It was billed as the richest football match in history, worth £90 million to the winner, OR £1 million for each of the 90 minutes of this play-off Final at Wembley Stadium between Blackpool and Cardiff City.
The temperature pitch side was 106 Fahreheit, and that's HOT !!, but managers David Jones of the Bluebirds, and Ian Holloway of The Seasiders were as cool as cucumbers. Blackpool last played in the top division 39 years ago, and in the VIP section was an old school mate of mine, JIMMY ARMFIELD who retired after Blackpool were relegated those many years ago, after a one club career of 569 matches for the Seasiders, captaining both Blackpool and England. He played 43 times for England, 15 as captain, and in the 1962 World Cup in Chile and was in the 1966 World Cup squad.
For Cardiff, the Pride of South Wales, it had been even longer away from the big time, and with a new stadium this season, and new owners taking over next week, it was a chance to forget their deep-in-the-red recent troubles.
82.300 showed up and walked down Wembley Way for the chance to watch their heroes reach the promised land of the English Premier League and welcome such giants as Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and more to their tiny Bloomfield Road stadium next August, and travel to Old Trafford, Anfield, The Emirates, St. James Park and Stamford Bridge with their band of supporters.
The winner will receive £40 million from TV and other income next season, and £48 million as a 'parachute' payment even if they only last for one season in the top flight.
I have NEVER seen such an interview as that with Ian Holloway in the dressing room after the match while his players and staff celebrated their well deserved good fortune. Down to earth, passionate, humble, and enlightened, he put on a masterclass of common sense for the millions who were watching.
He had tried to instill passion in his Leicester City squad but failed to do so and was out of a proper job for a year until Karl Oyston the Blackpool chairman called and gave him a new lease of life. Against the run of play Michael Chopra opened the scoring for the Bluebirds, but attack, attack, attack is Ollie's philosophy. Four minutes later Charlie Adam equalised from a rocket of a free kick. He is their most expensive ever signing, at £500,000, and what a bargain he has proved to be. Joe Ledley put City ahead but within three minutes Taylor-Fletcher had equalised once more.
It was Brett Ormerod, signed originall for £16,000 from Accrington Stanley who went on to play in the Premier League for Southampton, and in a FA Cup Final for them to score the winner. He is in his second spell with Blackpool and rarely plays a full match. His job was done, the £60 milion goal, and there were to be no more goals in the second half and Brett was substituted. Until a couple of months ago Bloomfield Road had only 2 stands, and looked a bit like a baseball stadium.
Recently The Jimmy Armfield stand was opened at the South End, with A-R-M-F-I-E-L-D spelled out in white seats surrounded by tangerine ones, but the East side is just an open temporary terrace seating 2,000 visiting supporters. TOTAL CAPACITY less than 12,000 on a good day. He will be 75 years old in September 2010 and it is planned to have a statue of him unveiled outside the main West Stand on Seasiders Way on that date.
Last season I sat in the press box which was cramped and tiny, and the training ground near the airport to the south of the town is really bad. LOTS of improvements to be made in a hurry, and more than a lick of paint to welcome world class names.
When I was a child I paid 9d, (less than 5 pence in new money) to stand up. The retaining wall around the pitch was almost 4 feet high, with the pitch a couple of feet below that. I was tiny and used to carry 3 bricks in a bag through the turnstile to stand on. CAN YOU IMAGINE what the response would be if I tried that next season!!! When it was really crowded and I arrived late, I went up the steps to the back of THE KOP at the North End and such was the mass of humanity, all standing on the open terrace, that they passed us young kids above their heads all the way down to the dirt surrounding area behind the goal where we sat and cheered and there were no stewards. Those were the days!!!
In 1953 Blackpool, after 2 losses to Manchester United in 1948 and Newcastle United in 1951 finally won the F.A. Cup at Wembley 4-3 in The Matthews Final, when Stan Mortenson scored a hat-trick and South African born Bill Perry scored the winning goal. I HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN the team that day, as I watched the come from behind victory in Coronation Year on a 9 " black and white TV. Farm, Shimwell, Garrett, Johnston, Hayward, Robinson, Matthews, Mudie, Mortenson, Taylor, Perry. Allen Brown had broken his leg scoring the 6th Round winner at Arsenal and Hugh Kelly was injured and replayed by Robinson. I think Robinson is the only player still alive.
I do remember kissing the TV set and then running into the street to join the celebrations. A few days later I was in Talbot Square outside the Town Hall as captain Harry Johnson held high the F.A. Cup, the only player ever to captain a Blackpool F.A. Cup victorious team.
NEXT SEASON WILL BE SOMETHING SPECIAL.