Up the Pool! Dr Football strikes again. Forget the bleak midwinter, Christmas bills, new year sales, and the fact Blackpool’s new supertram can only get to Fleetwood by levitation.
Forget the price of fish. Forget how many Fisherman’s Friends it takes to bring a smile to the sour face of France’s Sarkozy – given the state of the Euro.
Smile. No matter where your loyalties rest. For Fleetwood, who came so close to promotion last season, have been gifted the perfect 2012 starter for a seaside fish ’n chip supper: the definitive derby – Fleetwood Town, big fish in the non-league pond but looking to make splash headlines taking on Championship neighbours Blackpool in the FA Cup.
And this time, the Cod Army is well and truly at home, playing at Highbury, the stadium transformed by club chairman Andy Pilley’s money and vision.
Game on. Bring it on. Banter and all. It’s the ultimate new year pick-me-up, the match to haul us out of the post-festive season blues, footie with the feelgood factor, even managers Micky Mellon and Ian Holloway are good mates – but determined to take no prisoners.
But let’s make no mistake. Blackpool is in it to win it, and repeat history.
Last time out, in November 1980, it was then Third Division Blackpool which trounced non-league Fleetwood 4-0.
John Cross, 53, football collector, devoted Blackpool FC fan, who also gets to as many Fleetwood matches as he can, was there. The match was played at Bloomfield Road, although Fleetwood were first out of the hat, but the pitch, a speedway track in a former life, was simply not up to muster. Fleetwood still wore home colours, red and white, Blackpool playing in a pale blue away kit – and the pale riders triumphed.
“They’re not going to be a pushover this time,” warns John. “Not Fleetwood, they are going places. Back then it was an easy win. Pilley’s inspirational. He’s a Blackpool FC fan too, but they would never tear him away from Fleetwood now. He’s like a god.
“We’ll still win. But it won’t be easy.”
Superfan Fiona Martin, vice chairman of Blackpool Sports Association, hopes to see Fleetwood well and truly Tangoed... if she can bag one of the 800 tickets up for grabs at £19.50 (standing room only) at the 5,000-capacity Fleetwood ground.
Fiona says: “There was never any question of Fleetwood moving the game from Highbury. There’s a bit of an issue on tickets and prices, which seem a bit steep for a third-round cup tie.
“If there’s a replay it will be £15 at Blackpool.
“I’ve mixed feelings. I’m delighted Fleetwood have made the third round, good for them, the club, and the Fylde.
“Micky Mellon has said if you’re not from round here you don’t understand the dynamics of the area, and the support for both clubs. A lot of people have mixed loyalties.
“My guess is Blackpool will win, but not by much, maybe 1-0.”
Gerry Wolstenholme, local sports historian, admits: “The FA Cup may have been diminished by some clubs playing second teams, but this is different, this is special, especially with Fleetwood trying to win league status.
“They have done fantastically well, came back from the ropes against Yeovil. All credit.
“The fairytale result would be Fleetwood winning, but as I’m Blackpool born and bred, I’m hoping for another 4-0 victory.”
Former Blackpool FC player Paul Gardner, now Lancashire fire safety enforcement officer at Bamber Bridge, played in the 1980 game.
He said: “It’s great news for both sets of fans and generates real interest, a proper derby.
“It’s a long time ago since the last game, but I remember the excitement. We were in the third division and not playing well, so there was trepidation about playing a non-league side because they had nothing to lose.
“The difference in class showed and we won 4-0.
“But it will be harder this time.
“Last season Blackpool were entertaining in the Premier League, scored plenty, never gave up, but made naive errors.
“Now Fleetwood’s rise has been extraordinary. The game won’t be easy, there are good players on both sides, and great managers too. But my forecast is 3-1 to Blackpool.”