Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Stoke City v Blackpool & Cheshire Pubs

After my big day out at Wigan Beer Festival the previous day, I wasn’t up for a full-on Football Tourist Guide mission to Stoke today. No, we would just tootle down there, go to the match and come home. Via a pub or two, obvs.

It really was a beautiful day but Alexa told me it was going to be cold in Stoke – and I remembered how cold it always was at the Britannia Stadium (or whatever it’s called now). So it was thermal vest, two pairs of socks and thermal trousers today. Ne’er cast a clout and all that.

Lee and I set off around 1000 and I couldn’t even be bothered tapping anything into the satnav.

‘But where are we going?’ asked Lee.

‘Oh you know the way – M55, M6 South…’

Robbie Williams – a famous Port Vale fan – was our music of choice for the journey. I couldn’t even be bothered researching Stoke musicians. We’d have Robbie all the way. This was quite a short journey for us this season and Robbie had enough hits to accompany us all the way to Stoke.

I am adding a new badge to my unlucky/lucky hat ahead of every match because I did it ahead of the Fulham match and we did quite well. This is going pretty well, as I have amassed a little stash of badges over the years, which have just been lying in a drawer. Today I added this one with trepidation.

Lincoln City weren’t having the best of seasons so how could this badge bring us luck? I consoled myself with the fact that it specifically stated 2020-21, which was a good season for the Imps (before we broke them at Wembley in the play-off final).

I buried my nose in Twitter as Lee drove us southbound and someone mentioned oatcakes and I LOVE Staffordshire oatcakes. They’re not oatcakes as we know them this far North; we have the stodgy Scottish variety. No, Staffordshire oatcakes are like fluffy oaty pancakes – and they’re brilliant with bacon and egg. Hmm. Could we find any today?

Ohh how exciting was this?! An oatcake boat! That’s arguably more exciting than Charters at Peterborough. However, Charters had one thing in its favour: it had beer. I did fancy a top up pre-match, so a pub stop won out over the oatcake boat on this occasion. But the boat was noted for when we come back to do the Football Tourist’s Guide To Stoke.

Around 1130 – and rapidly approaching Stoke – Lee made enquiries once again. Hmm we did need to stop somewhere, else we’d be mega early arriving at the ground. I resorted to the trusty CAMRA Good Beer Guide app to find ‘Pubs Serving Lunch Near Me.’ This proved a little tricker than usual this morning because I needed to find a pub that opened before noon (may I suggest a ‘Pubs Open Near Me’ enhancement for the next version of the app?). But we drinkers can always find a pub – and find one I did.

The Old Red Lion, Holmes Chapel

This is an Ember Inn. We’d been to one of these in Hartlepool so I knew the menu would be SlimmingWorld friendly and it was a safe bet for lunch.

The word IPA (is it a word?) is a turnoff for me, but the word ‘citra’ is an even bigger no-no. Hence I ordered this.

This was a big pub with lots of nooks. I spent a good minute or two wandering round the pub, pint in hand, before settling on the COMFIEST bench seating in the window.

There was lots to look at in this pub – although it did not seem in fitting with the name of the pub, as there were no lions in sight.

It’s prey for lions, I suppose…

We were sitting right underneath a speaker and the music was the type of bland contemporary stuff that I dislike. I couldn’t even bear to Soundhound it as I didn’t want the music anywhere near my phone in case Apple started recommending it or something (who knows how this clever modern technology works?). The only song I recognised was the slow (less good) version of Pray by Take That.

The food menu here was pretty decent. I was particularly impressed with the vegan menu, which was ALMOST enough to tempt me to turn vegan.

But I wasn’t quite ready to give up meat just yet, so I went for the lasagne and garlic bread, in the hope that the latter would be less disappointing than the offering at the pub in Coventry.

I’ll confess the garlic bread again didn’t quite live up to expectations. My friend Nigel – also on SlimmingWorld – had a similar experience with a pie that he had been really looking forward to. Perhaps we’re better off sticking to the healthy scran we know and love? Perhaps a switch has tripped in our brains so that we are now conditioned NOT to like certain foods? That said, I still scoffed the lot, so it wasn’t too bad. I think the garlic bread might have been a bit posh for me (I prefer the cheap French toast version with cheese and tomato, as opposed to sourdough or ciabatta).

I went upstairs to check out the toilets. Nothing particularly noteworthy in there, although there was a surprise little ramp on the approach to the door. Ooh stairs AND a hill.

We had killed enough time here this afternoon to be on course for a reasonable arrival time in Stoke, so that had been a most pleasant interlude.

Stoke City v Blackpool

We parked up on an industrial car park for £6 (I keep forgetting I have to research these things, as I always used to travel to away games by train) and made the short walk to the ground, which was visible to us.

I like to arrive early for a number of reasons. Mainly it’s to get through the concourse before it gets busy, but this also allows us time to have a mooch round the outside of the ground and see what’s there; often there’s interesting stuff to be found that I’ve spent years missing. Here are today’s findings.

Gordon Banks.
Stoke going ‘beyond international’.
A plan of the ground – how helpful is that? More of these please!
John Ritchie.

Lee’s mind was blown by this statue of our Stan, claiming it was the best statue he’d ever seen. Stan is depicted at different ages doing what he did best as ‘The Wizard Of The Dribble.’

What was particularly lovely about this statue was that there was bench seating around it so people can sit and spend time in Stan’s presence. Indeed people were sitting here when we arrived and we found ourselves chatting with a friendly Stoke fan as we marvelled in awe at our Stan.

Meet Pottermus, Stoke’s mascot. If anyone can explain the link here, that would be appreciated.

A little research into Pottermus revealed that he once decapitated a rival mascot. Blimey. I’m glad I gave him a wide berth now…

Now at the entrance to the away end, I was asked to show my ticket.

‘Go through the orange gate please.’

‘It’s not orange, it’s tangerine!’

I had my bag checked and was given a frisk (always a treat). Then there was a sniffer dog! I approached his handler with trepidation.

‘Is it ok if I take a photo of your dog?’

‘Yes of course. Sit! Sit!’

‘Aw thank you. You’re so much friendlier than they are at Rotherham. What’s the dog’s name?’

I got my phone out so I could make a note.

‘Gelert. Sit! Sit!’

‘Gelert? How do you spell that, please?’

‘Yes, Gelert. G-E-L-E-R-T. It’s Welsh. He’s famous. Google ‘Gelert Police Dog’. He’s the poster boy for Counter Terrorism Policing. Sit! Sit!’

‘Oh yes! Here he is!’

And here is Gelert (finally) sitting and posing for me this afternoon.

I like to think Gelert is mates with Stanley, who I met at Fulham.

Now inside the ground, I nipped to the loo, where there was a Stoke City soap dispenser, then to the refreshment kiosk for a bottle of water (lid removed, grr), then up to my seat.

I then remembered that I’d bought a fanzine on my pre-match circumnavigation of the ground (for £4!!! Might put my prices up next season.) I retrieved it from my pocket and gave it a read. I often do now find myself reading in this golden hour of quiet before kick-off and a fanzine is perfect for this situation.

The Duck Mag is a very different proposition to my fanzine, Now That’s What I Call Progress (plug, plug), which is on hold for this season because of COVID (I wasn’t comfortable handling cash at the start of the season) but will be back for 22/23 (with bonus card payment option).

My Stoke counterpart is glossy and text-heavy, with interviews with former players, LOTS of adverts (including a centre spread of a Mercedes Benz) and an awful lot about the 1972 League Cup win (apparently the only thing Stoke have ever won). Granted, it was the 50th anniversary this weekend and they were mentioning it a lot in the ground as well, I think with former players in attendance (granted I was only half paying attention because my head was buried in the fanzine at this point).

Back to the fanzine, my favourite bit was a lovely story by Peter Kennedy about his family’s quest to get tickets for the (you’ve guessed it) 1972 League Cup Final. It’s inspired me and I’m looking forward to compiling Issue Six of Now That’s What I Call Progress over the summer. Feel free to start emailing your contributions to jane@janestuart.co.uk.

But on to the match! Well it was a good (if nippy) one today. Stoke were pretty poor and didn’t even improve after half-time, as teams often do against us when they’ve got us figured out. But for all our domination and exciting attacks, the ball just wouldn’t go in the net. I remained encouraged, though. I knew Stoke wouldn’t score if we played all week. We just needed ONE to go in. Surely we could muster that? After all, we were playing our strongest side.

Jerry Yates was brought on with around ten minutes remaining and I knew exactly what needed to be done. The hat needed to come off. It had worked last week, with two goals coming in the last ten minutes after I’d taken my hat off (despite it being cold, which it was again today). Would it work again today or had that been a fluke? Deep down, I knew the answer.

BANG! Yates and Bowler linked up brilliantly and my beloved Joshy fired home with minutes remaining (well, about half an hour, it turned out, with all the additional time) – and we won 1-0. All hail the magic hat!

Here’s our match vlog where you can enjoy all the action from our day in video form, with smiling faces at the end. It really is a video of pure joy.

We skipped back to the car and had to wait a while to get moving but we didn’t give two hoots about that. Oh and speaking of hoots…

The Barn Owl, Lymm

Of course we had to stop off on the way home for a celebratory beer some tea. Again I referred to the trusty CAMRA Good Beer Guide app – and this time it came up trumps with a pub that is in the GBG (yay a tick!).

This was a little tricky to find (especially in the dark) but eventually we found ourselves pulling up in the car park. And boy it looked delightful! There was a lovely conservatory area where couples were having romantically-lit meals. And there was a row of pretty huts outside, along the canalside.

The wood carvings were most impressive and there were more everywhere we looked.

As soon as we stepped into the pub – WOOF! – no, not a dog, but we were hit with a wave of heat. This was a large, open-plan pub but they sure knew how to keep it warm. I’ve no idea how, as there was no sign of a raging fire.

But you’re here for the beer, right?

I went for the Wainwrights again, as I’d enjoyed it so much in Freckleton last week.

Now let’s consider the menu.

I referred to the main menu and, as soon as I saw a curry on there, I could look no further.

As we ordered our food, Lee remarked on the unusual vinegar vessel that was on the table.

‘I LOVE this.’

‘Do you want one? We’ve got loads of spares in the back.’

‘Er…well…yeah! Thank you!’

Wow we weren’t expecting that but we weren’t going to say no, as Lee had fallen in love with it. Our delightful hostess came back minutes later.

‘Here you are. I’ve just put it in the wash for you so it might be a bit warm.’

How amazing was this girl? This was the best service EVER.

Owl-themed art in fitting with the name of the pub.
The toilets were smart, as was the rest of the pub.

And then our food arrived and that was great too. I scoffed it all.

By the time we came to (reluctantly) leave, the pub – which had been pretty quiet when we’d arrived – was fast filling up. We’d certainly arrived at the perfect time. And we would definitely be returning here. Not only is it a handy pit-stop off the M6 with excellent food and good beer, but I really value good customer service and like to reward it with repeat custom (see Cask and Tap).

This broke up the journey really nicely. On the short hop home, I remembered that Robbie Williams was good luck stretching back around 20 years when Gareth and I used to travel to games from the West Midlands in the car. Was it Robbie who had seen off the Potters (ah Pottermus – I get it now!)? Would make sense, him being a Vale fan. Cheers Rob!

Next Up: Manchester Pub Crawl – The Northern Quarter.

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Thank you Sarah for buying the beer in Cheshire today. Cheers Sarah!