Someone said to me the other day that they felt that the World Cup was now something of an anti-climax. The Champions League final, between Inter Milan and Barcelona, was fairly bland and predictable by comparison. Well, I won’t be at the World Cup in South Africa: nor was I at the Champions League game. I was, however, at the game which eclipsed it, and possibly all previous games of the same ilk over the years. At Wembley, on 22nd May 2010, Blackpool and Cardiff City put on a show.
Both Patrick and I had attended both legs of the semi-final against Nottingham Forest, perennial favourites and under-achievers. Their poor away form made Blackpool favourites to take a lead to the City Ground,and so they did. Keith Southern’s mishit shot cancelled out Chris Cohen’s wonder strike – and the role of hero was accorded to Charlie Adam, who slotted a second half penalty to give Blackpool the slenderest of advantages. At the final whistle – effectively half time – Billy Davies clearly felt he had the tie under control, and no-one could have blamed him. He walked to the Forest fans, punching the air. Who could blame him, given Forest’s superlative home record. Why, the last team to beat them at home was….Blackpool, and that was a long time ago.
The City ground was partisan, intimidating, nervy. Earnshaw’s early strike after a mistake by Alex Baptiste levelled the tie, and most Forest fans looked forward to the romp which would ensue. But Blackpool under Holloway do not fold, and towards the end of the first half they were playing the better football. Neverthless, the question was where the goals would come from. What followed was the first suggestion that this was no ordinary football night.
In the second half, Blackpool produced a display of counter attacking football which was incisive, fruitful and ultimately destructive. First Campbell, latching on to a perfect through ball, lifted the ball over Camp from a narrow angle – 2-3. Then Earnshaw again for Forest, first to pounce on a loose ball in the area – I’m not sure that Gilks saw it – 3-3. Critically at this point, Dobbie replaced the industrious Ormerod, and within a few minutes lashed a David Vaughan pass into the net via a cruel deflection from a defender – 3-4. Then the best goal of the night – Campbell, released on the right, cut inside and exchanges passes with the brilliant Dobbie before curling an exquisite finish beyond Camp – 3-5. Campbell’s – and Blackpool’s – joy was complete when Dobbie’s shot was parried by Camp into the path of the prowling Campbell – 3-6. Adebola’s consolation strike was just that – 4-6 on aggregate. As befits these things, one side went into rapture, the other into mourning.
Cardiff’s journey could not have been more different. A one goal lead at the Walker Stadium, courtesy of a free kick from the excellent Whittingham, gave them a distinct from the home leg, but Leicester are nothing if not courageous. In the end, Cardiff edged it on penalties, and were immediately installed as Wembley favourites. No clue was to be found from the League matches that season – both draws. Blackpool could breathe a couple of sighs of relief – a Leicester win would have condemned Campbell to a place on the bench, whilst Charlie Adam had been tap-dancing on the trap door of 14 bookings for the season. However, both were able to play.
Wembley was incredible. 80,000 fans – half in tangerine, half in blue. The temperature at pitch level was 106.7 degrees Farenheit. Blackpool, forbidden from wearing their first choice kit, turned to the white shirts and tangerine shorts which had served them so well against Forest, with Tangerine socks.
The game was eight minutes old when the Cardiff threat was unleashed. The through ball to Chopra was wonderful, the finish even better. For the third match in a row, Blackpool had gone behind. It took four minutes for Blackpool to level. Player of the season Charlie Adam stepped up for a free kick, some thirty yards out and to the right, and curled a sublime free kick into the corner of the net with as near perfect a strike as anyone could wish. Attach another name to that goal – Messi, Iniesta, Ronaldo, perhaps – and the words ‘world class’ would have been on people’s lips. Blackpool settled and started to play the way they had against Forest, operating well down either flank through the marauding Coleman and Crainey. But again it was Cardiff who struck – this time Ledley with a lethal finish. Surely he will grace the Premier League next year.
The next ten minutes decided the match. Vaughan’s wicked, floating corner not cleared, Evatt’s overhead effort blacked on the line, Taylor-Fletcher was first to the ball, and his header squeezed into the corner. Then Campbell wormed his way into the area, holding off the attentions of two Cardiff defenders. As he lost his balance the ball squirted wide to Ormerod, who rolled back the years by hitting a low shot through the keeper’s legs – it was 3-2. And that’s the way it stayed, despite Chopra hitting the bar in a second half which, given the heat, was never going to live up to the first.
Once again, the final whistle brought with it two contrasting and immediate emotions – the immediate emptying of the Cardiff end of the ground, the fanatical and prolonged celebrations in the Blackpool end. A dream which had been ridiculed, and scorned even by Blackpool fans had come to fruition a year early – Valeri Belokon had forecast four years earlier that we would be in the Premier League in five years.
Now there are questions – about survival, about competing with big money, about spirit versus market value. Most commentators have said that it is ‘good for the game’ but that Blackpool will not last long. Right now, we don’t know what will happen. All we do know is that Blackpool is once again on the map – not just team, but town. My lasting hope for this most romantic of all football tales is that Blackpool the town – Blackpool the people – will be able to lift their heads, to look at the town they live in, and say ‘we’re better than this.’ Blackpool itself, investing wisely, could well reap the rewards of the footballing success which has come its way. For me, a supporter for over forty years, there are simply no words to describe my pride and my joy.