John Pearman, editor of Liverpool fanzine ‘Red All Over The Land‘ fondly remembers awaydays at Blackpool in the 1960s…
When you’re as old as I am and there’s a pandemic on the loose, looking forward might be a bit optimistic. Only, if you’re in Isolation, Quarantine or just simply browned off, looking back can sometimes help. I started thinking of away days in times of yore when there were still 240 pennies to the pound and I was a raw teenager with the best years of my life still lurking around some corner. I started going back into the foggy ruins of my mind to a time when going to an away game was a great adventure and all you needed was your train fare, money to get in and a few more of those bronzed coins for a few extras, like a programme, a rosette or a match going luxury which might have been one of those tasteless hot dogs boiled in water and stuck inside an equally tasteless roll. We all had a favourite away ground and going on the train was something special – and the train was sometimes called The Special. You had to have travelled on a Football Special to understand what they were like. Without going into too much detail, if they’d herded cattle on them, the RSPCA would have been up in arms.
Travelling on the train was all part of what in in the present might be described as ‘The Learning Curve’ – but those sorts of terms didn’t exist in the early 60’s or, if they did, we wouldn’t have known what the hell it meant. Maybe it was on the train where you began to grow up as a football fan. We were nothing more than starry-eyed kids who, in the 1960’s, were just coming to terms with our rebellious streaks and, other than football, the only topic of conversation would be pop music or how we’d fared on our nights out at the youth club. However, we knew our peers. We’d sit in awe as the older fans walked up and down the train. Listening in to chit-chat but trying not to make it too obvious. The talk might have been like, “Oh yeah, our kid knows Cilla like”; “John’s auntie comes in the shop near us”; “Ah Ringo, knew him when he was a snotty nosed bugger down Dingle Way”; “We were at that Garden Fête when they first started playing” or more importantly, “Southern beer’s like drinking piss”. If they were talking football, it was simply a case of listen and learn! They might have mentioned about when Big Ron Yeats and The Saint called in a pub on Scotty Road after the last home game only then they’d whisper – sometimes they had to be discreet: train carriages had ears as well!
An away game down London was like a trip to another planet – Londoners were odd; the Midlands were okay, good working-class folk; and those in the North East had a lot going for them, knew their football and the beer was definitely acceptable. Only my favourite away day is easy to pick: it was Blackpool. Blackpool in the 1960’s seemed like a special place and back then to us acne faced lads it was like going to Hollywood only not as warm and a bit cheaper. Manchester was cold and wet, Blackburn, Burnley and Bolton didn’t really have any attractions unless you liked looking at mills…but Blackpool – Blackpool had everything.
In the 60s, Blackpool Football Club was steeped in as much history as the Tower. There was the much loved ‘M’ word which stood for Matthews, Mortenson and Mudie, three footballing heroes from their legendary FA Cup winning team of 1953. Although all three had left the club by the time Liverpool came back to the fore in 1962, these players were as much revered as our own Billy Liddell or Albert Stubbins. This was a different era but Blackpool had a little red-haired annoyance called Alan Ball. In 1966 he left Blackpool wanting to join a big club but ended up at Everton instead. Then there was ‘The Mighty Emlyn’ who nearly got Shanks a speeding ticket until Mister Shankly explained to the traffic cop he had the future captain of England in the car! Good job the copper was a local then? If he’d have been Irish, Welsh or, worse still, Scottish there could have been trouble.
Blackpool would never be a title threat but they’d give a good account of themselves, in fact they beat Liverpool the day the Reds played their first game back in the First Division at Anfield in ‘62 and then had the audacity to do it again the following season when the Reds won the title! Bloomfield Road was a tinny ground; one typical of its time; a ground which probably hadn’t changed much since it was first built. It wasn’t big compared to, say, Bolton which held nearly 60,000, but you could almost reach out and touch players if you were near the front of the crowd.
So, what was so good about going to Blackpool? Simple: Blackpool! Where else could you go and have a day on the beach as well as going to the game? A donkey ride maybe, a dip in the sea or all the fun of the fair and a Candy Floss? Before or after the game, no trip to the home of The Golden Mile was complete without Fish ‘n Chips – and back then they were a real treat – and you got change out of two bob (10p)! Depending when the fixture list decreed your team was at Bloomfield Road, there was the three piers: North, South or Central. We saw Gerry and his Pacemakers and Manfred Mann on those piers but opted against seeing Donovan because he was a poor man’s Dylan. Right outside the Blackpool ground there was a seedy joint partly owned by the rock ‘n roller Johnny Kidd; I fell asleep in there once. Then there were the girls. Blackpool was the teenage dream so, if the tide was out and there was room??? What went on under those piers stays under those piers.
Then there were the illuminations, a B&B at Mrs Miggins [name changed as our landlady might still be snooping around although she’d be about 120 now, she didn’t look far off that back in 65]. If you went to a game in London nobody asked you to bring anything back did they? Maybe if you went to Newcastle you might get a request for a bag of coal but when you went to Blackpool the orders came flying in. Stick of rock for my little brother was a must. Then someone would always ask for some mucky postcards and don’t forget the ‘Kiss me Quick’ hat.
Times changed and so did we. Blackpool now might still have some attractions – in fact I went there just before lockdown to see Elvis Costello but without his Attractions – but sadly the football club has changed. They’d been up and down like their Big Dipper and they’ve flirted with success but got ripped off. Now they’re starting afresh. Neil Critchley is manager having done a decent job at the Liverpool Academy and they looked okay when playing a pre-season game at Anfield despite losing 7-2. As a place to go I could no longer venture to the fun fair and my days of under the pier activity have been long swept out into the Irish Sea; I’m as tired as those poor old donkeys. The Fish ‘n Chips might still have a bit of pulling power but I haven’t; not sure I ever did to be honest. Happy times though and if you do go to a game at Bloomfield Road, pick up a Fanzine, they have one titled, ‘Now That’s What I Call Progress’ if you’re as old as me, it compensates for what used to happen under those piers…
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