The football pools

Over the years, my interest in football has dimmed somewhat.  I used to be a fairly dedicated supporter of the Fossils-turned-Foxes, but now I rarely go to matches.

Where I used to spend my match-watching time.

Away games are a bit different, though.  The atmosphere is always better, much more lively, and if you choose the right fixture, you can turn the trip into an interesting mini-break.

Last year, my friends and I went to Brighton, to watch Leicester lose 1-0 to a very late goal, but despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed our seaside soccer shenanigans.  So this year, we decided to try another famous resort, and bought tickets for the game with Blackpool.

Blackpool. Not in February (until global warming goes mental).

Having been researching shale gas and fracking over the last year or so, I was slightly worried I might have to sneak into Frackpool under cover, so I took a roundabout route via a neighbouring town: Liverpool.

This enabled me to catch up with an old friend and visit some smashing Liverpudlian pubs.  It was a great night, and finally - after about a million years of discussing them second-hand - I actually used the legendary lavs in the Philharmonic Dining Rooms.

Worth spending a penny in.

Next morning, after an Egyptian breakfast, I set off to Lime Street to catch my train north, only to find that I couldn't, and had to head east to Manchester instead.  A very chatty Bolton fan called Sid had similar problems, so we teamed up to try and negotiate our way to our respective venues.  At Oxford Road we managed to get a service to Blackpool (via Bolton), and I arrived there about 1pm.

I hadn't been to Blackpool for a fair while, and had no real sense of the town geography.  It didn't help that most of the area around the station was being dug up, so my map wasn't very useful.  Eventually I got to the hotel, where the others were already limbering up, and we set off groundwards.

After a couple of pre-match pints, we walked to Bloomfield Road.  Initially, it looked like a decent ground, till we discovered that it was all a front.  The home fans got to sit in a vaguely real stadium, but we away fans had to go round the corner and get herded into a corrugated iron shed.

This is the wrong Bloomfield stadium.

If that was bad, the pitch was simply disgraceful.  It was about 60% divots, and looked like a wildebeest migration had just taken place across its surface*.  I know Blackpool loves its donkeys, but even Tony Adams would have complained.  Surely, given that they can call games off for too much water, or too much ice, referees can apply this approach to sandy sods too?

The Bloomfield Road playing surface in happier times.

Still, the game went ahead and the players gave surprisingly reasonable accounts of themselves.  At times, it was moderately entertaining, though that was mostly through my fellow away supporters ridiculing the silent home fans.

The match finished scoreless, but the pitch wasn't obviously to blame for the lack of goals.  That said, I've not spoken to Chris Wood about the penalty he missed, so I could be wrong.

We left the magnificent arena, strolled across various industrial wastelands, and sought out a watering hole in which we could shelter from the Baltic winds.  Oh yes, there's little more glamorous than a dreary February afternoon in Blackpool.

This is Lanarkshire, but it's close enough.

Before the game, we'd found a bar showing sport on the telly and serving pints for £2, so you can guess where we headed back to.  When there the first time, Jay and I had decided that the England-France rugby score would be lower than the Blackpool-Leicester football one, so now we settled down to enjoy the world's first negative Six Nations result.  We were disappointed.

We were also hungry, so after the rugby had finished, we went back out in search of nutrition.  We then remembered we were in Blackpool, so instead started looking for foodstuffs edible under normal lighting and with an only half-drunk brain.  After much wandering, we settled on fish and chips, although Jim decided this would not have sufficient horse meat for his liking, and went to McDonald's.

Are fish fillets ever made from seahorses?

Having gotten fed up, we then got fed up.  All we wanted was another pub, but central Blackpool seemed to be devoid of them.  We could have gone into the Blackpool Tower, but it wasn't very tempting.  Eventually, we stumbled disgruntedly into a Wetherspoon's pub, which I think was called the Leighton Baines.

At this juncture I started to overheat, and realized I was still wearing my thermal clothing from the football.  I am an old man and fear frostbite, so I always put on too many layers.  This is ok on the windswept terraces at 3.45pm, but less so in a warm tavern at 8.45pm on a Saturday night.

Sexy Saturday nightwear

I decided I would have to go to the gents to disrobe, which was a bit of a faff.  Far more faffsome, though, was what to do with the thermals once I'd removed them.  After an extended period of internal dialogue, I chose to stuff them into the pockets of my hoodie, and exited the toilets looking like a marsupial.  I heartily recommend it.

I also heartily recommend embracing the rubbishness of out-of-season nightlife in a Lancashire seaside town.  If you don't, it'll depress you utterly, and the alcohol already does that, so you might as well give in and have fun.

I don't quite remember what order we went where, but there was a pseudo-Irish bar where we sang along to Dirty Old Town, and a big, old pub with almost no-one in it except middle-aged Leicester couples doing karaoke, and a curiously excellent little place with a good indie jukebox.  They were all great.

It was also great that the last place we tried - Reflex - was closed, as it would have broken the spell.  It was just a pity we'd had to walk so far to get there, singing "The Reflex, is a dot-dot-dot" all the way, as none of us knew the words.

So that was that.  We stumbled into a takeaway, ate some foodstuffs edible under neon lighting and a very addled brain, and then went to bed.  And the next morning, no matter how ropey and hazey we were feeling, we said we really must do this sort of thing again next year.

So we will.

*I work a lot on bioturbated sediments, and Bloomfield Road had an ichnofabric index of 4 to 5.