Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackburn Rovers v Blackpool

I was super excited about this match today – and not just because it wasn’t Blackpool East.

The two main reasons for my excitement were thus:

1. I was going to visit my Hotpotting friend Lisa in her Pub Shed; and

2. I was FINALLY going to get some decent grub inside a football ground (I know! I couldn’t quite believe it either…).

But first – eating at the ground meant a complete rethink in terms of pre-match dining. It meant that I needed to eat pretty much as soon as I was up – when I can’t usually stomach food. This also meant getting up earlier to accommodate this. Grr.

I conducted my morning toilette to the dulcet tones of Tony Hadley and Spandau Ballet. I then did a little sesh on the static bike in a bid to lose some of the calories I was about to put on.

Now it was time for a SlimmingWorld friendly breakfast. I’ve got into my breakfast butties this week (since I have a loaf to use up) and here’s today’s offering.

Dippy egg butty with the new series of Elite (my fave) on Netflix.

Now it was time to head off on the short jaunt to East Lancashire.

Tub & Bottle

Unless you’re a staunch Hotpotter like me, it’s unlikely you’ll have heard of this place. It’s a Pub Shed in the garden of my Hotpotting friends Lisa and Stu. It became familiar to us during the Lancashire Hotpots’ lockdown livestreams. I was very excited to visit today – not only to catch up with my pals but also this was the first Pub Shed I was ever going to see in real life.

We were greeted by Molly and Dolly, a couple of friendly pubdogs. This was a great start.

Dolly was one of those dogs who would be happy to be fussed forever so Lisa rescued me so we could focus our attention on drinking having a catch up.

Lisa, Stu & Lee.

I was pleased to see a cask handpull and a pint was served by barman Stu.

I didn’t take a pic of the pulled pint but remember remarking that Martin would have been pleased with the lacings. This drew a blank look from Lisa, who doesn’t know Martin.

I wasn’t sure of the BYOB situation and we hadn’t wanted to turn up empty handed, so we’d popped to Tesco en route (I’d have preferred Booths but Lee informed me that was too far out of the way – my fault really for not being organised well enough in advance). Since Brewdog are in the bad books for sexpest reasons, my choice of dark beers seemed limited. However a four-pack of these leapt off the shelf and into our basket.

This went down very well and tasted of exactly what it said on the can.

I was also struck with inspiration whilst in Tesco. I’d seen a couple of people on Twitter recently drinking Baileys out of Lindt bunnies. I sensed that Lisa would be well up for that, so picked up some Lindt bunnies (medium sized milk chocolate – who knew there were so many sizes and flavours?) and couldn’t resist the Orange Truffle Baileys. Lisa’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when I explained what was happening.

And my goodness this was exquisite. We agreed this is definitely the future.

The Pub Shed was simply brilliant. There were pump clips adorning the walls, showcasing all the beers they’d had on since the Tub & Bottle was built during lockdown. There were setlists on the ceiling from gigs they’d been to. There was a tv showing Sky Sports. There was a dartboard. And there was much music memorabilia.

There was also some shit taxidermy. Lisa said sometimes Dolly woke up faced with this and jumped out of her skin.

We had the option to walk to the ground from here but were warned that there was a steep hill involved on the return journey. Stu explained to Lee where he could park en route with less hillage while Lisa and I focussed on drinking more Baileys from the Lindt bunnies.

I have to give the Tub & Bottle top marks for hospitality, company, beer quality, interesting things to look at and pubdogs. What more could you want from a pub? Well Lee wanted shuffleboard but that would never have fitted.

Blackburn Rovers v Blackpool

We were soon parked up by this odd kerb.

What’s that all about?

On the approach to Ewood Park, Lee spotted a fanzone and headed off to investigate that, while I only had one thing on my mind: Chicken Tikka Biryani.

There were long queues for the turnstiles (one for Upper Tier and one for Lower Tier) so I queued impatiently for several minutes before climbing lots and lots of stairs to the Upper Tier. Just give me my biryani!

I was delighted to find no queue at the refreshment kiosk. I couldn’t believe my luck. This couldn’t be right, surely? Shouldn’t there be a throng of pissed up young lads hogging the kiosk?

‘Are you serving food here?’

‘Yes we are.’

‘Oh! Have you got any biryani left?’

‘Yes we have.’

‘Ooh! One of those please!’

This was the most exciting thing ever!

I took it to the toilet (I always get this the wrong way round – a bit like my morning exercise routine where I shower first). Here I knew I’d find hot water because this was the first ground I knew of that offered hot water. On my first visit here – for a UEFA Cup match v PFC CSKA Sofia – I remembered being surprised by a sign on the door of the Ladies apologising that there was no hot water that evening. I hadn’t even known hot water at football was a thing until that night; I’d just assumed it was cold everywhere. Anyway this afternoon I was pleased to see there were coat hooks in the cubicles – if in an odd position to the side, as opposed to on the back of the door.

Obvs I wasn’t long in here. I was soon scooting up to my seat so I could sit down and have a few minutes alone with my biryani before kick off.

At first glance, it seemed to be predominantly rice. But there was LOADS of curry buried underneath. It was bloody delicious and really filling. I’d happily eat this every week (or twice a week) at the match. This was without doubt the best food I’ve ever had in a football ground – even surpassing those Crystal Palace pies and the corned beef lobby at Atherton Colls. Nom nom. Thank you Blackburn Rovers!

Well this was turning out to be a wonderful awayday already!

But now for the football…

Well actually that wasn’t so bad. But we were 1-0 down by half time without looking like scoring.

Lee went off down to explore the concourse for victims for his vlog at half time, while I remained in my seat, pointedly avoiding said concourse. I was soon joined by a man who plonked himself in the seat next to me.

‘I recognise you from YouTube. I don’t really like football. I’m more into rugby. Do you like rugby?’

‘Er no. I tried watching League and Union and I just don’t understand it. I’m the same with American Football.’

‘Well do you like any other sports apart from football?’

‘Er well before I got into football I was into the tennis and athletics. Oh and the snooker! I was well into that.’

He seemed unimpressed and muttered something about his sister doing athletics.

I then recognised little Mia, the girl who had been hit by a wheelie bin at Deepdale in the week and who had been understandably reluctant to come to today’s match. I was so pleased she had made it. With prompting from her mum, Louise, she showed me the little angel that Clare from Fulham had sent her to keep her safe.

Lee had found former Blackpool striker Keigan Parker on the concourse and he came to sit (well stand) with us for the second half.

Then we perked up after the break (was Keigan our lucky charm?) and our domination built up to a goal from Marvin Ekpiteta. Can we clone him please so we can have one up front and one at the back?

The pre-match drinkies and company and the fab food definitely enhanced the match experience for me. And just like that (as Carrie Bradshaw would say) football was back to how it should be again following the horrors of Tuesday night.

Here’s Lee’s matchday vlog, which also features the Tub & Bottle.

The search for a pub for some grub on the way home proved trickier than expected.

Hand & Dagger

The Hand & Dagger had a great menu which was nicely priced and had a curry on there, which I was craving after my biryani at the match (I could eat curry twice a day every day). It was dog friendly and, according to the CAMRA GBG app, was open and serving food right now. You can always rely on this app to sort you out.

Waze directed us into increasingly rural areas. As we drove down a scary single-lane road we were dreading a tractor coming in the opposite direction. Mercifully we arrived safely – meeting no traffic – and parked up on the pub car park.

As we walked up to the pub I noticed everyone was very well-dressed. Ooh were we about to crash a wedding? I hadn’t done that since – ooh Derby the other week.

‘CLOSED FOR A PRIVATE FUNCTION.’

Oh dammit! Right – back to the app for Plan B…

Kirkham Bierhaus

‘I’m heading for Kirkham – find us somewhere there.’

Obvs I’m trying to sneak beer in with tea on these stops, so I was delighted to see Kirkham Bierhaus pop up on the app as serving ‘German street food’. I had no idea what that was but I could probably put up with sausages and sauerkraut for the sake of trying out a new pub with decent beer.

We parked up across the road and headed straight for this little beauty. Gosh I was hungry and thirsty now!

We entered to find the place rammed with drinkers, with a long queue for the bar and not a morsel of food in sight. Whilst it was great to see this new place doing so well, it wasn’t going to do for us tonight.

As we trudged back to the car with the sun in our faces, I noticed a man stop in the middle of the path in front of us. As we got closer, he spoke up:

‘You lost today, didn’t you?’

‘No, we drew.’

‘Oh. Fylde won, though.’

‘Oh did they? Well done them.’

We had no idea who he was but we said our goodbyes and got back in the car.

As we edged closer to home, we ended up somewhere we’d fancied trying since it opened last year but never got round to.

The Black Valais

The pub’s website opens by saying ‘this is a free house bar’. Well tonight, Matthew, it was free of cask ale. But after all that time searching for food, we couldn’t very well have stormed out of here because there was no cask. I stood on my tiptoes to survey the fridges (I much prefer them they they are tall and browsable) and spotted bottled Black Sheep, so that would have to do.

It was actually surprisingly tasty. Black Sheep is one of those beers I usually ignore because it’s too prolific (and I tend to lean towards beer I haven’t heard of just in case it’s ‘the one’).

This pub seemed very much a foodie pub which is fine because that’s what we look for on our awayday travels. We were shown to a table in the restaurant on the right hand side as you walk in and studied the menus.

Ooh this sounds yummy!

I was torn between the Lasagne and the Thai Green Curry (I really wanted a Jalfrezi but this wasn’t on the menu). My usual trick when I can’t decide between two items on the menu is to go for the cheaper option, so that was me decided on the curry.

This was really creamy and I wondered if it was made with coconut cream. I didn’t think it was particularly SlimmingWorld friendly but then I suppose neither was drinking Baileys from a Lindt bunny…

Lee was very excited at the presentation of the cutlery and spent ages trying to replicate the folding of the napkin.

Eventually a waitress stopped at the table and offered a demonstration.

‘Don’t worry – you’ve got plenty of time to get it right before Christmas.’

After a few more attempts, he finally got it, so we were able to leave for home.

Back at LCTV Towers, Lee retreated to his studio to work on the match vlog, while I snuggled down in the back room to finish off the Sex And The City sequel series And Just Like That… which I’d been bingeing the last couple of days on Amazon Prime.

On reflection, that was a brilliant awayday and the perfect way to wash the midweek nightmare out of my hair. Thank you, Blackburn. I look forward to visiting you again next season.

Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To The Black Country.

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Thank you to Mark, Gaz, Trish, Lisa and Stu for the bevs in Blackburn and beyond today.

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