It’s not often in the sport of soccer that you get to watch a game where you badly want both teams to win, or more accurately in this case, neither team to lose, but coming up this Sunday afternoon, one of those scenarios occurs in the English Premier League at Old Trafford when League Champions Manchester United and Blackpool lock horns. For me, this presents a unique experience as facing each other will be the team from the town where I was born and the team who I’ve supported since I was five years old from the citywhere I went to college for 3 years. You can bet that on Sunday morning I will be tuned to ESPN3 to watch the drama unfold.
I became a staunch United fan when I was five years old as I recall, when my parents bought me a red and white United kit for Christmas, complete with shirt, pants, socks and boots, and never a more exciting gift than that have I ever had. I was hooked. I followed the Red Devils frantically for the next 7-8 years, through the World Cup and the 1968 European Cup win at Wembley. At the same time, just after England won the World Cup in 1966, my Dad took me to my first professional football match at Bloomfield Rd, Blackpool where Leicester City and the great Gordon Banks were playing. Over the course of the next 4-5 years, I was an occasional fan of Blackpool as my family could not afford to make the trip up to Manchester and watch my real team play, so I was had to be content watching my live football at the home of team in tangerine.
In 1970, however, my Dad’s best friend had a spare season ticket for the South Stand at Bloomfield Rd and I was asked if I wanted it, and me, being football crazy by then, couldn’t turn it down. At that time, Blackpool had been relegated to the Second Division but had their eye on getting promotion that season back to the top flight. As it turned out, I got front row seats to a wonderful year where the Seasiders delivered on their promise and were promoted along with Huddersfield Town. I had now become a staunch Blackpool fan and my Red Devils were fading into the background a little. Despite witnessing a fascinating season in Division One where I got to see all the famous players of their day, Blackpool were relegated immediately back down to Division Two where they remained for many years. I continued to follow them through some lean years and it stayed that way until I went to college in 1977 . I started to attend matches at Old Trafford every fortnight and became a regular in the Stretford End, and slowly but surely, my old passion was re-kindled by some of those fiery nights in the wind and the rain watching a team that only knew how to attack, and couldn’t defend to save their lives.
So as you can see, my loyalties are seriously split this weekend. Blackpool have lit up the Premier League this year with their open, attacking style of play although never defending well enough to justifiably keep their place after starting the season off with a bang. Man Utd have already won the League again for a record 19th time and with a home record of 17 wins, 1 draw and 0 losses, the match looks to be a foregone conclusion. However, before passing premature judgement, we must add into the mix, probably the two liveliest personalities in the League in Sir Alex Ferguson and Ian Holloway, one of whom is certain to win the Manager of the Year award. What we have on offer is a mouth watering clash between two teams that know how to go forward, one of whose survival depends upon the result, whilst the other will be more concerned about not losing any players to injury bearing in mind the upcoming Champions League Final against Barcelona the following weekend at Wembley.
So, who do I support? I’m an unashamed United fan, who quite frankly, for the first time in his life, would like to see them lose this one. I have a strong affection for Blackpool and although I doubt that they’re good enough to warrant survival, my heart wants to see Holloway and the boys have another crack at setting the League alight next season.
Either way, I know where I’ll be at 11am Sunday !