Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Derby County v Blackpool

After my all-day session in Wigan the previous day, when my alarm went off at 0600 this morning, I quickly decided to turn it off and go back to sleep. I had planned on researching our Football Tourist’s Guide to Derby but, frankly, we have now reached the time of year when football begins to become a bit of a chore. And, of course, recent results have not helped in that regard. We would still go to the game, of course, because that’s what we do.

Plans for the day had included:

But further details on all that will have to wait until our next visit.

Today was to be our first trip in our new car, which was exciting. We’d filled her up but had forgotten to buy food for the journey. I grabbed a couple of Alpen Light bars to tide me over, as well as a bottle of sugar free pop from the drinks cupboard. And off we went, later than advertised at 1050.

It was raining (of course it was raining, we were off form) so it was the rain playlist today.

The new car has Apple CarPlay, so that was all very exciting.

I realised I had no idea where we were going to park when we got there, so I researched this online. I almost pre-paid for parking at the ground before realising this didn’t guarantee us a space. We decided to leave it until we got there; we should arrive in plenty of time.

I’ve learned to be tactical with service station stops now: they must have an M&S or a Waitrose – that way I am assured of having healthy food options. We stopped at Knutsford on the way down (M&S), where I picked up some turkey breast slices (as close to a Christmas sandwich as I was going to get) and melon, mango and pineapple. On top of my cereal bars, I was confident that would see me through until after the match.

We arrived at Pride Park (or whatever it’s called these days) around 1330. We were directed to the designated away fans parking nearby, which cost £6 (cheaper than the car park at the ground).

We now had time to wander round and take in our surroundings – something I don’t do enough of at away grounds. There is often a lot to see – and Derby was no exception.

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor

There was a mobile club shop…

…and no shortage of mobile food vendors (none with healthy offerings, of course – why is that not a thing?).

My curiosity was aroused by a man selling the latest monthly magazine. Was that a fanzine? I ambled over to have a nose. I learned that it was, in fact, a new monthly publication from the club in lieu of a match programme. It looked a good quality, glossy magazine and was priced at £5. I was handed one to have a leaf through. It’s pretty ingenious, really, combining more than one match into one magazine. In my non-league days, I often came across clubs who would have one programme covering two matches. Indeed my fanzines have a shelf life of a few matches before a new one comes out. I didn’t buy this one today because it was a fanzine I had been hoping for. If I buy a programme, I won’t read it and I will keep it forever and I have enough of those lying around the house already.

The ground put me in mind of Bristol City in that there was so much to do and see around the ground. There was even a cafe on the corner of the stadium.

This was not the same level as Ashton Gate, though. And it was certainly way less vibrant here, although that was hardly surprising, given the current woes at Derby County.

But my favourite thing of all – which I had observed when we had been driving round looking for the car park earlier – was the Salvation Army brass band playing Christmas carols.

There was a very tall snowman here, too, as well as Santa and an elf.

Santa had a sack full of selection boxes to hand out to children, which I thought was a lovely touch.

Lee and I were approached by Kevin, a Derby fan who is a big fan of Lee’s YouTube channel, Lee Charles TV. Lee interviewed Kevin for the match vlog and I later chatted with him separately. He was referring to things that had been covered in the Blackpool Supporters Trust AGM (filmed by Lee) and I had to confess that he was more up to date than me, as I hadn’t even watched those yet.

I remained transfixed by the brass band and it was here that we met up with Kelly, who had brought me a bag of Iron Brew Jelly Babies.

I really hoped they would bring us some luck, as the magical lucky power of the Orange Aero appears to be wearing off. To be honest, I haven’t been giving the Aero the attention it probably needs. I have had the same Aero in my coat pocket for weeks and it is now not in great shape.

I can’t eat it, of course, for diet reasons.

It was almost with regret that I headed into the ground. I could have stayed here listening to the brass band all afternoon. It wasn’t even cold here or anything. It was already a joyful experience and 100% different to Birmingham a fortnight earlier.

Despite my best efforts to nip in ahead of the coachload of Seasiders who had just arrived, the away concourse was already heaving. The refreshment kiosk would have to wait but I did manage to squeeze my way through to the Ladies.

Hot water!
And hand driers!

This was most definitely not Birmingham.

I quickly escaped the concourse and made my way to my seat. Today it was right at the back – and again right on the edge of the row, nearest the home fans. I sat down and admired the Derby training tops from afar.

It was a nice stadium, this.

I was soon joined by Karen and Lee, who waved a fresh Orange Aero in my face, a gift from one of our viewers. He also handed me a Christmas card from Phil.

Around 1510, I started to make my way down to the concourse, amidst much heckling from the rest of the row.

‘Jane! Are you going to get a drink?’

‘Oh she’s getting the beers in – hurray!’

‘Will you get me a coffee?’

I don’t know how many hands these people thought I had but, for clarity, I have one for Lee’s water (served with the lid on today, thank you Derby) and one for my Bovril.

The reason I have started waiting until the match kicks off before getting a drink is because I am not at all comfortable spending time on crowded concourses. I have never liked crowds but, to be honest, I tend to avoid them in everyday life. It wasn’t a problem when we were in the lower divisions and there weren’t many of us going away. Even when I go to gigs, these are usually smaller venues with smaller crowds. But these concourses at away games this season are a big problem for me and cause my anxiety to flare up. It’s less of a problem when I’ve had a drink pre-match to settle my nerves. But I shouldn’t have to drink to face going to a match (although I often have, for terrible football reasons, over the years). So I manage it now by heading to the concourse when it has cleared, a few minutes into the match. If I miss a goal then so be it – but we hadn’t scored for weeks so that seemed unlikely.

Today – on only the second time I had adopted this genius strategy – I encountered a problem. In order to get to the concourse, I would need to push through dozens of Blackpool fans who were standing on the steps in the aisle between the seats. Why were they standing there? Why were they being allowed to stand there? Why was another stand not being opened to accommodate them if this one was full?

I’m getting fed up with this standing at away games now. If people want to stand up, why can’t they stand at the back, so they aren’t forcing everyone else to stand up – some of whom are unable to do so? And how are children and short people expected to see the match? It’s selfish and inconsiderate. And now they are in the aisles too? Is that not a safety risk?

This behaviour is permitted at Bloomfield Road in the North Stand and is now being translated to away grounds too. We can avoid it at home games by sitting in the South but it cannot be avoided at away games. And this is detrimentally impacting my enjoyment of away matches.

I thought about turning back and returning to my seat without my drink. But I was bloody thirsty so I took the decision to wade through the fans instead. I said excuse me and I pushed my way through, just like the police had done after the game at Birmingham (although I stopped short of the baton). It wasn’t really so hard to get through.

Once through, I ordered my drinks and took a deep breath before battling my way back through the crowd again. It was harder going up. Although people could see me coming, they would not move out of my way and I couldn’t physically move them to the side because I now had my hands full of drinks. Subsequently my Bovril spilled over my wrist at one point; mercifully it wasn’t boiling hot.

‘Sorry Jane.’

One of the fans standing in the aisle – although not directly in my way – apologised. He must have observed how distressed I was by this point.

I was shaking for a good ten minutes after I got back to my seat. That had been a horrible and unnecessary experience. Perhaps I need to rethink my strategy to accommodate me getting to my seat early and remaining there until the match is over. Perhaps the day will come when I find the whole matchday experience so uncomfortable that I’ll return to non league. Perhaps we’ll get locked down again and we can go back to doing watchalongs from our living room. One way or another, this will be resolved and clearly I can’t rely on stewards or clubs to help me. I’m still waiting on my refund from Nottingham Forest, where we weren’t allowed to sit in the premium seating area that I’d booked.

The match was really boring with few chances created. Derby won 1-0. But at least it wasn’t cold.

Here’s Lee’s video memory of the day:

The Iron Brew Jelly Babies are clearly not the answer. Do I need to give more attention to the Orange Aeros? Is it the fault of my lovely snug Fritidsklader hat, which hasn’t seen a win yet? Does the unlucky hat override the lucky Orange Aero? I intend to give this a lot of thought because Blackpool’s form and performances need to change.

We waited for the stand to clear before heading down and we got out of the ground without getting assaulted by the police or anything, which made for another nice change from Birmingham.

There were loads of buses outside the ground waiting to ferry fans away, which was another lovely touch. For all they are getting so dreadfully wrong here at Derby County, they are getting a lot of things right – certainly from a fan experience point of view on a matchday.

On the way home we finally figured out how to raise the volume on the sat nav so we could hear it and we changed his voice to Santa to cheer us up. I also banged on the Christmas playlist.

We stopped at Keele, which had a Waitrose, where I picked up some satay chicken with sweet chilli sauce, which was really tasty. You see, it is possible to eat healthily at service stations. Sure, I’d have liked a hot meal, but I’d got my flask of Coconut & Mango Green Tea in the car and that had warmed me up a treat. We also called into Starbucks here so Lee could get a coffee and I was tickled by the Christmas tree that was decorated with coffee cups.

I need to remember that matches like today’s are the reason we started doing the Football Tourist Guide in the first place – to make happy memories on days that might otherwise be disappointing, thanks to the football. But, don’t worry, we’re all in for a treat in the new year, with epic trips planned to Hartlepool, Barnsley and That There London (will I finally fall in love with it?).

Next up: Peterborough at home.

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