Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Wired for sound? What's in Critchley's ears?

Neil Critchley is an amiable seeming chap. He speaks in a measured and reasoned manner, answering questions with patience and thoughtful words that seem carefully weighed to be both honest but not too revealing. He gives plenty of detail about the football, yes, but very little away about himself. 

With some managers, their post and pre match interviews really feel very revealing. Preston's new fella seems like he might be a bit susceptible to mood swings for example. Critch plays his cards close to his chest most of the time, save for the odd moment where he reveals what seems to be a dry sense of humour or a steely resolve. Once, just once, he let rip on referees and that display of feeling cemented his place in tangerine hearts. 

I still don't really know who he is though. I mean, I can picture him at the training ground, I literally see him week in week out at the football, thoughtful, brooding but then exploding with instructions and gestures. 

But who is he? 

For me, music tells us a lot about where someone's head is, how they think. I can imagine on the way home from training in the car, Ryan Lowe sticking on Cream Anthems or Ocean Colour Scene and singing along out of tune, turning to any passengers and saying "classic this one, classic" before muttering "c'mon, right hand lane you tosser" and accelerating to the junction in an aggressive way and sticking the nose of his too big executive BMW out over the line but what I really can't picture is what is on Critch's stereo. 

He definitely likes a ham sandwich and his car is very clean. The boot will be hoovered regularly on a Sunday, perhaps whilst Janine does the shopping or before they go for a nice carvery with the in laws. He'll definitely have a spare bottle of screen wash and a car jack and I don't think he's got out of the habit of carrying a map even though we've got smartphone technology. He's obviously a much more respectful and responsible driver than Lowe. Calmer, more measured, methodical. Better. That's a no brainer. 

But what's on the stereo? 

Could it be something quite bland? 

M-People or the Lighthouse Family? That fucking awful Moby record that was everywhere that they still play in ASDA?

Whilst I think Critch is all for positive thinking, I'm not sure he's the kind of guy for 'uplifiting' wallpaper. He's also a very 'faceup to reality' kind of fella and I'm going to say his tastes run a bit deeper than such musical sawdust. 

There's something quite buttoned down about wor Neil. That doesn't mean he's not intense and passionate though. Wearing a polo shirt at all times doesn't definitely mean you like Coldplay. Perhaps straight edge punk is his sonic tipple? Black Flag anyone? For what it's worth, Moby had a punk phase. And a hardcore dance phase. The latter was good. The former wasn't. 

As appealing as it is to think of Critch staring straight ahead listening to Henry Rollins or even out of his mind on some banging Detroit Techno, cos that impish vibe has got to come from somewhere.... he seems a little more whimsical than that. 

I wonder if he might enjoy the Boo Radleys' 60s tinged music that has clear pop sensibilities but contains a darker and more thoughtful undertone than the melodies suggest. It's just about the right era for his youth as well. 

Equally, I wonder if he might find that a bit frivolous. He seems so positive, but you often find is the most positive people are in touch with their inner darkness. Maybe he gets into the car, lets out a big sigh at the latest Kevin Stewart injury, calamitous refereeing decision or, I dunno, Jerry getting over excited and accidentally electrocuting himself because he's tried to warm his bath water up quicker by putting a microwave in it and pops on, I dunno, Leonard Cohen or Joy Division and just has... a moment. A moment where it all melts away. 

Somehow though, whilst I like to imagine Critch drumming his fingers, driving at at sensible pace and popping a travel sweet in his mouth to the Manics 'ifwhiteamericatoldthetruth...' I think he's not someone to stare into the abyss for too long. 

Appearances can be deceptive but sometimes they're not. What band would Critch be in? I reckon he'd fit in behind Neil Tennant in the Pet Shop Boys. There's something quite Critch about them. To the casual observer, it's just fairly tepid 80s/90s campy synth stuff but there's a nuance and a poetry beneath the surface. The way the tone shifts in the song above and the juxtaposition between the sunny lightness of the chorus' melody line and the yearningly melancholic lyrics is quite masterful. 

One day, we'll learn a bit more about Critch. Things like what his favourite crisps are and who he admires. The sort of glorious detail that late 80s football magazines would bring us, before everything got so serious. Less heat maps, more questions that have answers like "spaghetti bolognese" and "Dionne Warwick" please. 

Until then, we can only guess. Like the opposition. 

Long live the imp of mystery...

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Blades blunted: the Mighty vs Sheffield United.

The sky is really strange, all split in two like a collision of celestial empires. The west is blue and clear, the east is dark and stormy. My head feels a bit like that to be honest. Am I happy? I don't know. Blue sky? Heavy weather? Fuck knows... 

I'd love to spend some time aimlessly. I would like throw sticks into a river and observe how the current takes them. I would like to watch the unpredictable pattern that raindrops take down a window. That sort of thing. 

I shall settle, however, for the meditation that is football. Always the same, always different. I don't know about tonight. I feel we could get hammered, I feel we could hammer them. I also feel it could be a boring draw. Anything is possible and that's why football is what it is.

The most very royal king of all football (His very eminent lordship Big Gaz) is up front again in his role of 'being both Teddy Sheringham and John Fashanu at the same time.' It appears Critch does love Jordan Thorniley after all as he's back for Reece 'looks like old bloke' James. Jimmy goes to left back and CJ replaces Kirk. It seems we're set up to break. Soak it up and pounce... Fast. 

Let's have it! 


Their shape is tricky for us to deal with. The ball keeps falling between our players who look a bit confused about it all. Gaz takes a knock to face. Kev loses it and Sheff Utd break... Just wide. Kev loses it again. Sheff Utd blast it over. C'mon Kev! 

Gaz flicks. CJ picks it up. Dujon is wider still. The ball comes in and finds its way back to Madine. He knocks it up and volleys wide but it's worth writing about because it's headed back first time by a fan in the south, who earns a cheer and possibly a headache. 

The lino keeps giving them corners for no reason. Then he gives them a free kick in the corner just for the mad banter. These linos just keep on excelling. The ref agrees cos he's in on the joke. 

The ball is shifted square, Connolly carries it, crosses it, Madine heads from about 12 yards out. Not far away. Madine then goes from Fashanu to Sheringham with an outrageous back back to goal blind pass to nearly set CJ away. 

We get caught uncharacteristically out of shape. Sheff Utd shift it, we're chasing desperately, trying to get into shape again, but looking very wonky... Dujon to the rescue. Brilliant tackle. 

Bowler runs. He's been tied down so far but here he is, Inside, outside. Like a slalom skier between flags till he's chopped down. Booking... Dougall takes an awful set piece. 

Bowler runs again. Slips it to CJ who knocks it back but Josh has run past where CJ thought he was.... The Blades break in a split second. Grimmy is out.. he slips... shit!!! ... bounces up and clears then goes back to doing circles on his BMX whilst blowing smoke rings.

Suddenly a game breaks out. 

Bowler runs like dream. Gaz, for once gets his radar wrong as he spins and plays in behind the man on the overlap. 

Bowler drifts inside. Bowler shoots, it cracks the bar!!! It loops, it falls, players pounce. It ricochets about .. Handball!!!! Handball!!!! 

Fucking refs. 

Dougall, who shouldn't take set pieces, then takes a great set piece, a hanging diagonal ball that sits perfectly in the air for Madine who somehow has found space, but oh, Gaz... The header is poor, tame and straight at the keeper. Maybe Gaz is more like a Greek god. His fallibility is all part of his mythos. All Hail Gaz. 

Bowler nutmegs his man and explodes past him like a greyhound out the traps only to be yanked back by his leash as he's fouled. No foul. Fucks sake ref! 


Attritional. Battling. Cagey. Have we been marginally better than them? Not sure... Maybe. It was really hard going at first, but we improved and were going well in the latter part of the half.. 


A far post ball. Husband pops up. Connolly (that can't be right... *checks notes*, nope, it is Connolly) with a near post back heel into the advertising boards. 

CJ wins a corner... Sheff Utd break. Kev saves the day with the slide tackle of century. The anticipation of a challenge like that is a great thing. I love it when you can see it coming and then the player goes in even harder than you imagined. Kev just gets up and struts away. He could have done a mic drop gesture after that and it would have been reasonable, even though a mic drop gesture is always fucking horrific. . 

CJ wins another corner. Let's just say this. Kenny shouldn't take corners.... 

Sheff Utd waste a free kick in the corner that the refs gave because Sterling tackled someone. We create an ooooh as the ball goes left to right and across the box but is smuggled away before Gaz can do any damage.  

Kev holds off his man and slides in Bowler. He passes behind Dujon. Kenny slips CJ... CJ is in... C'mon!!! The ball cannons into the north stand... We keep making positions but not quite taking a chance.  

When I was a kid, I went to museum that had a victorian animated diorama. I was fascinated by the intricate movement of the figures, all constrained by their clockwork track but weaving an intricate pattern through each other and around obstacles. I've never found anything that moved in quite such an engaging way until I saw Josh Bowler thread his way through a defence. (I'm quite pleased with that image, but I think we'll stick with the chant as it is, what with 'a left and a right step over' being a more succinct way of putting it than I have...) 

Anyway... it's Bowler again. When he goes, It looks like the defence are figures in the above diorama, like they're programmed to get out of way... Somehow ref doesn't give us a corner. Jimmy is apoplectic. Josh is raging. I'm fucking fuming. 

Sheff Utd apply pressure for a while. Jimmy makes a loose touch in the box. Thorniley crunches in to save him. Corner... Goal. Ffs. Fuck off. Flares and the hollow sound of the other lot cheering. Fuck off. 

Not a goal. Ha! Brilliant! I said these linos know what they're doing... 

The Blades hit a superb diagonal... Marvin pulls out an even better tackle.

Critch is going berserk on the touchline, turning round and pulling his big coat, then flailing wildy at the ref. He's making his point with extreme mime. Go on Neil. Go lad. Run on and lay one of them out! 

The imp of tactics sends on Lavery and Kirk... Kirk immediately picks out Madine. Gary does the oil tanker on a sixpence thing he does and spreads it. Lavery is through but not quite. 

Jerry comes and twinkles, all jaunty angles and sprinting with high feet like a skittish pony... Again we don't get a corner. Charlie Kirk seems a pleasant sort of lad but he goes mental. Maybe we should just go and smash the windows at the EFL or something. Critch with molotov cocktails. Ian Brunskill looks the sort who'd know how to make them. 

Corner to Sheff Utd from another last ditch Thorniley tackle... Under the bar... (Kenny, take note)... Panic. Grimmy flails... It's away. Thank fuck... 

Lavery is racing free... C'mon!!! Go on Shayne!!! He plays in Kirk. Kirk gets caught. 

If you could put Kirk's brain and technical ability into CJ's body... What a player you'd have. 

The whistle goes. 


They're totally drained. I love this team. I'm wrecked. Life is too hard but I don't give a fuck tonight cos they gave everything. Everything. They're gutted. They shouldn't be, but they are. 

We love you Blackpool. We do. 

It's been a right dogfight of a game. We've been defensively excellent. Marvin was imperious, Dujon terrific, Connolly played a roving role, popping up all over the shop from centre back, Jimmy has played 2 games in a week where he wasn't supposed to play at all and he was good again, though I thought he got a bit loose as he got unsurprisingly leggy and Thorniley was rightly the man of the match, showing awareness, calmness, timing and crunching tackles. 

We couldn't quite find the moment. Madine could have done better with one of his chances. We maybe should have had a penalty. Lavery maybe should have taken the last minute chance himself. To be fair, they maybe should have had a goal cos I have no idea why it was ruled out and they were less shit than a lot of Championship sides have been. 

It's a fair result. It shows us for what we are. Incredibly hard working and disruptive and every bit a championship side. I thought the player we needed tonight was Sonny Carey to add the ability to carry the ball, hit a shot, thread a pass and so on. We had the better of quite a lot of the game but we just needed a bit of guile and quality. 

Let's have a rest. Football is relentless. Life is relentless. 



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Saturday, March 12, 2022

Who needs possession? - the Mighty vs Swansea City

Cryptic Critch is back... 

Jordan Thorniley is back in the cellar and Jimmy Husband is back in a back 5. Or 3. Callum Connolly is in defence. Or he's on the wing. Or maybe in midfield. No one knows. Kirk is in for CJ. Why? Search me. Gary is up front on his own. We're fairly clear about that at least. Unless Gary is in goals and Grimmy up front. Y'never know with Critch. 

Why is this randomly a big game? I'm stuck outside for a few minutes because of a broken turnstile as Swans fans tell us they 'want to go home' because (and get this, you've almost certainly never heard anyone sing this before!) 'Blackpool's a shithole' - such wit and originality chaps. Book them a slot on North Pier.


Inside at last. To be fair, before kick off Swans make loads of noise. Why is 16th vs 14th like this? Have I missed something? Have 12 of the top 13 gone bust this morning and no one told me? I don't think so. It just seems everyone is up for it. Fair enough. More of this sort of thing. 

Not enough teams make noise prior to the game these days. It's like when you had to get there early to get a decent spot on a terrace so people just sung stuff for 20 minutes because there was nowt else on really. It's all a bit lively. I like it. To think someone will ring 606 tonight and moan that being 4th in the Premier League is rubbish. Just fucking sing and make something out of you twat is what I'd reply if I was presenting. Maybe that's why I'm not. I can't think of any other reason. 

Swansea are as loud as anyone we've had here this year aside from Coventry. I'm enjoying the edge to the atmosphere. We're just going to wait for kick off before we start making any noise. It's not cool to be early to a party.


Gaz goes round everyone for a hug. Cos that's what Gaz is like these days. All peace and love and stuff like that.

The main man then has a lovely early touch for Bowler. Jimmy shows he's not rusty by stunning a clever ball to James who earns a corner. Charlie Kirk goes to take. Let's see if he's any good at these cos no fucker else is. We'll break it down with some top level analysis. 

1) Beats the first man!
2) It doesn't loop into the keepers hands!
3) Hang on... there's Madine...
4) Gary has time to set himself and... YES!

It's a ridiculously simple goal and it's unbelievable that Madine has found so much space at the far post. For a big and not very mobile man, Madine is practically a stage illusionist in the way he moves at corners. Now you see him. Now you don't. Puff of smoke, Gary appears with a swish of a cape... Goal!

Jimmy wins everything for a bit. Kev tidies anything up that Jimmy doesn't clear. Not much happens.

Swansea put a cross in. Grimmy and Jimmy collide. Jimmy is hurt enough to have to remove the topknot and let his hair hang loose. Everyone chants for Grimmy but... WHY DO WE NEVER SING JIMMY'S NAME? ...

Hilarity as someone tries to climb over the wall into the away concourse. They flash one across the face of goal as the madcap antics play out. Shortly after, Grimmy tips one over.

We've looked tidy but now look penned in. They've got the ball all the time. To be honest, they' don't look like doing much with it, but it's a concern none the less. Finally, Stewart nicks it. Gaz spins and curves a delight of a through ball with the outside of his foot. This boy can play. Kirk runs onto it, and drives it at the keeper when he might have picked a corner.

Kirk takes a short corner. He gets it back, stands it up... Gaz leaps. Close again... Madine is really enjoying having someone in the side who can get it where he wants it. 

Gaz wins a flick on. We win it in midfield. I shout Stewart to play it wide... It goes through middle as Kev is better at football than me and Bowler is right though. In the form he's in, this is 2-0 every day... Josh sets him self, fires it and it's surely a goal!

It's not.

The ball flashes wide. Bowler looks heartbroken. I clap loudly as I can't abide him looking sad. A man near me calls him a 'stupid cunt' instead. Not in an affectionate way. Sometimes people make me wonder. They really do. The North comes to the rescue by singing his name. That's better. 

It's been a bit of grind but we've made chances. Swansea haven't really made anything.

Connolly gets a foot in. Kev slides it forward. Bowler cuts inside running as he does, as if it's the easiest thing in the world and then slaps it into the side netting at the near post. He's not phased. Go again. Football is fun.

Swansea put together 4 really slow attacks. They're foiled by their 
a) own poor final ball (twice) 
b) Jimmy with a delightful cushioned touch and clearance
c) Marvin with a terrific Marvin block.

Gaz gets wrestled. Gaz gets robbed of a throw. Gaz screams for a pen as Stewart dinks it to where he would have been had he not been on the floor. We're louder now and Swansea are struggling to be heard.
We get a pair of corners. Bowler goes deep and the ball is taken off Madine's head at the far post. Kirk goes short, gets it back and he hits Marvin who heads it up and over.

Reece James has done ok today. His passing has been much better and a terrific slide challenge leaves a great line on the pitch. 

Grimmy times coming out to perfection. Swansea still have a lot of possession. They try another through ball, Grimmy throws himself at feet again and comes up clutching the football. We need a bit of pace. We're looking a bit predictable and conceding possession higher than I'd like. 

The ball goes out of play but we've got another comedy lino so he just watches it as if he doesn't realise it's his job to point out that sort of thing. 

We're hit a very long ball. Gaz just needs to look at their defence and they go a bit shaky. We have a sideways passing spectacular where at least three players could shoot but don't. Swansea race up the pitch and shoot just wide. Change it!
Critch brings on Lavery and CJ which is exactly what I hoped he would do. Gaz and Kirk go and sit on the bench to relive their goal. Swansea have it on the left. A cross. A downward header that spits off the pitch and bounces over the top. The ref gives a corner although I'm not sure if Grimshaw made a wonder save or not. The corner comes to nothing.

CJ hunts down a loose pass. He belts away up the left, going wide, waiting. What's he waiting for? It turns out, it's Josh Bowler, drifting in and picking up on CJ's lovely pull back but lashing his first time hit inches wide... It just won't go in for him today. I don't mind, he can use up his bad luck before we need a goal from him. 

That's it. There was injury time and theoretically, tension, but it felt weirdly untense. Last week was a dramatic 1-0 win, but this felt as routine as it a 1-0 win where they have a lot of possession and a decent late chance can feel. 


Strangely, I've not mentioned the name of Dujon Sterling despite the fact he was really good, getting forward as well as defending solidly. I thought Husband was absolutely superb. He just loves defending and he's got a lovely touch and timing. One moment late on, they knocked a rare long ball, Jimmy was one on one and he just trotted over, won the header, tidied it up and it was like they'd never had a sniff. For a player who has been out injured for ages and wasn't even supposed to play today, he was terrific.

To be fair, Marvin is always good and he really was again today. A late challenge where he got a whack was the last of several terrific interceptions in a dominant performance. Connolly also did nothing wrong and stepped out the back 3 well adding to midfield and showing a willingness to deliver the ball. I'm really starting to like him and he looked happy where he played today. 

Kev and Kenny both played well. We certainly don't lack bite and both of them used the ball well, with Stewart particularly quick witted in his passing. Kirk impressed me today. He's not a whippet and I suspect he'll frustrate sometimes, but he's good at one touch stuff and his delivery was really nice. It's easy to see how he racked up the assists for Crewe. He seems quick thinking if not fleet footed. 

Suddenly, it seems we're looking upwards with a bit of interest. It seems ridiculous. If we can get something on Tuesday, it would leave us looking at a potentially very exciting run in and at side with Keshi Anderson back in it. The fact we're even thinking about that is absurd. It's already been a terrific season and the moment we start expecting is the moment the bubble bursts. Sheffield United were, despite losing to us, one of the few sides that have actually impressed me this year. They have a lot to play for. 

The pressure is all theirs. 

We can just make another good noise and see what happens. 


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Friday, March 11, 2022

Another terrible preview: the Mighty vs Swansea City

Many years ago I watched the Mighty beat Swansea 4-0 when they'd appointed a random bloke to be their manager. Now, Critchley is sort of a random bloke, but this bloke was a really random bloke. Pretty much just some fella from nowhere. Way more random than even Ian Brunskill. It's a really good story

The thing is, I'm not entirely sure what I said above was true. I think I saw that game. I'm pretty confident I did. I've no way of knowing for sure though. I've long since binned my programme and tickets from that era. My dad wouldn't remember if we went to that particular game. There was no GPS phone records or owt like that I could access. 

Not the right programme, but I think I had this one as the way 'ooh' Phil Horner is chesting the ball looks really familiar, which would mean I also saw us play Swansea in 1994 but that game has left no memory at all in my mind. 

Aside from searching the Gazette Photo archive of the game and seeing me there, I doubt anything could confirm my attendance and even then, not seeing myself wouldn't prove I didn't go. There'll forevermore be an uncertainty in my mind about this match which is a shame, as I'd love to say for sure that I was there the night the players took over at half time from the bloke with the third shortest managerial reign in history. It would be up there with being at the Fall gig at Reading Festival when Mark E Smith sacked his drummer and got a random backstage to play drums. The thing about that was, I know I was there, but at the time, I didn't realise anything had happened as I got there late and the Fall could be a bit of a racket at the best of time. I just assumed it was art or something. 

What all of this goes to show is that you can't rely on memory and also, that you probably can't rely on knowing what's going on either, even if it's happening in front of you. 

This week I have mostly ignored the world in favour of cricket. Cricket is a lovely antidote to chemical warfare. I say antidote, I mean distraction as I'm not sure strapping on a box and some pads would make much sense if anthrax spores were drifting on the air. 

When I was a kid, we went on holiday to Scotland and my dad rented a little fishing boat. We'd sail out into a bay and catch mackerel which we'd cook on a fire when we came to shore. It was good. In the bay was an island and the island had big skull and crossbones signs on it because it was the sight of a research centre in WW2 and apparently still contaminated by anthrax. This, I can remember clear as day, even though I was only 4 at the time. 

Video contains a mad link to Blackpool I didn't know about...

During WW2 fake news was a thing. Yer man Lord Haw Haw used to broadcast mad shit that wasn't true for example. The video above contains some Allied truth bending... You've never been able to entirely trust what you see, hear and read. The internet has rendered this both more and less true. We can see a million times more things, but from so many more perspectives. Whilst I can't find any pictures of me in the South Paddock in February 1996, I can find so many different versions of so many different truths that I haven't a clue what truth actually is. 

This brings me to something I've been wondering about. Should we switch off the internet for one or two days a week? Maybe on a Sunday. Or perhaps on Tuesday afternoon. Kind of like half day closing used to be. Half day closing was weird. I remember going to somewhere near Warrington with my mum to get something, then my mum raging as it was half day closing. When did that stop?

I have to say, the internet has bought us some good stuff - long winded, really pointless football blogs, wikipedia, that Hitler video people do funny words for, but it's also undermined the concept of democracy, turned people into weird self obsessed sub categories of humanity and meant no one ever has to concede they're wrong again ever, about anything, cos no matter what you think, you'll always find someone else to agree with you. 

On balance, being able to access MCLF vs the future of civilisation is a tough decision, but personally, whilst I like the internet, I'd be well up for a day or two without it once in a while. Shops being open all the time is shite too. 

In conclusion, I wouldn't be surprised if Critch ditched 442 because he's got a strong record against Russell Martin from playing 1 up front. I also don't really understand why people think Russell Martin is dead good, because every time I've seen one of his teams play, it's been really boring. 

 You can follow MCLF on facebook or Twitter or use to get posts sent to your email If you appreciate the blog and judge it worth 1p or more, then a donation to one of the causes below which help kids and families in Blackpool would be grand. 

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Visit Stoke! (Electric dreams): Stoke City vs the Mighty

This carpark is a wasteland that could be anywhere. A lorry reverses slowly across it then performs alarmingly sharp u-turn to reverse back to whence it came. This could be a metaphor for something but I can't think what. Life or something or other. 

It's spring. The fragments of broken glass that adorn the concrete glitter in the fitful bursts of sunshine. Light dances on greyness then disappears as the cloud returns. There's a flag pole, the union jack twists  restlessly one way and then the other. Around the wasteland are buildings that seem to be competing to be the most anonymous thing in sight. There is nothing green, save for the clipped grass of a roundabout and some scrubby sickly looking verges. Everything is straight lines, measured angles and litter caught in brambles. 

A trailer sits without anything to pull it. The text on the side advertises "CERAMICS-HERITAGE-FAMILY FUN" and implores us to 'VISIT STOKE' - the main picture they've used to illustrate Stoke's potential as a hitherto underappreciated aspect of Britain's tourist industry is a quite dilapidated looking red brick industrial building. This seems seems an odd choice.

Maybe we're setting our holiday destination ambitions lower these days what with stuff and things that have been going on and that. 

Anyway, I have visited Stoke before. I am Right Here. Right Now. I don't need to be told. I like Stoke. I partly like it cos it's a place other people don't like and I'm a bit contrary like that and partly because my experiences here have been generally of decent people. I like the barge that sells ale on the canal. I like that the turnstile blokes banter with my lad and the stewards run after him and give him a programme. People are shitty about Stoke for the same reasons people are shitty about Blackpool. Not everywhere is Tunbridge Wells is it? Fuck off. Those people who write those 'shit towns' books are on my list of people for 'after the revolution' Be warned if you are one of them. Srsly.  


Critch swaps out Jezza for Shayne and brings in Reece James at left back with Dujon Sterling going to play in place of Jordan Gabriel. It's a football cliche to point out that the Begambleawareandwhenthefunstopsstop Stadium is cold, but nonetheless, I am going to point out that it is cold.

In the warm up, Jerry looks all wrong. His finishing is really bad. Like, really really bad. So bad that he smacks someone straight on the head as he puts it over the safety netting behind the goal then slices one wide like a shit kid at primary school. I notice Mike Garrity does this thing where he shadows players as they shoot, but he never shadows Gaz. Maybe he's a bit scared of him. I sometime wonder if Steve Banks is the best striker at the club. He's fucking ace at shooting. To be fair, he's also really good at crossing the ball too. Why don't we put Banksy on corners? 

Our end fills up. I can't see any empty seats. They play one of those stupid really loud 'club songs' and it's shite. We clap for what sounds suspiciously like the PA bloke calls 'Ukrania' - the noise builds and we're off and straight into it. 

This isn't one of those games where I can be arsed with remembering what happened in all the right order. Shit happened. We were pretty good at the beginning and CJ had the best of the early play. Dougall was on it from the first minute being all disruptive. Lavery was waspish. Big Gaz got about. Stoke didn't look very good. 

A few forays forward gets the Pool fans chanting. The Begambleawareandwhenthefunstopsstop Stadium isn't otherwise very noisy despite looking pretty full. CJ hares away, he's got acres of space. Gaz pulls to the far post. CJ is going to shoot. Or cross. Either will do. He decides to do both and the ball agonisingly runs past the post but in front of Madine sliding in at the far post. It's a painful moment, we've been the better side but we've not made it count. 

Stoke skim one across the face of goal. Thorniley looks mightily relieved when a ball to the far post goes away from goal not into it off him. Nick Powell has a really bad finish on the end of a move that sliced us open. It's so bad, it makes Jerry's warm up antics look positively lethal finishing. 

CJ again. GO ON CEEEJ!!!! He's got a short ball to Lavery or a floated ball to Madine. He does neither, hacking it into a defender. Bowler is onto the rebound though, turning it round the corner to Madine. Gary is in full on tricky oil tanker mode as he shifts his balance and sends the defender. He's free! He lines up the shot, he hammers the shot. The keeper and a defender both sprawl, it beats the former but the latter blocks it. The ball pops up and JOSH BOWLER HEADS IT! JOSH BOWLER HEADS THE BALL!!! (weakly and well wide) 

We ping it left and right. Reece James is the penultimate bit of a lovely move that sees a cross floated that Madine rises and reaches, forcing a sprawling save from the keeper. C'mon the Pool!!! 

We're all good, except somehow Josh Maja (who will for evermore be 'that lad who was a bit snide about how he left Sunderland on Netflix') sneaks in and hits the post. It was weird as hell. The defence didn't really know what was going on and even the sainted lord of the still quite neat beard Grimshaw kind of half dived like he thought it was going well wide when it wasn't


To be honest, it's a scrappy game, even if we are the better team. We keep having misplaced Stoke passes to cheer but we've missed our chances and it feels like Stoke shouldn't be as poor as they were again. 


I don't know if Stoke aren't as poor or we're not as good, but we really struggle to make anything happen. The second half is like eating porridge that's gone a bit cold and thick. Passes go all over the place. Stoke keep trying through balls but they're dreadful. We're really finding it difficult to turn pressure into efforts on goal. We get a corner. Kenny can't beat the man at the near post, even though Thorniley has come short and is putting him off. 

We get a free kick. Kenny lifts it cleverly. Gaz (of all people) bursts through but the keeper is alert. We have another free kick on the edge of the box. I can't remember what happened to it. That tells you about our dead ball prowess today I think. 

Bowler sets off. His run against PNE was one of the greatest things I've ever seen and he pulls out a carbon copy of it. He's Colin fucking Jackson in the 110 metre hurdles as he vaults one filthy slide after another. He sways after flying past two, cuts inside, leaves another two for dead before just being unable to control the pace of the ball and running it out of play, before colliding with the advertising hoardings. What a player, what a fucking player. Drink him in. Drink every second of him in. 

Reece James is not quite leaving the same impression. He gets all mixed up. He gets knocked off the ball. He drops passes short. He hooks passes out of play. He has time. Gary is left, Shayne is right. James goes straight up the middle on to the head of Jagielka. Stoke have a bit of a chance. James is miles away from where a left back should be. Marvin (I think) tidies up. 

"Fuck off you fat luminous cunt!" The linesman is not endearing himself. The ref neither. We're used to this. Big Gaz has a right radge at both the lino and the ref and I think we all feel that's fair enough considering the shite we've had in the last few weeks. Gaz speaks for us all. 

Stoke bring on Tyrese Campbell. Finally the Begambleawareandwhenthefunstopsstop Stadium makes a little bit of noise as they like Campbell. That worries me. I don't know owt about him other than Stoke fans like him and I wonder what they know that we don't know. 

It's getting edgy. Thorniley goes down in a heap. A bloke behind me explodes "He just fucking hit him. In the back of the head. In the back of the head! He just hit him" - I haven't seen it so I can't verify if it was assault or accident, but Thorniley stays down. Oliver Casey comes on to add to the jitters. Casey and James isn't exactly the pairing you'd want. We try to calm ourselves by singing about Jerry Yates. I fucking love Jerry. Everyone loves Jerry. 

"They're going to fucking win this. Best team by miles us, but they'll fucking score now. I'm telling you" From my left comes a burst of optimism. From below me, comes a substitute. We sang his name and here he is. Lavery takes an age to leave. Yates leans into the pitch, touches fists with Shayne and explodes onto it. 

Come on Pool. I'm just thinking how shit it would be if the lad up the row is right and how it seems typical that they seem to have loads of subs you've heard of like Campbell and Fletcher and we're throwing on Ollie Casey and just have some kids from Crewe on the bench that I'm not sure Critch fancies that much really when it comes down to it and actually, how 0-0 would be really much better than losing 1-0 when Yates take it quite deep, now Bowler, now Yates again and there's the little bit of magic from him, a little shimmy and a lovely touch and there's Josh Bowler and there's the ball in the back of the net. 

Everything folds in on itself. There's suddenly a bloke next to me who was 4 rows back. I scream at him, he screams at me. The guy in front has turned around and we grab him. Another random face is screaming and I'm still shouting. The ball has been in the net for 20 seconds and still it's just noise. Just noise. Pure white (tangerine) noise. Nothing else exists other than this noise and I am part of it. It's flows through me and is all around me. It's everything.  

I punch the air as we chant. Scarves twirl. Scarves are held aloft. We stand on seats. I survey the crowd for a second or two. It's a sea of joy. Electric joy. Together in electric dreams. He's electric. And he scores for Pool. 

Now comes the tension. Scoring late like this is a release, but then it gets nervy. Ladies and Gentleman, the fourth official is a luminous cunt who is indicating a mental amount of stoppage time. 8 fucking minutes? Fucking hell. Can I take this?

It doesn't look like I can because Stoke have breached the Casey/James side of the defence and are in. They're in. It's fucking Steve Fletcher as well. For fuck's sake. Not him... Dan Grimshaw though. He was just skinning up but he tucked it behind his ear, chucked the lighter into his sock and with ninja sharp reflexes throws himself at Fletcher, covering an astonishing amount of the available space with his arms and legs at all angles. Fletcher hits it low and true but it smacks into the man with the beard and away from goal. Fucking love Grimmy me. 

Corner in. Corner away. Madine in the corner. The ball hacked out. They come again. A huge cheer as we head it away. CJ runs. CJ turns his man inside out. Bowler is shattered. Connolly on. Madine in the corner again. Gaz, footwork. Such footwork. Gaz takes twenty seconds out the game. Gaz lies on the ball. They get a throw. Gaz stops the throw by taking the ball and running away. They push Gaz over. Gaz goes over like some collapsing chimney that Fred Dibnah has demolished. Face down. Gaz gets booked. Gaz has wasted 90 seconds. We make some brilliantly dirty tackles. CJ again, CJ puts his man one way then the other. CJ is through. He goes to the corner. He's not Gaz, but he does a grand job. It's a throw. It's thrown. 


Critchley is there. He soaks it up. He looks like he just wants to record this moment to keep in his mind. Who could begrudge him that? He surveys the stand, he thumps his badge. The little impish tinker only goes and makes a heart gesture with his two thumbs and forefingers. Neil Critchley's Tangerine Army. Pool Fans 4 Critch 4 eva. He looks like he might not leave the pitch tonight. I'm not going till he goes. 

It takes forever to get out. The subs come on for a quick warm down. Jerry is grinning. Callum Connolly whacks a ball into the stand just because. Everyone cheers. A couple of women beg the stewards to let them down to the pitch level to ask Jerry for his shirt. I don't know if they relented. I hope they did. Simon Sadler is serenaded. He claps and disappears. It's been a magic day. Pure fucking magic. 


As shaky as James was, I thought Sterling played well. CJ didn't always make the right choices, but he was a proper outlet and his aerial ability is a handy thing to have. There are worse things than a winger that just keeps going. Dougall really impressed me today, Stewart again looked like he's adding a lot to the spine. I loved that Jerry came on and did something substantial cos I fucking love Jerry, but I thought Lavery played well and his use of the ball was quite canny, something I don't always associate with him. 

Honestly, whilst it was a mind blowing experience, it wasn't a classic game of football but fuck that. We're not dickheads watching on SKY complaining at 'quality' are we? We're fucking football fans. On the way out, I hear a Stoke supporter say 'I envy Blackpool, they've had it bad with their owners, yeah, but they're enjoying football now. They've had up and down and now up. It's just the same, week after week, after week for us' then her mate laughs and turns to the two kids with them and says 'So, did you enjoy your first ever football match?' and part of me feels something really weirdly sentimental. 

This is what it is. Shit towns, shit teams, never fucking actually winning anything, losing as many as you win, most seasons come to nothing, but fuck it. Fuck it. FUCK IT. Who would want to follow Man fucking City? I hope they did enjoy it. I hope they got bitten. I hope they understand that the glum trudge home is part of it. It's the yin to a beautiful yang. 

Because some days are like this. Them Stoke kids will one day be away from home somewhere and it'll be magic. They'll be walking away from an away ground with a spring in their step and noticing how Stoke in the setting sunlight looks rather fine really all things considered. They'll feel 10 times lighter than they did on the way in. Their heart will be full of noise and people and everyone losing their shit over a magical goal and screaming in each others faces and hugging strangers just because they're alive and it feels for just a few blissful minutes of glorious relief and release like it's the best thing ever and nothing else matters or ever will. 

Football is fucking magic. 

Fucking loved that. 

We're still 14th though? I'm sure the league is rigged against us... 



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Stoke City vs the Mighty (preview)

Mad good painting by Alan Bickley (not Alan Buckley who used to manage Grimsby)

YES! We've NOT BEEN IRRADIATED! It's important to appreciate the positives I think. On the other hand, hey baby, I wanna know-oh-oh-oh Jordan Gabriel is injured. Life is about ups and downs I suppose.

I'm really looking forward to going to where they used to make plates and that. Other positives include the fact it's not raining (which would also have been a positive had we been irradiated), we've sold loads of tickets and there's therefore nowhere I'd rather be than the begambleawareandifthefunstopsstop Stadium this afternoon. When there's a proper noise, nothing on earth is better. 

I like Stoke. I used to work there. It's kind of like what I imagine a town in Eastern Europe that used to have an industry that died when the Soviet Union left is like except blokes call each other duck which I don't think happens in the former Warsaw Pact nations.

I do sometimes wonder when we go to places like Middlesbrough, Stoke or Sheffield where we get shit like steel and bowls and spoons from now and whether it was a great plan to not make stuff any more and just have call centres, play centres and vaping shops for people to work in instead of factories and that. Nowt up with vaping, playing or ringing people up but it's not very useful if a global conflict fucks up the supply chain.

Stoke is like much of the formerly industrial England in that it has become a place where rapacious landlords buy loads of houses and behave like cunts in the name of profit for the sake of profit and to be honest, if I was in charge I'd shoot every one of them with an anti aircraft gun cos exploiting poverty simply because you can is evil. Which brings us neatly to Russian Oligarchy and that. Fuck me, the world is complicated and dickheads seem to do quite well out of it.

Abramovic always seems to me to have a surprisingly fluffy beard and to be grinning about a joke he's not going to share with the rest of the class. I also wonder if the reason we hate Russian Oligarchs so much is because they got rich exploiting an opportunity and weren't 'landed gentry' types and why we seem to just not give a fuck that the Duke of Westminster and all them lot are rich as fuck and basically, they didn't toil down the plate factory for years to get where they are today either did they?

This is the sort of cutting edge analysis you simply don't get on Sky.

In conclusion, no one has a clue what team Critch will pick and as for Stoke, oatcakes remain one of the nation's under appreciated delicacies which those melts who thought leaving the EU would 'ruin our cuisine' completely overlooked. If oatcakes were french, that sort of person would be fawning over them and calling them something like "a regional, traditional charm, truely earthy food from the people, you must try them darling"

I reckon it will be a tight game, with a late goal but I don't know which way it's going to go. I'm going to go for a last gasp scruffy winner from Dujon Sterling from a corner.


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