Blackpool youth team’s “phenomenal” fairytale continues tonight as they take on one of the country’s biggest clubs, Arsenal, in the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup.
The young Seasiders welcome Arsenal’s Category One academy side to Bloomfield Road for the first leg of their last four clash (7pm kick-off).
The winner of the tie will take on either Chelsea or Birmingham City in the two-legged final.
Blackpool’s inspirational run to the semi-finals has included wins against West Ham United, Southampton, Ipswich Town and Blackburn Rovers.
But tonight’s clash will be a different challenge entirely, with Arsenal boasting a host of young internationals.
Emile Smith-Rowe, who scored twice in their 5-1 win against Colchester United in the quarter-finals, was a World Cup winner with England nder-17s last year.
Several others have already appeared for Arsene Wenger’s first team in cup competitions.
Unfortunately for Blackpool, they will have to do without their star player Rowan Roache for tonight’s game after the striker was called up to the Republic of Ireland Under-19 squad for their European Championship qualifiers.
Ireland travel to Portugal this week to play three games against Slovakia, Kosovo and the hosts nation.
Their first game is against Slovakia on tomorrow and that means Roache, who scored Blackpool’s stoppage-time winner against Blackburn in the quarter-finals, won’t be available for selection for the first leg.
Given the importance of tonight’s cup game, the club did make a request for Roache to link up with his country after the game but that request was declined.
Blackpool manager Gary Bowyer said: “We asked them if we could keep him for this game but unfortunately we couldn’t, which is disappointing.
“The rules are the rules, I’m afraid.
“All the first-team players will be there for the game and it’s going to be a great night for them.
“I’m sure (youth team bosses) John (Murphy) and Ian (Dawes) will have the lads really fired up for it.
“The youth team continued what has been a phenomenal story with a superb win against Blackburn Rovers in the last round.
“They’ve been a real credit to the football club and are making memories that will last a lifetime.”
Blackpool first-team player Jay Spearing knows all about the significance of the FA Youth Cup, having won it twice with Liverpool.
He was joined by Jimmy Ryan in Liverpool’s winning side in 2006 before captaining the side which retained the cup 12 months later.
Spearing said: “As a 17 or 18-year-old, to play in a knockout cup and get yourself ready for that next level is good and exciting. You always want to go as far as you can.
“The lads have done tremendously well up to now and thoroughly deserve to be in the semi-finals.
“They’ve now got to go and enjoy every second of the opportunity against Arsenal and the chance to play at the Emirates.
“They need to make sure that they leave no regrets on the field.”
Season ticket holders will receive free entry for tonight’s game.
Admission for other spectators is priced at £4 for adults and £2 for concessions.
The same admission prices apply for the second leg at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Monday, April 16 – also a 7pm kick-off.
The Gunners will also offer free entry to their members.
There is a possibility that the return leg could be screened live on ITV4, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Tonight’s game won’t be on TV.