In the frantic world of football yesterday, there were two games played in Europe that epitomized some of the reasons why we all love this great game of ours. In Madrid, Spain, we were treated to a yawning spectacle of how one team can choke the life out of another as Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan throttled Bayern Munich into submission to take the UEFA Champions League title 2-0. Further north, that same afternoon, at Wembley Stadium, London, Blackpool overcame Cardiff City, two teams locked in a battle to decide who wins the final promotion spot to next season’s Barclays Premier League in the Championship PlayOff Final.
In a wild game played in searing heat, my boyhood team prevailed over Cardiff City 3-2 to leap into the promised land of wealth, fame and fortune. Fans returned on a pilgrimage from all over the world to help push their team over the top, from as far away as Orlando, Florida, and in a game that pulsated back and forth, especially in a stunning first half, it showed what football means to people at the grass roots level of the game. Never in my wildest dreams, did I think that I would ever see Blackpool win promotion to the Barclays Premier League
I was raised in a small seaside resort, one time fishing village, along the NorthWest coastline of England at the mouth of the River Ribble. I came from the lucky generation that witnessed England’s greatest football triumph in winning the 1966 World Cup and following that epic day, the flame of football was kindled inside me as it was in all young boys across the country that year. My first ever visit to a football game came soon after and was with my Dad at 8 years old. It was to Bloomfield Road, the home of Blackpool Football Club.
Following my introduction to football by my father those many years ago, I became a regular at home games. In 1968, he bought me a season ticket and I suddenly had a front row seat in the South Stand. Amazingly, in 1969, Blackpool challenged for promotion to Division One which culminated in a fierce derby clash against old rivals Preston North End at Deepdale. A 3-0 win condemned the Lilywhites to relegation to Division Three whilst sending Blackpool up to the top tier of English football, Division One. Both my Dad and Grandfather attended that game along with 39,000 other West Lancashire football crazies. The following season was a trip to fantasy land. There were hardly any live TV games in those days, except for the FA Cup Final, and all the nation’s famous players from Charlton, Best and Law, to Moore, Peters, and Banks, were paraded out for our enjoyment. I had always been a Man Utd fan from the age of 5, but the Blackpool players seemed to be people just like us. Jimmy Armfield, Alan Suddick, “Sir” Harry Thompson, Chopper McPhee, John Craven, Bill Bentley, the mercurial Tony Green, and on and on. What a glorious time that was. Every other week. a packed stadium of 32-35,000 fans assembled and every game was a wild one, both on and unfortunately at times, off the pitch.
The club was relegated straight back down after one season but for me, it was a roller coaster ride. From the highs of the 4-1 win in the FA Cup Third Round against a loaded West Ham team to the gut wrenching disappointment of a 3-2 loss to Chelsea after leading 2-0, I got to see all of my heroes that we only read about in the newspapers and magazines. Some success followed with a win against Bologna to lift the Anglo Italian Cup in 1971 and probably their greatest win ever was in defeating AS Roma in Stadio Olympico in the Group stages of the competition that same year. Heady days mixing it with the likes of Juventus, Roma, and Inter Milan.
The following years saw the club’s fortunes slowly decline as a string of managers came and went and in 1982 they sank to their lowest ever League position, 21st in then Division Four, only retaining their League status through a favorable vote from the non-League teams. Slowly they clambered their way back, with hills and valleys along the way, but their luck seemed to change when current chairman Karl Oyston took over the club. A total stadium revamp took place and with the introduction of Latvian businessman Valeriy Belokon, better days lay ahead. A strong showing from the club in gaining promotion to the Championship in 2008 left their fans in doubt as to whether they would survive in such a competitve League. They did survive but continued to be considered as strong relegation candidates, but manager Ian Holloway and the players had other ideas.
Common sense suggests that they will struggle to survive next season and like neighbors Burnley, who were relegated this season, are most likely choose to build the financial strength of the club rather than doing a “Portsmouth” and bankrupting the team just to stay in the top flight. The stadium now only seats 9,000 fans and the club have yet to install the East Stand. Only the pitch remains from my days as a supporter, but it is certain to be a hostile atmosphere for away teams to play in, and each game will resemble an FA Cup Third round tie for the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd. A barnburner every two weeks for sure. If only I could figure out a way to get from Chicago to Blackpool !
Do you believe in miracles ? I do now.
Stan Mortensen – 23 goals in 25 games for England. Still to this day,is the only player ever to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup Final at Wembley. Was featured in the 2005 movie “The Game of their Lives” detailing the story of USA’s 1-0 victory over England in the 1950 World Cup in Belo Horizonte
Alan Ball – youngest member of the 1966 England World Cup winning team, provided the pass for Geoff Hurst’s controversial 3rd goal.
Jimmy Armfield – England captain at the 1962 World Cup in Chile and squad member in 1966
Five members of “football’s 100 Legends” list played for Blackpool.
Owen Oyston, current director, former chairman and Karl’s father, spent six years in jail.
Blackpool’s tangerine shirts were inspired by a referee who was in charge of a Holland-Belgium match in 1923 and was impressed by the Dutch jerseys.
One of the first teams to have their own Supporters Club. A duck was their mascot, one being donated by American actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Current manager Ian Holloway has three children who all have a hearing disability.
A copy of the club’s history “Blackpool: A Complete Record 1887-1992″ is available at Harvard University Library.
Bloomfield Rd was the site of the first murder ever at an English football game. Kevin Olsson was stabbed to death during a Second Division “derby” game against Bolton Wanderers in 1974.
Blackpool’s reserve goalkeeper, Paul Rachubka, was born in California,USA and is an American citizen.
Current England World Cup squad goalkeeper, Joe Hart, played for Blackpool 5 times whilst on loan from Manchester City
Sir Stanley Matthews – famous for “The Matthews Final” (see video below) who played in the top Division of English football at 50 years old. Claiming he “retired too early”, Pele once called him “the man who taught us how the game should be played”. First ever winner of Ballon D’Or ( European Footballer of the Year). Longest England career of any player – 23 years.