Seasiders Hall of Fame - managers

Blackpool led by Manager Joe Smith and Captain Harry Johnston 1953
Blackpool led by Manager Joe Smith and Captain Harry Johnston 1953
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THE hunt for the greatest Blackpool FC players is complete – today is all about which managers have made The Gazette’s Hall of Fame.

We have received hundreds of messages on email and Twitter from fans wanting their say.

We have picked the four bosses who received the most votes, and given an honourable mention to all those who just missed out.

The complete Hall of Fame will be in Monday’s Gazette.

In the meantime, here are the four managers to make the grade.


“Myself and Blackpool have a lot in common,” commented Ian Holloway in his very first press conference as Seasiders boss. “We both look better in the dark”. A simple line but it immediately charmed the fans, who have been in love with the manager ever since. Of course a witty quip isn’t enough. You have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. But boy has Holloway done that. He arrived at Bloomfield Road when the club was in a tricky position. Six months earlier, Simon Grayson had unexpectedly departed for Leeds and Tony Parkes and Steve Thompson stepped in to just about keep the Seasiders in the Championship. Parkes was then cast aside. It wasn’t a happy time. Enter stage right Holloway. He had been out of the game for a year after the first management failure of his career at Leicester. But Holloway had used his 12 months in the cold to study the way other teams played. He was particularly taken with the Spanish style, implemented successfully by Roberto Martinez at Swansea. He came up with his own method, an adventurous 4-3-3 with two widemen attacking at pace. In his first training session with the players, he talked about the chickens he kept at his home and used them as an example of how he wanted his team to play. “We thought he’d lost the plot,” recalls Brett Ormerod. Slowly but surely though, the players got to grips with what the manager wanted and after four consecutive draws at the start of the season, things took off. A team which the season before had been struggling to stay out of the relegation zone now challenged for promotion. Having Charlie Adam was a bonus of course. The £500,000 signing from Rangers scored 19 goals, including a superb free kick at Wembley as Pool beat Cardiff in the play-off final to clinch a historic Premier League place. The town went delirious and no wonder. Pool in the top division. It was scarcely believable given the 40-year malaise that had preceded this incredible turn of events. Holloway proved it wasn’t a flash in the pan by almost keeping the Seasiders up (they were desperately unlucky to go down with 39 points), then coming within 90 minutes of a sensational return – beaten in last season’s play-off final by West Ham. Most successful manager since Joe Smith, he has done a truly outstanding job – and hopefully there is more to come.


To understand the scale of Grayson’s (pictured left), achievements, you have to consider the mess he stepped into. Pool were struggling big-time when he took up the reins, initially as caretaker boss, following Colin Hendry’s departure in November 2005. He kept the club up, making 12 signings in the January window, and then added more players in the summer. Crucially he had a real eye for talent. Ian Evatt, Shaun Barker, Wes Hoolahan, Andy Morrell, Ben Burgess, David Fox and Claus Jorgensen all arrived and Pool suddenly began to look like winners. Even so, promotion was still a staggering achievement. Grayson’s men were lagging behind in the race to go up. But 10 victories in the final 10 matches (including play-off wins over Oldham and, at Wembley, Yeovil) secured Championship football. It was a massive moment for the club, an end to almost three decades of lower league football. Not since 1978, 29 years previous, had Pool last been in the top two tiers of English football. Grayson succeeded where the likes of Sam Allardyce, Alan Ball, Stan Ternent, Sam Ellis, Nigel Worthington and Steve McMahon had failed. On limited funds, Grayson then kept the Seasiders in the Championship and they were in 16th place when he departed for Leeds two days before Christmas in 2008. Some fans insists they’ll never forgive him for walking out on the club. I say rubbish. Just salute Grayson for what he did. He was the catalyst for the current success and fully merits his place in the Hall of Fame. Oh, and on top of that, a thoroughly nice bloke.


In April, 10 minutes into Blackpool’s Championship fixture with Leeds, a message flashed on the big screen at Bloomfield Road “Billy Ayre, 1952-2002, gone but never forgotten”. The fans sang ‘Billy Ayre’s Tangerine Army’ for the next 10 minutes. It was a spine-tingling moment, to mark the 10th anniversary of Ayre’s tragic early death. He passed away aged 49, after a battle with lymph node cancer. But among Blackpool fans he will never be forgotten. A giant of a man and a tough-as-old-boots centre-half during a playing career which took him on a tour of lower league clubs (Scarborough, Hartlepool, Halifax, etc), he arrived at Bloomfield Road as assistant to Graham Carr. When Carr was sacked just a few months into the 1990-91 season, Ayre got the main job. His appointment didn’t cause much excitement. No one had really heard of him. Yet within two years he had become the club’s most popular and successful boss since Stan Mortensen in the late 60s. On matchdays he wore the number 15 shirt (in the days when only three substitutes, 12 to 14, were permitted) and before each home game, while walking across the pitch from the tunnel in the south stand to the dugouts, would turn to each stand, raise his fists in the air and scream ‘come on’. After losing the 1991 play-off final at Wembley, on spot kicks to Torquay, Ayre captured how every Pool fan felt by remarking: “I’ve never had a worse moment in my life, never mind football”. But he bounced back to lead the Seasiders to promotion via the play-offs the following year. Kept the club up for the next two seasons, but only narrowly, and was sacked by Owen Oyston in summer 1994. A proper football man, still sadly missed by all.


Before we get to Joe Smith the manager, what about Smith the player. Not many know that he is 10th on the list of England’s top-flight goalscorers with 243 league goals to his name. He bagged 277 goals in 492 games for Bolton, smashed 61 in 70 games for Stockport, then hit 42 in 51 for Darwen. He won five caps for England. After retiring in 1931 at the age of 41, he opted to try his hand at management. A wise decision. After four years at Reading in the Third Division South (when the club twice finished runners up, and third and fourth), Smith was offered the Blackpool job in 1935. According to legend his main reason for accepting was because he loved the seaside. In only his second season, they won promotion to Division One and they stayed there until Smith resigned 23 years later, aged 68, because of health problems. He constructed the 1950s forward line of Mortensen, Matthews and Mudie and guided Pool to their only FA Cup success in 1953. In total he was in charge of Blackpool for 714 Football League games. The Seasiders won 306 (a 42.8 per cent win rate, which makes him the most successful manager in the club’s history). The board rewarded Smith for his services by giving him a hefty “golden handshake” and buying him a house in the town. He died in Blackpool in 1971, a couple of months after celebrating his 82nd birthday.


Stan Mortensen

Hugely popular appointment. A local businessman and town councillor when he was asked to save the sinking ship that was Blackpool following Ron Suart’s departure in 1967. He signed Tony Green and Tommy Hutchison and turned the Seasiders into a force in Division two. They had finished eighth in the 1968-69 campaign, yet the board – impatient for top-flight football – sacked him. In a club which has so often got it wrong over the years, this was one of the worst decisions it ever made.

Les Shannon

Replaced Mortensen, added Fred Pickering, Dave Hatton and Mickey Burns to an already good team, and won promotion, the piece de resistance a 3-0 win at Deepdale (it rubber-stamped Pool’s return to the top division and all but confirmed Preston’s relegation). Unfortunately the following campaign – 1970-71 – was disastrous. Pool made a dreadful start. Shannon changed the team constantly, using 22 players in the first 14 games, and resigned in October after just 17 months in charge.

Allan Brown

Just what the board were thinking of when they ended Brown’s tenure as manager halfway through the 1978-79 is anybody’s guess. The team and the season were shaping up nicely. They were playing some lovely football and were in the promotion shake up when, inexplicably, after Pool had scored five in both their previous home games, Brown was sacked. The reasons still aren’t known, though it is clear Brown had some sort of disagreement with the board. The effect was catastrophic. Blackpool won only one more game and were relegated to Division Three for the first time. It took them 29 years, until 2007, to get back up. Brown came back as boss in 1981 after Alan Ball’s unsuccessful stint but his return didn’t have the desired effect. Died in April last year, aged 84.

Bob Stokoe

Two stints as boss, from 1970-73 and 1978-79. His first was the better of the two, winning the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1971. Caused unrest when he sold Tony Green, Tommy Hutchison and Fred Pickering but the team were well placed for promotion when he suddenly resigned and went to Sunderland. He resigned again a year into his second spell. Not overwhelmingly popular with the fans but an effective and determined manager.

Ron Suart

Had the unenviable task of filling Joe Smith’s huge boots but did it pretty well, lasting nine seasons between 1958 and 67. Bought players such as Alan Ball and Ray Charnley to the club. But after Pool were relegated to Division Two for the first time in 30 years, he offered to resign, an offer that was accepted.

Steve McMahon

Not everyone’s cup of tea as a person but did bring some silverware to Bloomfield Road (two LDV Vans Trophies – 2002 and 04) and had the team playing some lovely football on limited resources.

Tony Parkes

Technically this one doesn’t count as he was never officially appointed boss. But my goodness Parkes, along with Steve Thompson, did a heroic job keeping Pool in the Championship. Picking up the debris following Simon Grayson’s unexpected departure, Parkes used all his experience to ensure the club not only avoided relegation but ended up finishing higher than they had under Grayson the previous season. Also signed Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell on loan, plus brought Brett Ormerod back.