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BST Gazette Column 04/01/2019


The Man In The High Penthouse: an alternate history of Blackpool Football Club
(a New Year’s fantasy - with apologies to Phillip K Dick)

From his vantage point on high, he gazed out across the magnificent bowl of the Bloomfield Road arena. For several days now he had been in reflective mood. A late December sky was turning tangerine as the sun sank below the level of the Billy Ayre Stand, casting a lengthening shadow across the hallowed turf. The wind began to stir a chill into the air and so he stepped back into the warm confines of his penthouse suite and pulled the sliding doors closed against the elements.

He stood there for some moments, looking out across the stadium, home of the Mighty, and cast his mind back thirty years. In 1988 a wind of change had been blowing straight off the Irish Sea and through the broken-down stands of Bloomfield Road, decrepit home of a famous football club whose luck had worn thin, whose very future was on the line. There had been an attempt by a local businessman to snap the club up for £1. The prospect of Blackpool FC being taken over by a single entrepreneur reputed to have an eye for the main chance was not an attractive one. That was the point at which the organisation known simply and affectionately as The Ten (so named for the number of segments in a tangerine) had stepped up as a consortium of wealthy international Blackpool fans and had tabled a successful counter-bid. He was proud to have been a part of that.

Over the years, their vision and investment had both restored and transformed Blackpool into one of the finest and best-run football clubs in the English League. Working in conjunction with the local council they had rebuilt the Bloomfield Road site to comprise a 25,000 seat football ground, cinema complex, ten-pin bowling alley, Blackpool FC museum, club shop and live music venue with bars and restaurants. Working in partnership with the new University of the Fylde in South Shore they had redeveloped Squires Gate as a state of the art training complex for use by both football club, the university and the townspeople. They were rightly proud of their youth academy which not only provided a stream of talented players into the Blackpool squad but also generated significant revenues when players were sold on to their rivals in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow and London.

As good as the realisation of all these plans had been for the town and surrounding area, buoying it up as a resort when the appeal of foreign package holidays began to eat into Blackpool’s traditional trade, the real testament to the commitment of The Ten had been the gradual and then sustained success of the Mighty on the field culminating in Blackpool becoming English League Champions for the first time ever in 2011, which success earned the consortium the accolade of The Perfect Ten.

From a low point in Division Four in the late 1980s, Billy Ayre steered a team captained by Trevor Sinclair up through the divisions. The Seasiders were promoted to the Championship in 1993 and reached the League Cup Final in 1994 where they lost to Manchester United at Wembley (not for the first time). Jimmy Armfield was appointed Director of Football at Bloomfield Road and was instrumental in helping Ayre and his bright young Seasiders with free-scoring Scott Taylor clinch promotion to the Premier League before the end of the millennium. Ill health forced Ayre to retire but his successor Steve McMahon, backed by shrewd investment from The Ten, consolidated the team in tangerine as a vibrant force once more in the top flight of English football. A second FA Cup Final victory, this time over Portsmouth at the new Wembley in 2008, was no less than the Mighty deserved. Bloomfield Road was a footballing mecca, regularly full to capacity on match days and frequently a busy hub of activity during the rest of the week.

The pinnacle of success for the club came with victory at Old Trafford on the last day of the 2010/11 season, a result which saw Blackpool pip United for the league title that had so long eluded them, that they had last come close to winning as far back as 1956. It was an emotional day for McMahon, Armfield, their jubilant players, the dedicated members of The Ten, Blackpool’s vociferous tangerine army and all who had dared dream that with the right groundwork, shrewd investment and infectious spirit of ambition, almost anything was possible. It was an achievement that would sustain the club and the town for years to come.

He let out a nostalgic sigh as he closed the blinds, shuttering the darkened stadium from view. He had a New Year’s Eve dinner with representatives of The Ten to look forward to in a few hours and then a home fixture against fellow title-chasers Liverpool beckoned on the morrow, with the electric frontline trio of Barkhuizen, Miller and Vardy all vying to net Blackpool’s 50th goal of the season. There was still an hour or two to kill. He filled his tumbler with whisky, reached up and pulled a favourite album by the Ministry from the rack, a reminder of the year this amazing trip had begun. He slid the vinyl from its sleeve, placed it on the turntable, cued the record and settled back with his drink to enjoy 'The Land of Rape and Honey…'

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