A look ahead to the first league game be­tween Black­pool and Fleet­wood

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Mark Shar­man

AT ANY point in the last 100 years or so, a match be­tween Black­pool and Fleet­wood Town would have been like a pil­low fight with your lit­tle brother. Fun, but no con­test.

By any mea­sure, the two clubs have been ex­ist­ing in dif­fer­ent foot­ball worlds, even though they’re sep­a­rated by a mere £2.50 tram ride along the Fylde Coast.

So, when they come face to face next Satur­day, on equal terms in their firstever Foot­ball League meet­ing, it will be the day’s most un­likely fix­ture. It will also pro­vide the stark­est of re­minders of how quickly for­tunes change in sport. While Fleet­wood have risen through six rapid pro­mo­tions from the North West Coun­ties League, Black­pool have come tum­bling the other way to meet them. Four years ago, Pool were in the Premier League and Fleet­wood, the Cod Army, were in the Con­fer­ence. How the tide can turn.

Jimmy Arm­field CBE, Black­pool’s great­est ser­vant, re­calls rue­fully that, in his play­ing days, it was Pool’s third team that were likely to meet Fleet­wood. He ad­mits he wakes up in the night think­ing about his club’s plight.

“It sad­dens me greatly,” he says, “but in foot­ball you have to be a re­al­ist. I know what can hap­pen. Look at teams like Grimsby, Lin­coln and Wrex­ham play­ing in the Con­fer­ence.”

At Fleet­wood, they make no bones about it: this is the club’s big­gest game of all time. Their new man­ager Steven Press­ley says: “It’s mas­sive. Win­ning a derby can give you mo­men­tum. It can lift con­fi­dence…the play­ers, the supporters, ev­ery­one at the club.”

Back down the tram­line, Black­pool’s Golden Mile is de­serted on a grey and wind-swept Novem­ber af­ter­noon, a far cry from the glo­ri­ous day in May 2010 when Ian Hol­loway’s pro­mo­tion win­ners were cheered down this very promenade by 100,000 peo­ple. It’s a chilly metaphor for the Tan­ger­ine demise.


Two rel­e­ga­tions later and a board at log­ger­heads with a sec­tion of the fans, it’s a tough gig for man­ager Neil McDon­ald. Arm­field has spo­ken to him and says he’s “a good guy”, but the im­me­di­ate task is ob­vi­ous: “He has to check the slide.

“There’s still a foot­ball pub­lic here. The own­ers and the fans need to pull to­gether. I’ve spo­ken to both sides, but it’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.”

If that’s an un­der­state­ment, so too is Arm­field’s ex­pres­sion of dis­ap­point­ment at Black­pool’s state of af­fairs.

This is a man who came to the town as a wartime evac­uee with a gas mask and a la­bel and went on to play 627 games for the club.

He also cap­tained Eng­land on 15 of his 43 ap­pear­ances and is the proud owner of a World Cup win­ner’s medal.

His statue stands out­side Bloom­field Road and the south stand in the bright mod­ern sta­dium is named in his hon­our.

At 80 and with in­ter­ests rang­ing from play­ing the church or­gan to work­ing with the po­lice against crime in Lan­cashire, to broad­cast­ing on the BBC, Arm­field has seen it all.

“Black­pool was a boom town in the Fifties. Hol­i­day­mak­ers came in their droves from the mills and the mines – and foot­ball was a huge at­trac­tion here,” he re­mem­bers.

“In Stan­ley Matthews, we had the most fa­mous foot­baller in the world. Fa­thers would bring their sons just to see him play. Stan was the ul­ti­mate pro­fes­sional – I learned more from him than any­one else.

“But the econ­omy of an area is re­flected in the team and only the big cities can com­pete now, though Ian Hol­loway showed what can still be achieved.”

On his last three vis­its to Bloom­field Road, Arm­field hasn’t been treated to a home goal, but he plans to be there for the in­au­gu­ral Fylde Coast derby next week, con­cerned but op­ti­mistic of a change in for­tune.

Mean­while, as Fleet­wood pre­pare for their big day out, man­ager Press­ley can point to his own ex­pe­ri­ence of der­bies, at a some­what higher level.

He’s one of the few men who’ve played for both Rangers and Celtic in Old Firm matches. And – se­ri­ously - he can see sim­i­lar­i­ties.


“Ob­vi­ously the crowds, the build-up, the me­dia hype are all much big­ger in Glas­gow,” he says, “but if you speak to Fleet­wood supporters the feel­ing here is the same. There’s a real de­sire to win.”

That de­sire is no doubt height­ened by the need for points, as both clubs are hov­er­ing around the base of League One, but there’s also the spirit of the un­der­dog in search of its day. Apart from the last four sea­sons, Fleet­wood’s en­tire history since 1908 is in Non-League, while their grander neigh­bours have won the FA Cup and have a Hall of Fame fea­tur­ing true Eng­land greats like the afore­men­tioned Sir Stan­ley Matthews, Sir Stan Mortensen, Arm­field and Alan Ball.


To add more vine­gar, many of the Cod Army’s back­room staff, in­clud­ing the chair­man, Andy Pil­ley, are for­mer Black­pool fans.

They’re all keen to main­tain their up­wardly mo­bile march, and at the train­ing ground builders are com­plet­ing a spank­ing new com­plex to re­place the cur­rent pile of con­verted freight con­tain­ers.

The new fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing a 4G pitch, will also be open for com­mu­nity use – an im­por­tant part of the de­vel­op­ment plan.

“I’m really en­joy­ing it here. It’s an am­bi­tious club,“says Press­ley.

“In pre­vi­ous jobs I’ve had to cut the wage bill by 75 and 60 per cent re­spec­tively. Here, I know what I have to work with. It’s about tac­tics, anal­y­sis and try­ing to teach and im­prove young play­ers. I take pride in that.”

As the vis­i­tor next week, Press­ley gets the fi­nal word on der­bies.

He’s talk­ing pas­sion and ri­valry and ad­mits that cer­tain peo­ple of a Rangers per­sua­sion haven’t spo­ken to him since he signed for Celtic nine years ago.

And he re­calls the time a Rangers keeper, re­spon­si­ble for two Celtic two goals, was as­saulted by wait­ing fans at train­ing the fol­low­ing Mon­day.

He’s ex­pect­ing an in­tense con­test be­tween his new team and their neigh­bours in the big house down the road, but one that should be a lit­tle more

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

DERBY DAY MEM­O­RIES: Fleet­wood boss Steven Press­ley sees par­al­lels with his Old Firm play­ing days, be­low THE MAS­TER: Jimmy Arm­field with Black­pool’s Char­lie Adam, man­ager Ian Hol­loway, Gary Tay­lorFletcher and Brett Ormerod in 2010 WRESTLING: Fleet­wood’s Peter Ca­vanagh, left, tus­sles with Black­pool’s Chris Basham in the FA Cup in 2012

ALL LIT UP: Fans cel­e­brate with a flare af­ter Matt Phillips scores for Black­pool in the FA Cup at Fleet­wood. The visi­tors won 5-1

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