Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Middlesbrough: Merry F***ing Christmas

Will it be on? Will it be off? With daily COVID testing for players and match postponements rife across the country, it’s a bit of a lottery at the moment. Mercifully now I’m living back in Blackpool I no longer have the stress about whether or not to set off for home games. I therefore went about my day as if it was any other – and would let the evening take care of itself. I knew Blackpool were doing everything in their power to get the game on (recalling players from loan and registering academy players). They needed the income from two home games in the next few days because, after all, who knows if fans will be allowed into grounds come the new year, as they aren’t in Wales and Scotland right now.

I’m loving having a week of rest and relaxation. I’m watching a lot of TV. Somehow I’ve managed to resist starting the new series of my favourite Elite (partly because I know I’ll binge it in days and then it will be gone). If you haven’t seen it yet, get it started because it’s brilliant.

However I have been enjoying Bonus Family this week and, to be honest, I’ll keep this blog short because I’m keen to get back and finish off season two. It’s not often I get the opportunity to sit and do nothing and I’m really enjoying it.

I’ve been immersing myself in food this week, too – but keeping it healthy. I’ve batch-cooked arrabbiata sauce (which I’ve finally learned how to spell, I think) and a huge chilli.

I am working my way through the Christmas chocolate haul but I’m doing so within my SlimmingWorld daily syn allowance. Before the match tonight (it’s on!) I scoffed a Toffee Crisp Orange (8 syns – my daily limit is 15) alongside a Light & Free Toffee yoghurt, which is a great combo. I have resolved that this is now one of my favourite orange chocolate items, although not quite elite level (Aero / Chocolate Orange).

This afternoon I had enjoyed the Lancashire Hotpots Christmas Quiz, scoring 5/10, which I was pretty happy with in comparison to the 3/20 I scored on the Brick Football Quiz last week.

It was an education, as I learned that adding a dollop of Marmite to goose fat is a game-changer in terms of making roast potatoes. Diet notwithstanding, I had picked up some goose fat from Hive the other day (a belting cafe/grocers in Blackpool which is a must-visit). I must add Marmite to my shopping list.

Despite now going for a long walk every day as part of my Body Magic Gold challenge (at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week for eight weeks), I have not yet got into the habit of walking to and from Bloomfield Road for home games (although have started bringing this in occasionally). Lee drove us down and we parked up and walked the last short leg to the ground.

The ground was already buzzing and there was a huge queue of Middlesbrough fans snaking down Bloomfield Road, chanting ‘Blackpool’s a shithole – I wanna go home.’ I would like to respond to that as follows:

  1. Don’t pretend like this wasn’t the first game you looked for when the fixtures came out.
  2. It’s really not.
  3. If you genuinely feel that way, ‘get back on your bus, leave Blackpool to us’.

Inside the ground I completely bypassed the concourse. I now ensure I go to the loo just before I leave the house so I don’t need to use the facilities at the ground. Plus I am boycotting the refreshment kiosk now they have started taking the lids off the bottles of water. I remain very angry about that so they have lost my custom until they see sense. The above also allows me to avoid the concourse altogether, which is better for my anxiety and COVID safety.

For years, going to the football was often a solitary activity for me. Living in Walsall, I would frequently travel to matches alone. I bought my own tickets and at away matches I would sometimes sit alone in my designated seat. Sometimes I would chat to the stranger next to me and sometimes I would just be totally by myself. I got used to forming my own view of the match – not influenced by others’ opinions – and dealt with boring/stressful matches by zoning out into my own thoughts, which often involved writing my Travellers Tales in my head before typing them up when I got home.

These days you’ll still find me sitting in the stand on my own while Lee is off filming pre-match and at half time. I’ve had a couple of people come up to me this season concerned that I’m looking sad but I’m just in my own little world and possibly cold and suffering from slight concourse trauma at that point. I can still find it difficult to engage with people in a football ground because it’s never been something that has come naturally to me (especially if I haven’t been to the pub before the match).

On my walk to my seat today I was stopped for a chat by three people before I even reached my block and then, on reaching my seat, Steve from the row in front started chatting away to me. I found it hard to understand him as he was wearing a mask and was in a different row. Later, a friend several rows down started talking to me and I had no hope of hearing him, although I managed to gather he was incredulous that I had failed to recognise Sonny Carey when he approached my dinner table on Christmas Day. I’m a bit deaf at the best of times but particularly so when I’m wearing my Fritidsklader hat (definitely unlucky but I’m sticking with it because it’s soooooo comfy and I’m in love with it).

In conclusion, if you’re talking to me in the ground from a distance (or from behind a mask) it would be helpful if you speak slowly and use a bit of sign language as if you’re addressing a foreigner who doesn’t understand English too well.

I was wearing my new glasses tonight because my old contact lenses were uncomfortable and I was hoping I would be able to see the match much clearer. I always do notice a remarkable difference with my new prescription when I am outdoors – it’s like switching from 720p to 4k. I remain amazed that changing my optician from a ‘big name’ to a local small business has really improved how well I can see.

There were loads of Middlesbrough fans here tonight – a whopping 3,000.

The Blackpool team tonight was reasonable considering we were struggling with injuries, suspension and COVID. Every player in the starting line-up had featured previously this season – although not necessarily in the position they were playing tonight. We had a reasonably strong bench, too (Lavery, Bowler, Hamilton) although young Luke Mariette was on there now we had reached the point we need to call on our academy players.

We appeared to be playing 3-5-2 with Husband and Sterling as wing-backs. And during the first half it sort of seemed to be working. Despite having a midfielder shortage, we were flooding the midfield and winning the battle. We seemed to be on top – however, as usual, failed to capitalise with a goal. Why have we not sorted this out yet? It was a problem last season (until Ellis Simms came in) and remains a problem now. For all our build-up play, it leads to nothing. And don’t get me started on our corners and free-kicks…

The second half was different. Middlesbrough had figured out how to counter our play and were pressing us a lot more. When they went ahead on 60 minutes it was not unexpected. We were getting sloppy and gave them too much space to get the ball across. What happened to getting the basics right? Is there an element of COVID anxiety amongst the players on the pitch?

The game was crying out for Shayne Lavery and on he came. Could he be the difference? But still nothing. Middlesbrough were time-wasting now and it was getting annoying. Demi Mitchell came on for Blackpool with two minutes remaining and the man next to me yelled out in frustration:

‘Well it’s a bit fucking late now!’

From nowhere, Lavery equalised in the 90th minute…but this didn’t feel like a last minute equaliser kind of game. I wasn’t in raptures. I wasn’t enjoying this. No-one around me was enjoying this game.

Then Mitchell was dealt a hospital ball, was immediately dispossessed and Middlesbrough went up and scored in injury time.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

The ground emptied quicker than the losing end at Wembley. I’d already drifted off somewhere else less painful and, by the time I’d looked up from composing a song about pies on Facebook, Lee and I were the only Blackpool fans left in the ground. The Middlesbrough celebrations were in full throe.

Their fans were on the pitch and the players had been in the fans celebrating their goals so it’s little wonder they’re riddled with COVID now. Still, they seemed to enjoy their night.

Here’s Lee’s video memory of the night:

Back home, it was hard to stick to the diet when all I wanted to do was raid the chocolate and crack open a couple of beers. Instead, I kept my mind and hands occupied, grabbed a pen and notepad and started planning the Football Tourist’s Guide to Hartlepool. I chose to focus on the joy of football yet to come. Who knows that match might fall to COVID or the Government might ban us from attending but planning it got me through tonight and kept me away from the beer and chocolate so I consider that a win. And, if we do get to go, I promise you’re in for such a treat…

Next up: Hull at home (maybe) and (if so) a rendezvous with a fellow beer blogger (unless one of us is isolating).

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