Golden Smiles in Blackpool…

27 10 2011

There were plenty of golden smiles on the red and white side of Blackpool’s Bloomfield Rd ground, last Saturday afternoon, as the Tangerines ran out of juice, and a towering performance from Steve Cotterill’s resurgent Reds squeezed a 2nd Championship win in five days. It was enough to give Ian ‘Ollie’ Holloway the pip!

But more of that later….

With Chris away in Italy for the week, on international education project business, (a nice bit of retirement freelancing if you can get it) I’d set myself up with a rather less glamorous excursion to the Fylde coast.

From the rural idyll that is ‘the Shire’ to the never ending promenade of the saucy seaside postcard capital of the world is a shade over two and a half hours, a roller coaster of a motorway ride from start to finish.

It was ‘Ray-Bans’ all the way on a glorious crystal clear autumnal morning. Shortly after 10 o’clock the rust coloured tower, which has been the iconic symbol of the Lancashire seaside town since 1894, crept into view and a couple of minutes later I was hanging a right at the Jimmy Armfield lights and  pulling off ‘Seasiders Way’ into the car park across the way from ‘Stan’ Mortensen.

The statues of both these former England internationals, who both lived the Tangerine dream, (wouldn’t ‘Mandarins’ or ‘Satsumas’ have been a better nickname?)are a reminder of happier days for the small seaside club who were once 1st Division regulars.

Blackpool’s most successful decade was the ‘50s and their finest hour the 1953 FA Cup Final – five weeks to the day before I was ‘found under a gooseberry bush’.  

Blackpool beat near neighbours Bolton 4-3 in probably the most talked about final of all time, which became universally known as ‘the Matthews final’, after a display of virtuoso wing play from the legendary ‘Stanley’. It always struck me as rather harsh on ‘Morty’, the only player ever to score a hat trick in a Wembley FA Cup Final.

But then again there’s no statue of Matthews in Blackpool – you have to visit his home town of Stoke for that, where he began and finished an amazing 697 game career.

And now I digress…

At the time I went to my first ever game at the City Ground, the two most famous names in English football, that every schoolboy knew, were Jimmy Greaves and Stanley Matthews.

The first Forest game I was taken to (December 21st 1963) was against an all-conquering Spurs side that had picked up the first league & cup double of the modern era (1960-61).

I confess that I fleetingly toyed with hitching my wagon to their star. They won the game 2-1. ‘Greavsie’ inevitably scored (sadly, he scored more of his record breaking 377 top flight goals against Forest  than any other club!) but as the man later famously said, “it’s a funny old game”, and always being one for the under- dog  I quickly saw the error of my ways, pledging my undying allegiance to the ‘Garibaldi Reds’.          

My second outing on Trent-side was in January of the following year (18th Jan ’64 to be precise) and the magician Matthews was coming to town with ‘the Potters’. Stanley, nearing the end of his illustrious career, was still ‘dribbling’ his way up and down the wing for Stoke City. Amazingly he was just coming up to his 49th birthday!  

I can still recall the genuine disappointment on the terraces as the pre-match team changes were announced and the crowd were informed that he had pulled out of the game due to injury. I’ve still got the programme with Matthews’ name in the line-up but he never played. Everything else was rather an anti-climax after that and a goalless draw just about summed up the mood. I’d been the width of a bootlace away from seeing one of the all-time greats. Stanley Matthews retired in 1965.         

Getting back to Blackpool, Jimmy Armfield CBE – gentleman Jim – a stylish full back with a stylish Brylcreamed quiff (now a Radio 5 Live commentator) played his entire career with the Tangerines, making 627 appearances. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore – more’s the pity. He also captained England on 15 occasions and was part of the ’66 World Cup Winning squad. The new south stand at Bloomfield Rd carries his name

I remember watching Blackpool sides play at the City Ground in ’65-‘66 & ’66-’67 – the latter not a good year for them as they were relegated from the old 1st  Division. In those days any team, no matter how humble, seemed to boast a few star names.

In the ’65 game Blackpool rolled out a young whipper-snapper with a freckly complexion and hair that matched the colour of his jersey. He was just starting to make a bit of a high-pitched  name for himself and found the back of the net that afternoon. The following July he was a household name having covered every blade of grass on the Wembley pitch during England’s finest hour. That name, of course, was Alan Ball.

The following season another Blackpool youngster, with a bright future ahead of him (at a neighbouring Lancashire club that was just starting to find its feet) turned out at full back for the Tangerines – one Emlyn Hughes.

And every team seemed to have its own prolific goal scorer in those days too. Blackpool were no different. Their’s was a gangly old-school centre forward with an old fashioned name to match – Raymond Ogden Charnley. Ray Charnley scored 193 times for the Tangerines (1957-67) at better than a goal every two games and yet was called upon just once by England. There must have been a surfeit of talent about!       

With plenty of time to kill before the 3.00pm kick-off I walked the short distance along rows of traditional terraced B&Bs and small family run hotels, all boasting en-suite facilities and a full English breakfast, before emerging on the promenade.      

In the distance, to my left, was Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach with its famed ‘big dipper’ (first built in 1923) silhouetted against a clear blue sky. To my right lay the Central Pier with its giant ferris wheel and beyond that the grade 1 listed tower dazzling in the sun.  

I crossed to the promenade taking great care to look both ways for busy trams buzzing up and down the seafront. I didn’t want to finish up like Alan Bradley on my big day out!

Today there’s a blue plaque outside ‘The Strand Hotel’ marking the spot where the Coronation St villain met his demise, while pursuing a distressed Rita Fairclough across the tracks.

Back in 1989 an amazing 26.93 million viewers watched odious Alan’s gory exit as he slipped beneath the wheels of an oncoming tram, the 9th most watched UK broadcast of all time, and one of Blackpool’s greatest hits!     

On my last visit to the ‘Pool, three years ago, I’d thought how drab and run down the place was looking. But rather like a ‘Phoenix’ (the mythological bird not the guest house) the UK’s most famous coastal resort has risen from the ashes, following a 4 million pound sea-front regeneration programme aimed at improving its appeal as a visitor destination.  

I was pleased to see the donkeys were still doing their business (by the bucket full) down on the beach while up on the ‘prom’ all the old seaside favourites were jostling for the business of passers-by: ‘kiss me quick’ hats, multi-coloured sticks of Blackpool rock, candy floss, slot machines, shooting arcades, and everywhere the pervasive aroma of freshly fried fish and chips – with lashings of salt and vinegar.      

I spent a chucklesome half an hour ambling around with my ‘Costa’ carry-out on the ‘Nick nack nick nack nicky nacky noo’ (courtesy of Ken Dodd) ‘Comedy Carpet’, spread at the foot of the Tower.

Blackpool, spiritual home of the end of pier variety show, has been the funny bone of the nation from music-hall hall times to present day. The ‘carpet’ is a work of art, five years in the making, a giant engraving in granite and concrete with 160,000 individually cut characters ranging from a just few centimetres to nearly a metre in height – a celebration of the catchphrases, jokes and names of more than 1000 comedians from Mae (West) to Kay (Peter).

It was unveiled just a few weeks ago by ‘Doddy’ who was obviously ‘tickled’ to be there, as no doubt are all the comedy greats – past and present -represented; from Frankie Howerd (‘infamy infamy – they’ve all got it in for me!’) inviting visitors to ‘Get your titters out’, to Victoria Wood urging, ‘Let’s do it, let’s do it while the mood is right’. The latter a comical ditty that increased the sale of hostess trolleys at a stroke!       

Henceforth thousands of visitors are sure to leave Blackpool’s Golden Mile with a golden smile.     

The Autumn illuminations have always been a big draw and I considered booking in for a £25 overnighter at ‘Betty’s’, ‘Jollies’ or ‘De-Lovely’ – but resisted the temptation (you can have too much of a good thing).

With kick off time approaching I took my place in the rickety East Stand, with its restricted view seating, and staring into bright sunshine – ‘twas ever the visiting supporter’s lot.

Blackpool enjoyed a ‘for one season only’ appearance in the Premiership last season – many would say at Forest’s expense. In their promotion year they beat us home and away in the regular season and over two legs in the play-off semi-final, despite finishing 6th and 9 points behind the 3rd placed Tricky Trees.

Forest fans in a sell-out 13,000 crowd (wow!) were hoping that a dire start to the season had been confined to history following an encouraging mid-week victory under new manager Steve Cotterill. As is so often the case a new face had brought an immediate change of fortune (see ‘A Tale of Two Steves’ post) but would it last and could they lay the Blackpool bogey to rest?   

In short – yes.

Forest have certainly been galvanised by the new man in charge. They are better organised and are working hard for one another. As is so often the case, the harder you work the luckier you seem to get and that was pretty much the story of this game.

Those with Tangerine specs will bemoan an open goal miss, hitting a post, a point blank save and only one goal from a hatful of chances  – brilliantly taken by 38 year old Kevin Phillips, who else?

Whereas those watching through red and white glasses will have seen a defiant victory in spite of a ‘homer’ referee, an ‘unfair’ sending off for Guy Moussi (2 yellow cards – one for an over enthusiastic celebration and the other a ‘gentle’ nudge) and two cracking goals – a powerful header from Big Wes Morgan and an opportunistic half-volley from Radi Majewski.

It was a close call but Forest edged it, and the golden smiles on the faces of the travelling fans put Blackpool’s illuminations in the shade. 

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