I was born and raised in Liverpool. Two things went with the turf when I was growing up. You were defined by your religion and your football team. Catlick or Proddie, blue or red?
My dad spent his honeymoon night at a Liverpool match. You could have forgiven my mother for playing away but she stayed at home with the inlaws.
The old religious divide has long gone, thanks to some nifty footwork by church leaders, but you are still a red or a blue. It’s one of the first things a Scouser asks another Liverpudlian on meeting. You don’t even need to mention ateam. “So - which is it?” Cue the rueful reply, head shake or handshake in return.
I’m a red. With tangerine leanings. That goes with the turf too. Blackpool’s the older club. The pair were pretty evenly matched during their First Division decades. My family came to watch matches here in the ‘40s and ‘50s long before they moved here to live and work.
I’ve interviewed The Gaffers over the years - loved Big Sam Allardyce but found Ian Holloway the most memorable. The first time I saw the training ground I thought I’d been directed to a Territorial Army tank commander’s course.
I’ve mugged up on Latvia, wanted to adopt Brett Ormerod, and even learned to bite my tongue around Matt Williams, the outspoken club secretary who left after 12 years to head a club with even fewer players... although Shrewsbury moved far faster to remedy that situation.
My late dad went to his grave still dining out on my Stan Mortensen interview. The rest would have paled in comparison. Stan outlived my dad. Morty died the day Blackpool reached Wembley for the first time since 1953. “They’ll probably call it the Matthews funeral,” some said.
I still smart at the memory of Liverpool’s double defeat at the feet of Blackpool during the latter’s brief but beautiful Premier League season when, with promotion, we all became fans of the Seasiders.
I don’t think football is a matter of life or death, or that it’s more important than that, as Bill Shankly remarked. But a football club, is the heartbeat of a town, part of the lifeblood of the community.
It’s not supposed to be a bloodsport in the boardroom or the backroom. Yet this season is one of the nastiest, most morally abhorrent I’ve seen - off the pitch. My heart bleeds for players and support staff. And fans are closing ranks because they respect the game, the past glories, the present players, the future, the platform for potential.
Footie’s a funny old game. Time was when the only headless chickens in football were to be found at Blackburn under the bizarre ownership of Indian poultry clan Venky’s. What’s next for Blackpool? The appointment of a “global advisor”? At other clubs, such as Leeds United, things have gone from bad to farce too.
In truth, there are no owners in football, only custodians - but they’re the ones with hire and fire ability, not the fans. They can choose to spend money poorly. They can choose to invest in a quality manager and treat him shabbily.
The instability is crippling. The silence from some of the most revered names in the game almost deafening. And the Football League seems to have forgotten that fair play applies just as much off the field as on. We don’t just want role model players but model bosses too. It’s worth remembering there are other clubs locally. Take heart in the fact that seven of AFC Fylde’s Coasters’ youngers made the county FA youth squad (the one that holds the cup) this week from the Vanarama league. Squires Gate may have lost 4-2 to AFC Liverpool last Saturday but it was in the FA Vase. Smashing! And Fleetwood Town offers a nice line in respite breaks for beleaguered Blackpool fans - and the fish and chips are better there.
‘Mention it to the chief exec on the couch’
I’ve just missed the episode of Friends ... the One with the Chief Executive in it.
But it was sofa, so good when Blackpool’s chief executive Neil Jack came to my neighbourhood for a chat with locals.
Apparently the idea of taking a sofa on tour has been borrowed from Plymouth - rather than the sofa surfing sloth on telly called Neil who schmoozes out to Mr Boombastic. I was devastated to miss out on a cuppa and chat in comfort with the chief exec but I did make a point of driving along Warren Drive to see where the council would stick its sofa. I asked an elderly lady who seemed to be lurking with intent whether she knew just where the “couch” was going to stop.
“There’s no coach trips from here, dear,” she told me. “You have to cross that busy road to catch a bus to Cleveleys. I’m waiting to catch a dog walker who keeps letting his dog do his business outside my gate.”
I was tempted to suggest she mention it to the chief executive on the couch just down the road ... but it seemed too surreal for words.