Jane Stuart – Writer

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

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Preston AKA Blackpool East – Part Two: The Bad And The Ugly

(If you missed The Good part, you can find it here.)

For my new readers, I will again explain that, during lockdown I bombed, rebuilt and rebranded Preston station as Blackpool East because I had to amuse myself somehow. This has now expanded to a renaming of the whole town (or is it a city now? whatevs).

We returned home after our whistle-stop tour of Blackpool and put our feet up and watched an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. This gets good towards the end of the first series and we’re now well into the second series. I love Spock and his raised eyebrow. I wish I could do that.

I’ll confess, whilst sitting comfortably, cuddling Soo the panda, who I’d won at the Camel Derby this afternoon, I was more than half tempted to stay exactly where I was and give tonight’s match a miss. I wasn’t looking forward to the inevitable aggro and the game was on tv. I do tend to get football fatigue at this time of year anyway and, with us having nothing to play for after failing to turn up for the match against Forest on Saturday – which I’d had to drink to blot out – what was the point of going to a match I was unlikely to enjoy? I had been anxious all day about experiencing trouble tonight and I could avoid all that by staying at home.

But I reluctantly dragged myself off the sofa and we headed off down the M55 around 1815.

Preston North Blackpool East End v Blackpool

After a short drive we were soon parked up at a car park at a school close to the ground. It was a bargain at £3 (we’d paid double that at Stoke recently).

We were warned that the car park would close an hour after the match ended but we didn’t anticipate that being a problem, as we had no intention of hanging around here any longer than absolutely necessary.

There were loads of police swarming about – overkill, I thought – but they were useful in providing directions to the away end. We were directed down a closed street, where we had to present our match ticket to gain access. Arriving at the ground we were greeted by friendly Seasiders. I quickly headed towards the turnstiles.

‘Can you just unzip your coat for us, love?’

Wot no frisk? There was a sniffer dog though, but I was too anxious to ask the dog’s name or pet it. I took a photo but it didn’t come out. Was I fated to come away with nothing joyful from tonight?

I was keen to head straight in as I wanted to get through the concourse before it got too crowded. But I was already too late. It was already crowded. I pushed my way through in the direction of the Ladies and took refuge in here and breathed for a few minutes. I was pleased to find accessible toilet roll, hot water and a working hand drier in here, so acceptable toilet marks for Blackpool East (not top marks as they are only awarded for those with added extras, such as free sanitary products, hand cream and hairspray).

I studied my ticket so I could head directly to my seat. I was pleased to discover that my seat was directly above where I already was, so was there in a flash. I didn’t even need the steward’s directions but I accepted them when offered anyway.

My seat was towards the front, just to the side of the goal. As time passed, this area began to flood with young males in dark clothing climbing over seats to join the rest of the pack. I soon realised this wasn’t where I wanted to be at all, so I relocated towards the back of the stand.

The trouble was I could not see from up there. I’m having problems with my contact lenses at the moment and can barely make out number plates and people’s faces. From up here I could not make out who the players were. Their numbers were blurred or doubled. Once again I wished I’d stayed at home and watched the match on tv and I couldn’t believe I was feeling like this. I’m beginning to feel that people like me aren’t wanted at away games any more (despite my 30 years loyal service). I can’t buy a bottle of water with a lid on, I can’t buy edible food, there’s no room for me on the concourse and I can’t sit in a seat and watch the game for people standing up in front of me.

It would have been Tom Finney’s 100th birthday today and a small section of the away end chanted something despicable and disrespectful. Again I felt I didn’t belong. My anxiety was sky high and my blood ran cold. I wished I’d had more to drink before the match.

The pitch was in good nick. Which is more than I can say for the Blackpool team tonight. It seemed that two-week break (enforced by Lancashire Police but caused by the Tories visiting Blackpool on the original date of this fixture) had left us disjointed. Now we have nothing to play for (unusual for us at this stage of the season) it all feels a bit pre-season-can’t-really-be-arsed-as-these-games-don’t-mean-anything. But they do, Blackpool, to a lot of people – especially derbies.

The game was paused for 11 minutes while our keeper Grimmy received treatment. Word was that their player had left a knee in. Grimmy was out cold and being given oxygen before being stretchered off. This was the first time I’d seen a player stretchered off since COVID.

Things just went from bad to worse on the pitch after that. There was a huge hole in our midfield where Kevin Stewart should have been and the Nobbers exploited it over and over again. The goal was inevitable and deserved.

Their scorer – the same one who had been involved in Grimmy’s hospitalisation – celebrated right in front of the Blackpool fans in what could be deemed as inciting a riot. Objects came raining down from the visiting supporters in his direction. That’s never acceptable but it was understandable.

In the second half I already knew we were going to get nothing out of this game. Their keeper caught everything that came his way. And we remain shit at set pieces. But it was nice to see Maxi and Matty Virtue back in the team. Otherwise I was almost relieved I couldn’t see that well – however I kept alert and –

hello, what was this flying towards me? It was heading straight for me. It was bigger than a bumble bee. Was it a drone? Bloody hell it was massive! I ducked to one side to avoid it.

‘What the fuck was that?!’

‘I’ve no idea. But it’s down there…’

Dear reader, I still have no idea what it is. Twitter concluded that it is a cockchafer aka maybug. Any thoughts?

Obvs that did my anxiety the world of good and I just wanted to be out of here and on my way home now. But that wasn’t an option. We were aware that we were being held back for ten minutes after the match for safety which, to be honest, I was ok with. At least Lancashire Police had let us know this in advance, unlike their West Midlands counterparts at Birmingham earlier this season.

When the final whistle blew we remained in our seats as instructed. At least we could have a sit down now, having been on our feet for two hours.

After a breather and a post-match post-mortem, we began filtering out of the ground, only to find we were penned in by a wall of coaches blocking our exit road. As we milled around here a man told us he’d just seen a little girl sobbing her heart out because she’d been hit by something thrown by a home fan. He was visibly upset himself.

We managed to find a small gap between two coaches and made our way to freedom down the road we had come in on. Only to be greeted with a police cordon at the end of that road. Great.

As at Birmingham, the Blackpool fans were patient and well-behaved in the face of this unexpected travel restriction. I guess many were hungover (no beer being on sale in the ground), which probably helped in this regard. But it was half an hour before we were allowed through – this in addition to the ten minutes we were held back in the ground. All we wanted to do was go home – where I’d wanted to be all night – but instead we were stuck here with a drone buzzing overhead, looking for trouble – the opposite of what we were doing.

At length we were released into empty streets. All we had to worry about now was getting back to the car park before they closed it. They’d said they’d keep it open for an hour after the game and it must have been close to that now.

Mercifully it was still open and we could finally make our way home.

Here’s Lee’s match vlog for your enjoyment (Adam) or at least for historical interest.

What a legacy from this derby, that little kids are now frightened to go to our match at Blackburn on Saturday.

I want to write about what a joy football is and I want to encourage people to come along and join us in this wonderful, special football family but the truth is that sometimes – mercifully rarely – it can be a horrible experience. And tonight was a prime example of that. Roll on the close season.

PS Dear Blackpool East, I will give you a proper visit in the close season to explore your pubs. But today clearly wasn’t the day for that…

Next Up: Blackburn Rovers v Blackpool.

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