When it comes to popular managers, few will come close to the late Billy Ayre at Blackpool.
While he may not have managed the Seasiders outside of the bottom two divisions, he will always be mentioned amongst the Bloomfield Road greats.
Ayre, who died in 2002 aged just 49, won 40 per cent of his 191 games in charge at Blackpool, twice leading them to Wembley play-off finals in 1990 and 1991.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of Ayre’s appointment, and here then Blackpool FC writer TONY DURKIN looks back at a memorable period in Pool’s history.
There was never a dull moment watching Blackpool under Billy Ayre’s managerial reign and his tenure at Bloomfield Road left a lasting impression on everyone connected with the club.
When he took over as boss, Pool were at one of the lowest ebbs in their history, having slumped into the bottom half of the old Division Four following relegation the previous summer.
Graham Carr departed as manager in record time, Billy took over and the rest is history literally, because Pool broke a succession of records as they surged into promotion contention with a glorious run of results, particularly at home.
From a team going nowhere - except downwards - Pool were transformed by Billy’s motivational skills and by the final day of the season, they had to win at Walsall to secure automatic promotion.
Sadly, they lost and they went into the play-offs, where they beat Scunthorpe over two legs in the semi-final only to go down on penalties to Torquay in the final.
But that first trip to Wembley in 38 years inspired them to make a determined bid to go up the following season.
Amazingly, however, lightning struck twice and Pool again lost out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season, as they lost at
Lincoln. Again, they were in the play-offs and after losing 1-0 at Barnet in the first leg of the semi, they won the home leg 2-0 to again reach Wembley. Yet another penalty shoot-out followed, but this time, Pool ended up the winners, against Scunthorpe, thanks to a memorable save from keeper Steve McIlhargey.
Billy headed straight for the fans at the final whistle and the mutual admiration on show then was such a delight to witness. After so many lean years, the boss was a hero and had earned a lasting place in the hearts of Pool supporters.
For two seasons after that, Billy steered Pool’s fortunes in Division Two - the new League structure came in as they were promoted in 1992 - but cash to spend on players was always tight and Billy became ever more frustrated that he wasn’t able to take the team forward as he would have wished.
I still clearly remember the day of his resignation in 1994, ringing him for one of our regular chats only to find he had decided to quit.
Even at such a difficult time, he was as frank, honest and approachable as he always had been. And that will always been my abiding memory of Billy.
Even after the most miserable result - and losing 2-0 at Walsall on the final day of the 1990-91 season to go into the play-offs when hopes had been so high was probably THE most miserable - he was always ready to give his reaction to the Gazette.
Not once in his four and a half years as boss did he ever decline to comment after a game and I fondly remember the post-match chats we had over a beer in his Bloomfield Road office.
Billy was so genuine, refreshingly honest and really one of the nicest men I have ever met – in football or out of it.