When England played Hungary in 1953, four of the England players were from Blackpool. The Daily Mirror even stated that "Blackpool are Hungary today." The Tangerines were a major force in the post-World War II years, winning the F.A. Cup in 1953 before a sharp decline in the 1980s. After recent success, they have now climbed back into The Championship, the second-tier of English football.
The creation of Blackpool Football Club took place in a local pub, The Stanley Arms (now the Blue Room). After a meeting with the local football team, St John’s, five members decided to form a breakaway team called Blackpool Football Club. The team played on Raikes Hall Gardens. This was primarily used as an entertainment complex and was the home of the early Blackpool Circus company. At first the team attracted healthy crowds for the time, of 2000.
After their first few seasons in the Lancashire League, where they achieved relative success, the team applied to take part in the national Football League. Their application was accepted by a panel and Blackpool took part in their first league season in 1896. Despite losing their first league match 3-1 to Lincoln City, Blackpool’s first season was successful, finishing 8th out of 18 teams. Their home record was impressive, beating eventual champions Notts County and Manchester United at Raikes Hall, and only losing one match.
After moving to a new ground in Stanley Park, the club were relegated at the end of the 1899 season and were not re-elected into the league. However, they spent only one season back in the Lancashire League and were elected back into the Football League at their new ground on Bloomfield Road.
Blackpool consolidated their position in Division Two with many mid-table finishes. In 1925, an official who had refereed a match between Holland and Belgium, suggested that Blackpool should play in tangerine like the Dutch. This idea was taken on and as from then, the team have been famous for the colour.
Hampson and Promotion
In 1927, Blackpool signed Jimmy Hampson from Division Three North club Nelson, after he had scored three successive hat-tricks. Hampson’s goal-scoring feats would write him into Blackpool folklore as he scored 248 goals in just 361 games. In a short England career, he managed to score five goals in just three games.
Hampson’s 45 goals helped Blackpool to get promotion to the First Division for the first time in their history and the team were greeted by thousands of fans outside Blackpool North train station. The club battled valiantly in the First Division but were eventually relegated three years later. However, they managed promotion again in 1937 under new manager Joe Smith, just before the break necessitated by World War II.
During the war, Blackpool played many friendly matches with other teams around the country and were joined by Stoke City’s winger Stanley Matthews and exciting young player Stan Mortensen. However, disaster struck in 1938 when Jimmy Hampson drowned whilst fishing off the coast.
After the war, Matthews signed officially for The Seasiders and Blackpool built one of the strongest teams in the country. They reached the F.A. Cup Final in 1948 but lost 4-2 to Manchester United. They also lost in the 1951 Final with two Jackie Milburn goals winning the game 2-0 for Newcastle United.
However, this was all going to change in 1953 as they reached the final yet again. At the age of 38, many people thought this would be the last chance that Matthews would have of winning the F.A. Cup. The game started horrendously for Blackpool, as Nat Lofthouse’s shot was fumbled into his own net by goalkeeper George Farm. Blackpool were second best for most of the first half but Stan Mortensen equalised with a low deflected shot to make it 1-1. Just before half-time another Farm error gave Bolton the lead again, after missing a cross which he had come out to punch clear. Despite their lead, Bolton had to make changes to their formation when left winger Eric Bell injured his leg (this was before substitutes were allowed).
However, a great header from the injured Bell put Bolton 3-1 after half-time and Blackpool were facing another Wembley defeat. The team looked to Matthews for some inspiration and he duly delivered. His cross into the area was dropped by the Bolton keeper, Stan Hanson, and Mortensen pounced to pull a goal back. Blackpool dominated the rest of the match and had some chances but time was running out, when Jackie Mudie was fouled on the edge of the area. Mortensen quickly gambled on shooting, the ball flew into the top-corner and Blackpool had equalised with only a few minutes to go. Mortensen became the first and so far only player to have scored a hat-trick in an F.A. Cup Final.
But the game wasn’t over and in the dying seconds, Ernie Taylor (who had played in the Newcastle team that beat Blackpool in 1951) released Matthews on the wing. With his trademark feint, he beat the left-back and advanced into the area, where he dragged the ball back to Bill Perry who drilled the ball home and Blackpool had won the game 4-3. The match was dubbed ‘The Matthews Final’ and captain Harry Johnston was presented with the trophy by Queen Elizabeth II, in her first ever football match.
The team pressed on under Joe Smith and finished as runners-up in the 1955/56 season to Manchester United. They could not, however, reproduce previous successes and both Mortensen and Matthews eventually left the club with just under 700 appearances between them. In 1967, the team were relegated to the Second Division, despite a promising new star, Jimmy Armfield. Armfield would go on to play more games for Blackpool than anybody else, with 569 caps. He also played 43 games for England and would have been included in the 1966 World Cup if he had not been injured.
One Blackpool player who did play England in the 1966 World Cup was Alan Ball. He was the youngest player in the squad and was an integral player in the Final, setting up one of the goals. Ball would be sold to Everton after the tournament.
After one season back in Division One, Blackpool were relegated again but they did have some success in Europe. The Anglo-Italian Cup was contested by teams outside the top divisions in England and Italy. In 1971, Blackpool played away against Bologna in the final. Despite the stifling heat, Blackpool won 2-1 in extra-time.
This was the last that Blackpool would see of success for a long time as they dramatically dropped down the leagues. In the 1977/78 season Blackpool started well and were tipped for promotion but faltered away. Despite a 5-2 thumping of Blackburn Rovers, manager Allan Brown was sacked. With five games to go in the season, Blackpool were in tenth place and eight points clear of the relegation zone. Blackpool picked up just one point in their last five games and were in real danger. What happened next was just plain bad luck. Amazingly Millwall won the required six games to keep them up and more results went against Blackpool. The last game of the season pitted Leyton Orient (with one away win all season) away at Cardiff City (unbeaten at home since December). Orient miraculously won 1-0 and sent the Seasiders into the third Division for the first time in their history. They wouldn’t return to the second-tier for 29 years.
The slide continued and they were relegated to Division Four in 1981. In 1983, they even had to apply for re-election after finishing fourth from bottom. In exactly twenty years, the club had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Eventually, the team climbed up the league and gained promotion in 1985. They would last there for just five years and were sent back to the basement division. In the 1990/91 season, under the new management of Billy Ayre, they reached Division Four’s new league initiative, the play-offs. After beating Scunthorpe United in the Semi-Finals, Blackpool returned to Wembley for the first time since 1953. However, they weren’t able to re-create the win of 38 years earlier and after a 2-2 draw, striker Dave Bamber missed a penalty and Blackpool lost the match and had to face another season in the basement division.
During the 90s, Blackpool had been saved from bankruptcy by life-long fan Owen Oyston. He pumped money into the club at first and tried his utmost to get them promoted as high as possible.
In the 1991/92 season, Torquay were ironically relegated whilst Blackpool had more success. Another successful season saw them finish fourth and face another play-off campaign. This time, they faced Scunthorpe United in the final, a repeat of the Semi the year before. After a 1-1 draw, the game went into penalties again. However, a save from Steve McIlhargey against Graham Alexander won the game for Blackpool and they were promoted to the newly re-named Division Two.
In 1994, Oyston replaced Billy Ayre with Notts County manager Sam Allardyce. ‘Big Sam’ as he was, and is, known, bought many good players with Oyston’s money and lined Blackpool up for a promotion challenge to reach Division One. The team were highly successful and were top of the league for a long time until, like 1978, a terrible end to the season meant that they dropped out of the promotion spots and finished third. This meant that they had to play another play-off; they faced Bradford City in the Semi-Final. In the first game at Bradford, Blackpool dominated and ran out 2-0 winners, making them almost certain to reach the final. However, in the second leg, they threw away their lead, losing the leg 3-0 and on aggregate 3-2. According to assistant manager Phil Brown, Allardyce has labelled it as “the worst night of his life.”
Oyston sacked Allardyce from jail, where he had been imprisoned for rape, and replaced him with Gary Megson. Blackpool continued to be a force in Division 2 but couldn’t emulate or better the 1996 season.
In the start of the 1996/1997 season, they faced Chelsea in a two-legged League Cup match. After losing the first game 4-1 at Stamford Bridge, the Seasiders beat Chelsea at Bloomfield Road 3-1 and were eliminated on aggregate.
Another slide would send Blackpool back into the Third Division, new manager Nigel Worthington getting the sack and being replaced by Steve McMahon in an attempt to stop the relegation. However, the damage had already been done and they went down.
Return to the second tier
After a horrendous start to the 2000/2001 season, in which they were towards the lower reaches of the whole Football League, thumping wins over Scunthorpe and Barnet started a run which saw them shoot up the league and reach the play-offs on the last day of the season. Beating Hartlepool in the Semi-Final, through goals from Brett Ormerod, they faced Leyton Orient in the final at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff (Wembley was being renovated). Despite an error from goalkeeper, Phil Barnes, in the first minute, Blackpool won the game 4-2 and won promotion.
A major part of their success was from their attack. Strikers John Murphy and Brett Ormerod scored 50 goals between them throughout the season. Ormerod would be sold at the start of the next season to Southampton for £1.75m (the largest transfer fee Blackpool have ever received) and he even played in the 2003 F.A. Cup Final, forcing a great save from David Seaman. Murphy would stay at Bloomfield Road for another 6 years before going to Macclesfield on a free transfer.
For the next few years, they consolidated their position in Division Two under McMahon and played football that was flowing and nice to watch but erratic. They had success in the LDV Trophy during these years with victories over Cambridge United and Southend United. After a dispute over transfer fees with chairman, Karl Oyston (Owen’s son), Steve McMahon left the club and was replaced by former Scottish captain Colin Hendry. Under the management regime, they team played poor football and old players were signed. The team flirted with relegation and eventually Hendry was sacked over an argument with Oyston over the team’s preparation for an F.A. Cup match against Doncaster.
Reserve team manager, Simon Grayson, was promoted to the first team and helped to keep the team up that season on the last day of the 2006/07 season. Grayson was immediately helped during the summer of 2006 when Latvian investor, Valeri Belokon, invested £5.5m into the team. Despite a poor start, his team turned it around and ended the season breaking a record set in the 50s by winning ten consecutive matches, culminating in a 2-0 victory over Yeovil at Wembley to reach the second tier of football for the first time in 29 years.