Blackpool; the undoubted High Priest amongst tacky holiday destinations, a place where people you’d ordinarily never choose to spend your time with, congregate en masse for an orgy of binge drinking, drugs, fighting, fast food, horrendous cuddly toys and kitsch memorabilia. A Mecca for the Jeremy Kyle generation no less; a place where the benefits brigade make their holy pilgrimage – this is how Castleford might’ve looked had it not been land-locked.
Those who market the town do little to help of course; while more aspiring seaside towns seek to keep the stag do and hen party crowd at bay, Blackpool positively embraces them, adverts in pub windows proclaim that groups of lewd violently drunk, sex starved, gobshites are welcome…maybe it’s in an effort to raise the tone? After all, when the resort’s core demographic of youthful idiots is drawn almost exclusively from Manchester and Merseyside, what harm can it do?
But even with its hard core apostles in toe, Blackpool has the aura of a place dying on its arse, especially on an April weekday when the Pleasure Beach is closed. The sea front is punctuated with vacant properties, which in turned are flanked by tattooists and bargain clearance outlets, the only sign of life being pairs of men, working to lure you in to play an exorbitantly priced darts game in an effort to win something from the rows upon rows of cheap teddies (also available around the corner for fraction of the fee required to win one). As usual, they play an ace card; in this case a 2 foot Smurfette – I could’ve won her too, had I been required to score 180 in 12 darts, rather than 3.
Beyond that, you have Blackpool’s main attractions, its key USPs, the centrepiece and the constituent parts of what make the ‘Golden Mile’ the envy of similarly downtrodden destinations – the tower and the illuminations. Blackpool Tower, once a majestic feat of engineering magnificence, these days has more the appearance of an architecturally interesting telephone mast, while the world famous illuminations even suffer in comparison to the Leeds Christmas lights. You can only get away with polishing a turd for so long – no wonder the town so aggressively campaigned for the UK’s biggest Super Casino; the place is f**ked!
Still, Blackpool has pubs, and plenty of them, so those who braved the Scum hotbed could at least get appropriately shitfaced. Fans who’d travelled and stayed overnight had ample justification for being paralytic by early afternoon – there was absolutely nothing else to do! For our sins, we visited The Manchester, purely on the basis that it’s usually rowdy; it was, clusters of barely articulate Leeds fans, arms aloft, providing spirited vocal accompaniment as ‘Leeds United Calypso’ shimmied its way out of the speaker system. As luck would have it the entire greatest hits album was on heavy rotation – though let’s go a little easier with ‘Football in a Yorkshire Rose’ next time, eh? DJ! – the playlist further adorned with ‘Tom Hark’ and a Hi-NRG dance track that provided an unconventional if perfect backing for the Enoch song.
To the ground, and a surprising contrast; Bloomfield Road is a very tidy stadium from the outside, somewhat helped by a landscaping scheme that most retail park managers would die for. Adorning the main entrance to the North Stand is a statue of Stan Mortenson, however our interest lie around the corner where a (far more impressive) statue of Jimmy Armfield looked outward – one Leeds scarf later and a fitting tribute was complete.
Going back, I think I ought to qualify the remark about how decent the stadium looks, by adding the caveat that the away end is factored out of the equation. Yes, the East Stand is a temporary construction, but with £60m of Premier League cash in the coffers you’d at least expect them to make an effort. The steel sheet fronted turnstiles were a first, and the A4 signs that read ‘Please refrain from bouncing in the stand’, more of a worry; add the Portakabin toilets and the revolutionary ‘un-numbered seats’ layout and you have a ‘unique’ match day experience – I was even able to find some elements of London Road that compare favourably.
As the game kicked-off, the atmosphere was lively; particularly helped by some pockets of all-dayers conducting their own sing-alongs, oblivious that a game was going on in the background. The chant de rigueur of the early stages became ‘If Billy scores, we’re in the sea’, but although he did slot home from an offside position early on, there was little prospect of a moonlight swim; indeed Paynter’s premature exit signalled a chorus of ‘We’re not going in the sea’.
The first-half itself was nothing revelatory; Blackpool edging possession and having the better of the chances, but deprived of Rachubka’s 3 assists, they had to settle for going in level. For their part, Leeds threatened in bursts, one Webber shot forcing Gilks to palm the ball around the post. McCormack also had a decent penalty shout when bundled over by Crainey; the ref looked non-plussed and checked with the assistant who merely looked vacant. ‘Play on’ was the verdict and a new ‘Shit Bald B**stard’ was born on the touchline.
The only other memorable vignette from the opening 45 minutes was a 10 minute burst of ‘Leeds United Calypso’, punctured at the end of each line with a resounding ‘Bates Out! – I can only imagine the frantic efforts of Eddie Gray to drown out the chant from his commentary position amongst the depths of the Leeds support.
After the break, again the stands provided a more compelling spectacle than the game as four Leeds fans in quick succession engaged in fisticuffs in the neighbouring stand; the final fella tumbling down 4 rows of seats, as if paying homage to the legendary fan at the Manor Ground in 1990. In fairness, the Blackpool support offered more than the Reading fans last time out; a genuine passion invigorated ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ – they must still be seething from that 3-1 reverse back in season 1970-71 when we last played them.
Inevitably, back on the pitch, as Blackpool pushed for a late winner, Leeds collapsed. Phillips and Ince both… well, I was gonna say raped the back four, but that would be both distasteful, and also inaccurate, being that term suggests a degree of resistance. It was left to Angel Martinez beat Lees and Bromby to snatch the winner, before O’Dea kept up Warnock’s ‘average’… albeit only on red cards; moments later Clayton clattered another opponent and was swiftly withdrawn.
At least it wasn’t 5…