Blackpool prepares to hail its Wembley heroes

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The Independent Online

Forty years may have passed since Blackpool graced the top flight of English football but memories are long on the Fylde coast. For many of the estimated 20,000 who will come out today to celebrate the tense victory over Cardiff on Saturday and the promotion that it secured to the Premiership, the long interregnum was merely an historical blip.

This after all was a side which in the 1950s could send four players to report for England duty including the legendary Stanley Matthews and win the greatest FA Cup final ever staged. But in the past six decades, the fortunes of the resort town dwindled alongside that of its football team as the lure of the Spanish Costas prevailed over the chilly embrace of the Irish Sea and traditional Lancashire industries and their ranks of day-tripping workers slumped. So when the open-top bus procession heads down the promenade to the Waterloo Headland today, many in the sea of tangerine coloured shirts will be hoping promotion brings economic and cultural revival as well as sporting glory.

The first windfall will be the £90m in television rights, courtesy of the Premiership deal with Sky. Ticket sales are expected to soar, a welcome change for the club which last year reported the lowest average attendances in the Championship at just 8,600, although its Bloomfield Road, capacity 12,000, inhabits a different universe to Old Trafford or the Emirates.

Many millions more are expected to flow into the coffers of hard-presssed hoteliers, bar-owners and restaurateurs from increased tourism. But although the sun may have been shining yesterday many in the town are still coming to terms with news that the outgoing Labour government's pledge to support the council's £40m purchase and redevelopment of Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens could be axed to help balance the huge budget deficit.

The town was badly stung in 2007 after losing out to Manchester in becoming the Las Vegas of the North by securing the first super-casino. The scheme was halted by Gordon Brown in one of his first actions as prime minister.

But Tony Openshaw, from Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board, said the football boost had been immediate and he expected many visitors to tie in trips with excursions to the see the Premiership's newest club. "We've already had bookings from companies who were making inquiries almost as soon as the final whistle was blown, so they could secure conference and meetings rooms first," he said.

Phil Trow, editor of fanzine Another View From The Tower, said he was still hopeful that both football and town would see their luck change. "Blackpool has been one of these downtrodden towns for many years now, but it's going through a lot of revival," he said. "There's a lot of regeneration going on and the opportunity for the club to bring in all those away supporters I think will just buoy up the town."

It was a message echoed by the Seasiders' boss Ian Holloway. He said: "When that whistle blew, I just knew the importance of what it means to everybody on the Fylde coast. If people don't understand, we're right on the end of the M55 and you have to go through everywhere else to get to us."

Mr Holloway has already been told he will have a white-knuckle ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach named after him to mark the "roller-coaster season" to come.

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