Blackpool Football Club in the 1990s: Part One

Blackpool 1990s Nigel Worthington Gary Megson

The first (half) season of the new millennium saw Blackpool FC suffer exactly the same fate as that of a decade earlier: relegation to the bottom tier of the Football League.

The ten years in between these particular falls from grace saw a single promotion, two playoff failures, two determined pushes for relegation back to the basement and a turnover of six full-time managers with a further three in place in a caretaker or temporary capacity.

Kicking off our look at these ten sometimes rather mundane years in the history of the Tangerines, we go back to the 1989-90 season.

Bloomfield Road, home of Blackpool FC since 1901 was falling down. It had become more than an eyesore – it was a complete embarrassment with rust and holes prevalent everywhere. The Kop, which had once housed 15,000 undercover, was now earmarked for demolition due to safety concerns. A roof had been added in 1968 only to be subsequently removed in 1981 due to running repairs being deemed too costly.

On the pitch, matters were just as bad, with the side finishing the 80s in the relegation zone. Unable to turn matters around in the New Year, Blackpool under the stewardship of Jimmy Mullen, finished in a dismal 23rd place five points from safety. The fact that the leading scorer was Andy Garner who mustered a measly eight in the league all season speaks volumes perhaps.

Ironically, although the league season was awful in 1989-90 Blackpool embarked on an impressive FA Cup run that saw them included the draw for the quarter-finals.

Drawn against Queens Park Rangers in the fifth round, the Tangerines took their First Division opponents to two replays before finally succumbing to a 3-0 defeat and so missing out on a potential home quarter-final match-up with holders Liverpool.

One game before the end of the season, with relegation a certainty, Jimmy Mullen was sacked and replaced by director, Tom White, whose footballing brother, John, was tragically killed by lightning whilst a Tottenham Hotspur player in the 1960s.

Graham Carr was installed as manager in time for the 1990-91 season in a strange sideways move. Carr had been in charge at Northampton until they had been relegated alongside Blackpool from the third division in 1990, at which point he was given the sack.

Quite why Blackpool decided to sack one manager who had just overseen a relegation to the basement and replace him with another, has never been explained.

Unsurprisingly, hopes weren’t high for the coming season and so it came to pass that Carr lasted just sixteen matches before his dismissal. At the time Blackpool were just six places off the bottom and in a potential battle for league survival.

In stepped Billy Ayre and a legend was born. To this day songs are sung about Billy and his time in charge. Recognising the club was in dire straits, Ayre set about rebuilding the side and the team remained unbeaten in twenty-five out of the next twenty-nine games. This run included a club record thirteen consecutive home victories that took Blackpool into the last day of the season needing only a point to secure promotion and knowing that a victory could well see them crowned champions depending on results elsewhere.

As it transpired, however, a final day defeat consigned Blackpool to the playoffs and although Scunthorpe were defeated in the semi-finals, it was Blackpool’s lot to become the first side to be denied promotion by way of defeat in a play-off final penalty shoot-out. Torquay United prevailing following a 2-2 draw.

1990-91 again saw first division opposition in the FA Cup arrive at Bloomfield Road when Tottenham Hotspur, led by Blackpool old boy Paul Stewart, won a tight third round match by the only goal of the game.

The following season, 1991-92, was a more consistent one with journeyman Dave Bamber banging in twenty-eight league goals and thirty-six in total. Always in and around the top four, Blackpool once again went into the final Saturday of the season needing to take a point to clinch promotion, and once again failed to do so.

A 2-0 defeat at Lincoln meant the playoffs once more, but this time it was Blackpool that won on penalties in the final. Having overcome Barnet in the semi-finals, a 1-1 Wembley stalemate with Scunthorpe was decided from the spot and Blackpool had their third-flight status restored after a two-year hiatus.

That season saw Alan Wright make the last of his 98 league appearances before signing for Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers. Also appearing in the side was Blackpool’s youngest ever debutant, Trevor Sinclair, who would later go onto play for England in the 2002 World Cup finals.

The 1992-93 season was a season-long battle against relegation which Blackpool eventually won, finishing in eighteenth place, four points ahead of local rivals, Preston, who occupied the last relegation spot. With the ageing Dave Bamber’s appearances becoming restricted, the leading goal scorer that season was David Eyres, who notched sixteen league goals.

It was around this time that Blackpool started looking for alternatives to playing at a decrepit Bloomfield Road. Plans were drawn up and planning permission was sought to develop nearby Whyndyke Farm and establish a state of the art stadium combined with a hotel and leisure centre. Initial plans were given the go-ahead by the council and for a while, a brand new stadium looked a real possibility.

However, problems with funding and later obtaining permits needed meant the deal was put on the back burner. When it was ready to be revitalised, Blackpool’s chairman, a certain Owen Oyston, was otherwise occupied, as we shall see later.

With Dave Bamber’s appearances now few and far between, and David Eyres electing to join former manager Jimmy Mullen at Burnley in the summer of 1993, prospects once again looked bleak for Blackpool as 1993-94 kicked off.

However, the season started well and as late as December 1993 the Seasiders were sitting in fourth place. A push for at least the playoffs seemed a possibility for the second half of the season, but instead, Blackpool went on a dreadful run and relegation was only avoided courtesy of victory at home to Leyton Orient coupled with a Fulham defeat on the final day of the season.

Top goalscorer this season was Andy Watson with twenty league goals. Watson had been purchased by the club as a result of an innovative scheme called “Buy a Player Match”.

The idea was that all the gate receipts of one particular match be held over to buy a player. The match in question was a 2-2 draw with Rotherham which drew a higher than average crowd of 6,144 and so generated sufficient funds to afford Watson’s transfer from Carlisle United.

Watson’s goals were not enough to save Billy Ayre from the sack, unfortunately, and in the close season, he became the first victim in a long line of unpopular decisions made by chairman and owner, Owen Oyston.

Into the breach and into his first job in English management stepped none other than one Sam Allardyce.

His two-year reign as manager was to end in such disarray and circumstances so controversial that even now, more than two decades on, whispers continue to abound the north-west of England with regards to the exact circumstances of his eventual dismissal.

All of that was still to come in 1994 as Allardyce set out rebuilding and reshaping the Blackpool side. Amongst the changes he made was a complete clear-out of the coaching staff and most of the playing staff, too. In came such players as Andy Preece and Steve Banks who would both go onto play more than a century of league games for the club.

A better season that had gone before followed and Blackpool remained on the fringes of the play-off places for three-quarters of the season. A bad run of just a solitary victory in the last twelve games, though, meant a disappointing twelfth-place finish was the best the side could muster.

Top goal scorer in 1994-95 was Tony Ellis who would go onto play 174 times for Blackpool, scoring 64 times. In 2006, Ellis was inducted into the Blackpool FC Hall of Fame.

The following season, 1995-96, has gone down as one of the most infamous in the history of Blackpool FC, and we shall look at that in more depth in the next part of this three-part series.