Jane Stuart – Writer

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

Blackpool v Derby County

Today was the last home game of the season – and it was to be a change to the usual routine (not that I have one of those anyway), including our season’s debut in Corporate Hospitality, as well as a previously unblogged restaurant and pub.

The Armfield Club

Our first pit stop was the Armfield, where Lee was setting up to DJ tonight – and I had arranged to meet Apple Cake Rob, who was up from Bournemouth for the match. You might remember Rob as the legend who baked the most delicious Dorset Apple Cake for Seasiders at the two fixtures against Bournemouth this season. Despite insisting he wasn’t going to go overboard with the baking on this occasion, there was still a lot of apple cake going down – and I wasn’t going to miss out on my slice. This was also an opportunity to have more of a catch up with Rob, who I’d only seen in passing at the Bournemouth home game.

I was pleased to see a dark beer on today – and from a local brewery, too.

While I waited for my pint to be poured, I was excited to spot Seabrooks crisps behind the bar. You don’t see those very often these days.

Tempting as these were, there was no way I was going to spoil my appetite; I knew very well what I was having for breakfast this morning.

Yay! Apple Cake!

I got the impression not much ale is shifted in here during the week but that actually worked to my advantage in getting surplus beer, so I wasn’t complaining. It went down very well, too, considering it was a dark beer at breakfast time.

There are always plenty of friendly and familiar faces in the Armfield Club – it really is a home from home for Blackpool fans. It’s packed with Blackpool memorabilia too and there’s tangerine and white everywhere. Bravo to the lads for working so hard to get the place up and running during lockdown. If you’re a Blackpool fan and you’ve never been in, what are you waiting for?

Corporate Hospitality

Today we were being treated to hospitality by Sean Stanhope (and family) of JSM Developments. We were pleased to find we had a parking space reserved and we met with our hosts outside the main entrance before making our way upstairs to the Stanley Matthews Lounge.

We were delighted to learn we were sitting at the ‘top table’ right in the middle at the front of the stage. Not only that, but we had an esteemed guest at our table – former Blackpool and Derby player Luke Varney.

This proved particularly helpful when we discovered the picture quiz on the table, which we handed straight to Luke to complete.

We’d barely taken our seats before our starters arrived.

Marinated chicken satay skewer, satay sauce, Malaysian chilli salad.

Today was the final day of the League One season and we were watching the scores with interest, as the games had kicked off at 1230. It was between Fleetwood and Gillingham for the final relegation place. I had previously been keen for Fleetwood to be relegated so as to put more distance between us – it never did feel right being in the same league as them these past few years. However, earlier this week, I was speaking to the owner of Akash Tandoori (great Indian food, by the way), who said he wanted Fleetwood to stay up because he got good business from the travelling fans and thus the higher they were in the football pyramid, the better it was for business in Blackpool. I’d never considered that before and it helped console me when Fleetwood escaped relegation this afternoon.

Now on to the main course.

Slow cooked beef, stock pot fondant potato, peppercorn sauce & seasonal vegetables.

Oh I say. The food was WAY better than on our last visit to hospitality, back in 2019, when all we got was a crappy pie. This beef simply fell apart and melted in the mouth – and there was loads of it. Bravo on your catering, Blackpool. This was top notch stuff.

I recognised a number of faces around the room but, as these were unfamiliar surroundings, I couldn’t place many of them; I found it odd seeing people out of context. Ashleigh came over to say hello – she’s been everywhere this season and it’s great to see such enthusiasm for Blackpool in another young woman.

The team news came in and I was gutted there was no Josh Bowler in the squad for the second successive match. There had been plenty of interest in my favourite player of all time in the January transfer window – when he was on fire – and his contract is due to expire in the summer (although we do have an option). Would I ever see Joshy play again? The idea that I wouldn’t made me quite upset.

Having spent much of the afternoon drinking water, in the absence of any decent beer, I now caved and ordered a pint of John Smiths.

I made a strategic loo stop shortly before kick off and, on approaching the sink, I opened my mouth to compliment a woman on her dress, when she chipped in:

‘Ooh you’re the one off YouTube!’

Yes, that’s me.

We didn’t get pudding until half time (an odd set up but whatever) but blimey it was worth waiting for.

Chocolate caramel delice.

Dear reader, this dessert was a delight. I only picked at the cake for the sake of my diet but I was curious as to what the tangerine item was. It was quite solid on the outside and my spoon failed to cut into it. I didn’t want to risk sending the spherical object flying across the table, so I picked it up and bit into it. And what a little taste of heaven this was! The filling appeared to be a soft blend of jaffa and chocolate.

Blackpool v Derby County

Our (padded) seats were on the middle row of the balcony, close to the halfway line. Having struggled with my vision in recent months – as charted in my blog from Tuesday night – I was pleased that this afternoon I would benefit from this better vantage point. I always used to sit/stand to the side of the pitch in my Chasetown days to get this better view of the match. That said, I was trialling some new contact lenses today and probably could have done with being behind the goal to test them out properly. But in all honesty it was just wonderful to be able to watch a match and make out who the players were for the first time in many weeks.

The match – between two sides with nothing to play for – wasn’t much to write home about. Indeed, much like the Barnsley match on Tuesday, it was the fans who provided the bulk of the entertainment.

Derby had sold 4,000 tickets for this match and they practically filled the East Stand, with the exception of the closed blocks at each end, providing a barrier between them and the home fans. The Derby fans were here in Blackpool on this Bank Holiday weekend to party. There were inflatables being tossed about amongst themselves, including beach balls and sheep (rams?). The stewards were kept busy, picking up inflatables and making sure they didn’t go on the pitch.

Now it was Derby where Richard Keogh had his ‘troubles’ and their fans piped up with an unnecessary chant about him. The Blackpool fans immediately leapt to our cult hero’s defence and began chanting his name.

‘If Keogh scores we’re on the pitch.’

Derby responded.

‘If Keogh scores we’re on the pitch.’

Blackpool were awarded a penalty.

‘Keogh! Keogh!’

In recent weeks, the Blackpool fans have been chanting for Keogh to take pretty much every set piece. Right now, though, he was on the touchline speaking to the bench. Big Gaz Gary Goals Goal Machine Madine had the ball in his hands and he looked around for Keogh to see if he wanted it. Eventually Madine placed the ball on the spot and –

the keeper saved it? Wait, what? That doesn’t happen. Had the fans distracted him in calling for Keogh, taking his focus off the penalty? Or had their keeper simply done his homework? Either way this was wrong.

We returned to amusing ourselves with chants. Derby were chanting something unintelligible to a tune I didn’t recognise (it’s not one we sing) but it involved them bouncing up and down. The Blackpool fans’ response?

‘Jump around if you’re going down.’

The Derby fans loved this and adopted it immediately, singing it for the rest of the match. They were 100% the best fans to visit Bloomfield Road this season (pipping Cov and Blues at the death). Bless them and their unbroken spirit. There is a special bond between us and the Derby fans and our interaction and mutual respect today was so beautiful to witness. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Derby were spirited on the pitch, too, putting in a feisty performance – and deservedly winning 2-0.

Here’s Lee’s vlog of the match:

In an unexpected twist, the Player Of The Year Awards took place on the pitch directly after the match. Jake Daniels won Young Player Of The Year. Jordan Gabriel won the community award because he’s always round fans’ houses (Fonz eat your heart out). Big Marv won the Players and Fans Player Of The Year Award. And I was pleased to have the opportunity to see (say goodbye to?) Joshy, as he won goal of the season for that sensational strike against Bournemouth that made me cry.

As soon as the awards were over and the players were off on their lap of honour, I made my way out of the ground to head off onto the next stage of the day. As I descended the stairs from the hospitality lounge, a voice piped up:

‘Where’s your hat?’

I didn’t have it with me today because the weather had taken a turn for the better, but it was unlucky anyway. So how had we lost? I then remembered I had no Lucky Aero in my pocket because I’d eaten it on Tuesday night at Barnsley. Schoolgirl error. I’m sorry, Seasiders.

As we had been in the West Stand today – and I was heading to a different post-match boozer than usual – I initially took a wrong turning out of the ground before quickly correcting myself and heading in a northerly direction down Seasiders Way. As I approached my turn off at Chapel Street, I observed pigeons that appeared to be living in the rundown buildings that back on to Central Car Park.

I have just noticed from a map that this road is called Coop Street, which only reinforces my belief that this is pigeon housing.

No 13 Bonny Street

This is the old Pump & Truncheon, which was our Pub Of Choice before home games for many years (after we were barred from the Dog & Partridge). There’s now a big sign in the window announcing HOME FANS ONLY which is a shame really as we met loads of decent away fans in there over the years (not to mention all the stags and hens in fancy dress, who were commonplace). The place has been taken over, renamed and brightened up a bit now. They still have a couple of beers on.

I went for a pint of the Blonde and was delighted to find a seat in the corner where we always used to sit. Ah happy memories!

Michelle soon arrived and joined me. Beside us was a group from Rotherham. They had been promoted today so they were happy. However at least one of them had terrible wind, so I was pleased to sup up and leave quickly to make our dinner reservation.

East 4 West Indian Restaurant & Takeaway

I’d spotted this place on Clifton Street when MG and I were leaving Twisted Indian after the Swansea match. I had been impressed with its five-star food hygiene rating, extensive menu and reasonable prices. We had a table booked for 1800 tonight. When Michelle and I arrived (slightly later than advertised) MG was already there – and Karen arrived shortly afterward to make up the party of four. We were the only people in the restaurant when we arrived but it filled up during the course of our two-hour stay.

I don’t like to waste my syns on lager, so I skipped the Cobra (or Kingfisher or whatever) and ordered a tap water (my restaurant staple). This was served in a metal vessel.

As this was a new restaurant to me, I was unsure as to how hot the food would be served. I know where I am with Akash and thus feel safe ordering there. And I also know from a disturbing experience at one of the restaurants on Highfield Road that I need to avoid Naga Chillies like the plague. I therefore spent a good deal of time studying this menu without establishing exactly which dishes would be right for me.

So is the Srilankan Special Hot or Very Hot?

The Jaipuri sounded lush, but this contained ‘hot chillies’ and had a Very Hot rating, which was the same as the Naga Special. The Jalfrezi is my staple and this was graded Hot, but this was cooked in ghee, which I knew wasn’t going to be great for my diet. The rice menu was much easier, as I wanted to try the Peas & Cashew Nut Rice, which was a new one on me.

Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi with Peas & Cashew Nut Rice.

The food was delicious. Mine was if anything not spicy enough for my liking (although Karen also had a Jalfrezi, which contained a chilli that almost blew her head off), so I would cautiously upgrade to Very Hot on my next visit (for I would be back here for sure).

The only downside was the metal plate. My teeth were set on edge when my fork scraped on the plate, so I had to really take care when scooping up my food.

One of my favourite things in an Indian restaurant is the provision of a free cream liqueur at the end of the meal. It isn’t a given but when it happens it’s such a treat.

Four of these were delivered to the table. MG and Karen both refused theirs for driving/sensible drinking purposes. I thought ‘ooh great – Michelle and I can have two each’. But Michelle insisted that one was enough for her. Hence I ended up necking three of the four. Well it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it…?

We got After Eights as well!

We bade our goodbyes to MG and we girls headed round the corner to Lynn’s birthday party. We didn’t have far to walk but it was raining now. I knew the rain had been coming, so I donned my black baker boy hat, handing my umbrella (which I only use when the rain is so heavy there is a risk of drowning) to Karen, who was less prepared for the weather.

West Coast Rock Cafe

The party was on the top floor of West Coast and it was quite a climb. We were greeted at the door by Mark, who confirmed it was a cash only bar on this floor, although they did take cards downstairs. I thought it seemed a bit of a faff to buy drinks on a different floor, so Michelle and I headed back down the stairs and back into the rain to use the cashpoint across the road, before climbing the stairs once again.

There had been an issue with the cask delivery for the party but two bottled West Coast beers were available: Wonky Donkey and this one:

There were so many familiar faces here – the majority of whom I knew from the football. I couldn’t even make it past the entrance to the bar before stopping to natter with friends. Michelle handed me my beer as I chatted at length with Jo, who I knew from Twitter, but had only ever spoken to in real life in the queue for the toilets at Huddersfield on Boxing Day. I was having a lovely time already but then –

I began to feel a bit queasy. Was it hot in here or was it me? Or was it downing those three Baileys in quick succession? I made my apologies and headed off in search of a chair. On my way I bumped into Paul, who I hadn’t seen for years, and he was chattering away but within a minute or two I began to black out and again made my apologies and collapsed into the nearest chair. Paul fetched me a glass of water while I composed myself.

I decided to make my way outside to cool off but, as I approached the door, I spied a spare seat on the sofa next to Michelle and instead collapsed into that. It was cooler over here by the door, so I remained here, sipping at my water, before eventually braving the balance of my beer.

From here I could see many more familiar faces across the room – and the birthday girl dancing and having a great time. I would have loved to have circulated but I didn’t dare risk getting up from my seat and blacking out again. So I stayed put and had a good old natter with Michelle and our new friend Amy, who was sitting on the adjacent sofa.

As the evening drew on, I checked Google for the bus times (now I’ve decided walking home is not the most sensible idea). I’d just missed one but there was another around 2320. Amy was heading the same way, so we headed out around 2310, as Michelle was calling a cab. I was confident I knew where the bus stop was, as I’d caught it from town before. However, on arrival, there was a sign in the shelter saying the stop was closed for the weekend because of the Young Farmers causing mayhem in town (or something along those lines) – and there was a temporary stop on West Street Promenade. Which was all very well and good but there wasn’t a map or anything so we didn’t know where that was. A group of half a dozen police happened to be walking past, so Amy took decisive action and asked them. The first one didn’t have a clue, so asked a second one, who didn’t know either and asked a third, who was also unable to help, but the fourth one finally piped up:

‘Well that’s West Street just there, so it’s probably at the prom end of that.’

And lo and behold that was where the bus stop was. Within minutes we were on the bus and on our way home.

It had been a different but enjoyable day (barring ‘the usual’ and the blackout). But boy am I looking forward to the season being over so I can finally have a rest…

Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To Peterborough.

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Thanks to Michelle and Karen for tonight’s beers.

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