There’s something about a ceilidh. If you haven’t been to one, I thoroughly recommend it. I realise I have now lost over half of my audience but it’s canny. Lots of drinking and a fair bit of whirling around to make sure that the booze has a completely dizzying effect. It’s also an opportunity to mingle with strangers and smile as you stumble over your feet together. The best thing is it’s a really happy place where you wrap your arms around people you have never met before. A bit like being away with Sunderland fans in a way.
As me and the Greek whirled around on New Year’s Eve any thoughts of the early rise to head to Blackpool were out of the way. It was New Year. We swung our legs to Auld Lang Syne and let the morning be the morning. Even our taxi driver home caused very little distress despite swerving all over a dual carriageway and straddling the white lines in the middle of the road. Several pints and a few whiskies will calm the nerves I find.
When the alarm went off at an ungodly hour the beer fear crept over me and another taxi took me to ALS’ Roker End Cafe. Due to the ineptitude or downright malevolent mismanagement of Blackpool FC we had an unprecedented number of tickets for Bloomfield Road. Around 9,000 of us were working off our hangovers with a trip to the Lancashire Riviera and a few more ales. My hangover was, however, particularly evil. Due to the fact that we had a lot more fans travelling down I was roped in as a steward on the ALS bus down. I hoped the rest of the bus felt as rough as I did and wouldn’t mind me crawling into my shell for a bit.
Arriving in Blackpool the first thing that struck me was the sheer volume of coaches that were parked up. It was a sight to behold and I’m not sure anything on that scale will be witnessed for a long time. The club had asked us to paint the town red and white. Christ had we delivered. The sun was shining, we were at the seaside. The hangover remained strong. Walking through Blackpool I contacted friends and asked them where they were before making my way down to the prom. I passed pub after pub with Sunderland flags hanging from the windows and songs belting out from within. At the prom I had a choice to make, right or left? I chose to pop into a shop selling an impressive array of useless tat and enough sugar to make a dentist have a panic attack. I was informed that the pub I was looking for was a half hour walk. FFS. The hangover was getting worse.
On arrival at the pub, sweating profusely from my half hour walk which I condensed into 20 minutes I saw nothing but red and white...until I went to the bar. On returning with pints in hand I saw a Blackpool fan sitting with his friends. Emblazoned in white letters on his back with a tangerine surround was the word which instantly make the gag reflex kick in. Shearer. The pub broke into chorus with the usual song and the Blackpool fan stood on the table, arms aloft embracing the song. He was promptly asked to leave. The bloke watching his tablet next to him and pissing himself at a repeat of Open All Hours was oblivious. Two pints had not made the hangover any better. Blackpool is a very strange place.
The financial problems at Blackpool meant that a limited number of turnstiles were open at Bloomfield Road. With 9,000 Mackems arriving it’s fair to say they were ill prepared. I looked for my turnstile and was disappointed to see a queue all the way down the street. I was even more disappointed when I turned the corner and saw that it went all the way down the next street as well. I wasn’t sure this was a hangover anymore. The game kicked off as I stood in a queue. Eventually, they opened the exit gates to let the Sunderland fans in and the queue died down a lot quicker. Many wondered about the safety concerns around this but in all honesty when we got into the ground those fears were quelled. Empty seats abundant. Not in the Sunderland end of course. Blackpool fans were boycotting the club and huge swathes of faded orange seats stared back at us. In the build up to the game and in the aftermath too Blackpool fans criticised us for attending in such numbers. We’re Sunderland first, everyone else second. We have sympathy for your plight but we support our lads. Sorry about that.
We won. 1-0. We sang our hearts out. We had as much chance of getting a half time pint from a hugely depleted bar service as we have of a decent unbiased referee in League One. The match and the result were not, however, the important things about Blackpool that day. The fans were the important thing. The attendance from away fans dwarfed home attendance albeit there were reasons for that. The noise from 9,000 of our lot was incredible. For all those who are saying Trafalgar Square killed the Wembley atmosphere I’d question how 9,000 turned up on New Year’s Day with stinking hangovers and sang our hearts out. People were turning up for the buses in the morning wearing the same clothes they had worn the night before with limited sleep between the two sessions.
I returned to the coach to steward my passengers home. What greeted me was an inebriated version of a zombie apocalypse. People wandering around not really knowing where they were let alone what bus they were on. Tremendous. This is what away days are all about. The hangover? Well it worsened. It turned out not to be a hangover at all but the commonly diagnosed Blackpool Lurgy. Back to Wearside; head throbbing, shivering but happy. The fans won today. Good lads.