OPTIMISTIC Blackpool fans boarded a coach bound for Wembley with high hopes of another remarkable victory.
Excited chants and talk of visits to Manchester United and Arsenal started upon the coach leaving The Gazette’s car park, and continued throughout the five-hour journey to London.
Many of the fans had been there before.
Almost two years ago to the day, thousands of fans had witnessed a victory which had taken their side to the Premier League against all the odds.
And the belief this time around had not disappeared from the travelling Tangerine hordes, who made sure service stations on the way to London were awash with Blackpool’s famous colours.
The journey down to Wembley was spent with conversations of Blackpool’s last trip to the national stadium, helped by the fans’ insistence on the commemorative DVD being played on the coach’s television.
Student Nick Butter, 19, from South Shore, said: “I’m nervous but excited.
“It’s my third time at Wembley and this is going to be our toughest test.
“I know we are capable of winning a play-off final, and we have the momentum to give West Ham a surprise.”
Tom Sharples, 20, an apprentice plumber, said: “I think it’s going to be very tough, but I didn’t think we would beat Birmingham and we did, so you never know against West Ham.”
A 45-minute stop in a Midlands service station gave the Tangerine Army the opportunity to occupy the services as the excitement continued to build on the road to Wembley.
Andrew Jackson, 51, from Blackpool, was one of the hundreds of seasiders soaking up the atmosphere in tangerine wigs, fancy dress and face paint.
He said: “I’m feeling absolutely ecstatic.
“I’ve been to Wembley a few times before, but this feels good.
“Blackpool have been through the dark days and now we are experiencing the good ones.
Rick Bell, 30, from Cleveleys, added: “It’s going to be a brilliant day again for Blackpool.
“I have a good feeling we will go up and will return to the Premier League, where we belong.”
The thousands of fans who descended on north west London divided it with their unique colours of Blackpool’s Tangerine and West Ham’s claret and blue.
Throughout Blackpool’s time in the Premier League, they were renowned for their passionate fans, who maintained a never-say-die attitude, no matter the scoreline.
This remained the same inside Wembley, despite being vastly outnumbered by the West Ham fans, who sold out their 38,000 tickets, and also managed to claim some in the Blackpool end.
A tight game, where golden opportunities went begging for Blackpool, saw them lose at the stadium where they have been victorious on two previous occasions.
The mood on the return journey was a complete contrast, but the fans remained proud of what their team had achieved during the season.
Paul Bentley, 58, from North Shore, said: “The players have done unbelievably well, and all the credit must go to Holloway for bringing them together.
“I absolutely thought we could win it. We were a bit quiet in the first half, but the bottom line is we missed a few chances, and if you miss them, you are not going to win games.”
Brian Lambert, 54, from Lytham, travelled on the coach with his dad John, 75, from St Annes.
Brian said: “We both went to the Cardiff game the last time we won promotion, and that was fantastic.
“We were outnumbered by the West Ham fans, but I thought we were the better team and had the best chances.
John added: “The players couldn’t have put any more effort in.
“West Ham have better facilities, more money and pay better wages, but there wasn’t much separating us and, on another day, we could have won it.
Also on the coach was Ephriam Bell, 65, the nephew of former Blackpool player Jock Dobbs.
Mr Bell said: “I want to see the wages of all the best players increased to keep them at the club.
“Everybody has done really well, and we now need to build another team which can take us back in to the Premier League.”
SLIDESHOW BY DANIEL MARTINO