WITH the big kick-off this Friday – Blackpool playing away at Hull – avid Blackpool football supporter Michael Hartley admits he still chuckles at the thought of his days as a human noticeboard at Bloomfield Road.
Michael says: “In 1948, I was 12, lived with my parents in Longway, just off Vicarage Lane, and was stopped by a man who I knew by sight.
“He asked if I was going to the match. Even as a child I thought this amusing – I was wearing a tangerine and white pullover, scarf and rosette!
“He told me he was the chairman of the Blackpool Deaf Society and asked if I had seen the board that was carried around the field prior to a match, on which was chalked the programme team changes.
“This was done for those who could not hear the announcement over the loudspeakers.
“Yes, of course I had seen it. Would I be willing to take it round? Yes, of course I would. We climbed into his van and off we went.
“At the ground we went in through the ‘Officials Only’ entrance. We then went through a door, down a passage and turned right through another door. Much to my amazement, there was the team entrance tunnel and the team changing rooms along the passage.
“The man went into both, came out and chalked the changes onto the board. I then walked out of the players’ tunnel and, with the board on my shoulder, I walked around the pitch.
“When I got back I was thanked and told to go back down the tunnel and jump into the crowd – wonder of wonders... I didn’t have to pay!”
Michael recalls: “This went on for several weeks until I was asked if I thought I could manage it on my own. I couldn’t believe it. I was provided with a pass, which allowed me through that magical ‘Officials Only’ entrance.
“I was formally introduced to the Blackpool manager, Joe Smith – remember him? From then on Saturday afternoons became something of a small boy’s dreams.
“At home games I went into both changing rooms and asked for their team changes from the programme.
“As a result, I became well known to Joe Smith and all the Blackpool players. Being on first name terms with Stan Mortensen, Harry Johnston and, yes, even Stan Matthews, was simply beyond belief.
“I was often asked by members of the away teams if I could go out and buy them sticks of rock or postcards to take home. Just imagine going shopping for the likes of Nat Lofthouse, Billy Wright, Alf Ramsey and the like.
“Wonderful, of course, but the icing on the cake came the two Saturdays when Syd Beavers was absent. Now, I am sure many older Blackpool supporters will remember Syd.
“He was in charge of the club’s mascot, a tangerine duck, yes – a real live, quacking, duck. This duck was ‘stained’ tangerine by using the colouring they use for smoked haddock. It did the duck no harm and, as I recall, it was dyed with the permission, and under the supervision, of the RSPCA.
“On match day, Syd would take the duck out onto the pitch. On two occasions I was asked to do it. What a thrill.
“I tucked the duck under my arm as ‘the lads’ came out of their changing room. I ran out of the tunnel then, as Syd always did, I ran to the centre spot, put the duck down on it and, lifting widespread arms high, brought the ‘Kop’ into a huge roar of welcome.
“At that moment I wouldn’t have changed places with anyone – probably not even God.
“Unfortunately, what with health and safety and security concerns, such stuff as small boy’s dreams are made of couldn’t happen now.”
Michael, who was born in Cleveleys, attended Hawes Side Junior School, Marton, then, aged 11, moved, as a day boarder, to the Preston School for the Partially Sighted, later known as the Derby Road School.
On leaving school he says he was “very lucky” to do three years full time at Courtfield, Blackpool’s famous catering college, which was then on Hornby Road.
Michael adds: “In 1953 I managed to get hold of only one ticket for the FA Cup. Dad persuaded me to let mum have it – quite a sacrifice, but mum cherished the memory of that game until she died, aged 95, last year so, in the end, I am extremely glad that I made that sacrifice.”
Michael, who is now registered blind, would like to hear from old friends and can be contacted at 69 Calder Drive, Kendal, LA9 6LR, by email at email@example.com or on (01539) 722873.