Football really is a rollercoaster of emotions at times. This week was to bring highs and lows – and would be a huge test for me in moderating my moods – part of my active mental health management. Little did I know that a new strategy was right under my nose…
Karen had invited me to be her plus one at the Open Day at Blackpool FC on Bank Holiday Monday. This invitation caught me unawares and I said yes even though I was a bit meh about the whole thing. I wasn’t really that fussed about meeting the players or watching them train – but it would be a nice opportunity to catch up with Karen after her holiday. And it was only a few hours out of my weekend – and it would prevent me from burning out by spending the whole day writing.
On Monday morning I had been up bright and early for my weigh-in at SlimmingWorld. I was a little disappointed with a maintain (as I’m normally weighed in the evening, so should really be lighter in the morning) but ‘f**k it – it is what it is’. Back home, I did half an hour on the static bike whilst listening to the SlimmingWorld Podcast. In that podcast, the hosts mentioned an ‘accountability bear’ – a teddy that would accompany a different group member every week to help them with their weight-loss journey, being photographed with EVERYTHING they ate. Hmm I rather liked that idea…
I made sure I ate before we went to the Open Day – so I wouldn’t be tempted off my diet whilst at the ground. With the podcast in mind, I grabbed Paddington (who you may recall from our recent trip to East Lancashire) and photographed him with my lunch.
I posted the above photo in my SlimmingWorld Facebook Group and explained what I was doing. And now it was time to head off to the club.
Before heading into the ground, we had arranged to meet up with Richard from the New Forest, who was here with his friend, Tony, who was over from Australia. Richard had kindly gifted me some Lucky Orange Aeros at Christmas. Today he apologised that he couldn’t find any, so instead handed me these, hoping they’d do the trick:
Well a change is as good as a rest, so I agreed to give them a go as a potential new lucky talisman for this season. They’d also be better for the diet, as once I open a huge Orange Aero, it is hard for me not to eat the whole thing. At least Clubs are only small.
Lee then headed into the stands while I walked round to the Main Entrance to take the stairs up to the Directors Box. Karen sponsors my favourite player Josh Bowler and, as a sponsor, this gained us special access this afternoon. I was greeted on reception by a couple of friendly faces (‘love your work!’) and provided with directions (‘up to the second floor and turn left’). There were more friendly faces at the top of the stairs as I bumped into Sylvia and Pat just outside the doors to the Directors Box and we walked in together.
Blackpool FC Open Day
I couldn’t remember being in the Directors Box before – if I had, it was donkeys years ago – so it was at least a different perspective. There was a trophy cabinet in here brimming with Play Off Winners trophies. I was surprised to see a championship trophy in here, too; I hadn’t realised we’d actually won leagues in the past. It’s not part of my history like the Play Offs or Football League Trophies or Lancashire Cup; nor is it something I ever see celebrated from my pre-history, such as the FA Cup and the Anglo Italian Cup. I thought winning leagues was simply something we didn’t do. But apparently we did win the Second Division in 1929/30. And the War Cup in 1943. Well you live and learn.
We were pointed to a table laden with (non-alcoholic) drinks and I was delighted to find some sugar-free options to keep me on plan.
I found Karen sitting outside watching the training session that was already underway. It looked quite good fun, especially the goalkeepers, who were playing some sort of game, bopping a football to each other, which bounced off another football they each held in their hands.
We noticed that, from our seats in the front row, we had to lean forward a little to see the near touchline – just a slight design error which I think I could live with in exchange for heated seats. Simon Sadler’s seat was viciously protected by Martin Booker (Commercial Manager), with no-one allowed to sit in it.
Once the training session was finished, the players and manager spent a long time chatting with the fans, who were clamouring for autographs and selfies. Everyone was relaxed and happy and it was such a joyful occasion. It was a lovely day for it, too, with the sun out but not blazing too hot like it had the other week.
Michael Appleton came up to the Directors Box to address the sponsors. He came across as a genuine, open and honest man who says exactly what he thinks. He explained that this training session was a light one, with us having three games in a week. He also said he’d like to bring in three or four more players as well as sending out a few on loan to allow them the opportunity for some game time. I really like Michael Appleton. He is so different to the Vulcan Critch, who always seemed guarded in what he said and who we really knew very little about, even though he was with us for a couple of years.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to chat with friends in this relaxed environment, including Kev, who I used to stand with in the South Paddock in the 90s; Sylvia and Pat from BSA, who I only really ever chat to in passing; and John Cross, who told me about a few of the upcoming events for the Blackpool Former Players Association, including a celebration of that Anglo Italian Cup win in 1971 (and final in 1972). We contemplated the signed shirts that were mounted on the wall and couldn’t decipher any of the autographs and chuntered that autographs aren’t what they used to be.
I have a good collection of players’ autographs from the 1990s. I used to write to players and they’d (sometimes) reply with a signed photograph – thus making it easy to marry up the autograph with the player. These signed shirts and autograph books these days really are indecipherable. Even when the players incorporate their squad number into their autograph, who remembers who was number 26 in season 2012/13?
The players began drifting up after they had made their way around the throngs of fans in the stands. Ooh look – there’s Lewis Fiorini. I really REALLY wanted to go over and ask if I could touch his hair but I realised that was probably inappropriate requesting to touch a complete stranger so I made a conscious decision to stay firmly rooted at the opposite end of the room. Ooh there’s CJ Hamilton and Dom Thompson. I suppose I ought to make an effort to go over and say something nice. Lee and I get people coming up to us all the time telling us they enjoy our work and it’s really a nice thing to hear and makes us feel good. People still thank us for helping them through lockdown with our livestreams. Hence why I’ve now started to say nice things to players who bring me joy. Previously I’ve always thought ‘oh they don’t want to be bothered by strangers coming up to them’ but it is nice to be nice and give compliments. So today I told Dom Thompson how everyone loves him and his passionate style of play. People were having their photos taken with the players but I wasn’t really that fussed about that.
Ooh there’s Maxi! I needed a photo with my favourite goalkeeper EVER. I love Maxi!
Maxi seemed in a bit of a hurry – I think he was showing his sponsors the dressing rooms or something – so I didn’t get to tell him he was my favourite but it was still lovely to see him.
Now you might have noticed that my excitement was building as the afternoon wore on. And I hadn’t even seen Josh yet! More time passed and my anticipation built to peak levels. Most of the players had come and gone now – and many of the sponsors had drifted off – but I wasn’t going anywhere until I’d seen my beloved Joshy! I NEEDED a photo and simply HAD to tell him how he made me feel. All of a sudden it was the most important thing in the world. I’d stage a one-woman sit-in if it came down to it.
News from downstairs was that a little girl had offered Josh her pennies to stay with Blackpool. With the transfer deadline later this week rumours were rife that Josh would be leaving but I couldn’t bear to even think about that. Why worry myself about something that might not even happen?
Finally he arrived! My Joshy! He was ushered onto the balcony with Karen for her official sponsors photo and I was invited out too. Ooh was I allowed? How exciting! The official photo turned out to be terrible but here’s one Karen took of me and Joshy.
And he was SO lovely. I couldn’t help but tell him how he made me feel like I had electricity running through my veins when I watched him play and how he was the best player I had seen in 30+ years of watching Blackpool – and that he was so special. He was so humble and polite. Karen asked how he felt having a price tag on his head and he just said it was no different to when he played at school – he just enjoys playing football and was really enjoying his time at Blackpool.
Now I’d got my photo and confessed my love, I floated down the stairs to meet up with Lee, who was waiting for me outside the main entrance, together with a small group of fans who had remained to catch the last of the players leaving. As we headed back towards the car – and I was kicking myself for not asking Josh to sign a copy of my fanzine – we spotted Jordan Gabriel and his partner and daughter walking towards us. We’d met Jordan before and Lee felt comfortable inviting him to have a chat on camera to provide a nice finish to the vlog that he was recording this afternoon.
As Jordan’s interview was coming to an end, he called over Josh – who was just heading across from the main entrance – and invited him across to be on camera too. Not only did Lee get an interview with Joshy but I also took this opportunity to get my fanzine signed! I also gave Joshy a copy for him to take away (and I NEVER give away free fanzines – just ask Linton Brown).
Back home I could not stop beaming and giggling to myself. What a joyful, feelgood day this had been. And to think I hadn’t even been fussed about going! I felt like a teenager again and was more in love with Joshy than ever before, which had been a LOT. He really was special. What was not to love? It took me ages to get to sleep because I was too excited.
Here’s Lee’s video of the day:
Fast forward to Wednesday night and we were playing Blackburn at home and we still had Joshy so I was happy.
I had some risky prawns for tea (I had accidentally left them out overnight but they had been back in the fridge all day so hopefully they’d be fine). Paddington was proving to be a sterling companion, identifying a number of bad eating habits that I hadn’t even known I’d had. By now I was personifying him on my SlimmingWorld Facebook group and I’ve started hearing his voice in my ear every time I think about eating or (not) exercising. He’s proving a great help and is determined to get me my 1.5 stone award by the end of September.
Alexa reminded me to bring the washing in before heading out to the match. I had a pre-match rendezvous this evening which – unusually for me on a home matchday this season – involved a visit to the pub before the match.
As soon as I walked through the door of the pub, I spotted Scott on a high chair at a high table and headed over to say hello. Scott is the editor of the Blackburn Rovers fanzine, 4,000 Holes. We’d conversed on Twitter recently when I’d queried why his zine was called 4,000 Holes. Apparently it’s a lyric from a Beatles song.
As I opened my rucksack to hand Scott a fanzine to read while I retreated to the bar, he made enquiries after Paddington, who he’d spotted in my bag. I muttered something about him being my accountability bear and helping me with my diet but probably didn’t make any sense. I retreated hastily to the bar, handing our host Liam some copies of the zine to sell behind the bar (if you haven’t got yours yet, call into Shickers, No 10 Ale House or Cask & Tap, who are all stocking the zine, and enjoy a pint or two while you’re reading it).
Paddington was here with me tonight to make sure I stayed on plan and did not exceed my syn allowance on beer, which meant I could only have a pint in total. I ordered a half of the Lancaster Red and the Fuzzy Duck.
Scott and I had a great chat about fanzines. I haven’t met many fellow fanzine editors in person and was pleased to have had this exchange tonight. We swapped fanzines and article ideas.
At 1830 it was time for me to head off to get in position to shift some more fanzines. I wanted to be comfortable before I headed out so I made a quick visit on my way out – and here’s your latest Loo Review.
Now That’s What I Call Progress
Tonight my selling position was outside the main entrance to the club. It’s a nice spot and I do feel much safer selling here than on Bloomfield Road.
Tonight I met a man who takes a rattle (an actual rattle) into the ground with him (and uses it!).
He gave me a demonstration and BOY it was loud – even with my hands covering my ears! I had been contemplating moving to M Block but I might reconsider now I know he sits there with that thing!
I had loads of people coming over for chats, including:
- a steward
- Scott of 4,000 Holes fame (who had been off to buy a dirty burger and had returned to heckle me for not shouting ‘FANZINE!’ loud enough)
- a random man who appeared to be asking me for writing references so he could get me some writing jobs
- a lad explaining how to sneak flares into the ground (I hadn’t asked)
- someone who introduced himself by his AVFTT username (I can’t even remember people’s REAL names)
- Chris from Turnstiles Magazine (a Blackburn Rovers fan who has written a piece in Issue 6 of my zine and who was very tall)
- a man asking if I had my hat with me, who breathed a sigh of relief when I said I hadn’t because it was unlucky
In between all that chatter, I did manage to shift some fanzines before heading round to lucky(?) turnstile 15.
Blackpool v Blackburn Rovers
Now inside the ground, I used the lucky(?) toilet cubicle before heading up into the South Stand. Oh. I had to sit next to Derek again, because someone was in Lee’s seat, so we’d have to both move up one. But it was unlucky if I sat next to Derek. Bah!
I’d brought a jumper tonight because it had been cold in the stand on Saturday but it was warmer this evening, with less of a breeze.
Blackpool started brilliantly and I was thrilled to see we had our swagger back. This is what football is all about. And Joshy was still here and I intended to enjoy every minute of it.
Then Blackburn scored completely against the run of play on 16 minutes and we were so shocked that we never recovered. Indeed, our visitors got stronger as the game progressed. And their 3,000+ fans got more annoying as the game progressed. And the game ended 1-0 to them. I’m not sitting next to Derek again. And so much for the Lucky Orange Club, which clearly wasn’t a thing, despite me taking it out of my pocket and rubbing it for the last ten minutes of the match (the Lucky Orange Aero would have come up trumps here).
I nearly got locked in the loo at the end of the game, so late are we getting out of the ground after we’ve done our post-match video summary. I’m convinced this is going to happen one week so, if I go quiet for a day or so after a home game, please come and rescue me.
It was cold outside and I’d lost Lee by this point so I tried to call him but there was no answer. As I waited for him outside the BFC Hotel, I was approached by a man from Ireland who started rabbiting away about some crutches that his friend had borrowed.
‘There was a man standing here who got them for us. He was a tall man. We said we’d bring them back after the game but there’s no way my friend can get back to the hotel without them. We’re heading back to Ireland tomorrow. Can we just drop them off at the club shop tomorrow? Do you think that would be all right? I don’t want anyone thinking we’re taking the piss or anything.’
Why was he telling me all this? Just because I happened to be standing where the tall man who had given them the crutches had been earlier? Or did I look like a steward in my tangerine Fritidsklader cagoule? I sensed that he just wanted to tell someone to relieve himself of this burden but who was I going to tell? It was nothing to do with me. I was just cold and wanting to find Lee and go home. I sent him in the direction of a steward and continued down Bloomfield Road, trying to call Lee again before I remembered he’d left his phone at home. Mercifully I found him waiting for me on the corner and that was that for tonight’s adventures.
Tomorrow was transfer deadline day. Would Joshy stay and make my day? Or would he leave and break my heart?
Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To Huddersfield.