‘The Man In The High Penthouse: an alternate history of Blackpool Football Club’
From his vantage point on high, he gazed out across the magnificent bowl of the Bloomfield Road arena.
For several days now he had been in reflective mood.
A late December sky was turning tangerine as the sun sank below the level of the Billy Ayre Stand, casting a lengthening shadow across the hallowed turf.
The wind began to stir a chill and so he stepped back into his penthouse suite.
He stood there for some moments, looking out across the stadium, home of the Mighty, and cast his mind back 30 years.
In 1988 a wind of change had been blowing straight off the Irish Sea and through the broken-down stands of Bloomfield Road, decrepit home of a football club whose luck had worn thin, whose very future was on the line.
There had been an attempt by a local businessman to snap the club up for £1; that was the point at which the organisation known simply and affectionately as ‘The Ten’ – so named for the number of segments in a tangerine – had stepped up as a consortium of wealthy international Blackpool fans and had tabled a successful counter-bid. He was proud to have been a part of that.
Over the years, their vision and investment had restored and transformed Blackpool into one of the finest and best-run football clubs in the English League.
Working in conjunction with the local council, they had rebuilt the Bloomfield Road site to comprise a 25,000 seat football ground, cinema complex, ten-pin bowling alley, Blackpool FC museum, club shop and live music venue with bars and restaurants.
Working in partnership with the new University of the Fylde in South Shore they had redeveloped Squires Gate as a state-of-the-art training complex for use by both football club, the university and the townspeople.
They were proud of their academy which not only provided a stream of players into the Blackpool squad but also generated significant revenues when players were sold to rivals in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow and London.
As good as the realisation of all these plans had been for the town and surrounding area, buoying it up as a resort when the appeal of foreign package holidays began to eat into Blackpool’s traditional trade, the real testament to the commitment of The Ten had been the gradual and then sustained success on the field, culminating in Blackpool becoming English League champions for the first time in 2011.
From a low point in Division Four in the late 1980s, Billy Ayre steered a team captained by Trevor Sinclair up through the divisions.
The Seasiders were promoted to the Championship in 1993 and reached the League Cup final in 1994 where they lost to Manchester United at Wembley.
Jimmy Armfield was appointed director of football at Bloomfield Road and was instrumental in helping Ayre and his bright young Seasiders with free-scoring Scott Taylor clinch promotion to the Premier League before the end of the millennium.
Ill health forced Ayre to retire but his successor Steve McMahon consolidated the team in tangerine as a vibrant force once more in the top flight of English football.
A second FA Cup Final victory, this time over Portsmouth at the new Wembley in 2008, was no less than the Mighty deserved.
The pinnacle of success for the club came with victory at Old Trafford on the last day of the 2010/11 season, a result which saw Blackpool pip United for the league title.
It was an emotional day for McMahon, Armfield, their jubilant players, the dedicated members of The Ten, Blackpool’s vociferous tangerine army and all who had dared dream that with the right groundwork, shrewd investment and infectious spirit of ambition, almost anything was possible.
It was an achievement that would sustain the club and the town for years to come.
He let out a nostalgic sigh as he closed the blinds. He had a New Year’s Eve dinner with representatives of The Ten to look forward to and then a home fixture against fellow title-chasers Liverpool with the trio of Barkhuizen, Miller and Vardy all vying to net Blackpool’s 50th goal of the season...