In between being dumped by Linda, and this game, my life had been fairly mixed, I was still quite shy when it came to the opposite sex, but I hadn’t exactly taken a vow of celibacy either. I had an on/off relationship with a mate of mine’s Sister, called Julie, so on and off, that Les nicknamed her ‘Light switch’, and I’d had a go at playing football on a Saturday afternoon, as opposed to the usual track of playing on a Sunday morning, I didn’t even manage a season for the team we formed, my heart and head wasn’t in it. It didn’t help that I wasn’t all that good to be honest. True, I could kick a ball straight, but I hadn’t the talent to do it consistently enough, and was never the fastest thing on two legs. The lure of watching Blues v Forrest in the 5th round of the FA Cup, far outweighed turning out for YMCA Wanderers v whoever and wherever they’d have been playing, I indulged in an early spell of ground hopping back then too. Except for the 5th round game, Blues were doing an impression of a team trying to play on an ice rink in shoes you’d wear for ten pin bowling, the club trying to stay afloat in a boat that had more holes in it, than they’d got sticking plasters and paper mache to try and fix them with. Work wise was similar. I’d had myself a job on a government scheme that basically was an exercise in figure massaging, not the seedy sort with a happy ending, but the sort that made the unemployment statistics look better. It meant for a year, I worked 3 days a week, for double what dole money was. (The schemes only ever lasted a year) It was also during that year that I made my first proper mate down Blues, after being chucked out by the police due to fundamentally, being drunk and far too liberal with expletives, against Vile at home in the League Cup, I used what little common sense l had at the time, and migrated the very next home game from the back of the middle of the Kop, to somewhere there wasn’t any police to recognise, and remember me. I got talking to Hamed, sparking up a friendship that has lasted to this day. (He’s known as ‘Teeth’ these days, something that he wishes he still had) By the time this game came around, I’d been on a three week Outward Bound course, and tried my luck with architectural model making, thinking that the assistant model makers job I’d had on the government scheme, had given me enough grounding, it hadn’t. After lodging at my Sister Val’s for 6 weeks, I aborted the attempt, moved back to Telford, signed on, and took the first factory job that I knew anything about, a place that a couple of my mates worked. Blues had been relegated to the 3rd division, (League 1, in new money) I’d now got the cash, the confidence, and was streetwise enough to start watching Blues away properly, and not just to the local games.
Blues had been taken over by a consortium of brothers who had made a bit of money in the cheap end of the rag trade, and the Kumar’s had installed Dave Mackay as manager at Blues, giving him more money than we’d seen spent at the club under the whole of the out going Ken Wheldon’s reign. I wouldn’t say that things were looking all rosy in the garden, but there was a smidgen of optimism. The fixtures came out, there was only one that stood out, and it was standing out more than the famous tower that stands in the town. Everyone was going to it. Such was the interest, that the game was made all ticket, something that made no difference whatsoever. I managed to get my hands on one of the first batch of tickets, and because of the interest, Blackpool opened up the defunct Kop end of their ground, and Blues were given another batch, something that was snapped up just as quickly as the first batch had. I had done a little bit of research, I’d worked out that the Blackpool South station, was closer to the ground than Blackpool North was, and that I had to change at Wolverhampton, and Preston. That was pretty much it. It was a party mood on the train up to Preston, and huge amounts of lager, beer and any other liquid containing alcohol that could be drunk, was consumed, though not by me. As I’ve intimated before, I’m not the best looking bloke in the world, but I do look younger than my age, in those days, I had to take my birth certificate around with me, because I had difficulty getting served. I may have been 21 years of age at the time, but I looked no older than 16. Although most were getting the train to Blackpool North, there were still a fair amount getting the train to Blackpool South. We got to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and that’s when I really knew it was going to be a messy day. There was only a handful that stayed on to South, the rest were off to indulge in a bit of mischief. The first thing that hit me when I got off the train in Blackpool, was the sound of sirens. If nothing else, I was determined to see the sea, and headed for the front. That particular desire slated, I fancied a pint, and preceded to walk along the sea front. The first pub I saw was the Dutton Arms, a pub that had a big seating area in front, ‘Keep Right On’ was being belted out from inside and outside, overlooked by two of the local constabulary, as I approached with the intention of joining the party, all I could hear was the sound of glass being broken from inside the premises, one of the police officers, who had been happily engaging with some of the inhabitants of the paved beer garden, had his helmet knocked off, I wasn’t going to get a pint in there after all, instead, I carried on, as police vehicles of all descriptions sped past me to restore some kind of order. Word must have spread quickly, as after going down one of the back streets in search of a beer, I just made it into a pub, before they locked the front door. Pint in hand, someone advised me to be careful of ‘All these Brummies’, with a wink, I confided I was one, and affixed my ball/world pin badge, that I’d stuck in my pocket to get served. A couple of pints later, I made my way to the ground.
My ticket was for the usual bit of the ground that was handed over to the away fans, the covered bit to the side of the pitch, there were Blues everywhere, you could see them in pockets in the home end. I’m not sure how many, if any, got into the ground without a ticket, but I will be very surprised if there wasn’t at least one turnstile operator who decided there was a killing to be made, and, ‘for a small price’ allowed payment to be made to gain entry, at one point, the usually disused section of the Kop, had become over populated, Blackpool hadn’t been prepared for such a large contingent of away fans, they certainly hadn’t bargained for such a ‘lary’ support, there was a disturbance that led to advertising boards at the bottom of the terracing getting pushed over, the stewards and police had lost control, for the rest of the game, Blues fans just did what they wanted, and that’s pretty much what they did. As fans climbed over and joined us under cover, so fans climbed out and jumped into the Kop, as they continued to do that, there was actually a game going on. Sturridge (The Simon variety of the family) put us 1:0 up, whether what was going on had had an effect on the players, and they’d caught the party mood, I couldn’t say, but Blackpool upped their game, they equalised and took the lead through ‘Keystone cops’ style defending between Vince Overson and Martin Thomas. A bouncing through ball should’ve been collected by Thomas, who had come racing out, a total lack of communication led to Overson heading it over the advancing keeper, and into the Blues net. It was typical Blues. Blackpool increased their lead, before Nigel Gleghorn pulled one back in the dying moments of the game.
We poured out of the ground, to be faced by a line of riot shields, held by police officers that were gripped with genuine fear of what they could encounter, I looked at one of them, their eyes were wide in shock, the shield was visibly shaking, they were that scared, no training had prepared them for what they were being confronted with. I walked away from the ground and towards the station, a large group of Blackpool youth had bandied together with the idea of battling the marauding Brummie invaders, they turned past me towards where I’d come from, being on my own, I wasn’t going to hang around and watch, but didn’t rate their chances. It might have been their town that was being systematically wrecked, but they were outnumbered by enough ‘boys’ who were there to create total mayhem. I got back to Preston, and managed to board the train back to Wolverhampton at the buffet car, buying a couple of cans of beer before the police got on, one of them questioned me on my purchase, when I told them, he said I couldn’t have, as they’d shut it down, to which I said, “I know, I got there before you did”, and smiled that smug smile you only use, when you know you’ve got one up on someone in authority.
FOOTNOTE:- The Birmingham Evening Mail, (The word ‘Evening’ was dropped a few years ago) used the first 7 pages to report the devastation and destruction that Blues fans had caused. The Dutton Arms, was so badly damaged, that it couldn’t, and didn’t open for a week, something that was unprecedented. The Pleasure Beach was forced to close early for the first time in its history, due to acts of hooliganism. It was the first time that riot police had had to be deployed at a football ground in England, usually any incidents of hooliganism were just attended by regular officers. The then chairman of Blackpool was later fined for selling tickets to Blues fans for the home end by the F.A. and warned about future conduct. The attendance for the game was given as 5,737, I would estimate that upwards of that figure descended on that Lancashire town that weekend, possibly even closer to 10,000, a huge number of which, were Hell bent on causing as much trouble as they could.