the halfway point.

At Blackpool North I knew I needed to have something to eat and that my options would be limited. I made the best of it.

Whilst sneaking in a cheeky pre-gig drink to help me play catch-up. This fayre offered the added bonus of negating the requirement for a mask on the short hop to Manchester Oxford Road, as I was eating and drinking for the entire journey. Whilst there has been an uplift in the number of masks sported on trains, it is nowhere near 100%. To be honest, I’m not convinced of the requirement for masks on trains unless they are rammed (which this route hasn’t been post-COVID) and think people should be allowed to use their judgement.

The Big Bash

When I reached Manchester, I was due to meet Lisa and Stu at the station but clearly this was one of those stations where there are two exits – and they were at the other. We found each other in the end, though, and made our way towards the venue. It was a 20-minute walk but took us a little longer as we made a little diversion.

As we approached BrewDog, Lisa got excited and started doing something on her phone, muttering something about getting £12 worth of beer for £4. That sounded like a great deal but we didn’t really understand what was happening and we were running short on time now. Nonetheless, we headed in – it was a nice place and also warm – and Lisa approached the bar. The barman immediately ran off and emerged with a carrier bag, which he handed to Lisa. This was quite exciting.

Outside, we opened the bag to see what was inside.

Ooh a beer for each of us! We left the bottle opening to Stu as we cracked open our cans to enjoy on the short walk to the Academy. Pah! Who didn’t have time for pre-gig drinks? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The Puca Berry tasted like pop – a really fruity drop – and it was very easy to quaff. And happily there was a recycling bin between the pub and the venue, so we could dispose of our now empty cans and bottle on the way.

There was a short queue for the venue but it went down quickly. Our COVID passes were checked, then our tickets.

The main room (Academy 1) was already packed. Black Lace were onstage and the dancing had begun. They were great – what a warm up act to get the party started! But before we could take our positions down the front, we had to queue for the cloakroom as Lisa had a Big Coat. I toyed with the idea of putting my coat in the cloakroom but I wanted a quick exit and it fitted fine tied round my waist. I used this time to go and get the beers in. I was pleased to see some craft beer in the fridge, which was Shindigger Something (Session, I think, but another question mark for Untappd), so I got a round of those in, plus a lager for Carol.

At the merch stall, while I was doing the Agadoo with my pint in my hand whilst taking care to keep a safe distance from the merch table, I honed in on the tangerine and white Egg Sausage Chips & Beans tee which Dickie had alerted me to.

‘We’ve only got it in a small.’

‘Oh well it looks quite big and I am on a diet. I’ll take it anyway.’

Dear reader, it only bloody fits!

Diet win!

Whilst doing the YMCA moves (really tricky with beer in hand), I also picked up a 2022 calendar (signed), which includes ‘essential dates for your diary’ such as ‘Dress Like A Hotpot Day’ and ‘Sausage Sandwich Sunday’.

I love these guys because they’re bonkers like me (and everyone else in this room tonight). The thing with football is you get the different factions within the fanbase – the political ones, the ones who stand up, the ones who sit down with flasks and blankets, the ones who can’t be trusted with a bottle of water, the angry ones who want to vent, the singy ones, the quiet ones, etc. But us Hotpotters are all singy and dancy and boozy and don’t give a hoot who sees us as we let our hair down in style and chant ‘GRAVY GRAVY GRAVY’. Dear reader, I make no bones about this, these are my people.

We made our way to take a good position at the front just as Black Lace began ‘Do The Conga’, which we didn’t join so as to maintain our position. We did try and shame the 6’4 man in front of us into giving up his position in favour of a couple of short Hotpotters but he wasn’t for moving even though he would have been able to see perfectly well over our heads. Sadly he didn’t join the conga either.

Next up were The Wurzels and frankly we didn’t have a clue what was going on there. I get that it’s a similar genre but they don’t speak my language (and I don’t drink cider). Looking around, we could see that lots of people were enjoying themselves. Perhaps they were drinking cider, I don’t know. All I knew was they weren’t for me, although I did quite enjoy their Kaiser Chiefs cover.

‘Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby

Ooh arr ooh arr ooh arr’

For me, I’d have preferred a tweak to the billing here, with The Wurzels on first, then Black Lace to pick up the pace and get us dancing, then The Lancashire Hotpots.

By now I’d met Mike (another like-minded Hotpotter) and we escaped to the bar to get another round in and I took the opportunity for a strategic trip to the Ladies so I didn’t need to go during the main act.

And then, what can I say about The Lancashire Hotpots? They’re quite simply bloody brilliant live. They’re just so Blackpool (despite being from St Helens): pure joy and fun and laughter and beer and chippy teas and gravy.

I’ve been Hotpotting since 2015/6 – during the depths of my depression – and they gave me a lift when I really needed one, when there was no Blackpool FC in my life during the boycott. I listened to all their albums with fresh ears and they made me chuckle through my tears.

For years I’ve been going to gigs on my own, finally escaping in the music to the point where I didn’t care who was hearing me sing or watching me dance (even filming me dance, as someone did at the Blackpool Grand last time when I was dad dancing). But now – post-lockdown – I am making friends with fellow Hotpotters and singing and dancing and laughing with them. And it really enhances the experience. For all that I thought I was not really a people person and loved being locked down away from people, I now realise that people can really elevate experiences to another level. And I love my new Hotpot family: Lisa, Stu, Mike, Natasha, Nigel, Carol and all the Hotpotters I have yet to meet.

And we all love Bernard Thresher and Dickie Ticker and Bob Wriggles and Billy McCartney and Kenny Body and Ron Seal. They are our heroes and our friends and our family. And it was wonderful to enjoy this very special Christmas party with them.

Can you spot me down the front?

We were ushered out of the venue quickly after the gig but I remembered to pick up my new tee and calendar. Mike kindly escorted me back to the station and I boarded the last train home at 2333. I initiated ‘don’t fall asleep’ mode by plugging in my AirPods and catching up on last night’s Corrie. At 0050 (slightly later than advertised), Lee collected me from Blackpool North and I got home safely.

Moral of the story: when life gives you lemons, choose a Chippy Tea.

Next up: My annual pilgrimage to Wigan. And Derby away.

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