It’s really not the done thing but I happen to support 4 football teams; Man Utd, Middlesbrough, Millwall and , just to break the M sequence, Blackpool. I was born in Manchester and had moved with my M&D to near Blackpool as a child but my dad’s brother Bernard used to bring me Utd programmes and cards and the like on his visits over sent me some great items before the ’63 Cup Final and that was it, I watched the match and was hooked on the Devils. My affection for Boro’ developed when I convinced my company Cellnet to sponsor the club and its stadium during the (first) Juninho days. Millwall are the team supported by my good friend JP and I go with him to watch them now and then – they are a kind of throwback to the days when attending matches was a tribal experience. But Blackpool were the team I went to support religiously from the age of around 10 I guess to about 16. And today the team who play, incongruously, in a tangerine strip had their biggest moment of glory in decades.
The Seasiders in the late 60’s and early 70’s were a decent side mostly in Div 1 (then the top League). They produced the likes of Jimmy Armfield, the great Alan Ball, Alan Suddick (the King of Bloomfield Rd), Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Hutchinson and the incomparable Tony Green who was on the verge of true greatness having left Blackpool for Newcastle U only to have a major injury wreck his career prematurely. Watching Blackpool was always interesting; I saw them lose 4-3 to Chelsea having led 3-0 at half-time: there was a great Cup win against the then mighty West Ham after which it came out that Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves et al were pissed up the night before the match. The first fatal stabbing at a ground and the first serious explosive device to go off at a sporting event both took place at Broomfield Rd. But the great days of the 50’s had long gone and the team steadily found itself slowly slipping down Div 2 when a freak series of results on the last day of the 1978 season conspired to send Blackpool down to Div 3.
I’d long since left the Blackpool area to get married, head for Uni, move to London start a family etc but for an old fan that day was fairly shocking, and the long slide continued. The club had a succession of managers and owners who failed to stop the rot. One acting Chairman ended up in jail for rape. The Oyston family are still involved I believe and it was they who knocked down the old decaying Broomfield Rd bit by bit. Till there was nothing. They did manage to rebuild two stands and stick a temporary bit up on a third side but having seen it, it’s hard to avoid the impression it’s just half a stadium. But there’s a new Eastern European backer on the scene – not quite on the scale of Abramovitch, but his investment is paying off.
After a torrid start to the season, the newish manager, who only talks in cliches secured a play off place with some great football at season’s end. Indeed they only just missed out on an automatic slot having slotted 6 goals away against another potential playoff team Swansea. That head of steam continued throughout the playoffs and today they completed a club record 10 wins on the spin (I think) by beating Yeovil 2-0 in the playoff final at the new Wembley. It’ll never rival the Mathews’ final for drama and I had to listen to the match whilst driving back from Brighton to Buckingham via Central London (don’t ask). But despite the crap weather and awful traffic, it was just a joyous moment to purge the memory of that horrid day 29 years ago.
So the real ‘Pool are back not quite in the big league but in the second tier of English football which is a pretty good standard. Let’s face it they’ll also be looking down on the likes of former European Cup winners, Nottingham Forest, the once mighty – but always dirty – Leeds United and (sorry JP) the fast-improving but ultimately unlucky Millwall who were in the Cup Final and pushing for promotion to the Premiership just 3 years ago, all plying their trade in Div 2. In fact Div 2 could be a right old ding next year in all sorts of ways and I’m glad Blackpool escaped this year. They will struggle to stay in Div 1 I imagine but that’s for next season to worry about. The future is bright I hope and it’s not orange; it’s tangerine!