I’ve written about football since time began (well since I fell in love with the game during Italia 90). My first football piece was all about the football – the heartbreak of THAT semi-final defeat to West Germany (whatever happened to them?). But it wasn’t long before I realised that writing purely about the football wasn’t that much fun. It also meant I had to actually pay attention to the football, which most of the time is about as fun as trying to get my printer connected to the new WiFi. As a long-suffering full-time football fan, I have learned that the football culture is where the pleasure can mainly be found. And it is this that I write about in the main.
But these are unusual times. I am witnessing something very special on the pitch that has my rapt attention like never before. I have fallen in love and what I am seeing makes me want to write poetry because it IS poetry. But more of that later.
(Also, don’t worry, I will get to the pubs).
I had a nice lie-in, which was welcomed after my little impromptu crawl around Manchester the night before.
My shower music of choice today was ‘The Primitives & Similar Artists’, which included this song, which I don’t think I’ve heard since the 80s but was delighted to hear.
This then led me to an 80s album. ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ by Phil Collins came on. As I listened to the words, I began to think of Josh Bowler. My beloved Joshy. This song was about him. About how I’d been suffering – and the lot of a full-time football fan IS mainly suffering, believe me – football for the last 31 years waiting all this time for him to come along and make everything make sense.
‘No, you just have to wait
She said love don’t come easy
It’s a game of give and take
How long must I wait? How much more can I take?’
Josh Bowler is why I do this every week. Josh Bowler is my raison d’être. I just never knew until this season. 31 years later. And boy was he worth the wait.
Just as I was contemplating going to the pub, I received a message from Nat, my SlimmingWorld consultant.
That was just the kick up the arse I needed (that’s what she’s there for) so I hopped straight on the static bike to the sound of The Treatment. I did my self-invented routine of warming up during the first track, pedalling like mad during the intro to the next song, pedalling normally when the vocals came in, then repeating those last two steps until 30 minutes had passed. It’s not strenuous at all but seems to be having the desired effect. This week I had three nights on the lash, two Thai curries in No 10 Alehouse, a whole bag of marshmallows that I swear were pure sugar and too many other syns to list…and I still lost 2.5lb.
I caught up on the end of Corrie, which I’d started on the train last night. Then I made sure I had all my lucky talismen ahead of today’s match, which was sure to be tough.
By now ravenous, I headed into the kitchen in search of breakfast. Saturdays are always tricky foodwise, as it’s the day before shopping delivery day. However I managed to rustle up this little belter.
I was eagerly anticipating pudding when Lee came back from The Armfield Club, where he’d been setting up to DJ later. He was armed with a piece of Dorset Apple Cake for me, which I savoured.
It’s simply the best cake ever. You may remember Apple Cake Rob (as he’s now known at Football Tourist Guide Towers) from our trip to Bournemouth early on in the season.
Lee and I headed to the ground before 1400 and, after entering through my lucky turnstile (soz, forgot to photograph it again, so still can’t tell you which one it is), I was in my seat nice and early, just how I like it.
Blackpool v AFC Bournemouth
I took full advantage of the quiet time before anyone else arrived to read another couple of chapters of my book: The Evening and The Morning by Ken Follett. I was about to say it’s a tome, which I suppose it is, but I’m reading it on the Kindle so I’ll just say it’s taking some getting through. I think I’ve been reading it for three weeks now. But I’m really enjoying it. It’s the prequel to The Pillars Of The Earth. It features a character who is in love with someone who he cannot be with but he waits for her. Again I thought of Josh Bowler and how I’ve waited so long for him – and how agonising it will be when we’re eventually separated. I can hardly bear to think about that (it will be worse than when Easyworld split up) so instead I intend to fully immerse myself in the moment and enjoy Josh while I can.
Meanwhile Derek arrived. He’s practically counting down the days until he gets to see the Hotpots at the Grand. I’m not sure he fully appreciates what he’s letting himself in for.
Then Derek stood up.
‘There’s a flag coming over. You might as well stay sat down as you won’t be able to reach it.’
I sat open-mouthed, unable to reply because what he said was absolutely true. I’d have to stand on my tiptoes to feel the flag tickling over the tips of my fingers. I remained in my seat and returned to my book.
The teams came out. We had Bowler and Hamilton – Thunderbolt and Lightning – on the flanks, so couldn’t lose. But what on Earth was going on with Bournemouth’s kit?!
I’d probably buy it and wear it but why wear camouflage on the football pitch? It made no sense (it later would).
I also chuckled as I noticed the perimeter advertising had been updated.
This previously said ‘Locally, Nationally, Internationally & BEYOND’. Do the club no longer offer advertising on the International Space Station? What about the Martian market? And the Saturn Seasiders? We demand answers. We need to be aiming high and thinking BEYOND this planet.
The match was a good one. We looked exciting. Then Bournemouth were awarded a pen. Hmm not sure about that one. But I was not discouraged.
‘All’s not lost. It’s at the North end and Grimmy’s ace.’
‘No. They’ll score,’ replied Lee, ever the pessimist when our backs are against the wall.
I unzipped my coat pocket and caressed my Lucky Orange Aero, whispering a spell under my breath.
The result? It was a terrible pen and Grimmy saved it with ease.
And then something quite, quite wonderful happened. Josh Bowler scored the sweetest strike I’ll ever witness. It was so, so beautiful that my eyes immediately filled with tears and remained that way for the ten remaining minutes of the first half. Do these new (post-boycott) and young fans know how special, how precious this player is? 31 YEARS I’ve waited. Josh Bowlers don’t come around very often. He’s being compared to Tony Green, a Seasiders legend who left the club in 1971 (51 years ago). And one Seasider has even said he’s not seen a player have the ball stick to his feet so well since Stanley Matthews. This is the highest possible praise Blackpool fans can award a player. And we have him playing for Blackpool NOW. I can’t urge you strongly enough to get down to Bloomfield Road so you can see this player in action. The ground should be selling out every week and it baffles me why it’s not.
At half time I headed to the Ladies to compose myself. On my way back to my seat I was stopped in my tracks by a familiar voice.
It was Paul, the Press Officer (and Club Historian, I suppose) at my old club Chasetown. Chase are flying high, vying for promotion from the NPL Midlands, but didn’t have a game today. Paul was taking the opportunity for a groundhop, as he hadn’t visited Bloomfield Road before. I invited him to sit in the ‘guest seat’ between me and baiter-of-the-vertically-challenged Derek.
Paul was impressed with the stadium if not the pitch (Chase’s is better, apparently).
In the second half, the referee became infuriating – quite the worst we’ve seen all season (and we had some shit ones in the first couple of months). He seemed to be awarding the ‘big club’ everything and missing their misdemeanours (which I can only think must have been down to their clever camouflage).
Things got worse (since Paul had joined me…hmm…), with Marvin Ekpiteta going off injured, replaced by Olly Casey, who was making his debut. We now had our last choice centre-half pairing because we had no-one else fit. Could we hold on here against all odds (accidental second Phil Collins reference there)?
In short, no. Bournemouth equalised on 87 minutes.
‘We’re going to lose this now,’ muttered Lee.
That thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was just pissed off we were drawing.
As the board went up for added time, it was time to get rid of jinx Paul.
‘You’ll need to head out now if you want to get out in good time, otherwise you’ll be ten minutes getting down.’
It worked. He left immediately. But it was too late. On 95 minutes, Bournemouth scored the winner.
‘I told you! I told you!’ repeated Lee, over and over again.
Why would he say that? It was almost as if he’d been willing it to happen. His words were making me feel a lot worse than I already did. It was infuriating. Instead, I gritted my teeth, as I often do at moments such as this, and replied:
‘That’s not helpful, is it?’
The ref was booed off. I stomped out of the ground, grateful for pubs and beer.
Here’s our match vlog. Well worth watching for a belting view of Bowler’s goal.
As I tramped down Bloomfield Road, I caught sight of Apple Cake Rob and ran to catch him up. I was so pleased I hadn’t missed him. He handed me two pieces of apple cake. What a legend.
Shickers was quieter than usual; I’ve arrived here more than once post-match to see people queueing out the door. But I wasn’t complaining; you know I like a quieter pub. Also it was a bit nesh out.
I strolled straight up to the bar and considered the pump clips.
Well you know I love me a bit of Wigan and a milk stout, so there was only one option for me here. I placed my order (for a pint – I wasn’t messing about with halves after that result) and offered a piece of apple cake to the man behind the bar. He firmly but politely refused, despite me enthusing about how good the cake was.
I took a seat at a table with Mark, Lynn and Dave. I hadn’t had a proper sesh with them in many years, yet we used to see each other at most matches, back in the pre-boycott days in the Pump & Truncheon. Part of the fallout of the five-year boycott was the breaking up of our once very close-knit group. And the closure of the Pump during that time was the final nail in the coffin, leaving us effectively homeless. The Pump is now No 13 Bonny Street, a pub I’m conscious that I’m yet to cover in this blog.
Karen soon joined us and it was as if we’d never been apart. I never laugh so heartily as when I’m in the company of this lot. It was joyful. We had so many shared memories, shared experiences and, it seemed, a shared disdain for Imbibe, that terrible town centre micro that is happily no more.
Gaffer Liam entered the pub with his dog, so I offered him the apple cake.
‘Well, it would be rude to turn that down.’
‘Oh…I just did,’ said the man behind the bar.
Over a second pint, we speculated over Josh Bowler’s contract (hoping the option worked both ways) and fantasised about him never leaving, like Matt le Tissier at Southampton.
‘I’m hungry. Where are you at with your diet at the moment?’ enquired Karen.
Then, both in unison:
On arrival at this fab little pub, it was bustling as usual in the front room. But tonight it was also busy in the back. Mercifully, there was one booth vacant and unreserved, so we claimed it immediately.
Tonight’s beers were thus:
Hmm. The dark one had just gone off. Manager Dave explained:
‘We’ll not put another dark on now. We sell off the remaining beer at a discount on a Sunday and we clean the lines on a Monday. Then the beers are all fresh the following week.’
That could go some way to explaining why the beer in here is always of such high quality. It’s well kept and loved. Not that that helped me with my current dilemma.
‘If you’re after a dark, the Holts Trailblazer Stout is really good. And I’m not just saying that.’
I never look at the taps in here but concluded that this might indeed be a good option.
Dear reader, this was even better than the milk stout I’d just quaffed. Lovely stuff.
Of course we were here for the exquisite Thai food too. Indeed this was the second time this week I was eating here, after a cheeky midweeker (which I don’t blog unless I’m in need of pubs to tag onto a home match).
Suitably stuffed, I walked home while my food went down.
Even though it was around 9pm when I got home, I took the decision to go straight to bed. It had been an emotional day.
I woke up in the middle of the night with heartburn. Note to self: never go to bed on a full stomach.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, you can offer your thanks by buying me a pint. Thanks to Simon for his contribution to the beer fund this week, which I’ll put to good use in Cardiff at the weekend. Cheers!
Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To Cardiff