Thursday, 23 August 2012

The rollercoaster ride from Blackpool to Blackpool: my year supporting Ipswich

This weekend marks almost a year since my life as an Ipswich Town fan changed forever.

The travelling faithful have an amazing weekend ahead of them as the Blues face Blackpool, no matter what happens on the pitch.

You see, when my sister and I went to Leicester away on the final day of the 2010/2011 season we made a pact for which games we would definitely be at during the next season. Both of us live away from Ipswich so it was nice to have these games to look forward to.

First on the list was Blackpool away, so as soon as the date was announced we booked a hotel (for the female fans reading this I can highly recommend Christine's Hotel, though we didn't realise until we arrived that this is a lesbian hotel, the welcome here was warm and it's a great location).

I also tweeted in the week leading up to the game to see if any other 'ITFC tweeps' were staying for the weekend and would like to meet up and celebrate the game together. It seemed a popular idea.

After the match we went to the Wetherspoon's pub and were happy to discover a line of young men at the bar discussing the game in Suffolk accents, we'd obviously made the right choice to stop around after the game.
We were ushered over to a table full of blue shirts and sat for quite a while chatting about the game and being given advice for our night ahead in the bars of Blackpool. Two months later we were to be reunited with this group at Barnsley away and it was the beginning of a new way for us to experience games - with lots of other people!

Much later on, we had been invited to meet a group of Town fans in the Revolutions bar so we made our way there, not before stopping off at a VERY dodgy karaoke bar-cum-strip club.

We had a wander around a packed 'Rev's' but couldn't see anyone we recognised, so decided to head to the bar for another blue cocktail… but then above the noise of the crowd we heard a rousing chorus of 'Oh Jimmy Bullard….' And so a new chapter of my life began.

For me, it's never been about the desire to go to a pub and drink before a match - I've never really understood that football tradition - it's about finally being with people who share my one big passion in life.

Growing up away from Ipswich, I've never been able to share the ups and downs of the season with anyone other than our wonderful Dad. It was a great trio for many years (me, him and my sister) but now I get to do it very differently when I choose. And I'm so grateful for the chance to do that.

Since Blackpool away I have been to eight more away days with this group and they have been so welcoming. I can honestly say it feels like I've known them all my life and I consider several of them good friends who I hope to be travelling with to away games when I'm 70.

Our little group has grown and grown as others who, like me, had no-one to share their experiences with can now do so. For me, this is what football should be about: no matter what is going on on the pitch or behind the scenes at Portman Road, we all stand together as one club. We celebrate like we've won the cup when we score the 5th goal at Oakwell, we sit in silence after we've lost 4:0 to Burnley and we stand on a roundabout in Doncaster to wave the team bus off at the end of an amazing season (for us anyhow). And we do it all together.

I know some people don't approve of some of the things that the groups of friends that travel to matches together do and when it comes to destruction of property or causing a nuisance we are the first to agree. But nothing is done with the intention to harm and it really is a great little community to be involved with.

The thing I really have to thank for my life changing so drastically in the last year is Twitter. Because it's not just this 'away day' group that have welcomed me in, the social media network has been my refuge from a life over 200 miles away from the place I call home - Portman Road.

In the past year this other community of ITFC fans have seen a lot: we've celebrated births, we've congratulated a friend who tweeted a picture on his wedding day, we've consoled others on the deaths of a family member, we've helped one seven year old boy with a brain tumour raise awareness for his dream to help other children who are ill like him.

When I made the massive decision to quit a job where I was unhappy I received so much support from my followers. I was so grateful for that and it gave me the strength to start again in my career, it even lead to one Tweep offering to help me get a job in his office!

If you're reading this you have probably found my blog through Twitter and I want to say thank you, thank you for helping me fill the hole in my life left void by far away fellow Blues!

But most of all thank you to the group of people who I've enjoyed so many great away days with, you know who you are. From Barnsley to Leeds and then Doncaster, you make this rollercoaster worth putting up with and I really can't wait for you to come up to Oakwell again next month.

And if you are off to Bloomfield Road tomorrow, firstly good on you for making such a long trip. Secondly, have a brilliant time and enjoy yourself. Trust me - you'll make memories there that will last you for a life time!


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