There have been many local derbies over the years involving Blackpool and Preston North End, but few as thrilling or dramatic as the one that took place in the top flight of English soccer at Deepdale in March, 1956.
It was a high-scoring affair – with the sides sharing six goals and Preston denying the Seasiders victory with a penalty conceded by Jimmy Armfield, and slotted home by Tom Finney in the 89th minute.
It was just one of many memorable matches for Blackpool in what was their best-ever season, which culminated in them taking second place in the table behind Manchester United.
By sharp contrast, it was a season North Enders would quickly want to forget for they flirted dangerously with relegation, ultimately just managing to escape the drop-zone, though not by very much.
The match saw Finney and Stanley Matthews pitted against each other on opposite sides.
There had a been a scare 24 hours earlier when it was reported Matthews was doubtful with a chill.
It was a double-edged sword for Deepdale officials.
The presence of Matthews could add considerably to the gate – but if he played then he would more than likely be a thorn in Preston’s side.
As it happened, early reports about Matthews’ state of health did not prove to be so unfavourable, and he was passed fit to play.
Roy Gratrix also took his place in the Blackpool side after attending the funeral of his father the previous day.
In the innocent language of football journalism of the time, The Gazette’s Don Creedy reported in his blow-by-blow account: “The Preston ground was thronged with people, and there were splashes of tangerine-and-white and white-and-blue everywhere.
“There was, in fact, a cup-tie atmosphere about the match with mascots parading round the ground and bells and rattles being sounded.”
The fans didn’t have to wait too long for the opening goal – there was only one minute gone, in fact,
Blackpool’s attempt at the off-side trap went astray, Finney escaping on the right and finding Tommy ‘Topper’ Thompson – he duly passed the ball to Ken Waterhouse, who beat George Farm in the Blackpool goal, with what Creedy described as a ‘stinging’ drive.
The Seasiders hit back with a series of raids, but they mostly hit a brick-wall.
Joe Dunn put his side in trouble with a bungled clearance, which was seized upon by Armfield,
He fed Matthews, who fooled everyone by deciding to have a shot himself rather than pass to a colleague.
It just fizzed over George Thompson’s cross-bar.
Blackpool had to wait until six minutes before half-time when the equaliser arrived, courtesy of Bill Perry, one of many internationals gracing Deepdale that afternoon.
It was not before time, as Finney had been causing the visitors no end of trouble.
Dave Durie found Perry inside the Preston penalty area, the Blackpool winger finding the net after it struck the North End goalkeeper on the way in.
Durie himself nearly made it 2-1 just before half-time and Thompson, the Preston ‘keeper, had spilled the ball.
But Durie’s time would come, not before Preston had regained the lead with a goal by Tommy Thompson.
Within a minute, Durie had cancelled out that strike to make the score 2-2 and set up a finale when the contest could have swung any way.
A mistake by Gratrix almost cost Blackpool dear.
He made an uncharacteristic, botched job of a clearance.
Equally uncharacteristically, Finney blasted his shot wide, having been handed such a gift.
After 70 minutes, Blackpool took the lead for the first time in the match.
Ernie Taylor swung the ball out to Perry, who managed to reach the ball before it went out of play on the by-line – the South African-born maestro pulled the ball back and launched it high into the air.
Jack Mudie and the Preston goalkeeper went up for it, and the ball squirmed away from Thompson’s grasp.
The ball landed three yards from the line in open space – Durie jumped at the chance and made no mistake by lashing the ball unceremoniously into the back of the Preston net to make it 3-2.
Mudie had come off worse in the collision with goalkeeper Thompson, but was able to resume after a minute’s treatment.
But with a minute left, Blackpool were denied victory when they conceded a penalty.
Willie Forbes tried a shot on an open Blackpool, open, that is, except for Jimmy Armfield, who punched the ball over the bar.
Nowadays, it would have been an immediate red-card against Armfield, who was never sent off in his entire career.
How times and officialdom have changed...
It was left to Finney, who’d had a stormer, to take the spot-kick, and he was not found wanting.
Durie was the Blackpool hero of the hour, a player who was never booked or sent off in his career, enjoying a successful 12 years at Bloomfield Road and making close-on 400 appearances.
By all accounts, Durie was nicknamed ‘Divine’ – politically incorrect as it sounds nowadays, it was because he was a Methodist Sunday school teacher and a leader of his local chapel.
Blackpool were glad of this ‘Divine’ intervention...