Just over a year ago, Darcy took me to see a match at Bloomfield Road. It was a last minute, spur of the moment, idea but I went along with it because it was a Saturday afternoon and I had nothing better to do with my time. The match was against Plymouth and it ended 0-1 (i.e. Plymouth won). It was one of the most uninspiring and boring matches I had ever seen and ranks alongside Villa – Everton in the 80s (0-0, yawn) and Preston North End – Gillingham on my birthday in 2005 (1-1, zzzzzzzzz) in my I-wish-I’d-stayed-at-home-and-cleaned-the-toilet football match bottom three. I made a vow on that day that I would never go and see Blackpool again.
So, true to my word, when Blackpool made the play-off finals by beating Nottingham Forest 4-3 on 11th May and Darcy asked me if I wanted to go to Wembley with him, I said “Yes please!” Admittedly, I had watched the second half of the match on television (I’d been coming home from work for the first half) and it was great football and really good to watch, so I suppose I can be forgiven for breaking my word.
Darcy booked coach tickets and for some reason (which later became obvious), the coach was to set off at 6am. We had to get up at 5am to make sure we were ready. I had made some butties for the day and we set off with hearts full of hope, the butties, a camera, no sun cream and not a scrap of tangerine about our persons.
The journey down to London was enjoyable and I spent most of it looking out of the window and counting cars that had Tangerine flags, scarves and/or bunting attached to them. I counted 5394. When we got to the Kirkham turn off on the M55 the driver sounded his horn; there were flag waving Blackpool fans on one of the bridges. He also hooted at fellow supporters’ coaches and we waved at our fellow travellers. There was a memorable stop off at Norton Canes Services on the M6 Toll. The services were full of Blackpool supporters and at one point they started chanting “Seaside! Barmy Army”. It was actually electrifying, as more and more joined in and it started really sinking in that I was on my way to a major sporting event.
Having stocked up on crisps, drinks and digestives, we returned to the coach. As we were walking back, a dickhead asked us “where’s the tangerine?” The obvious answer “in the fruit bowl” did not occur to me until much later. He’d been chanting “BFC, BFC, BFC” seconds before, which Darcy assures me is not, and never has been, a Blackpool chant, so he’s obviously a fair weather supporter. Darcy has been a supporter since he was a little boy and has been a fan through thick and thin. I have never pretended to be a fan but I wanted to be there with Darcy in case he needed a shoulder to cry on at the end of the match.
We arrived in good time at Wembley and our coach was the third one on the coach park. We got out, leaving our still uneaten butties on the coach (the crisps and digestives had kept hunger pangs at bay en route) and Darcy took me to show me round the New Wembley Stadium. It is an impressive structure and I was much impressed by it.
We had a wander around it and stopped to admire the Bobby Moore statue. We did not take any photographs because some Cardiff City fans were being photographed in front of it and we didn’t want to spoil our photo by having any blue in it. While we were wandering around, we saw a Cardiff City fan being put on a stretcher. I assume she had heatstroke, as it was very hot, and I suspect she missed the match, which is a great shame.
We then decided to go to the Green Man, which had been unofficially designated a Blackpool pub by both Blackpool and Cardiff supporters. It was already busy when we arrived but would become much, much busier. Darcy bought the drinks (I had a pint of Brakspear) and we went out into the garden. The atmosphere was positively festive. The fans had really made the effort with very few not sporting at least one item of tangerine clothing. Some had made even more effort and there were tangerine nuns,
Arabs (or shepherds from the 1st Century AD, possibly)
We had a second drink and this time stayed inside, where it was marginally cooler. The pub was really filling up by this time and I was feeling the effects of two pints of beer, too little fluid and temperatures in excess of 25 degrees – i.e. I was feeling pissed, so we decided to go back to the stadium. This time, both Darcy and I had our photos taken in front of the Bobby Moore statue. Not right in front; the Cardiff City supporters were still there. I posed with my “blow horn”, which I had bought five minutes earlier to annoy Darcy’s boss, who would be sitting next to us in the stadium.
We then went to look round the stadium shop. I was very impressed with the historic strips from former FA Cup finals and briefly pondered buying a Chelsea top and then thought better of it. I think £40 is a bit excessive for a piece of clothing. I then went and bought a programme. Well, you have to, don’t you? When the gates opened, we went into the stadium. There was a bar code reader at the turnstile, which was very high tech (I’m used to people operating them). We then had to pour our drinks out of our bottles into a plastic “glass”, my bag was searched and Darcy was body searched. I asked if I could have a body search as well but my request was declined.
We then decided to look for some food. Although I had packed butties, we hadn’t eaten them and now we were feeling hungry. The food at Wembley is very expensive and, to be brutally honest, not very nice at all. I opted for the cheapest option: cheeseburger and chips. I had the cheeseburger and Darcy had most of the chips. We then went out to find our seats and I had my first view of the pitch.
There was the Football League Community Cup between Folville Junior School and Aldryngton Primary School at 1.40pm. This was a 6 a side match, open to children in Year 6 and below, and very entertaining. After that, there was a lap of honour by the armed forces and then the teams came out for a warm up. Next it was the turn of the inflatable hot dogs with the team flags to be shown off
and finally the teams came out on the pitch for the match proper. Darcy had, by this time, got the blow horn out and blown it loudly in his boss’ ear and I took charge of it as official noise maker for the party.
The first half of the match left me a nervous wreck. Although officially a neutral, I wanted Blackpool to win and the mood of the crowd was contagious. When the first Cardiff goal went in, I felt flat. Almost immediately, however, I decided this was not a time to panic and 1-0 down is not irretrievable. The Blackpool fans, who had gone quiet for a brief time, evidently concurred with my opinion because they started chanting and singing again at much the same time as my optimism returned.
Four minutes later, Charlie Adam scored from a brilliant Beckham-esque free kick and all the Blackpool fans and I went mad. When Darcy and I first had sat down, we had been in shade but by now we were in full sun. I had forgotten the sun cream so I divided my time between watching the action on the pitch avidly, being annoyed by a small boy behind me with an irritating megaphone toy and trying to use Darcy to shade my left arm and myself to shade my right arm.
All this was interrupted by Cardiff’s second goal. Again, I felt flat and all around me seemed to reflect my mood, apart from the sun, which was still beating down on me with enthusiasm. Again, my mood lifted and the mood around me, although 2-1 seemed a worse position than 1-0, and the singing and chanting resumed with more force. Then, three minutes later Gary Taylor-Fletcher scored Blackpool’s second, although from our vantage point, it wasn’t easy to see, so we had to see his celebration before we realised he had scored. Again, all the Blackpool fans and one neutral Rennie went mad. I was bouncing around like a Tigger for a couple of minutes.
After another 6 minutes of nail-biting tension, Brett Ormerod scored the third goal in injury time and for the first time, Blackpool went into the lead. This time I bounced a little higher, almost keeping up with Darcy’s bouncing as we celebrated the goal together. In the third minute of injury time, another Cardiff goal went in but was disallowed as it was offside and then it was half-time and time to use the wonderful Wembley toilet facilities and cool down a bit.
The second half was a combination of me screaming at Blackpool players as they got near the Cardiff goal (now situated conveniently close to us) and holding my breath as the ball went down the other end. There was a great deal of action but no goals and as the last 15 minutes passed, the tension was almost unbearable. Cardiff seemed to get all the decisions but Blackpool had the luck and when the final whistle was blown after 4 minutes of injury time, the score was still 3-2 and the whole of our end went bananas (as opposed to tangerines). I joined in the celebrations and gave Darcy a big kiss. I also nearly kissed Darcy’s boss, the guy in front of us, the guy behind and anybody else who would have allowed it but I remembered myself just in time. I then got the camera out and started snapping the celebrations, which continued without me.
Then there were more celebrations. The team then went to collect their medals and the cup and there were more celebrations. The team came back down to the pitch and had their photos taken while fireworks were set off and then there were more celebrations. After that the team did this celebratory slide into the corners at our end thing and there were more celebrations and so it continued, as Darcy and I left to go back to the coach.
We got onto the coach and finally had the butties, which hadn’t taken too much harm from not being refrigerated on a hot day and started to relax. I had a headache from being dehydrated and we were both tired. There was a group of Blackpool supporters who were taunting Cardiff supporters in cars and coaches as they went past. However, one coach went past full of Cardiff supporters who were clapping. I thought that was a great gesture. I called my sister, Panda, who had rung me just after the final whistle had gone. I had not been able to hear her then and I had held the phone out so she could hear the noise. We chatted briefly about football, music and the clapping Cardiff City fans. We then moved onto Cardiff City fans showing their arses (yes, another coach had gone by, by then). Ours was practically the first Blackpool supporters’ coach to leave and it was then I realised how sensible it had been to leave for Wembley so early, seeing as there were about 250 more of them waiting to leave.
My memory of the journey home is a bit hazy now. I remember dropping off and then waking up with a painful neck, looking out of the window at cars with tangerine flags, scarves and bunting going by, dropping off again and waking up with a painful neck. We stopped at some services (Corley, in case you wanted to know), where I bought some water and orange juice. I always find orange juice highly effective for hangovers and my head felt like I had one. Then back on the coach, more snoozing, waking up and looking at cars with flags, scarves and bunting. I received a number of texts from Sammy the Shark, who was delighted with the result and I replied to them. As we drove onto the M55 on the final leg of our journey, I called for a minicab to meet us from the coach. It was there when we arrived.
Then there was the final drive home, while Darcy discussed the match with the driver and I put my pennyworth in here and there, then home, a bath and then bed.
It was a brilliant day and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, despite my vow last year never to see Blackpool again. One really nice thing is that Darcy said it was good to go to the play off final with me because he doesn’t need to explain what is going on to me, as I know about football and understand it. Not bad for a woman who runs like a girl, throws like a girl and has so little co-ordination she’s constantly tripping over her own feet and walking into door frames.