Back in the mid-1970s the last weekend in October was one of the highlights of our social calendar. By ‘we’ I mean our gang of village lads – and some girls – who generally didn’t tend to get out much and so treated the annual ‘dirty’ weekend in Blackpool as an excuse for excess. It being the last weekend of the Illuminations season, about 30 of us would travel up by coach, invade the Valron guest house, and generally annoy all of the other holidaymakers up and down the street who had to put up with us hanging out of the windows and making unnecessary amounts of noise at unearthly hours.
In between making fools of each other at the Pleasure Beach, we’d also consume a fair amount of gassy beer, as was the popular pastime of the era, and conversations tended to revolve around its effect on the digestive system. On one occasion a gaggle of us actually found time to go to Bloomfield Road, sit in the crumbling stand behind the goal, and see a Paul Hart-inspired Blackpool FC put four past visiting Bristol Rovers. Surprisingly, that remains my one-and-only visit to that ground.
And in a week where the TV screens have brought us all the unfolding drama from a ‘SuperStorm’ strike on the USA (I imagine the coverage would have been minimal had that same storm hit West Africa instead!) my mind was taken back to the legendary Blackpool seafront ‘breeze’ where it was theoretically possible to make walking progress with the body at a 45-degree angle to the horizontal. Now that’s SERIOUS weather!
So by sheer chance I find myself – more than 35 years later – back in Blackpool during the last week of the Illuminations, interviewing a Kent-based brewer who just happens to be up here on holiday. My interruption to his family gathering over, I decide to drive the 4 miles or so from Bispham to the vicinity of the airport by taking the most direct route – straight down the sea front. I imagine it will be slow, with car loads of kids staring at the light bulbs, but I reckon without the actual volume of vehicles crammed onto this road. One and a half hours later I finally turn onto the A5230 Progress Way – maybe they should re-name it Slow Progress Way – and after two false turn-offs, eventually locate the Mechanics, the home of North West Counties Premier side, AFC Blackpool.
The small car park is already well rammed with players’ cars, but I find a spot and enter the ground in near darkness. The old boy on the gate fills me in with a bit of history. Despite the AFC prefix, this is not a phoenix or a fans club, but an amalgamation of several teams over the years to produce one club in the city to chase the coat-tails of the town’s Football League outfit. There is another club nearby – Squires Gate from the same division are based more-or-less just across the road – but AFC are the team that plays in tangerine – nuff said!
The clubhouse is spacious and comfortable but is eerily quiet, despite a fair few people being present. There is nothing for the discerning beer drinker at the bar, and curiously a real lack of soft drinks too – no J20’s for a start. A hatch in the corridor forms a snack bar, which is dishing out an enticing plateful of hot pie, chips, peas and gravy. Predictably the pies are all meaty, so I have to make do with the chips and peas, which warms the soul on this very draughty evening.
The ground itself boast two small seated stands, with covered stepped terracing right behind each goal, one of which even has crush barriers. I identify the stand at the opposite end as providing the most protection from the biting, swirling Blackpool ‘SuperBreeze’ and spend all of the match watching from there, despite being joined at one stage by a fellow who wants to smoke himself to death.
Both AFC Blackpool and visiting Ashton Athletic are positioned towards the wrong end of the division and with neither side possessing a player featuring in the league’s leading goalscorer charts, I’m not expecting a goal-fest. Just as well, as we’re treated to one of those games where the tempo is high, but the quality of team-play is low. There are moments of individual skill, but the ball is a hot potato that neither side wants to hang on to for more than a couple of passes. To be fair, there is some good solid defending to admire, with no quarter given at the back, but there is a decided lack of goalmouth incident.
The game’s two goals – both scored by Blackpool – are like chalk and cheese. The first on 15 shouldn’t really beat the visiting keeper but bobbles on the wind over his despairing dive. A messy goal to give away. The second, right at the death, is a cracking shot from a left wing cross. Not even the Blackpool Super-Breeze can affect its unerring accuracy.
Programme: £1 on the gate. I get fed up of saying this but once again ‘standard league fare’, lots of stuff lifted from the NWCP website. Curiously, no league tables within.
Floodlight pylons: 8
Parakeets: Even too windy for the seagulls.
Club Shop: A sign in the bar advertising pin badges, scarves etc
Toilets: In the clubhouse
Music the players run out to: Nothing
Kop choir: No
Away fans: One or two
What’s In A Name? Just now and again I look through lists of players names, think ‘that might be funny’ then say to myself ‘no, not really’. Now is one of those moments….