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Groundhopping at Blackpool FC
Let’s take a trip to Blackpool and see a game at Blackpool FC. Just understand, as we depart, that much around here seems to be about the past, some of which is to be celebrated and some, well, forgotten.
Blackpool is a city many visitors to England might not think about, because they didn’t grow up hearing about it, in families that may have visited it for generations, or seeing media generated there. They wouldn’t know the Blackpool Tower at a glance, nor would they know who Stanley Matthews might be, much less know the story of the Matthews Final.
So let’s take a tour of town and club, out by the seaside.
Blackpool FC History
There is a lot of history here, a lot of ups and downs, like the roller coasters in Pleasure Beach, so let’s do the big picture, like the view from 400 feet up in the Blackpool Tower.
The club, known as the Seasiders and the Tangerines for their longtime shirt colors, was founded in 1887, joined the Football League in 1896, and moved to Bloomfield Road, where they play to this day, in 1901. They were mostly Second Division until the 1930s, when they rose to the top tier and, by the late 40s, were in the top half of the table virtually every year.
This was a team led by Joseph Smith, manager from 1935 to 1958, with several England internationals, including one of the most famous names in English football: Stanley Matthews. He grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, played for Stoke City 15 years, then came to Blackpool for 14, then back to Stoke for four. And yes, that adds up to 33 years as a professional! He was well ahead of his time in nutrition and fitness, and became the oldest player (at 42) to represent England as well as the oldest (at 50) to play in the top tier. He was also, in 1956, the first winner of the Ballon d’Or.
There’s a great documentary about him that we reviewed in this blog post.
That team, which also included Stan Mortensen (197 goals in 317 appearances) lost the 1948 and 1951 FA Cup Finals, and also made the 1953 Final, where they found themselves down, 3-1, with a half hour to go. At that point, the 38-year-old Matthews took over, and The ‘Pool came back to win it, 4-3, with the winner in added time. Such were Matthews’ exploits that day that, though Mortensen had a hat trick – the only one in FA Cup Final history – the 1953 Final, considered one of the greatest ever, is known as the Matthews Final.
Inevitably, that team aged, Smith retired, and by the late 60s Blackpool were back in the second tier – and headed for worse. They bottomed out in the 1982-83 season, finishing 21st in Division Four. In 1987 they were bought by the Oyston family, who seem to be a complete disgrace. Owen Oyston, the main man at the time, was convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1992, so he handed the club to his wife. Then his son Karl took over, and over the next 20 years a court would later find the family illegally drained some £27 million out of the club.
In 2019, a local businessman named Simon Sadler bought out the lot of them, and in 2021 they got back to the Championship after dipping into League Two in 2017.
Bloomfield Road, Blackpool FC’s Stadium
Blackpool’s home, Bloomfield Road, seats 17,000 but somehow feels bigger to me. When I was there, a crowd of 11,000 managed to make a great deal of noise. Three of the four stands were built after 2000, and so was the fourth, but it was a “temporary” stand put up in 2010 when the club spent one year in the Premier League. It remains there to this day, with posts all along the front, no facilities underneath, and away fans occupying half of it. Remember the Oyston family, everyone!
The rest of it is modern and nice, and even has a hotel attached to it. The outside of the ground, though, looks like a 1970s-era office building, at best. At least it’s in town proper, just a few minutes’ walk from the famous Blackpool Promenade and a short bus ride from the main train station.
The home rowdies will be in the Mortensen North Stand, aka The Kop, and as said before, the away fans are currently in the temporary East Stand (they’ve been moved around over the years.) So if you want to enjoy views of the supporters, go for the Matthews (West) Stand; otherwise, head for the Kop and prepare to make some noise.
Game Day Tips at Blackpool FC and Bloomfield Road
It’s a couple of miles from the main train station, Blackpool North, so it’s best to take a bus or taxi. The No. 11 bus from Blackpool North stops on Lytham Road in front of The Bridge, which seems to be the main away-fans pub. Elsewhere on that road is The Manchester Pub and a few of the roughly 519 fish and chips places in Blackpool. I was told – sadly, after I tried another one – that the Crispy Cod is the pick of the bunch on that road.
Inside Bloomfield Road, though, the club has done something which, to my eternal astonishment, very few other clubs do. They went and found a local producer of high-quality pies, and they sell those in the ground. Decent pies at a football game? It’s a miracle. The local heroes are called The Pork Shop, and their excellent pies run £3 or £3.50. Highly recommended.
Buying Blackpool FC Tickets
Getting tickets to Blackpool seems quite easy; even their 2021 home game with bitter rivals Preston North End only drew just over 13,000 – although there might have been restricted seating in that goofy East Stand. Tickets are from £22 to £27 for adults.
I was trying to think of the American city that most resembles Blackpool, and I settled on a combination of Las Vegas and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Perhaps Atlantic City fits the bill on its own, but I haven’t been there. It’s Vegas in that it has bright lights, famous venues, casinos, recognizable landmarks, and for years has been known as a party destination. (In England, they call these Stag Dos and Hen Dos.) I once listened to two guys at an Oxford United game spend most of said game going on about how absolutely insane their upcoming trip to Blackpool was going to be.
It was built up starting in the 1840s, when a railroad connected it to the rest of Lancashire, whose cities were swelling with well-paid workers during the Industrial Revolution. So when they all wanted to go to the beach, Blackpool was the place, and it mushroomed in population, hotels, and attractions.
But electricity really took things to another level when it arrived in the 1870s. Blackpool was the first city in the world to have electric streetlights (1879) and one of the first to have an electric tram (1885). The latter still runs along the same line to Fleetwood (where play Fleetwood Town of League One), and sometimes they even run vintage trolleys on it.
Also in 1879 came the Blackpool Illuminations, with lights all over the “Golden Mile” from September through Christmas every year. The tram runs right through the middle of it. In 1894 the 400-foot-tall Blackpool Tower opened (you can go up it to this day), and its glorious ballroom is one of the most famous dancing venues in the world, host of international competitions and the popular British TV show “Strictly Come Dancing.”
1896 saw the founding of Pleasure Beach, still famous for its four wooden roller coasters, and … well, I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s Vegas meets Coney Island meets Gatlinburg, because none of the above has been updated, really, in decades, and I got the vibe around town that people go there because their grandparents told them it was amazing. And perhaps to get crazy.
Anyway, it’s well worth a visit for a day or two. Something you “must do,” I suppose.
The Game: Blackpool vs West Bromwich Albion
When I arrived at Bloomfield Road, the Tangerines were in the Championship and hosting West Brom, recently relegated and still possessing not only some Premier League players but also the money (thanks to the relegation “parachute payments”) to keep them around. At almost any point, if you’re looking for the three clubs recently relegated from the top tier, you can find them near the top of the second.
I did my best to put in the Full Blackpool, going up the tower, walking through the Winter Gardens, eating fish and chips, strolling the promenade, and enjoying the lights from the tram. And then I just walked over to the ground. The Baggies were packed into the Bridge Pub and making good noise, and the locals walked in from every direction towards the lights of Bloomfield Road.
I sat in the Matthews Stand, with my usual good view of the away fans, and fair play to West Brom folks for traveling 120 miles for a Tuesday night game. They made plenty of noise, but the Blackpool fans were something. The Kop never stopped, and even the season-ticket holders around me joined in with the “Allez” song everyone is doing now, plus the signature thing they do, where they just clap and yell “Seaside!” I like the old, simple ones the best.
As for the game, it was quite good for a nil-nil, with West Brom looking the better side – reflected in the table, as well – but both creating dangerous chances. The abiding image of the game is probably strikers looking amazed they missed, and the moment of the match was a great double save by West Brom’s keeper.
When it was over, the home fans cheered at a level somewhere between “draw” and “win,” as it is always a “good point” when you’re newly up in the league and playing somebody ahead of you in the table.
The official highlights:
On a personal note, this was the night I finished, for the second time, seeing a game at all the clubs currently in the Championship. With Blackpool back up, I had to get there, and after my visit the week before to Peterborough, this meant I was now at 72 of the 92 and all 24 of the second tier.
I suspect The ‘Pool will stay up this season, and I hope their new ownership gets them on solid financial ground so they can push on from there. Because I, for one, love me an old-fashioned resort town, I love wooden roller coasters and kids gazing at Christmas lights, I love fish and chips, and I love big, traditional, well-supported football clubs doing well.
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