It was a beautifully dull and dreary 1978 day in Lancashire for the Division Two derby between Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers. We have dubbed it “The Battle of The ‘Blacks’ Where Neither Team Wear Black”.
The ‘burn’ part of Blackburn means stream and the ‘pool’ part of Blackpool means pool, so both names are descriptive of dark water features. The rain and mud that February day were therefore appropriate, along with the sparsely covered, windswept terraces which stood as an appropriately unglamorous poster child for everything that was glorious about old school football.
The two towns are separated by Preston in the middle (along with some classically named English places such as Ashton-On-Ribble) and Preston North End are in fact Blackpool’s main local enemies. This rivalry apparently started in the quaint 1950’s with quaint arguments over whether Stanley Matthews was better than Tom Finney, but had sinisterly evolved by May ’78 (a sinister time) to the stabbing and death of a Preston fan during clashes between supporters of the two clubs at a Vibrators gig (a popular musical variety troop of the day).
The rivalry with Blackburn progressed similarly. In the simpler days of quaintness, the crowds at football matches looked very different to what you would soon come to expect of the terraces. This is evident by a 1960 crowd shot of Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road at a game against Blackburn where we see a selection of respectable gentleman, and even ladies, standing happily and politely:
But “the quaint” was already dead when the two sides met at the same venue eight years later. It is well known that the events of the 1966 World Cup final, where some people were on the pitch, single-handedly robbed the innocence from English supporter culture and unleashed a sort of demon that would writhe uncontrollably for the next few decades, and while most people associate hooliganism with the 70’s and 80’s, there were already many in the late 60’s who were going to games not for the football. This was certainly the case for the Blackburn supporter(s) who threw ammonia at the Blackpool Spion Kop during an October 1968 game sending several people to hospital. Further incidents occurred after the match outside the ground and the events of the day were deemed “alarming and frightening developments” in football hooliganism.
The demographic of football supporters at games changed drastically over the coming years as the presence of disaffected youth at games grew and the stern, calming older crowd phased themselves out as society evolved. It soon became commonplace for large mobs to rove through the open terraces and increasingly onto the pitch in search of adventure, mischief, trying to get games called off when their side was losing, and fighting each other. But like at the World Cup ’66 final, and the Wales-Scotland game the same year that we covered in People On The Pitch #2, some pitch invasions were just spontaneous expressions of pure joy. While our featured match contains just that rather than poisonous terrorist attacks, it also does a good job of highlighting the normality of supporter disobedience at the time.
The first shot we get from the game shows the aforementioned Spion Kop end of Bloomfield Road. The home Blackpool supporters are on the left, visiting Blackburn supporters on the right. Although you wouldn’t know it from the footage, a roof covered a large part of the terrace further back up which may explain the open spaces at the front of the Blackpool section on this rainy day. Presumably the ammonia incident from ten years earlier hadn’t been forgotten, but enough that the two sets of fans don’t seem particularly interested in each other (although I’m sure there was plenty of unreported activity beyond our limited footage).
The first of many goals for the day, Blackpool score early on (a fine goal but since this website isn’t about the actual football, I refuse to comment on that). But the main thing here to observe is the activity in the Blackburn section, as we see a mini surge from what I can only assume was a firm of lads ether arriving late or just casually causing ructions:
After another Blackpool goal, we get a nice look at the elated abandon of some young terrace goers in the background as the players celebrate:
There are also some interesting things to note around the side of the pitch. By the corner of the ground in the Kop end there is a random alphabet which would make more sense if it corresponded to rows of seats or something, but not in a small corner of a terrace:
A magnificent photo of Blackpool playing on front of a packed Kop in the 60’s shows that the alphabet corner was in existence then, probably for many years before that, and only extends to letter P. Despite my feigned bafflement, I am sure there is a perfectly logical reason for all of this.
Edit: And we have our answer. Many thanks to reader Nicholas Young, among a couple of others, for supplying this perfectly logical reason for the letters:
I think the letters in front of the Kop are for giving out half-time scores. The back of that match program would give that days fixtures a corresponding letter. Then at half time man in white coats would come out and put the scores next to each letter. They used to do the same thing at Everton. In the days when all the games kicked of at 3pm on a Saturday and PAs didn’t work very well.
In the other corner of the same end we get something even better in the form of a series of luminous orange posters, advertising something called Klix System. This seems like a very modern name for a 1978 company, suggesting some sort of time travel back and forth between then and 2001. A copper dutifully stands guard:
A Google search reveals that Klix remains in existence today as a successful vending machine company who in fact still use the same font style for their logo as in 1978. Eccentric billionaire Mr Klix himself probably still laughs to himself reminiscing about the old, amateur adverting posters, which just appear as a confusing orange blur when the camera pans across that section of the ground:
But enough about unfinished alphabets and enduring vending machine companies, you’re here for some people on the goddamn pitch. By half time, Blackpool were 3-0 up and the onslaught continued as they shot into the Bloomfield Road South Stand in the second half. Unlike the Kop, the South Stand did not feature a containment fence at this time and as striker Bob Hatton scores his and his side’s fourth and victory is all but assured, some eager young supporters take advantage of this fact. We only get a brief, split second of this in the footage (as if a split-second could be anything but brief, unless you’re on acid), but we get definite person-to-pitch contact:
You’d probably feel robbed if this was all there was here, but of course there’s more. Blackburn pull one back to make it 4-1 and offer some glimmer of hope to their traveling support. This triggers some heroic scenes on the terrace including a one young man in a beige trench coat who immediately turns and sprints back up towards his colleagues:
But soon afterwards (to be honest Ive no idea of the exact time frame here) Blackpool were on the offensive again and put in number 5 to put the game beyond doubt. This time the South Stand supporters are poised to stream on en masse, or should I say POOL on, as soon as the goal goes in and do so with striking ease:
We get the beautiful image of wide eyed, supple, young supporters rushing towards their tangerine heroes with pure dopamine coursing through their brains. Several years later, many of these children would no doubt go on to be wild eyed, unfit, older supporters rushing towards opposing equivalents with pure cocaine coursing through their veins:
I’m not going to say that this was in the days before kids had video games and smart phones and such, because that’s bleedin’ obvious. But in a time before easy entertainment and general coddlement, moments like this meant something different. Just look at that joy from the lad on the left, bless (plus he’s got a nice coat on which to be fair probably also brought joy to his perhaps otherwise dull existence):
Blackburn would pull another one back through a late penalty (again, I have no actual idea of score times but it would have had to have been late in the game, right?) before the game finished 5-2 to the hosts. “Revenge for ammonia!” some may or may not have shouted, even though they had already played each other ten times since then. With countless episodes like the above at many games, ranging from innocent to devilish in spirit, it is no wonder that soon containment fences would be implemented fully in most grounds in the Football League. But not everywhere, as we shall soon see.
But the main thing I took away from this game is how good it would have felt for both players and supporters to get home and into a hot bath or shower. The thought reoccurred to me several times in fact. This would have been waiting for the players of course as soon as they entered the dressing room. But then, imagining myself a supporter, I realised with horror that this was in the days before people had power showers, or even smart phones to ring someone at home to turn on your water heating. My heart sank.