Given my past record of jinxing anyone I wish good luck to or endorse in some way (they fail, or they succeed too well, and not in the way I’d hoped for), I was wary of mentioning this before the event, but Congratulations to Blackpool F.C., who yesterday beat Cardiff in the play off finals at Wembley. Next season they will be playing in the top division for the first time since they were relegated 39 years ago. And I was there, I think. Not at Wembley, but at the last match they played in the old First Division, or – if not that – then one of the last.
I certainly remember a conversation with my father, as we stood at the tram stop on the way home, flicking through our hastily assembled Green’un, about the precise meaning of relegation and its implications. Blackpool had been relegated not long previously and had been immediately promoted again. No doubt there were many at the ground who would have taken comfort from this precedent. In fact few of the fans older than – say – forty on that day would live to see Blackpool back in the First Division. The scale of these disasters is not always apparent to us at the time.
By an odd coincidence, I came across this the other week at Market Harborough’s antique market –
– the match programme for the game against Spurs on 12th April, 1971, not the last game of the season, quite, but the writing was on the wall, to judge from the Club Notes –
“Our last home game … was one we just had to win to keep alive our dying hopes … but once again we had nothing to show … this virtually sealed our fate.”
There are some poignancies and many prompts to saying “Haven’t times changed!” to be found in this piece of ephemera – some personal (O my Suddick and my Hutchison of long, long, ago!), some more general.
An advertisement states that “Vacancies frequently arise for Craftsmen in the following occupations: horizontal and vertical borers, universal grinders … [et al.]. Please call … to arrange a confidential interview without obligation”. At the Opera House, George C. Scott and Susannah York were appearing in Jane Eyre. At the Winter Gardens Pavilion there was “An Hilarious Comedy by KENNETH HORNE”. The referee (a Mr. P. Partridge (Middlesborough)) “spends other spare time at his father-in-law’s farm“. Rosettes were available from the Club Shop for 10np (new pence). Blackpool’s ‘keeper was called Ramsbottom (would you be allowed to play in the Premier League with a name like that?).
The headline most startling to modern eyes is “Are you paying enough for your football?”, which also contains the thought “One gauge for this charge over the years has been that to watch football from the terraces costs about the same as a packet of 20 cigarettes. This still applies.” By this standard, either a packet of cigarettes should now cost about £20.00, or you should be able to watch football for a fiver.
Still, to ease the pain of relegation, fans could look forward to paying 65p for the most expensive seats to watch Blackpool at home to Juventus and Roma, in a competition I’d completely forgotten about, the Anglo-Italian competition. If you fancied watching the return legs, you could book “A first class football holiday on the Italian Riviera for £63.00“. This “fully escorted tour will include optional extra excursions to Monte Carlo, Rome Florence etc.”. It doesn’t mention a trip to the Uffizi, but I think we can assume it would have been thrown in as part of the package. So too, would have been a certain amount of trouble at the ground, for those that preferred more vigorous amusements. The previous year’s final had had to be abandoned after 79 minutes, as the Italian crowd tried to prevent a Swindon (yes Swindon) victory by invading the pitch and wrecking the stadium. In spite of this unsporting Continental behaviour (and at this date hooliganism was still seen as very un-English), Blackpool won the competition in 1971 and finished runner-up in ’72.
No doubt, they thought, it would only be a matter of time before the conquerors of Juventus would re-assume their rightful place in the top flight. Which has of course- eventually – proven to be the case. A lesson for us all here, I’m sure, if we could only see it.