So, where did we decide to go for this momentous occasion? Whitby weren’t playing at home, so that was out of the window. Scarborough – who are currently based in Bridlington – weren’t at home. Neither were Blackpool. In fact, there were very little matches on at all, which was a bit odd for a Wednesday night in the heart of pre-season. In the end, we discovered that Squires Gate were playing a Stockport County development squad.
Squires Gate is a district within the South Shore area of Blackpool. It is home to Blackpool Airport; a must visit destination for any Jet2 obsessives out there. The Airport is a quiet unassuming place which offers around eight flights a day in the summer months. Being the occasional plane spotters that Aaron and I are, we were hoping to see one or two planes throughout the day. The area, up until recently was also home to a large Pontins Holiday Resort. It was closed in 2009 and set for demolition. It has taken up until early this year for demolition work to near completion.
What the area now lacks in iconic holiday resorts, it certainly makes up for in its strong involvement with football. Found at one end of the airport runway is Blackpool FC’s training ground. On the other side, are three non-league sides all within a few hundred yards of each other. First there is AFC Blackpool of the NWCFL Premier Division. Then, two streets away are Squires Gate – also of the NWCFL Premier Division – and Blackpool Wren Rovers of the West Lancashire League.
The evening before the match I had watched the local weather forecast, only to see that torrential rainfall was expected throughout the day. I didn’t think much of it to be honest. We’d had three weeks of constant sunshine… what on earth can rain do to you? What even is rain? Undeterred by the possibility of having the whole day out ruined by being soaking wet, I went to bed and waited for the long day ahead.
Joe arrived at my house at 10:30 the following morning, and we waited for Aaron to arrive. Aaron had offered to drive for the day, which meant Joe could have his first day off in a couple of years. Surprisingly Aaron was on time for once, which meant we could set off to Blackpool whilst the weather was still half decent. A quick drive around the South Pier area trying to find somewhere to park proved difficult.
We eventually found a space and Aaron squeezed his car into the tight slot. It took him five minutes… but he did it after some encouragement and a lot of laughter from his two passengers. Car parked, we marched down to the Promenade to see what stereotypical tourist things we could do in Blackpool. Where better to start that the South Pier? The place was full of the usual arcade games. More importantly, there were enough two pence machines to keep even Ben Shepherd happy. I’d have won some decent prizes, but my coins kept riding and didn’t provide enough lateral movement.
Blackpool Tower was standing in the near distance so we walked there, via the beach of course. I’d never been on the beach in Blackpool before. I was always under the impression that all of the sewage waste from the North West of England was pumped into the sea just off Blackpool. Not exactly what you want to think of when going to a beach.
I was persuaded that it was fine to step on to the beach so off we wandered. All was going well until we reached the sea. It began to rain. With no water proof jackets to protect us, we walked into the town centre looking for some shelter. By this stage Joe was hobbling after kicking a sandcastle which had some sort of brick buried in it.
Safe to say, when we arrived at the shopping centre we were drenched. Desperate times call for desperate measures. What did we do? After much deliberation we opted to head for the disabled toilets on the ground floor of Marks and Spencer where we piled in together and dried ourselves off with paper towels. We were having a wild afternoon so far. The paper towels did remove some of the excess water, but we were still very wet.
Primark was next on our travels as we set about looking for a cheap towel or waterproof jacket. We were left disappointed once again when we couldn’t find anything. The only thing we purchased was what can only be described as an old mans jumper for Joe and a bag of Moams. We couldn’t believe it; we had run out of things to do in Blackpool. Could Fleetwood provide us with some warmth and entertainment? Probably not but we decided to give it a go.
Deciding against walking all the way back down to the Pleasure Beach, we caught the tram. I’ve always wanted to go on a tram in Blackpool. Unfortunately it was one of the brand new trams meaning a traditional aspect of the trip had been somewhat soured. I was hoping to travel on the infamous Fishermans Friend tram, but it didn’t appear. It cost £1.50 to get from Blackpool Tower to the Pleasure Beach, but it was certainly worth it. Time to press on to Fleetwood.
Aaron wanted to see if they had any of lasts seasons shirts still in stock… and I wanted to find some food. Pulling into Highbury, we underestimated how small it would be. I have been before, but forgot somewhat. We parked the car up at the wooden fence next to the pitch and entered the club shop which resembles a stationary cupboard in an office. An awkward browse followed before we made a swift exit.
Somehow we still had another couple of hours to kill before the match, so we had a pit stop in McDonald’s. I was still wet from our earlier adventure around Blackpool so I dried myself off further in the McDonald’s toilets. I was stood with my head underneath the hand dryer when I heard the door open. A man stood there and looked at me in a bewildered state. I looked back at him. He simply closed the door and walked away. It was a very strange moment. Judging by his facial reaction, you’d have thought he’d just witnessed Ronald McDonald sniffing cocaine through a McFlurry spoon!
Food devoured, it was time to head back down to glorious Blackpool. The rain continued as we arrived at Squires Gate. The car park at School Road was still fairly empty. An AFC Fylde car was exhibiting itself in the car park. I’ve asked Atherton Collieries if we can have a Colls one, but unfortunately we don’t yet have cars in Atherton.
Aaron pointed out that there were two football grounds which shared the car park. To the left is Blackpool Wren Rovers, and to the right is Squires Gate FC. There certainly was a plethora of football venues for this small area of Blackpool. Obviously Squires Gate’s ground is more developed and has more facilities, but by climbing up a floodlight and popping my head over the fence I could see that Rovers’ ground was quite nice too.
The entrance to the ground is modest. A tarmac pathway leads through what resembles a small cabbage patch until you reach a small white hut which acts as a turnstile. It cost only a couple of pounds to enter, and £1 for a matchday programme. The programme was nice. There was a large black dollop on the bottom of the front cover, which disguised where the word “squad” had been spelt wrong. The ironic thing is that none of us would have noticed the mistake if there wasn’t a big black mark!
Initial thoughts of the ground were that it was basic, but nice. We couldn’t have picked a better ground to go to in this weather. There was plenty of covered standing around the ground. Not only was there plenty of cover, but it was also within close proximity to the pitch itself. The clubhouse was also very nice and provided us with some much needed warmth before the match.
The various volunteers at the club were all very pleasant, including Mark who had welcomed us to the ground and told us a bit about the current team and the club in general. Kick off was scheduled for 19:30, but it eventually kicked off at 19:50 after Stockport arrived late. They were caught up in traffic apparently.
Bearing in mind that was the same excuse that Otelul Galati had provided before their match at Radcliffe Borough was postponed, we were beginning to feel a bit apprehensive. A baby faced Stockport side entered on to the pitch. One player was wearing an earing and has his collar turned up. We had singled him out for scrutiny before the match had even started. I hoped for his sake that he was good!
The pitch was in pristine condition, it almost seemed like a shame to play football on it. Anyway, the match kicked off. Squires Gate were wearing their away kit (red) and Stockport wearing their retro away kit, which is based on an old Argentina home strip. To say we were impressed by the performance from the home side would be an understatement. It was phenomenal. They passed the ball around like Barcelona all evening. Each and every single player looked confident whilst in possession, and it proved difficult for Stockport to get a hold on the game.
Despite a cracking 45 minutes of football, the half time whistle arrived and it was goalless. Time for a Bovril. The good news was – you’ll be relieved to know – is that I was gradually beginning to dry out from our stroll along the beach around 7 hours earlier!
The second half provided much of the same entertainment, with the added bonus of three goals. Gate striker Andrew Harvie opened the scoring early on in the half when he beat the Stockport defence for pace, before rounding the keeper convincingly to score.
Gate sealed victory when substitute Seydou Bamba injected more energy into proceedings. Bamba made an immediate impact, when he connected to a cross from the right and headed the ball against the post. The ball pinged away from the goal, only for Andrew Harvie to finish from close range.
The third and final goal of the evening came from Bamba. He picked the ball up on the left hand touchline barging his way through the defence. Taking the ball to a tight angle, he unleashed a rasping effort straight into the top left hand corner. It was a fantastic solo effort. We were that impressed with his goal that I began to sing ♫ Seydou Bamba! *clap clap* Seydouuuuu Bamba! ♫ in the tune of La Bamba. Rumour has it the song has since become a regular fixture at School Road.
It had been a very good performance from Squires Gate. As much as we wanted to tip them for success in the upcoming season, we couldn’t see them pulling anything off. It’ll be hard to keep a squad of young, talented players together. Even if they do, they are going to struggle when playing the more physical sides in the division. Nonetheless, a delight to watch.
We left the bright lights of Blackpool behind us. Time to go home and have a much needed bath. It had been a long, tiring, wet day. I’m sure we’ll look back in a few years time and question what on Earth we actually went to Blackpool for on such a bleak, miserable day. Hang on though. We went to the coast in search of our Great British Summer… and we found it!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 38.3 miles
- ADMISSION: £2
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1
- PIE: N/A