Oh I do Like to be Beside the Seaside
Blackpool is a famous Lancashire seaside town on the northwest coast.
It is the home of the wild stag/hen night, Pleasure Beach rides, trams, the illuminations, the Tower, Madame Tussauds, a zoo and so much more.
Located twenty-seven miles north of Liverpool and forty miles west of Manchester, Blackpool has a population of around 150,000.
Erected in 1894, Blackpool Tower was the tallest building in the British Empire at 518 feet (158 metres).
Blackpool was built on the tourist industry that flourished in the 18th century when it became fashionable to take the sea air for your well-being.
With the introduction of a railway link in the 1840s, the connection with major cities in the north of England helped it grow further. By the turn of the century, Blackpool’s population had grown to 47,000, from just five hundred in 1801.
Blackpool also has a historic football team!
Sir Stanley Matthews was one of the finest players this country has ever produced. He played many years for Blackpool and even had an FA Cup Final named after him.
Matthews is a legend at both Blackpool and my own club, Stoke City.
It would be good to see his ‘other’ team in action.
Our day began at the unholy time of 05:30.
Even cockerels don’t like to be disturbed at that time of day!
Having stumbled from the bathroom and into some clothes, we groggily walked to the bus station.
From there, we caught the 06:34 X1 to Newcastle, arriving at 07:25.
With the obligatory Greggs breakfast in hand, we made the short walk to Newcastle Central train station to await the 08:06 train to Carlisle.
Departing on schedule, we were in Carlisle by 09:30, with a half-hour wait for the next connection at 10:06.
The 10:06 departed on time and we were aboard the dreaded Avanti West Coast train heading south.
I say dreaded because I genuinely dread using that company to get anywhere. The amount of cancelled trains from Avanti is quite ridiculous and far outweighs any of the other services we use.
Anyway, this particular train left on time, despite the man on the station tannoy announcing the cancellation of an Avanti train to Glasgow…
The sun made a brief appearance as we passed through parts of the beautiful Lake District.
We alighted at Preston station at 11:15.
After catching the 11:49 train to Blackpool South and arrived at our destination at 12:30.
Earlier in the week, I had enquired about decent watering holes to visit in Blackpool.
We received a reply from Blackpool fan royalty!
On top of all this, Jane writes about the pubs and beers that she encounters on her travels on the Football Tourist Guide.
So, when she recommended pubs, we listened.
Along with the No.10 Ale House & Kitchen and the Cask & Tap, Jane recommended Shickers Micropub.
With two of the bars being in the north of Blackpool, we decided to head to Shickers. This was perfectly situated adjacent to Blackpool South train station on Waterloo Road.
Shickers turned out to be a great choice and was full of Blackpool FC memorabilia.
The guy behind the bar was friendly and helpful, allowing Mrs Hopper a taster of the beer she was contemplating. Deciding it suited her tastes, she ordered a pint of Lancaster Red, which, along with my Inch’s cider, cost a reasonable £7.45.
On top of pub recommendations, Jane had said she would like to meet up with us. We settled in a comfortable corner of the pub and waited for her to arrive.
With a ping notification on my phone reading, “I have no idea what you look like. Arriving now. I’m the short one holding magazines”, Jane arrived.
It was great chatting with Jane and I’m pretty sure we sold her on a trip over the border to visit Cowdenbeath‘s wonderfully unique Central Park. She was also kind enough to give us one of her fanzines, entitled ‘Now That’s What I Call Progress’.
After a couple of pints, the time had zoomed by and we were past our usual time for getting to a stadium.
We all walked up Lytham Road and turned right onto Bloomfield Road.
Along Bloomfield Road is a bar named after club legend, Jimmy Armfield.
The Armfield Bar is a popular spot for home fans to gather on matchday and it has a magnificent mural of the man himself painted on the end wall.
Blackpool – Bloomfield Road Exterior
The stadium on Bloomfield Road loomed large before us but it was a statue that took my eye as we neared.
Jimmy Armfield is honoured again on the southwest corner of the ground. This time as a larger-than-life statue.
On the 1st of May 2011, the nine-foot-tall bronze statue was unveiled, exactly forty years after he retired from playing.
We did our best Noddy Holder impression and said Gudbuy T’Jane, before walking to the club shop at the south end of the ground.
The club shop doubles up as the ticket office and a large queue was in place to collect them.
Inside we bought a pin badge and a programme, both priced at £3.00.
£3.00 gets you 48 semi-glossy pages of Seasiders info and news plus a section on the visitors.
An uninspiring cover but thank you Blackpool for carrying on the tradition of printed programmes!
Time was moving on now and we walked along the West Stand, straight to the turnstiles at the far corner, to get into the ground.
We bought our tickets online via the Blackpool ticketing website at a cost of £26.00 each plus a £2.00 booking fee and £1.00 postage.
There was a long queue of people waiting to get into the ground and it was slow-moving for some reason.
By the time we got inside the ground, the game had already kicked off and we missed about three minutes of the action.
Although the following photo was taken after the game, it seems more fitting to place it here.
At the north end of the Bloomfield Road stadium, there is another life-size statue.
This time it depicts Stan Mortensen, the man who scored a hat trick in the 1953 ‘Matthews FA Cup Final‘. He remains the only man to score three goals in a Wembley FA Cup Final.
The only other hat tricks in FA Cup finals were both scored before Wembley Stadium was dreamt of. William Townley for Blackburn Rovers in 1890 (at the Kennington Oval) and Jimmy Logan for Notts County in 1894 (at Goodison Park).
The statue was unveiled on the 23rd of August 2005 by Stan’s widow and Jimmy Armfield.
The club’s fans contributed towards the erection of this monument.
A plaque sits on the wall of the North Stand in memory of a Blackpool fan who was fatally stabbed on the old Spion Kop in 1974.
It stands as a vivid reminder that hooliganism is not a ‘fun’ aspect of football and is a history lesson that should be learned by the new breed.
Blackpool – Bloomfield Road Exterior Gallery
Blackpool – Bloomfield Road Interior
Once inside the ground, we quickly found our seats and it was a great location, too.
To our left was the Mortensen North Stand.
Mortensen North Stand
This section of the ground is where Blackpool’s more vocal supporters congregate behind the goal.
It is a single-tiered covered stand with flags running the length of the back of the stand, merging with our corner.
The Club Moretti hospitality lounge is in the northwest corner of this stand.
The North Stand replaced the traditional Spion Kop terrace when renovations of Bloomfield Road took place at the turn of the century.
Matthews West Stand
Named after Blackpool’s other hero of 1953, the Matthews West Stand is the main stand at Bloomfield Road.
Another single-tier roofed structure, it contains the inner workings of the club; offices, reception, dressing rooms etc.
A hospitality balcony and executive boxes are located at the rear of this stand.
During the renovation work, the players’ tunnel was moved from the South Stand to the halfway line in the centre of the West Stand.
Armfield South Stand
The South Stand, in keeping with the other two sides mentioned so far, is a single-tier covered and seated affair that merges seamlessly with the Matthews West Stand.
It was built in 2010, replacing the old South Stand that had been demolished seven years prior.
A hotel is built into the southeast corner of this stand. It was originally meant to overlook the pitch and double up as hospitality but the finished hotel only reaches the same height as the stadium roof.
There are further hospitality lounges to the rear of the South Stand seating.
In the southwest corner is a large electronic screen and this section of the ground is also home to the Blackpool FC Hall of Fame and the players’ families balcony and hospitality area.
The southeast corner is the pitch-facing side of the hotel and restaurant.
The East Stand is probably the most permanent ‘temporary’ stand in football.
Built to bring Bloomfield Road up to the standard required for Premier League football in 2010, it has already been in place for thirteen years and shows no sign of being replaced yet.
With a capacity of 5,120, it is currently used to house away supporters.
Any permanent structure built here will require the club to acquire the land behind the temporary stand on Back Henry Street. There have been discussions with the council but as of yet, the temporary stand lives on.
Six floodlights are built into the structure and the pylons double up as roof supports. This means that the view from the East Stand is restricted.
Blackpool – Bloomfield Road Interior Gallery
Blackpool FC were founded in 1887.
They were founding members of the Lancashire League before being invited to join the Football League’s Second Division in 1896.
Bloomfield Road has been the home of the Tangerines since 1901, having previously played at Raikes Hall Gardens and the Athletic Grounds.
Originally, Bloomfield Road was known as Gamble’s Field, named after the farmer who owned the land it sat on.
Gamble’s Field was the home ground of South Shore FC and became the home ground of Blackpool upon the merger of the two clubs in December 1899.
The record attendance at Bloomfield Road is 38,098, achieved back in 1955 when Blackpool hosted Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The boardroom at Bloomfield Road was once replete with oak panelling salvaged from Horatio Nelson’s one-time flagship, HMS Foudroyant. This was still in place as recently as 2003.
The ground hosted its only England international game in 1932 when Ireland were the visitors.
Bolton Wanderers were the visitors for the 1,000th match at Bloomfield Road on 10 September 1960. This game also has the distinction of being the first live game to be broadcast on TV.
Between the 23rd of May 2000 and March 2010, the redevelopment of Bloomfield Road took place. The old Spion Kop at the north end of the ground and the West Stand were the first to be overhauled with the South and East Stands demolished in 2003.
Despite being demolished in 2003, the stands were not replaced until 2010. The South Stand was added to the North and West Stands in a seamless single-tiered row. The East Stand, meanwhile, was erected as a temporary structure that is still in place thirteen years later, with no immediate plan to replace it.
As it stands, Bloomfield Road has a capacity of 16,616.
The Oyston Family
Blackpool fans famously boycotted home games for a number of seasons in protest at the club’s owners, the Oyston Family.
Rather than repeat the tale, I will post a link from Sportingblog.com that has been fabulously put together and chronicles the whole sorry tale as it took place.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad under their stewardship. The club returned to the top tier of English football in 2010/11 and the much-needed redevelopment of Bloomfield Road was mostly carried out.
Having said that, only bitter memories of the regime will remain due to the acrimony involved in getting them out of the club.
Blackpool – Pre-Game View of Bloomfield Road
Blackpool v Reading – The Game
Coming into today’s game, neither side had been exactly prolific in front of goal, with a combined ten goals in fourteen matches.
Blackpool had scored just four times in their seven league games, while Reading had notched six from seven.
Visitors Reading, meanwhile hadn’t fared much better in front of goal.
After two losses to open the season, the Royals got their first three points and their first goal, in a 1-0 win at home to Cheltenham. They have followed this with two wins and two losses, scoring just five goals in the process.
To balance this out somewhat, Reading managed to score an incredible nine times in their last match, an EFL Trophy game at Exeter.
Needless to say, the Blackpool fans we had spoken to were quick to point this out when I asked how they thought today would go.
For my own part, I foresaw a very tight game with a single goal for the hosts separating the teams.
Yeah, I’m not very good at this predicting lark…
Summary – Blackpool ‘Rock‘ Reading
I hope you saw what I did there…
Despite anticipating a close game, the home side took the lead via a Jordan Rhodes penalty in the 20th minute and never looked back.
You can view that penalty in the second video below.
A second goal was added by Kylian Kouassi in the 27th minute, which I again caught on video (below).
Further goals were added in the 31st and 51st minutes respectively.
The second of these was the culmination of a great day’s work by Jordan Rhodes as he notched a hat-trick.
Not surprisingly, he was voted man of the match and received a standing ovation when he was hooked in the closing stages.
Reading did manage a consolation via an own goal by James Husband in the 78th minute.
Unfortunately, I missed the goal as I was discussing with Mrs Hopper the merits of ginger and lime being added to Jameson’s whisky.
It’s a terrible waste of good whisky, right?
Attendance – 10,104
Entrance Fee – £26.00
Programme – £3.00
Blackpool v Reading – Match Highlights
League Table After Today’s Game
Up next for Blackpool, is a tough away trip to promotion-chasing Barnsley on September 30th.
It doesn’t get any easier the following Tuesday when Derby County visit Bloomfield Road.
For Reading, they will face Burton Albion at home on September 30th, before travelling to Northampton Town on the following Tuesday.
These fixtures are followed by a trip to Brisbane Road to face newly-promoted Leyton Orient. Then comes the big one for the Royals, a home game against rivals Oxford United.
While it’s great to see the club have honoured Jimmy Armfield and Stan Mortensen, I feel it’s a little remiss not to have Stanley Matthews similarly cast in bronze.
Matthews is considered one of the greatest players England has ever produced and along with his heroic performance for the Tangerines in the 1953 Cup Final, he represented his country fifty-four times.
A statue outside the West Stand would be perfect.
What say you Blackpool fans?
There are a plethora of good watering holes in Blackpool, along with the obligatory seaside fish and chip shops. Food and drink is not something you need to be worried about missing out on here.
When the East Stand is finally replaced by a permanent stand, Bloomfield Road will be a superb beacon of modern football stadia.
Despite its newness, it contains a bit of character that is missing in some of the newer grounds and I liked it here.
The fans in the North Stand may be the noisiest section but there were plenty of people in other parts of the ground helping to add to the atmosphere and that always helps a ground come alive.
The slow-moving queue to get into the ground was a hot topic of debate while I was making use of the toilet facilities. Clearly, the home supporters were no more impressed by it than we were.
Something for the club to look at improving, maybe?
It might also be useful to find a way of separating ticket collections from the general use of the club shop.
Overall, Bloomfield Road is a great place to watch football and receives a big thumbs up from us.
Blackpool – After the Game
Following the final whistle, we made our way out of the ground and attempted to finish our circuit of the ground’s exterior.
We successfully managed to see the Stan Mortensen statue and the back of the North Stand, although progress seemed like it stopped there.
With our time to catch the train being 17:30, we decided not to risk trying to get around to view the East Stand. Instead, we headed back the way we had come and made for the train station.
Once we reached Bloomfield Road, we walked through the long car park that is located opposite the stadium. This runs all the way to Waterloo Road where Blackpool South train station is.
A short wait later we boarded the train and began the long journey back home.
We arrived in Preston at 18:10, with a half-hour wait for our connection.
Avanti West Coast Chaos
The 18:41 dutifully pulled into the station a few minutes late and we boarded to take our seats. Once comfortable, we were told almost mockingly, that this train would be going nowhere due to the driver needing to take a break by law.
Another train would be leaving for Carlisle before this one “if you prefer not to wait”…
The train emptied and we all headed for Platform 3, where a northbound train was due to depart. An announcement then told us a platform alteration meant we should head to Platform 4… where we had just come from!
We eventually boarded the 18:53 Glasgow train at 19:09, meaning we would now miss our connecting train in Carlisle.
Without further incident, we arrived in Carlisle at 20:15, six minutes after our connection was due to leave.
Luckily, Northern Rail isn’t much better than Avanti West Coast and it was delayed… Yes!
We boarded the delayed train at 20:30, arriving in Newcastle at 22:15.
As we walked to the bus stop, we had the temporary diversion of watching a group of drunk youths brawling on the other side of the street, before making our way to the bus stop.
While we waited for the delayed bus (le sigh!), we saw some of the same group of lads walking up the road opposite us reliving their battle glory, showing each other how the punches had landed.
Our bus eventually showed up after forty minutes of standing around and we gratefully made our way on the last leg of the nightmare journey home.
We arrived at our front door shortly after midnight, nearly eighteen hours after leaving it…
Next Up for Hoppers Guide
The plans for next week have been thrown into more travel chaos!
With rail strikes announced for September 30th, we ran a poll on X (Twitter) that allowed people to vote for our next destination from a choice of four local northeast games.
The winner was Northern League promotion hopefuls Birtley Town, for their home game against Penrith AFC.
All well and good, so we thought…
Now we have been hit with the double-whammy news that Go North East bus staff have announced strikes for that whole week!
With no public transport available, it looks like next week may well be a barren one for us.
Our only hope is that a deal is reached between the company and its staff, to get the services running as normal.
I don’t hold out much hope for that but we will see…
Onto the next! (Whenever that may be!)