Blackpool heroes to honour Billy

POOL’S promotion-winning team of 1992 will reunite at the funeral of Billy Ayre on Sunday in an emotional tribute to their old boss.

One of Billy’s final wishes was for his Tangerine team, which won promotion in a thrilling play-off victory against Scunthorpe United at Wembley, to be present at his funeral.

Plans are under way to ensure that each player is there.

More than half a dozen have already confirmed they will be at the church in Ormskirk, with others, including England star Trevor Sinclair, set to be invited as well.

Ayre, who died at his Ormskirk home on Tuesday night with his wife and two children at his bedside, was one of Blackpool’s most popular and successful managers since Stan Mortensen and twice took the club to Wembley in play-off finals in the early 1990s.

Mike Davies, the Seasiders’ current reserve team coach, told The Gazette: “We have been informed that Billy was talking about wanting his promotion-winning team at Blackpool to be at his funeral and if that was one of his last wishes we are determined not to let him down.

“The biggest task is to contact everyone and we have spoken to many of the players in that team already.

“Many have promised to be there but there are others to speak to, like Trevor Sinclair.”

Those who have confirmed they will be at the service in Halsall, near Ormskirk, at 2.30pm on Sunday include Mitch Cook, Grant Leech, Dave Burgess, Andy Garner, Steve McIlhargey, Phil Horner, Dave Bamber and David Eyres.

Cook was twice signed by Ayre, first for Halifax and then for Blackpool.

The scorer of a penalty in the Wembley play-off victory in 1992, Cook said: “I hope as many of the players as possible turn up to say farewell to Billy. He deserves it.

“He was a big, hard, likable man, who called a spade a spade. He was a good old-fashioned centre-half – tough and hard in the way he played and managed. He was a good man.”

Ayre came to Bloomfield Road as number two to Jimmy Mullen, after learning the managerial ropes at Halifax Town.

He remained as number two when Mullen left and Graham Carr was appointed boss.

However, Carr was sacked after just four months in charge and Ayre took over.

Despite being faced with a huge task, the new boss quickly won over the fans and the players with his straight-talking and inspired the team to new heights, culminating in promotion.

Ayre was first diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the lymph nodes in 1995, a year after leaving Blackpool.

He fought the illness and was given the all-clear. However, the cancer returned last June and, despite intensive chemotherapy, Billy died on Tuesday evening, a month short of his 50th birthday.