Trams’ titanic tussle as Blackpool face Liverpool

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It’s Blackpool versus Liverpool – again – for another clash of the year. And not a sign of a football. Jacqui Morley reports.

BLACKPOOL versus Liverpool. Now where have we heard that before?

But while the eagerly awaited Boxing Day clash of titans – one an ailing and failing icon of the Premiership, the other a fast rising born-again contender for the big time – has been put on ice until Wednesday, another battle for hearts and minds is being fought out online.

And this contest is likely to be just as hotly contested.

In the red corner, the position usually occupied by a dejected-looking Roy Hodgson, stands a gorgeous pouting head turner of a tram, Liverpool 762, formerly known as the Pier Head Special, which came on loan for Blackpool’s 125th tram anniversary, but hails from Birkenhead, Lily Savage’s birthplace.

It’s pitted against Blackpool’s OMO 8, which isn’t a brand of washing powder, but the Ollie of trams in the Seasiders’ super league, bedecked in plum and custard livery, rather than tangerine. OMO stands for One Man Operator. But we need team spirit to propel it to victory.

Further afield, on the footie field, Blackpool has already thrashed Liverpool, 2-1, on the hallowed turf of Anfield to boot. But now it could be payback time for vengeful scousers, with a ticket to ride to the big time league, via Britain’s Tram of the Year, the FA of tramoraks. Come on, you plum and custard! OK, so it doesn’t involve Stevie G steaming to the rescue, or Fernando Torres trying to put the ole in goal, while others try to work out precisely how to chant Ngog from the sidelines. Instead we’ve got a couple of superstars determined to stay on the straight and narrow – and snatch glory.

Our loveliest local is lagging behind that upstart from Liverpool in the online voting league for Tram of the Year. At the last count, Blackpool OMO 8 was trailing Liverpool 762, with Blackpool Marton Box 31, on loan to Heaton Park Tramway from Beamish Museum for the winter, as rank outsider.

The two Blackpool trams split the vote for local and visiting tram fans. So it’s time to come over all coalition, and get strategic with the voting. So which to back to send the scouse scally packing? Blackpool heritage transport champions urge Fylde Coast folk to give OMO a clean sweep. Which means Oh No for Marton Box 31, the other Blackpool tram in the running, and (for many of us) the most eye catching with its curvaceous lines and vintage style, but the Blackpool-based Lancastrian Transport Trust point out that’s not owned locally.

Trust chief Philip Higgs adds: “Our OMO 8 tram is the most iconic. The design, introduced in the 1970s, saved the tramway because they were able to be operated by one person, which halved the operating costs in winter, giving the tramway a future when it might have otherwise closed. This particular vehicle has been restored solely by voluntary effort and voluntary contributions by enthusiasts, no big grants or outside funding, like the other two have. It operated for the first time in years for the 125th anniversary celebrations. We can’t let some scouse scally win. OK, so it’s the first time, apart from at a museum, that a Liverpool tram has operated on another system since Liverpool trams closed in 1957, and it turned heads, because it’s a bonny tram, and from an area where Blackpool regularly draws its tourists, and had a fairly good run out in the resort, but really the Blackpool achievement is head and shoulders above it. It’s a testament to people in Blackpool, and individual dedication to a sandgrown’un tram, made and operated in Blackpool, stored and renovated in Blackpool, which has never left Blackpool. This may seem a bit unfair on the Marton Box, but that tram left Blackpool and was restored with funding from Beamish Museum. The Liverpool tram was completely restored as part of the Wirral Tramway Development at Birkenhead, a lot of the funding came from that money, a lot more people were involved in it, but our tram shows that individual people’s hard earned cash and labours can make it happen without grants.”

Elaine Smith, chair of Blackpool Civic Trust, also urges locals to rally to OMO: “Come on, and let Blackpool win something ... for a change!”

The deadline for all votes (and it’s just one vote per person to keep us all on the right track) is Sunday, January 23.

The three frontrunners have been shortlisted, from 13 contenders, seven of them Blackpool trams (including the two finalists and rack, boat, brush and balloon models), for the prestigious British Trams Online Tram of the Year, which proved a runaway success for the Heritage Lottery funded-restored Western “train” tram in 2009. The contest was established in 2003, to find trams which stood out from the rest, possibly after restoration, or operating away from home, or the first time in service. Blackpool trams have won the contest five times since it started. You can vote for OMO 8 (or Marton Box!) by visiting: http://www.britishtramsonline.co.uk/ and more details of the tram can be found at http://ltt-news.blogspot.com

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk