LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Blackpool FC

Tangerines dare to dream now the nightmare’s over

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Every club has its moment in the sun. Blackpool’s was one of the most memorable in football history, 90 minutes of heart-warming drama back in 1953.

The Matthews Final is elevated in the national psyche alongside the Coronation and the Conquest of Everest of the same era, and held in the kind of reverence reserved for the 1966 World Cup Final. Like 1966, it featured a Wembley hat-trick and, like 1966, it featured a breathtaking climax before a major nationwide TV audience.

With seconds remaining, Sir Stanley Matthews willed his team to win the only major honour in his career and Blackpool’s history. He was 38. Cup finals have been hallowed events for television ever since.

Six months later, Matthews and hat-trick hero Stan Mortensen were involved in one of England’s most damning defeats at Wembley, the 6-3 demolition by Hungary. No longer at the summit, the English game has never been the same.

Bloomfield Road/Tony Dawber

One unsung hero of the Matthews Final was Joe Smith. A former striker at Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool’s opponents that day in 1953, Smith became manager at Bloomfield Road in 1935, gained promotion to the First Division in 1937, put together the famous M forward line of Mortensen, Scot Jackie Mudie and Matthews after the war and bowed out in 1958 having taken the club to untold heights in the English League.

Before Smith, Blackpool, formed in 1877, in the Football League since 1896, had spent three disappointing seasons in the First Division the early 1930s.

Smith’s big coup was signing Matthews in 1947. Unsettled at his native Stoke and having just served in Blackpool during the war, the Wizard of the Dribble needed little persuasion to come to Bloomfield Road. Within a year, Blackpool had reached their first FA Cup final, a high-quality affair won by Matt Busby’s Manchester United 4-2. Three years later, the Tangerines lost another final, 2-0 to Newcastle.

Narrow, single-goal victories took Blackpool to the seminal final of 1953, Matthews’ third, his last, chance at winning the trophy he had promised his dying father he would.

Stan Mortensen statue/Colin Young

Trailing Bolton after a goalkeeping fumble 75 seconds in, 3-1 down on the hour, Blackpool hauled themselves back on par in the 89th minute thanks to three goals from Stan Mortensen and Matthews’ incessant trickery and accurate crossing. With every neutral willing him on, Matthews broke into the box on 92 minutes and found outside-left Bill Perry who swept in to score.

Matthews played his last game for Blackpool in 1961 – at 46. By then, team captain was one-club right back Jimmy Armfield, whose own career started shortly after the 1953 final and ran until his farewell league game in May 1971, Matt Busby’s last in charge of Manchester United, Best, Law and Charlton and all. With firebrand youngster Alan Ball, Blackpool had maintained top-tier status after Matthews, lost it after Ball’s sale to Everton then enjoyed one last season in the sun before Armfield’s bow-out.

By 1981, once proud ’Pool had slipped into Division Four. With crowds thin and the stadium a crumbling relic, the club was forced to apply for re-election in 1983.

The following two decades saw Blackpool flit between the third and fourth tiers. Behind the scenes, former soap-opera actor, sewing-machine salesman and Socialist millionaire Owen Oyston, Blackpool-born, took control of the club and a slow process of modernisation began. 

Jimmy Armfield statue/Tony Dawber

On the pitch, an equally slow climb up the league ladder began with a play-off win over Leyton Orient in 2001 under ex-Liverpool star Steve McMahon. Six years later, Simon Grayson guided Blackpool to victory over Yeovil in the Division One play-off final, and the rise was complete in 2010 with a win over Cardiff in the Championship play-off final. Blackpool were back in the top flight after 39 years.

The triumph came under the talismanic and sometimes eccentric management of Ian Holloway, fêted by a six-figure crowd lining the streets of Blackpool. A year later, another memorable 4-3 win over Bolton on the penultimate day might have helped keep Blackpool up. With another inspired performance by Scots midfielder Charlie Adam a week later, Blackpool led Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford. The already-crowned champions then struck back to win 4-2 and condemn their fellow Lancastrians to relegation.

Oyston passing chairmanship to wife Vicki then son Karl following a jail sentence in the 1990s, the club began to lose the goodwill of their supporters following relegation. The Seasiders almost bounced back at the first attempt, this time losing a Wembley play-off final thanks to a late goal from West Ham’s Ricardo Vaz Tê.

The aftermath proved grim. Shocking mismanagement, two relegations in as many seasons, fan disgruntlement and even pitch protests, Blackpool were a mess. While the stadium was impressively overhauled, the club’s training facilities were long outdated. Managers came and went, the transfer policy belied the term.

Jimmy Armfield statue/Colin Young

Stuck near the bottom of the fourth tier, the club were in danger of falling out of the league completely – exactly 120 years after joining it.

While supporter unrest continued, former Blackburn manager Gary Bowyer got on with the job of getting Blackpool promoted back to League One. With the Oystons ordered in the High Court to pay £30 million-plus to minority shareholder Valeri Belokon – much to the applause of the many Blackpool fans who had travelled down to London for the occasion – the club was put up for sale.

In stepped Simon Sadler, a locally born financier who steadied the ship and, in March 2020, took on Neil Critchley in his first managerial post after several years in the Liverpool set-up. Despite a shaky start, the Tangerines began to shine in the new year, goals from new signing Jerry Yates helping the club put together a 16-game unbeaten run.

Swatting aside Oxford in the play-off semi-finals, Blackpool faced Lincoln at Wembley, only to concede an own goal within a minute. Midfielder Kenny Dougall, soon to gain his first caps for Australia, then netted either side of half-time to send Blackpool into the second tier – and signal a new future for the club so desperate for stability.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Blackpool’s home since 1901, Bloomfield Road was where their city rivals South Shore played until the two clubs merged. Set close to the seafront, the ground saw a few too many violent incidents in the 1970s and 1980s before serious modernisation was needed.

Most of the stadium has been rebuilt since: the main West (Stanley Matthews) and North (Stan Mortenson) Stands in 2002, the South (Jimmy Armfield), eventually, in 2012, with the NW and SE corners also filled in. Away fans are allocated one half of the long-term temporary East Stand (turnstiles 18-21), pillars and all, with poor facilities and long exit times. Overall capacity is just over 17,000.

Given the fact it’s Blackpool, many fans make a weekend of it, and the mood is usually pretty buoyant, helped by decent rail, tramway and bus links to the ground.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Blackpool South station, on the South Fylde branch line served by hourly local trains from Preston six days a week, Sundays Mar-Nov. There are no services between Blackpool’s main North and South station, though. From South station, head towards Blackpool Tower you’ll see in the distance – to the right, Seasiders Way runs right up to the stadium a 7-10min walk away.

Alternatively, Bloomfield Road is almost the same distance away from St Chad’s Road tram station on the coastal line, and so handy for Pleasure Beach and the Tower. Head down St Chad’s Road itself, turn left at the end, then first right into Bloomfield Road.

From Market Street, a 5min walk from mainline Blackpool North, bus 11 (every 20min, every 30min Sun) runs to The Bridge pub by Wellington Road – Bloomfield Road is the next turning down on the left. Closer to Blackpool North on Talbot Road, the 5 and 7 run to Central Drive, on the other side of the stadium from the sea. Journey time on each case is 10mins.

The sat nav code for Bloomfield Road is FY1 6JJ. There’s Pay & Display parking along Seasiders Way (FY1 6JX) opposite the ground (£3.50/3hrs, £6/up to 6hrs, charges also levied after 6pm). St Cuthbert’s Church at 53 Crystal Road (FY1 6BS), a 10min walk from the stadium, provides Pay & Display parking at reasonable rates.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket office (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat 10am-1pm, match days 10am-kick-off) is at the club shop. Tickets are also available online. For all enquiries, email tickets@blackpoolfc.co.uk.

Matches are grouped by categories A-C. For a Category A game, it’s £28 in the North, South and outer wings (J-K, P-Q) of the West Stand, £36-£48 in middle sectors L-N  over the halfway line. For seniors, it’s £4 cheaper, under-18s pay £12 behind the goals in the North/South Stands, under-11s £8.  

For Category B, it’s £24 at either end, £20 for seniors, £10 for under-18s, £6 for under-11s. Category C, it’s £20, £16 for seniors, then £8 and £4 for youth discounts. Match-day prices are an extra £2 across the board.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Top marks to the club for engaging Visit Blackpool as sponsors and emblazoning that storied tangerine shirt with the iconic sights of the Blackpool skyline – rather than just another betting firm. 

These are available at the club shop (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat 10am-1pm, match days 10am-kick-off), along with white-and-tangerine reverse away tops and logo’d golfing accessories. Surprisingly little beachwear, though, and a pretty lacklustre range of T-shirts.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

For away fans and neutrals, pre-match usually means the Manchester on the seafront, near Manchester Square tram stop, with a bazillion screens and DJ sounds as kick-off approaches. The ground is a 10-15min walk up Lytham Road, with perhaps a stop-off at The Bridge, now under the Blind Tiger Inns umbrella, and promising karaoke and summer-season cabaret of an evening. It’s by the stop for buses 11.

Open from 1pm at weekends, closed midweek, the Waterloo on Waterloo Road near Blackpool South station is one of Blackpool’s prime live-music venues, Buzzcocks, Rammstein tribute bands, that kind of thing. Facing closure during 2020, it was saved by its loyal clientele and musicians themselves. It also features a bowling green – in fact, it’s considered the Wembley of the crown green game. Turn left outside the pub, then right for Bloomfield Road.

Bloomfield Brewhouse/Tony Dawber

On the corner of Ansdell Road, the Bloomfield Brewhouse, reopened in 2015 after a half-a-million pound facelift and the building of an on-site brewery which provides the Ansdell 47 house beer. There’s also TV sport and three smart, reasonably priced guest rooms, all a 5min walk from the ground.

At the ground, home fans and neutrals enjoy pre-match drinks at The Corner Flag, on the second floor of the Blackpool FC Hotel, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the pitch. There’s TV sport and BFC sharing platters. Moretti’s the best draught option but it doesn’t come cheap. Doors close during the match itself.

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