15th May 2019, 13:25 | rfl

A Rugby League History | Blackpool

A Rugby League History | Blackpool

By Dave Hadfield

Not unlike the numerous stomach-churning fairground rides in the parts. Rugby League has a similar history of ups and downs in Blackpool.

Given the links between north of England industries and their playground of choice, it was perhaps predictable that expansion to the Fylde Coast was a recurring item on the RFL’s agenda. In 1954 they took the plunge. After all, Blackpool was Europe’s biggest tourist attraction.  

What could possibly go wrong?

For the best part of a decade they player at the greyhound stadium on St Annes Road – again no distance from here. 

There was always the option of using Bloomfield Road for a really big match and that was what they did when they squeezed a mind-boggling 22,000 inside for the visit of Leigh in 1957.

In some ways, Blackpool had a lot going for them. Their modest ground, Borough Park, was – incredibly – the newest stadium for a British team sport for years. Those were very different times when it came to investing in bricks and mortar. 

They were not short of big names either, with giants of the game like Billy Boston and Brian Bevan ending their careers there. The likes of Tommy Bishop and the future Australian international Tim Pickup pretty well began theirs in the tangerine, black and white. Not to mention exotic imports such as the American winger Chuck Wiseman.  

Somehow it never quite added up to a winning formula. Not until the late 70s, that is, when the world suddenly went mad.  

In 1977 they reached the final of the John Player Trophy and were by no means disgraced by Castleford in the final at Salford. Blackpool hooker Howard ‘Smiler’ Allen earned a share of the man of the match award. Ged Marsh was voted the best player in the division, despite looking like a comprehensive school woodwork teacher and coach Jim Crelin lit up The Willows with the most garish kipper tie ever to illuminate a major final.  

Not for the first time, nor certainly for the last, Borough reverted to After the Lord Mayor’s Show mode. Or should that be Donkey Derby? 

But Borough were far from finished; in fact, their true Golden Age was awaiting them – and I was privileged to be close enough to see how the hell they did it. ‘It’ of course was the unthinkable feat of winning promotion to the old First Division.  

Much of it was down to the charismatic, if flawed personality of Albert Fearnley, and the flickering on field genius of Bak Diabira.

There were others who deserved a place in the Blackpool Borough hall of fam, not least those partners in crime and masters of the vital drop goal, Alan Fairhurst and Norman Turley. 

A few years later, the custodian of flower stall in Stafford named Hugh Waddell emulated Pickup by wandering in off the Golden Mile and asking for a trial – and the rest is floristry. 

Borough had embarrassed teams like Wigan and Leeds during their brief sojourn in Division One, but naturally it was never destined to last.  

Whenever I try and get my head around what happened next, I feel one of my migraines coming on. Suffice it to say that after wanderings on a biblical scale, they eventually came home and even won a trophy before they imploded. But that is another tale for another occasion.  

Possibly the day they return again, as I notice some prudent men are suggesting.

Why not? Rugby League has had dafter ideas. 


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