Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To London #1 – Part Two

(If you missed Part One, you can find it here.)

Overground

You may recall I left you at the end of Part One outside The Postal Museum around 1630 on Friday. We had to be at the theatre for 1930 so now had three hours to kill. So now we could have a leisurely bimble across London to see what we could see.

Ooh remember these?
Colourful transport.
Er…no thanks…

We were around halfway when Lee announced that he’d left his scarf in the pub. So back we tramped to retrieve the scarf, adding a good half hour to our journey. It was a good job we weren’t needing that meal.

By the time we finally arrived in Theatreland (what I suppose is known as the West End?) it was becoming busy with city workers and fellow theatregoers. And the pubs were heaving.

I must have been here before – I went to see Les Miserables one Saturday night after a Millwall match around 20 years ago – but I was still taken aback by the crowds. Was this London quiet? I began to become anxious in the crowd. There was only one thing for it: PUB!

Nags Head

This pub was rammed too! It was also very hot. I headed straight to the bar to see what I could find to quench my thirst.

I had a half of the bitter and we went to sit outside.

Lee got chatting to the couple at the next table: a Norwich fan and a Liverpool fan. Still anxious, I focussed on breathing and drinking and people-watching.

There were men in tuxedos. There were people relaxed and laughing. That was nice to see in London. Where were they from? Where were they going?

Whilst we could have remained here for hours, I was once again uninspired by the beer, so wanted to move on to the next pub on my list. We were going to do five out of the six, which was more than I’d expected.

This walk was my favourite of the day. There’s so much to see in London! Lee was in his element filming for the accompanying Football Tourist Guide video.

I saw an archway and thought I’d do a photo in the Retired Martin stylee.

As we walked through what appeared to be Chinatown, there were Chinese lanterns in abundance.

We learned that we were amidst the Chinese New Year celebrations (new year is on 1st February).

As we walked down a road brimming with Chinese restaurants and market stalls, I began to salivate despite not being at all hungry. How wonderful this was! We were already looking forward to our next visit so we could enjoy some delicious food here.

De Hems

And now to my favourite pub of the trip. This is a Dutch pub that was home to the Dutch resistance during the war.

Immediately on entering there was a great vibe about the place. It was busy but not uncomfortably rammed, although there were no vacant tables that were not reserved.

I was greeted warmly by a delightful barman while I was busy studying the beer menu (who doesn’t love a pub with a beer menu?).

‘What can I get you?’

‘Ooh could I have a Floris Chocolat please?’

I had first tried this Belgian beer from a bottle shop in Brussels when we made a pit stop there on our train trip to Latvia in 2008. I went on to drink it on many nights out in the Welly in Birmingham. But I’d not had it for years and I was looking forward to its delicious sweetness and the memories it would evoke.

‘Ooh we’ve got none of that left, I’m afraid. But we do have the Kasteel Barista Chocolate Quad?’

‘Er how strong is that please?’

I knew I had to be very careful with Belgian beers. On a weekend trip to Bruges, I ended up passed out in bed by 6pm and that was me sticking to the harmless krieks.

‘And how chocolatey is it?’

I did fancy a nice sweet beer though.

‘Oh it’s quite chocolatey. And it’s 11%.’

As I was off directly to the theatre and not to bed, I knew an 11% beer was an absolute no-no.

‘I’ll have a Kriek Boon please.’

We stepped outside to see if there were any free tables. There weren’t but I spied a stairway. Was there upstairs seating? Oh yes there was – with another bar up there too. We found a table that was booked for 2000 (we’d be long gone by then) and took a seat.

I loved it here. I felt at ease for the first time since arriving in the city. This popular pub quickly filled up around us but these almost seemed like my kind of people.

The walls were decked with Dutch art. Lee was rather taken with The Girl With The Pearl Earring over my shoulder. As is the norm in a busy pub, I didn’t take any photos within the pub (pump clips notwithstanding) but I did manage one in the toilets.

As I came out of the toilets chuckling, Lee enquired what had tickled me.

‘I’ve just had to ask a woman for directions to get out of the toilets.’

In my defence, there were about eight doors in there and they all looked the same. How was I to know which was the exit and which were cubicles without trying every one…?

Now it was time to head to the theatre. With 45 minutes to kick off (or curtain up or whatever they call it), we had plenty of time to get there, buy some sweets (in lieu of a meal) and find our seats.

Again, there was eye candy aplenty on this leg of our walk.

I hadn’t realised the theatres were all together in one area. I was rather enjoying exploring London on foot overground (crowds aside).

Book of Mormon @ Prince of Wales Theatre

I’d seen The Book of Mormon with Liz when it first came to town. I remember grinning and laughing the whole way through. Lee hadn’t seen it and I was looking forward to his reaction. I had explained that it was written by the guys who wrote South Park but you know Lee doesn’t always listen to me and it soon became apparent that that snippet of information hadn’t registered in his brain…

On entry into the theatre, we struggled to locate the sweetie counter. It turned out that this was because there wasn’t one (what is WRONG with you, London?); however we were directed to the bar for snackage.

Whilst there were no sweets (NO SWEETS! AT A THEATRE!!!), Lee was satisfied with some honey roasted cashews, while I had these to myself.

Our seats were fab: on the front row of the second section of seats in the stalls. Plenty of legroom and even a nice space between the seats. Belting view, too. Past me had done good there.

And what a beautiful theatre this was, too! I’m coming to realise that I enjoy empty pubs/football grounds/theatres because I love admiring them in all their quirkiness/beauty/splendour and feeling like this is all just for me to enjoy.

As I was stuffing my face with Maltesers and marvelling at our surroundings, Lee was interviewing the usher for the Football Tourist Guide video. What a lovely man he was.

But on with the show! It was as brilliant as I’d remembered. Very funny, holding the audience’s attention with every song and every running gag. If you’re god-fearing or dislike bad language then it’s not for you but The Book of Mormon’s nine-year run is testament to its quality and popularity.

I shifted in my not-particularly-comfortable seat as my feet, legs and back were aching after all that walking (21,706 steps in total today). I wondered if they offered a foot spa and massage in the box seats?

We exited the theatre beaming and headed on foot towards Holborn station. I had calculated that this was the nearest station that offered a direct train back to Stratford. Lee grumbled that it was a long walk (NB this is the same Lee who added half an hour onto our walk to the theatre) and suggested that there was probably a better route back. I kept quiet in the knowledge that, whilst there probably was a two-train route back, the one-train route was the better route as far as I was concerned. As he spent much of this walk happily filming the Soho nightlife, I suspected this was the better route for him, too.

Fancy complaining when I’m successfully navigating the Tube for the first time in my life and feeling proud of myself for doing so. He ought to have been patting me on the head.

But I was also feeling very anxious out here in the crowded streets of London. I wish crowds didn’t make me so unsettled. I guess that’s the next thing I should tackle on my permanent journey of self-improvement. I don’t like being controlled by irrational fears. I can and will defeat this.

The Tube went well and we were soon back at Stratford, then in the car park grabbing our overnight bags from the car, then back at our hotel.

Premier Inn London Stratford

I was keen to use the magic check in machines, so marched straight over there.

It was ace. I tapped in my name and postcode and proceeded to check in. The machine even activated our room card keys for us and printed off a little slip of paper confirming our room number.

Soon we were back at the lift, where a few others were apparently waiting to go down to the ground floor (the DOWN button was lit). I pressed the UP button and was surprised when the DOWN people stepped into our UP lift, which arrived first. Nonetheless we trotted in behind them and pressed 7 and could see they had already pressed G. The lift duly went up. As we stepped out on the seventh floor and began making our way down the corridor, we heard the DOWN woman in the lift bitching about us.

‘Why do people do that? They could see we were going to the ground floor.’

We knew we were in the right, as we had got in the UP lift that we had called, but clearly these people had the same impression of us as the man who’d left the note under our windscreen in Whitby.

It was probably midnight by the time we collapsed into bed, exhausted after the 0500 start, long drive and hours spent tramping across London.


I awoke around 0700 on Saturday. I could have stayed in bed – believe me I was sorely tempted – but we had another busy day ahead of us.

Lee was up first and provided instructions for how to work the shower after my epic fail in that department at Barnsley recently.

I’d remembered to bring my travel hairdryer this week (small but powerful) so I was able to wash my hair in the knowledge I wouldn’t have to hold up that Premier Inn hairdryer to my head for 20 minutes.

We headed down for breakfast at the restaurant beyond reception. I had my usual Premier Inn fayre: bacon, egg, tomato, mushrooms, beans, brown toast, yoghurt and Earl Grey. No pic as I’d failed to turn on the plug socket when I got home tired last night, so my phone was on charge back in the room.

We checked out, loaded up the car and headed back out to Stratford station to make our way back into the city.

This is what today had in store for us.

Thames River Cruise

Some weeks ago, we had been kindly invited aboard a Boat Party on the Thames ahead of this afternoon’s match at Fulham. Lee was to film proceedings for his match vlog and the Football Tourist Guide To London video series that accompanies this written series (see Lee Charles TV on YouTube).

I’ll confess I hadn’t been that keen on this idea. I’d seen party boats on my travels over the years and had never fancied going on one. This morning – knackered and aching – I was less enthusiastic than ever. I’d even toyed with the idea of staying in bed and sending Lee off on his own. But that wouldn’t do of course and it would have been wrong of me to let people down. So up I got and off I went.

Google Maps advised me that it was one train to Westminster, then a very short walk to the meeting point of Westminster Pier. And the Tube was once again easily mastered. I was getting good at this.

The signs are there to help with navigation.
Big Ben (not Burgess).

We easily located the dozens of Seasiders decked out in their glorious tangerine and were soon nattering away to members of the football family, many of whom we’d never even met before.

Lee and I were allowed aboard in advance of the other 250 partying Seasiders so we could set the scene for our readers and viewers. Here’s how the party boat was decked out.

I took full advantage of being first at the bar to get an early beer in to settle my anxiety at the prospect of the boat being imminently crowded with revellers.

I took a seat towards the front of the boat (also cunningly close to the bar), guzzling my beer as the Seasiders boarded, my foot already tapping to Frank Sinatra.

The playlist got better and better, with bangers from Queen and Oasis and before I knew it I was singing away and ordering another beer and relaxing into what was truly an epic party.

The sun was burning my legs as I gazed out of the windows and smiled at the seagulls bobbing up and down on the Thames, waved at the beaming passengers on the other party boats, gazed on in wonder at the London landscape and watched the tangerine balloons float up into the sky.

Even the toilets at the back of the boat were impressive. I was expecting a poky cubicle but in fact the door to the Ladies opened up into a room containing three cubicles.

We had decided in advance we would leave the boat early, when it stopped to do a late pick up at Lambeth Pier. By this time – 90 minutes into the party – I was three London Prides down, hugging organiser Ashley and telling him I loved him because he enjoyed life so much (he’d been singing and dancing his head off since boarding).

Now off the boat, we bumped into Mark, who was with two people who seemed to know their way around, so we reverted to ‘follow mode’. It seemed we were heading back to Westminster on foot to board the train to Putney Bridge.

En route – as we crossed a bridge – our ears alerted us to some Seasiders below, belting out chants from not one but two party boats on the Thames. One was of course the boat we had just disembarked; the other housed The Muckers. We remained stationary as we marvelled at the sight and sounds below us, waving, joining in with the chants and recording the occasion for posterity.

What a joyful day this was already!

Despite this welcome distraction, we managed to relocate Mark, who we were following, and were soon at Westminster station, boarding a Tube train.

It was standing room only on this train but I hardly noticed as I was nattering away to Mark, who I hadn’t chatted with properly in years (remember we’ve only been back less than three years since the five-year boycott and we haven’t been allowed at matches for half the time since).

‘Mark! There’s a seat here – do you want it?’

And off Mark went, mid-conversation.

He half apologised, half-heartedly offered me the seat, clearly not meaning it, and disappeared down the train.

‘No, no – don’t you worry – it’ll all go in the blog…’

We all piled off the train at Putney Bridge and Lee and I followed the crowd in what must be the direction of Craven Cottage.

Outside the station we were greeted by this puzzling sight.

Who buys these?!

This was a pleasant walk along the bank of the Thames through a park, with floodlights clearly visible in the distance. This is what the approach to grounds used to be like and should still be like.

We spotted the boat racers who had been responsible for our party boat being unable to ferry us all the way to the ground.

I really needed a wee at this point, which made the walk somewhat less enjoyable than it might have been. Mercifully there was a caff with adjacent public toilets on our route, saving the day.

Fulham v Blackpool

We were soon at the ground. But where was the away end? I approached a steward and posed the usual question.

‘Well, if you walk right to the end there, turn left, carry on, then turn left again…’

Why oh why is it always but always right at the opposite end of the ground?

‘…then carry on to the end and turn left again, you’ll find yourself back here, which is where you go in.’

Oh he was making a little joke! God bless delightful stewards such as this man!

I was smiling as I approached the security outside the turnstiles. Ooh they had a dog!

‘Can I just look inside your bag please madam?’

‘On condition I can take a photo of your dog. Oh and can I pat him as well?’

‘Yes of course.’

‘Aw thank you. What’s his name?’

‘Stanley.’

‘Oh Stanley! What a great Blackpool name! He has to be a good omen. Hello Stanley. Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?’

What a contrast to my respective greetings at Rotherham and Birmingham.

I was in such a happy place as I entered the ground. I was here nice and early – just as I like it – allowing ample time to explore the facilities ahead of kick-off.

I located and utilised the Ladies and chuckled at the FFC branded toilet roll holders and soap dispensers.

I was unimpressed by the alcoholic offerings (just as well, as I’d had a sufficient intake on the boat) but couldn’t resist a chicken balti pie which was delicious and on a par with the one I had at Sunderland.

As a further example of being treated like a human being, I was handed by bottle of water WITH THE LID STILL ON. It’s little things like this that mean so much. Thank you Fulham (and take note Blackpool).

The concourse was an open one behind the stand – my favourite kind. I dislike being enclosed on indoor concourses underneath stands.

Now up in the stand I was confused by the stand to my left, with seats covered in plastic.

My initial thought was that this stand had been mothballed like the stands at Birmingham. But it was soon revealed that this was, indeed, a brand new stand. I was told they had had to pile drive into the Thames.

The stand opposite – to our right – was old and wooden and apparently listed, so Fulham were stuck with it. In the corner was Craven Cottage itself.

I received many visitors to my seat pre-match. Jacob was here sporting his lucky Fritidsklader hat that I’d presented him with last week. Today his mum Kelly had won a signed shirt on the EFL Rewards app and they had bumped into BFC owner Simon Sadler before the match. Could Jacob be on for a lucky hat trick with a good result for the Mighty Tangerine Wizards this afternoon?

I really was in the ground early and by now I needed pudding (diet? what diet?) so returned to the refreshment kiosk (one of several).

£3.70!!!

I almost tripped on the perilously uneven steps in the stand.

The away end soon filled up with 1,800 Seasiders. I was told we were sharing a concourse with the Fulham fans who were housed in the other side of our end. They trusted us. And, do you know what? There was no trouble. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

As the game kicked off, this was the view from my seat.

I am thoroughly sick of having to stand for 90 minutes at away games. Indeed I know of longstanding (no pun intended) fans who have had to stop attending away games now because they simply cannot stand up for this long. That makes me so cross.

When we went 1-0 down early doors – on the back of Fulham shipping six past most of their recent opponents – I was becoming despondent and dreading the long journey home.

Then the game stopped for ages. I didn’t know what was going on. At length the players were led off the pitch and there was a tannoy announcement that there was a medical emergency and they’d advise us further if and when the game would restart. Given that I couldn’t see anything, I didn’t know if this was a player or someone else in the ground.

We later found out that Fulham fan Paul Parish had suffered a cardiac arrest and sadly later passed away.

The match did recommence after a lengthy delay. And Blackpool came out a different team. We bossed the remainder of the match. Josh Bowler was immense, ripping Fulham to pieces. What a player this boy is. He had single-handedly dismissed from my head any and all thoughts of wanting to leave early and go home.

Josh Bowler is why I was here.

Josh Bowler is why I fell in love with football.

Josh Bowler is why I will always have football in my life.

Josh Bowler is the first player I have seen in 30+ years of watching football who makes me think of what it must have been like to watch Stanley Matthews – a player who added thousands to gates because people just wanted to watch HIM play.

Josh Bowler is a magician.

That’s to take nothing away from the rest of the team, who performed heroically to a man. They made Fulham look flustered as they flapped at every clearance, hoofing the ball anywhere. They reminded me of us in the last ten minutes of a match when our players are driving us mad as they fail to gain control of the ball. And this was FULHAM. Top of the table Fulham were wobbling and panicking and it was GLORIOUS.

Here’s our matchday vlog:

We left the ground floating on air, following the crowd in what we assumed and hoped was the route back to Putney Bridge.

It was, of course. Here we boarded the train everyone else was getting on and I double-checked it was the right one by studying the line and the next station we arrived at. I noted this train stopped at Westminster and I knew from there that we could get a direct line back to Stratford and our car, as this was the way we’d come in this morning. This really was a doddle, this Tube lark.

On the second leg of our journey we managed to get a seat, from which I admired what appeared to be a purse on this woman’s boot.

What a genius way to avoid those London pickpockets we had been warned about.

Northbound

It was 1900 by the time we got back to the car and on our merry (but tired) way northbound.

The playlist was Tim Minchin and, of course, the soundtrack to The Book of Mormon.

We called in at Newport Pagnell Services. I had a craving for a KFC, intending to take full advantage of my brain allowing me off the leash from my diet. I went for my usual.

Fillet burger meal with beans.

I used to have this all the time when we used to drink in the Dog & Partridge before home matches. They didn’t serve food in there, see – and KFC was just across the road, so I’d often grab a burger and scoff it on my walk to the ground.

They barred us from the D&P in 2007 for singing Blackpool songs in celebration of our qualification for the playoff final because it was interrupting their customers’ enjoyment of the Manchester United match on the tv. NB This is a pub in Blackpool and this was about an hour after we’d qualified for Wembley.

But back to the KFC. I suspect the beans used to be BBQ beans – and consequently tastier – back then. Nowadays they’re just boring beans and I’ll confess I just order them from muscle memory because ‘that’s what I have from KFC’. As I was dipping my chips in my beans tonight I realised something was wrong; something was missing.

Dear reader, can you believe I’ve never tried KFC gravy? That needs to be put right post haste. Watch this space…

We made an additional stop at Norton Canes Services (yeah, get us, paying to use the toll…we just wanted to get home ASAP). This was just a coffee break for Lee to ensure he stayed awake and alert on the rest of the drive home. I resolved to stay in the car. He’d only be a few minutes, wouldn’t he?

Now I don’t like being left in an unlocked car on my own; I simply don’t feel safe. I’d had this conversation with Lee as recently as Barnsley after he’d left the driver’s side window open and the keys in the ignition, leaving me feeling vulnerable in the passenger seat.

‘Well I can’t lock you in, otherwise the alarm will go off.’

‘Well just leave it open then.’

As Lee strode off to get his coffee, the locks clicked and the mirrors tucked themselves in. Had he locked the car automatically? Or had the car locked itself? We haven’t had it that long so are still learning how it works.

I grabbed my phone from my handbag and started scrolling Twitter.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Bloody hell – that was loud! Our lights were flashing too, announcing to everyone LOOK AT THAT GIRL ALONE IN THAT CAR!

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

I dialled Lee. No answer. He kept his phone on silent. But surely he’d look at it at some point.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

As the alarm continued to blare and the lights continued to flash and I got more and more anxious I kept dialling Lee but it kept ringing out. FFS he was only getting a coffee – how long did that take?

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

I tried to open the car door to make it stop but it wouldn’t open. I tried to stay still to see if that would stop the alarm but it did seem very sensitive.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

By the time Lee got back to the car AGES later, I felt like I’d been stabbed in the side of the head. Mercifully I had some paracetamol in my coat pocket. Or were they Dreamies? I wasn’t sure; I was so tired.

I spent the next 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get the seat to recline so I could close my eyes and try and shift this headache. I couldn’t face the radio or music and was resigned to travelling home in silence.

Of course I ended up scrolling Twitter and popped into The Football Tavern, which is always good value on a Saturday night (and any other time really).

Ooh what had happened to Sunderland? I darted over to Football Web Pages and saw they’d lost 6-0 at Bolton. Oh how we laughed!

‘Get The Mad Mistake on! He’s hilarious when they lose,’ suggested Lee.

I have to say this was a brilliant watch and made the rest of our journey home fly by. This just typifies the life of a travelling football fan. We’ve all been there. But we can laugh when it’s not us. Watch and enjoy.

It was around 0100 on Sunday when we arrived home. What a weekend once again! We don’t half have some fun adventures.

Coming up: Blackpool v Bristol City then A Football Tourist’s Guide To Coventry.

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