Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Imps In Town: Guest Blog

This week we hear from hulloutpost from Vital Lincoln.

I’m delighted to have been asked to write a piece as a Lincoln supporter for Jane’s blog. Having watched her vlogs I can only say she really is a top ambassador for Blackpool and, having been very complimentary about my own beautiful city, I promise I will be on my best behaviour. 

So where to start about Blackpool? Well, it has got to be one of the top must-do away days for any football fan surely? Unending miles of pubs, clubs and attractions. What more can you ask for as a fan other than: please Mr. Fixture Secretary can it be in August or May and could you make it a bank holiday weekend to extract maximum value…?

That’s before you throw in the football factor. It’s fair to say for any football fan that knows the rudiments of the English game that they are one of the traditional great names along with sides like Sunderland, Wolves, Villa and Preston (only joking). Sides that haven’t seen the best of times recently but are written large into the fabric and history of football in this country. Blackpool even have nearly as much league history as the mighty Imps and I’m sure I read somewhere that Blackpool’s first ever league game was indeed against Lincoln back in the 1890’s. Add in the ageless names of Jimmy Armfield CBE, Sir Stanley Matthews and THAT cup final; yep a day at the football in Blackpool really is a must do.

So how then did this fifty something year old bloke manage to not achieve that feat until 2019? It’s not like I’ve never been to Blackpool. My first memory of Bloomfield Road was from the telescope of Blackpool Tower when I was about 10 years old. I eagerly scanned the horizon to locate the football ground and remember seeing a huge terrace behind one goal which along with the rest of the ground seemed to be shockingly run down. After that, circumstances conspired to stop me getting that elusive first visit under my belt, not least because Lincoln invariably were a league or two below Blackpool in the league.

I did get close in your first season back in The Premier League. I had booked an August Bank Holiday family weekend which coincided with your first home game versus Fulham. The tide WAS in – but so was a force 10 gale whipping up a lacerating sandstorm on the beach, so it did cross my mind that I might gently suggest to my wife that I could abandon her and the kids for a couple of hours. I dismissed the notion straight away, assuming that it would have been a sell out as your first home game, so I recall being distinctly disappointed the next day when I found out I could have got in and had missed out on something like a 4-2 thriller?

I’ve got to admit that even my home experiences v Blackpool have been thin on the ground. The one game I did get to was in the 90’s I believe and I just remember that it was something of a promotion party or similar for you at the back end of one of our nothing seasons. There were a lot of your fans in town having a ball and thankfully providing us with some much needed cash.

With a couple of honourable exceptions I’ll mention, there haven’t been too many player links in my time either. I can’t remember you stealing any of our star men, nor us mugging you off with any of our dross. We did sign Lee Thorpe from you (I think he’d got into some off-field bother at the time and was looking to leave town) and he gave us sterling service including a promotion and about 1 in 3 goal return. The star former Tangerine man has to be Neal Eardley. We picked him up in 2017 as a crock, freshly rejected from a Port Vale trial. Danny Cowley quickly snapped him up, dusted him down and he barely missed a game in three years picking up player of the season in his first year, winning The EFL Trophy at Wembley and securing a promotion to League One before age and the COVID crisis finally saw him being released this Summer. Such was his impact and consistency levels that many Imps fans have him down as our best right back in many a generation.   

That elusive first away visit never seemed to fall at the right time and, in recent years, as both clubs seemed to be heading down the path to football oblivion for different reasons concurrently, it felt like it never would. Lincoln slipped ever longer and deeper into the mire of the National League and seemed destined for sixth-tier NL North, whilst the football world looked on agog at The Oystons wreaking havoc on your own club.

Miraculously both our club fortunes then turned around about the same time. The Cowley and Clive Nates (our peerless chairman) revolution kicked in as Blackpool were on the cusp of eliminating the Oyston stain and looking to start restoring the natural order on the Fylde Coast after the plastic abominations at Fylde and Fleetwood had sneakily tried to fill the void.

So then it happened: 2019 arrived with both clubs facing each other for the first time in many a long year. By then I had moved from Hull to Manchester and it was an early season game to boot. At last Bloomfield Road was going to get chalked off my 92. Ironically, now only living 45 minutes down the road and with the police changing the game to a Friday night because of ‘The World Fireworks Championships!’, it wasn’t going to be the beer fest I envisaged back in my youth. So, on a drizzling evening, I popped down in the car; well there was always going to be next year, right? I found the ground well located and easily accessible with ample parking and my first impression was how smart the ground looked (a far cry from my previous telescope encounter). I wasn’t sure where the away end was, which allowed the stewards their bit of fun as they directed me around three sides of the ground when a 50-yard walk in the other direction would have sufficed, but at least I got to have a good look around the stands. Inside I like the scale of the ground. The bright orange is something different and, when the temporary away stand is presumably replaced, Blackpool should have a well proportioned enclosed modern stadium that lends itself to a good atmosphere. 

The game itself was largely unmemorable from a Lincoln point of view, other than we were still reeling from the loss of the Cowley brothers and Michael Appleton was managing his first away game. Blackpool raced into a two-goal lead before we pulled one back and made a much better fist of it in the second half and missed a good late chance to snatch a fortuitous equaliser. I did get a good work out in the stand, mind. I’d paid on the gate and found my seat was right in the middle of our 617 Squadron ultras (named after The Dam busters from RAF Scampton just outside Lincoln), who ensured I spent the whole 90 bouncing and singing whether I wanted to or not. Quite what they thought of the silly old git interloper I don’t know but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

I was pleased to finally chalk Bloomfield Road off my list and, result aside, it was a good night and experience. Post COVID, it will be even better to get a Saturday, August bank holiday, afternoon kick off (not asking too much, am I?) and do Blackpool full justice in the future.

Blackpool aren’t local rivals and there is no history of bad blood so, given both clubs have recently emerged from undoubtedly the lowest points in their respective histories, there would be a pleasing symmetry if we both went on to have successful seasons.

I can’t call the game with any confidence, as like yourselves we have pretty much a brand new team and it’s far too early in the season get a true idea of form. We have started brightly though and we are now seeing a youthful, pacey side with skilful midfielders playing a purposeful counter attacking game. We are no longer ‘direct’ Lincoln – but do keep an eye out for our 6’5 Dutch defender Lewis Montsma, who has already scored four goals from set pieces, mainly via deliveries from the skilful Jorge Grant. I hear you have spent a bit and signed some good players yourselves so I would be very happy to avoid defeat and take a draw. 

You can find Vital Lincoln on Twitter or via their website.

Do you have any stories you’d like to share? Email your articles to jane@janestuart.co.uk for consideration for the new guest blog feature. I enjoy hearing from fans of other clubs – especially with their memories of and links to Blackpool – but Blackpool fans are more than welcome too.