At just 23 minutes into the game in I looked around to see a tray of Jager bombs being walked into the VIP area – it wasn’t even 1.30pm
(Image: James Maloney/Lancs Live)
It not your normal World Cup. People are swapping shorts and sunglasses for winter coats and indoor fan zones are proving to be the place to watch the Lions without freezing.
And that’s exactly why the Olympia Exhibition Hall at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens has been transformed 26,000 square foot World Cup Fanzone. Complete with a huge 8m x 5m screen, green AstroTurf and a net for fans to score a goal of their own.
We headed down to watch England’s first match of the tournament against Iran. The space was quite full for a Monday afternoon, the space was decorated with flags and long tables lined the room.
It’s free to enter the venue for standing room, with a £10 charge which will guarantee entry and a reserved seat in a prime spot in the venue in front of the 8m x 5m screen to watch the games. The £10 charge will be redeemable against bar spend upon entry.
VIP packages are available for just £20.00 per person and include seating within the ‘penalty box’, a jug of draught lager/bitter/cider per person, food vouchers and table service throughout the match.
I wouldn’t call myself an avid football fan, but I spent both the last two international tournaments glued to a screen, either at home or in the pub. I’ve never been to a designated fan zone however, so this was a first for me.
As the fans settled into their seats, I went to chat to a couple to get their opinions on the first ever winter World Cup, and to find out if they think England have a chance of going the distance.
Simon from Blackpool reckons this is as good as a chance that England have had in the past eight years. He said: “It’s a golden generation of players, and it all depends on how Southgate plays the team. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
When asked about his thoughts on the first winter tournament he said: “Well, it’s nice to be inside and warm. We normally watch the game in a few different places but it’s nice to have this area to come to. We’ll definitely be back for future games.”
Victor said he wasn’t really a football fan, but having travelled up from Wiltshire, he thought he’d pop in to watch the match in the fan zone. He said: “I’m only here today and tomorrow. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, as I’m not really a fan of football, but it’s been very well organised. There’s nothing like this near me.”
This year’s tournament has caused some controversy, as the decision for Qatar to host led to accusations of corruption involving FIFA and Qatar, along with criticism for selecting the country as hosts due to its undesirable human rights record.
Whilst some think that the World Cup deserves to travel right around the world, others are upset with FIFA’s decision. Sam and Mark from Blackpool have said that the tournament should have been hosted elsewhere.
They said: “It’s a disgrace that it’s being hosted in Qatar. All of our players have gone over there and they’re wanting to wear the One Love arm bands, but they’re not being allowed to. People have died building stadiums and so on and there was no need for it to happen.”
The pair have said they can see England making the quarter finals, but the semis would be nice.
There’s always something special about hearing the national anthem before a game, but listening to it in the fan zone was electric. The atmosphere was tense as it all kicked off. Even though this is just the first game of the tournament, you can see on people’s faces just how much this means. It was also the first time God Save The King had been bellowed from the stands at a World Cup.
The fan zone erupted in outrage in the first few minutes as Maguire got dragged to floor. Every time the ball went near the goal the atmosphere tingled. Splatters of applause could be heard for a well played ball.
At 23 minutes in I looked around to see a tray of Jager bombs being walked into the VIP area. You wouldn’t guess it was a Monday afternoon – not even 1.30pm.
Saka’s attempt on the goal earned a round of applause from the crowd and Maguire’s header got people on their feet, in excitement, only to clutch their own heads moments later.
As soon as Jude Bellingham scored, the crowd went wild, and the previously tense atmosphere melted away. In what felt like just a couple of minutes later it was 3-0 with spectacular goals from Saka and Stirling.
The goals kept coming for the Lions, and each time the crowd erupted, with pints of beer flying. I was unfortunate enough to be in someone’s firing line, but it’s all part of the fun isn’t it.
As the game began wrapping up, I went around to see what people thought of England’s performance. Note: I spoke to these people before Iran were awarded a penalty so they may have changed their minds after watching Pickford miss that save.
“England played a very good game. It was a very routine game for them. You don’t really feel excitement until they play someone good. They payed well this time, but watch them draw against USA now for a reality check. I’ve watched it happen time and time again.”
Steve and his friend Ryan both said they weren’t normally fans of fan zones, but they had very much enjoyed their time at Winter Gardens. They said: “Its exactly what you’d want for a fan zone, a big screen, drinks and someone hyping up the crowd. It’s been fun to watch football like this, even if we are at the back.
Despite the last minute goal from Iran, the atmosphere was still filled with joy. Friends and families hugged and celebrated as the final score of 6-2 was announced.
Steve Deveney, Deputy Operations Manager at the Winter Gardens and the man behind the idea said: “I am so excited to create this event for football fans across the North West. The announcement of a Winter World Cup meant that the usual fan parks we associate with previous International tournaments, and the images of fans basking in the sunshine with a pint was just not going to be an option.
“It will be the largest indoor heated indoor Fanzone in Lancashire where fans still get to meet up with their mates and enjoy the football with a pint, but now they can do this in an atmosphere that will be second to none, other than being in Qatar itself!”
- 16:44, 21 NOV 2022