Genteel neighbour of boisterous Blackpool, Morecambe has always been in the shadow of its larger, brasher rival a few windswept miles down the Lancashire coast. It’s an image reflected by the football fortunes of each resort, one forever associated with the historic Matthews Final during a two-decade post-war stint among England’s elite, the other content as non-league plodders until 2007.
Fast forward ten years. For 2016-17, upheaval at Blackpool and The Shrimps’ recent salvation from relegation now sees Morecambe pitted against The Tangerines for the first time in League Two. In terms of topography, this rivalry trumps Morecambe’s twice-annual grudge fixture with Accrington Stanley.
Personified by the seafront statue of its most famous namesake son – Eric Morecambe incomprehensibly a Luton Town fan – the town is unfavourably perceived as a run-down haunt populated and visited by the more senior end of the scale. Even Black Sabbath were inspired to use the eerie cliff-top medieval graves overlooking Morecambe Bay for a ‘Best Of’ album cover…
Appearing almost out of nothing in the mid 1800s with the coming of the railway, Morecambe didn’t see its first football club until relatively late on, in 1920.
Playing at Roseberry Park from 1921, Morecambe FC were bankrolled by a certain JB Christie, who bought the land then bequeathed it to the club, along with £1,000, a huge sum for these strugglers of the Lancashire Combination League.
Roseberry became Christie Park, Morecambe’s home of nearly 90 years until it was sold to Sainsbury’s. Shortly before, in 2007, Christie Park staged Morecambe’s first ever fixture in the Football League, a 0-0 draw at home to Barnet. After years of bleak afternoons against the likes of Burscough and Rossendale in front of a couple of hundred onlookers, it was somewhat underwhelming – but after years of failed theme parks and abandoned amusement arcades, Morecambe could herald a new era.
Overlooking Morecambe Bay, just down from the Golf Club, the classic Agatha Christie-era railway hotel the Midland was reconfigured as a luxury contemporary Art Deco gem. Along the coast, Eric Morecambe in dance mode had been cast in bronze.
And, in 2010, The Shrimps moved to a new-build, the Globe Arena, by a caravan park, where they play League Two football for a tenth successive season in 2016-17.
Meanwhile, the Christie name lives on in the form of a giant red cat, the Morecambe FC mascot, given to doing his own ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ number when crossing the finishing line at charity marathons.
With Blackpool yet to be operational again, the three nearest airports to Morecambe are all about 112km (70 miles) away: Leeds-Bradford, Manchester and Liverpool, None have direct public transport links with Morecambe. From each city centre, a train journey requires at least one change, at Lancaster – the same from London. Leeds has an infrequent direct service to Morecambe.
Morecambe bus and train stations are tucked in behind the coast, walkable into town though the Globe Arena is a bit of a stretch. Local buses are run by Stagecoach, tickets £1.30 single, £2.30 return, pay on board.
Coastal Taxis (01524 424 424) are a local firm.
As an old Victorian resort, Morecambe is lined with hotels and guesthouses, particularly along the seafront.
On Marine Road West, walkable to the ground via Regent Road, smart B&B The Balmoral is used by Morecambe FC to accommodate players while the Clarendon at No.76 (01524 410 180), in a large 19th-century building, has its own bar and restaurant.
Just off the seafront, Sunny’s Inn is a small, cosy and super-friendly B&B on West End Road, also walkable to the ground via Regent Road.
At a spectacular windswept site between sea and promenade, the most famous hotel in town is the Midland, an iconic Art Deco masterpiece refitted and reopened in 2007, with an upscale restaurant, rotunda bar and high-end spa. It’s a short walk across the car park to the bus terminus and the Nos.6 and 6A buses to the stadium.
More affordable, standard lodging options line the seafront, also accessible for the Nos.6 and 6A. These include the traditional Morecambe Bay Hotel, with a restaurant and late-opening bar, and fine views across the bay to the Lake District. The recently refurbished Travelodge, attached to the Arndale shopping complex in town, is also handy for the Nos.6 and 6A.
By Heysham Golf Club in the nearby coastal village of Heysham, Port House is a contemporary guesthouse, ideal for a quiet weekend and/or hop over the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man. For Morecambe, take bus Nos.2, 2A, 2X or 4 to Morrisons, then the Nos.6 or 6A to the stadium – the rail service between Heysham Port and Morecambe runs only once a day.
Many pubs in Morecambe echo a different era. Sadly, the most notable, centuries-old Smugglers Den, has been looking for new owners since the summer of 2015. Near the bus terminus, handy for bus Nos.6 and 6A to the ground, the Station Promenade is set in the town’s old railway terminal, suitably grand in design. Today it’s more family-friendly eaterie than boozer, with a large soft-play area for kids.
Between the current station and the seafront, The Eric Bartholomew, the original name of the town’s most famous comedian, is the local Wetherspoon, also convenient for the Nos.6 and 6A.
Directly opposite Eric Morecambe’s statue, right on Marine Drive East, the King’s Arms has a sports bar and lounge upstairs, with giant HD projections, 3D and 42-inch plasma screens. Downstairs, hangover-killing breakfasts are served until noon, and main dishes until 8.45pm. Opening hours run until 3am on Fridays, 4am on Saturdays.
For cask brews, The Palatine is a CAMRA-awarded traditional alehouse, small, cosy and with decent food.
Further afield, the family-run Hest Bank Inn pub/eaterie in the village of the same name dates back to the 1500s. With a large beer garden, it’s on the banks of the Lancaster Canal, yards from the only the point where the main West Coast railway line touches seashore in its 200-mile route.
In delightful Heysham village just south of Morecambe, the old Royal Hotel has a rural feel, close to the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel, site of medieval graves of Black Sabbath fame.