Plans to celebrate the life of Blackpool great Billy Ayre on 20th anniversary of his passing

Today marks 20 years to the day since one of Blackpool’s most popular managers tragically passed away.

Saturday, 16th April 2022, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 16th April 2022, 8:10 am

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It was on this day in 2002 that Billy Ayre died after a battle with cancer, just under a month shy of his 50th birthday.

To mark the occasion, Billy’s widow Elaine and children David and Rachel have been invited to Easter Monday’s game against Birmingham City at Bloomfield Road.

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Billy Ayre is still held in high regard by Blackpool fans to this day

The Ayre family will watch the fixture from the hospitality section, while the match day programme will be dedicated to their father.

Ayre led the Seasiders to successive play-off finals after taking charge of the club in 1990, winning promotion at the second attempt.

But it was his inspirational character and personality that caught the hearts and minds of Blackpool fans and to this day he is remembered fondly by all Seasiders.

Known for his iconic clenched fist to stir up the supporters, Ayre - alongside Ian Holloway and Neil Critchley - is one of Blackpool’s most popular managers of recent times.

Ayre pictured in the dugout in 1992

On what will inevitably be a bittersweet occasion for the Ayre family, his son David says it will be a great opportunity for people to celebrate the life of his father.

“The club have kindly put us in hospitality for the match, so myself, Rachel, my mum and my wife will all be coming across for the match which we’re all looking forward to,” he told The Gazette.

“I think we’ve also got Ginge (Mike Davies) and Dave Bamber in the box with us as well, which will be nice!

“It’s an incredible opportunity for us to come somewhere where he’s still so highly regarded. It will be great to share the experience with people who knew him so well.

Ayre pictured with his family, his wife Elaine and children David and Rachel

“It’s obviously a massive milestone and one that’s been looming over us for a while now, so to do something which is so positive and celebrate his life is pretty special.

“My Dad managed to build a rapport with all of the clubs he spent time with but he definitely felt the strongest connection with Blackpool.

“There was something special there and the fans seemed to match my Dad’s energy and the players really rallied around and played into it. The combination of that meant Blackpool always held a special place in his heart.

“If you look back to some of the stories from the time and the regard those players still hold him in to this day, it’s testament to the strong relationship that was built while he was there.”

David was only six years old when he accompanied his father in the pre-match walk out at Wembley for the Fourth Division play-off final against Scunthorpe United.

A mascot on the day, David watched on as the Seasiders made up for their agonising play-off final defeat the previous season to win promotion via a nail-biting penalty shootout.

“It’s something I still have really fond memories of, because I can still remember large portions of that day really clearly,” David added.

“I remember standing in the tunnel before the match, someone asking me for an autograph as a six-year-old, which was a bit bewildering, and the memory of Tony Rodwell kicking the ball onto the back of my head when I was in the goal getting my ball after the match.

“It was a really good day, an amazing experience and I still remember seeing my auntie crying in the stand afterwards and me not understanding why, so she had to explain they were happy tears.”

David, his family and members of Billy Ayre’s promotion-winning squad will get the chance to mark the 30th anniversary with supporters next month when a special event is held at Bloomfield Road.

The three-course dinner is being organised by John Cross, chairman of Blackpool’s Former Players’ Association (FPA), who has great memories of Ayre’s tenure as Blackpool manager.

“Billy was a man of the people, all the fans loved him,” he told The Gazette.

“Given the constraints he had to work under, he did an incredible job. He’s probably the most popular manager of recent times.

“He was a really good lad and he was very popular at his other clubs like Halifax and Mansfield, which says it all. The worst thing we ever did was get rid of Billy Ayre.”

Cross added: “The night we lost against Torquay at Wembley in 1991 was an absolute horrendous night.

“It was an 8pm kick-off, we played the full 90, extra-time and penalties and we came out of Wembley absolutely gutted because Dave Bamber had nearly hit the corner flag with his penalty. All the service stations were shut on the way home, so it was just a miserable, miserable night.

“But the following year we went again but this time it was a red-hot day. It went to penalties again but this time good old Jason White hammered it over the bar.”

The 30th anniversary dinner is being held on Friday, May 20 at the Sir Stanley Matthews Lounge at Bloomfield Road.

Tickets are priced at £30, with proceeds from the night going to the Gary Parkinson Foundation and Brian House Children’s Hospice.

The night will also include a 20-minute film plus interviews with the former players, conducted by MC Tony Parr.

A raffle and auction will be held, while limited edition badges – some including a Billy Ayre number 15 shirt – will also be up for sale.

To buy a ticket, call John Cross on 07984 940879 or email [email protected]