I didn’t go to Blackburn midweek. I simply couldn’t face it and, from what I’ve heard, the congested concourse would have been a huge stressor for me. The fact is, the football is depressing at the moment. Back in 1999 (when we were last this bad) I was addicted to Blackpool and missing a match was incomprehensible to me. I was also severely depressed and spending most of my time sleeping because I was uncomfortable every waking moment of the day.
So why was I going to Reading today? Well these ‘proper’ awaydays (somehow local matches don’t count) I have made into a good excuse to build a nice day/weekend around. Indeed, I was planning a Football Tourist Guide to Reading, involving a visit to Windsor Castle and Legoland. And then I realised it was half term and Legoland would be full of kids, so decided to defer this until another time. Instead, we were going to today’s match on the Blackpool Supporters Association (BSA) coach – a cheap, comfortable (ish) and convenient way to get to away games. And I was going to make sure the journey at least would be enjoyable.
My lifestyle guru Paddington had packed us a cool bag full of healthy snackage (plus the standard low-syn treats to comfort me after the inevitable defeat). I began the journey by tucking into my apple and cinnamon overnight oats.
I then settled back with a couple of books I was determined to finish today.
The first was Diversify by June Sarpong, which I’d had on the go for a number of weeks. It’s a well-researched, well-structured and easy to read book about understanding marginalised groups of society and how we can help to include them.
My second book was Nowhere to Hide by Tom Boyd. This is a memoir of a top Aussie Rules footballer who retired from the game for mental health reasons. To be honest it was a grim read but what was particularly interesting was that he was forced to continue playing with injuries. Well at least we know that’s not happening at Blackpool…
I’d also brought my iPad, with the intention of editing issue 9 of Now That’s What I Call Progress, the Blackpool fanzine, but Lee had forgotten his phone so was using my iPad for his entertainment on today’s journey.
I’d received the last two articles I’d been waiting on and this issue is going to be a corker. It includes:
- My First World Cup: Ashleigh’s adventures in Qatar
- Blackpool’s A Shithole: Clockwork Tangerine gives the lie to THAT chant in an article that makes me cry every time I read it
- Pool in Pixar: Ant Stephen gives the players a makeover
- Relegation Battles: Phil Corbett remembers previous struggles that we’ve since recovered from
What’s that? You haven’t subscribed to the fanzine yet? Well it’s not too late! Quick, follow the link below.
I’d also brought my study book today so I could get ahead with my studies, so I spent the rest of the journey down learning about the construction of fairy tales. This season certainly isn’t a fairy tale nor, I suspect, will it have a happy ending…
We stopped in Henley for a two-hour pit stop en route.
I’d quickly looked up what there was to do here. Hmm a River and Rowing Museum (sadly closed for the winter). Henley was a bit posh, wasn’t it? The two pubs I’d earmarked weren’t due to open for another half an hour, so we headed off in the direction of an interesting-looking place the bus had passed on our way in.
How could I resist a shop with teddy bears peering out of the window at passers by?
On entry we were greeted by a friendly lady who enquired if we wanted to browse. We said yes please and here’s who we found.
I began to wish I’d brought Paddington to fit him out for a dressing gown.
Next stop was a toy shop, where this was the highlight.
It was pretty nippy in Henley so, as soon as the clock struck midday, it was pub o’clock. We had been heading for Row Barge (below descriptions from the CAMRA GBG app)
but I’d forgotten this and we found ourselves stepping through the doors of the other pub I’d earmarked for a visit: Hofs Bar & Dining.
As we stepped through the doors, the cleaner apologised for having the music so loud and turned it down. A cursory glance at the bar revealed one hand pump turned round, so I followed suit and turned round and back out the door.
Perhaps this was just the excuse I was looking for to go into the alluring pub across the road.
It was as if we were meant to be in this pub. It was in exactly the same position on a very similar road to the pub that had lured us in in Beverley on our way to Hull on Boxing Day. If you’d picked me up and dropped me on Market Place in Henley I’d have sworn blind I was on Saturday Market in Beverley. It was spookily uncanny.
As soon as we stepped through the door we were greeted by these.
Yep – this was the place.
Look at all these keg beers and ciders too.
And how about this for a snackage display?!
Not only did they have dark mild on (remember we’re Down South here) but the menu promised ‘proper gravy.’ Now we were in a quandary. We had enough healthy snackage in the cool bag to last us all day. This was also saving us money. But, come on, I had to try this gravy! Food was duly ordered. Oh and another pint of dark mild please.
Dear reader, what can I say? The gravy was thick and delicious. And those were Lincolnshire sausages too. What a find this place was! Not that we found it; it lured us in like the witch’s gingerbread house.
We headed out to explore the beer garden, which apparently went on ‘for miles’. And boy it did!
We contemplated remaining here to watch the afternoon’s sport but reluctantly resigned ourselves to an afternoon of misery instead…
Reading v Blackpool
Let’s begin with a positive: I was served a bottle of water with the lid intact. It was £2.50 though.
And then I carefully selected a seat where I (correctly) deduced I’d be able to view the match from a seated position (i.e. no standy uppy people blocking my view). This would soon reveal itself to be a disadvantage…
Dear reader, the afternoon got colder and colder as the match drew on. Come 32 minutes (having already been down for 20 minutes to a goal from – who else? – Tom Ince) I’d had enough and resolved to beat the queue for a much-needed hot drink. Ooh they’ve got Bovril! £2.90 seemed steep but boy was it worth it.
I spotted a tv screen under the stand and remained here until half time – both because I was chatting with Lester and because I simply couldn’t face returning to ‘them’ out there. They really are a hard watch right now.
As the concourse became flooded with Seasiders I began to feel uncomfortable in the crowd so I returned to the stand. I sat with my pal Mark and we spent most of the second half (as we went 2-0 oh and now 3-0 down) talking about pubs and beer trips (he recommended Distant Hills Brewing in Glossop – a town I’ve been meaning to revisit for a while, following my trip with Chase).
Around 80-85 minutes I couldn’t stand any more and decided to head back to the coach. I was cold and we were dead and buried. Apparently Sonny Carey got a consolation goal in the last minute. He’s weighing in with a few goals on the quiet. I’d actually had him down for first goalscorer today.
Anyway here’s Lee’s vlog of our day:
I buried myself in my books on the way home, keen to escape to other worlds. My companions on the way home were The Big Dark Sky by Dean Koontz and Mind Games: The Ups and Downs of Life and Football by Neville Southall. I like to read multiple books at a time but these must be wildly different so I don’t confuse narratives. I enjoy Koontz as pure escapism and enjoyed the influences of fairy tales in this spooky story. Southall’s book was interesting because it included references to footballers with various mental health issues. I’ve long since been of the belief that this Blackpool team could be getting better mental health support, as I’ve seen players fail to recover from individual mistakes. Clearly they are better than their performances suggest but the constant failure to win matches week after week has to be getting them down. I’ve been actively managing my own mental health for over 20 years since we were last this bad. But I do still struggle at times and I’m finding it hard to stand this week in week out without becoming ill.
By the time we pulled in at Norton Canes Services, I’d not only scoffed my emergency crisps and HiFi bars but I’d also scoffed my allegedly lucky Orange KitKat and Orange Aero. They clearly weren’t working any more. After a quick comfort break I had a nose at the food outlets. Now I was in the Danger Zone I could easily have wolfed down a burger – but look who popped up in the cleaning cupboard I passed on my way out of the Ladies…
As I was wandering around I spotted former Blackpool player Richard Keogh. His Ipswich Town colleague and captain Sam Morsy makes a cameo on the above match vlog if you’ve got the stomach to watch to the end. We didn’t have a clue who he was but he seemed to make a special effort to have his two’pennorth on the video.
A couple of hours later, as the coach approached Blackpool, I overheard a conversation along the lines of the following:
‘Well we’ll keep supporting them in League One, won’t we?‘
‘Yes – I’m Blackpool til I die.’
Fuck that. Who says I have to support them through thick and thin? If I carried on spending my hard-earned money on the football (during a cost of living crisis as well, I might add), is that not deeming this level of so-called entertainment acceptable? Back in the Worthington era I had that mentality but not now. I’d rather do something I enjoy. And I’m perfectly happy with that, thank you very much. My mental health is more important than watching this shit every week. It’s not League One per se that’s the problem. It’s having no hope. Seeing no improvement on the pitch. Having nothing to look forward to bar the relief of the season finally being over. Being mentally pummelled week after week when you’re already spark out on the floor. What league we’re in doesn’t matter. But having hope is everything. We had no hope when our chairman was in jail because we couldn’t possibly be happy when he was locked up. And we had no hope when his son was determined to take the club to non league. Both of those periods coincided with the worst mental health crises of my life. And what I’m seeing on the pitch and feeling in the stands now is starting to feel the same. Where is that hope? Throw us a carrot, someone!
Consequently I’m going to my happy place to drink beer and my next blog will be about that.
If you enjoy reading these blogs I now have a Patreon account where you can remit your thanks in the form of beer money. I provide Patrons with regular updates on my writing projects (including my forthcoming book). I can also write pieces for and about Patrons if you have a business you would like me to promote. Here’s the link to find out more and offer your support.
Next Up: Wigan Beer Festival.