Time to stop worrying about failing to beat the Mags and losing Darren Bent? The season resumes and there’s a lot of work our players need to do between now and May. Cast your minds back to last May, though. When Blackpool faced Cardiff in the Wembley playoffs, Salut! Sunderland supported the Tangerines, partly for the romance of it and partly because of two men: Jimmy Armfield, for obvious reasons, and an old pal from Belfast, the writer, broadcaster and (see footnote) occasional lyricist Neil Johnston*, who has always supported them. Jimmy did the first Who are You? – a gem: click here to see it. Now Neil, a respected figure in Irish music and deeply involved in the annual Ballyshannon Folk Festival, does the honours before the return game at Bloomfield Road, which his affinity is necessarily a distant emotion …
Salut! Sunderland: Success story of the Premier’s promoted clubs – or a Hull city disaster waiting to happen – can Blackpool keep going without a calamitous collapse in the second half of the season?
I think they can stay up providing they don’t lose key players like Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell. But their tendency to concede late goals is a worry (NB: question posed and answered before any dealings in the transfer market – ed).
What is the secret of Blackpool’s remarkable results so far, Holloway’s ability to life the games of ordinary players or a far better squad than we all supposed?
Holloway for Prime Minister! The man’s a motivating marvel, rather like Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. So in the words of the sea shanty, Heave away, Holloway. Next stop Europe.
What were your minimum and maximum expectations when the season began?
All I hoped for was that they could survive their first season in the premiership. After that, well, who knows? As the manager put it so eloquently, we may have bitten off more than we can chew, but we’re chewing as fast as we can. Boy, can he talk the talk!!
Ulstermen traditionally look across the water at Celtic or Rangers, and/or a big English club. What on earth made you choose Blackpool?
I have followed Blackpool passionately since I was 10 years old when in 1953, they won the greatest cup final of all time. I remember as a boy writing to the club to ask for my hero Stanley Matthews’s autograph. They sent me a photograph of him in the middle of one of his famous body swerves. I treasured it for years.
Have you ever made it to Bloomfield Road?
No, I’ve never made it to Bloomfield Road. I don’t need to. You don’t have to travel to live the dream. I was on my home from Donegal to Belfast on the day last season when they won promotion to the Premiership in the play-offs. When the news was announced on the radio, such were the celebrations that I nearly drove into Lough Erne.
They are not live on TV as much as some clubs – Wembley presumably being an extraordinary exception – so how do you keep tabs on their performances and does a bad result ruin your day?
At least they get more coverage now. When they were in the championship, you were lucky if their match reports were more than a few paragraphs. Does a bad result ruin my day? Ask my wife.
You’ve mentioned the Matthews Final. What other special memories do you have of Matthews and the other Stan, Stan, Mortensen and indeed your predecessor in this slot, Jimmy Armfield?
I remember when they were a power in the land, second only to the great Man United side, pre-Munich, in the late ‘50s. The class of that superb forward line (remember forward lines) vibrates in the memory – Matthews, Taylor, Mortensen, Mudie, Perry. Jimmy Armfield was another childhood idol. I still enjoy his insightful summaries on radio.
Name this season’s top four in order, and the bottom three. Assuming neither Blackpool nor Sunderland featured in either list, where will they finish?
Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea: bottom three – West Ham, Wigan, Wolverhampton.
Blackpool 13th, Sunderland 10th.
Is the 2010 World Cup a grim memory or cannot you wait for the next one?
I’m agog with indifference. England’s problems are not mine!
Is it time to abandon high-minded ideas about cheating – diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents booked or sent off etc – and accept it as part of the modern game or should we continue to try to stamp it out?
I hope the day will never come when cheating is accepted as part of the modern game but it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. To tell you the truth,. I don’t watch football all that much now, unless of course, Blackpool are involved. Sad to say but it looks like the snarling millionaires are winning.
What will the score be in our match?
It will be 1-1.
* Neil Johnston on Neil Johnston
When the seasiders win on a Saturday afternoon, I walk tall. No other result interests me. Still tangerine crazy after all these years!
I am a retired journalist (not sports). One minor claim to fame: he wrote the lyrics for a href=”http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=27624″>Wrap it Up, recorded by Four Men and a Dog, and for years received small cheques for royalties from as far afield as Iceland. During his reporting days, he punished a snarling news editor from another paper by ringing him up and playing a recording of the uillean pipes – an acquired taste in any circumstances – at full, ear-slitting volume.”
Salut! Sunderland adds: “Retired journalist (not sports) is a ludicrous understatement. Neil was a first -rate reporter for the Belfast Telegraph, covering the grimmest of events with courage and decency, and also wrote regularly on the arts, especially Irish music. His expertise was acknowledged when BBC Radio Ulster commissioned a series called The Wrong Note, about musicians and singers from the Protestant community from which he also came.
See also: this article prior to the Wembley playoff: High season for the Seasiders?
Interview: Colin Randall