Life is about more than annoying those hypersensitive fans of Arsenal. There’s a potentially terrific game today to decide who takes the third vacant slot in the Premier League …
Why should we want Blackpool to beat Cardiff at Wembley and take Premier League football to the Lancashire seaside, if only for one season?
First, let me discount the reasons some might give. Wanting Ian Holloway’s Blackpool to win is not, for me, based on anti-Cardiff sentiment, whatever is said about their fans and Michael Chopra.
City supporters certainly have a poor reputation.
Most clubs have a contingent, usually measured between five and 10 per cent, with manners that would offend a caveman. A few are commonly thought to have greater percentages of morons among their regular support, and Cardiff are often lumped into that category. But I have had City-supporting mates in the past and am sure the vast majority of those following their club to Wembley despise yobbishness as heartily as I do.
As for Chopra, only he can tell us what went through his mind when he gave every impression of not wanting to score for Sunderland at St James’ Park.
But when two clubs meet in an important match, and we have no natural cause to support either, there is sometimes a temptation to make it more interesting by coming up with reasons for hoping for this or that outcome. Accordingly Salut! Sunderland has positive rather than negative reasons for wanting Blackpool to win the Championship playoff final.
First, there is the romance of football. Some of us grew up in an age when Blackpool still played in the top flight and had internationals in the team. It would be great to see them come from what seems like nowhere to reclaim that place. If they were then able to do well enough to survive for a second season – with usual caveats about it not being at our expense – so much the better. Cardiff have history, but less romance.
I am also thinking of an old pal in Belfast, Neil Johnston, who bucked the Ulster trend (supporting one of the Old Firm, according to politics/religion, or offering gloryseeking allegiance to whoever is near the top of the English Premier) and resolved when young to follow Blackpool. I imagine him today, in a bar down the Lisburn Road or out west in Donegal, nursing a pint of stout and tot of Bushmills while shouting on his team.
And then there is Jimmy Armfield. More than anything, it is for him that I want Blackpool to win.
The way Jimmy summarises games, the no-nonsense, no-shrieking spot judgements he makes, and the reassuring, honest delivery clinch it. His, for me, is the voice of English football as Brian Johnston’s entirely different tones were the voice of English cricket.
But Jimmy was also a player, a one-club player and that club was Blackpool. On the last occasion Bloomfield Road hosted top division football, back in 1971, Jimmy was there. It was his 569th game for the club, his last and Blackpool’s last in the top flight. They drew 1-1 to Man Utd but, as he told Ian Ladyman in a lovely interview in the Daily Mail, “we were bottom by a mile”.
Jimmy was at one time known as the best right-back in the world, and won 43 England caps, 15 as captain.
He also seems, from all accounts, to be a thoroughly decent bloke. A former colleague remembers him as a stalwart of the Blackpool branch of the journalists’ union, the NUJ, and that endears him to me, too.
So I hope, with no malice towards Cardiff City (whose moral claim to promotion is greater), that Jimmy is a happy man tonight. And that Sunderland take six points a season off Blackpool for as long as they stay up.