So Saturday will see which one of two former top flight clubs return to the top level of English football with the Championship Play-Off final. As neither have troubled the top division in quite a long time, newer fans to Premiership football may be left scratching their heads as to who either of these sides are. As such, I thought I’d give you a low down on both sides competing for the one remaining Premiership place next season, starting with Blackpool.
So you may have seen Ian Jones lovely little piece about Blackpool earlier this month, but what else do you need to know about one of English footballs most iconic names? Let me try and give you some more knowledge on the Tangerines, so if they do triumph on Saturday, you won’t be struggling to know anything about them when your none epltalk.com reading friends question you about them.
First up, Blackpool are synonymous with three of the 20th Century’s iconic England legends. Stan Mortensen, Stanley Matthews and Jimmy Armfield are warmly remembered by football fans of a certain age. Matthews is probably the greatest English player in history and I covered his career in depth last year in my Legends of English Football series. Matthews is one of the few players who is loved and revered equally at two clubs, Blackpool and Stoke City and his achievements speak for themselves.
Gentleman Jimmy Armfield played his entire career at Blackpool, and is currently working for the BBC in England. Highly respect as a player and pundit, Armfield is respected throughout the game and retired after Blackpool were relegated the last time they were in the First Division in 1971. Another notable great player was Alan Ball and more modern names include Trevor Sinclair, Paul Stewart, Alan Wright and Brett Ormerod.
Blackpool had never played below the second tier until they were relegated from Division Two in 1977-78 and then found themselves stuck in a hell of lower league football for over 30 years as the club strove to escape the clutches of the bottom two leagues. They almost dropped out of the league in 1983 when they finished 4th bottom of the Fourth Division. In those days, all league clubs voted on who came up from the conference and who went down. Votes saved the club from falling out of the league only 12 seasons after last playing in the top division.
Notable managers at the club have included Joe Smith, who managed the club through the Matthews and Mortensen era, Alan Ball, Stan Ellis, Gary Megson, Sam Allardyce and current Leeds United manager, Simon Grayson. The current incumbent, Ian Holloway is legendary in English football due to his unusual comments, phrases and anecdotes. Prepare to be confused if Blackpool win promotion and Holloway interviews are viewed anywhere outside the UK.
The ground is called Bloomfield Road and is currently undergoing a massive rebuilding job. Suffice to say it had become a dreadful indictment of Blackpool’s struggles in the 1980’s and 90’s and was in need of serious renovation. I remember my only visit to the ground in 1991 for a 3rd round F.A. Cup tie and it was like a trip back in time. Coming two years after the Hillsborough disaster, it was a strange and morbid looking ground. It looked and felt unloved and served as a sad reminder of the clubs far away glory days.
A crazy idea floated in the 1990’s saw the club consider building a ground off the coast of Blackpool. Currently 3 sides are completed, with the latest, the Jimmy Armfield Stand opening in March this year. The current capacity will see them have the smallest ground in the Premiership if promoted with a capacity of just 12,555. When the final stand is completed, capacity should rise to 16,000 but of course, promotion to the Premiership could see the money re-invested in to increasing the capacity further. Whether or not temporary seating will be used for next season if they do go up will be interesting to see.
Blackpool’s fortunes have improved steadily since the arrival of Latvian millionaire, Valeri Belokon, who has invested money consistently since arriving at the club in 2006. The last 4 seasons have seen improvement on improvement and the club is flying, bang in form and put Nottingham Forest to the sword in the Play-Off semi-finals. With the influential Charlie Adam pulling the strings, they’ve as good a chance as Cardiff for promotion and people will underestimate them at their peril.
Promotion and the £100 million that the club will receive at the very worst could see a former footballing power return to the top table on a regular basis. They’d also become very popular with away fans as Blackpool is the holiday destination and drinking scene for most northerners at some point in their lives. Expect to see many a “Kiss Me Quick” hats in the away end next season if they return to the top flight as well as images of popular mascot Bloomfield Bear.
So there you have it, a brief synopsis of Blackpool FC. Let me know your thoughts below or find me through twitter on http://www.twitter.com/paulbestall