They will be nursing a few sore heads along Blackpool's Golden Mile this morning, and with good reason. Blackpool's promotion to the Premier League is a romantic tale to warm the most jaded of hearts, and they did it in some style. As the announcer at Wembley stadium yesterday said: "The tangerine dream has become a reality."
The 36,000 Blackpool fans, decked out in the club colours of tangerine, had been given the seats in the sunny half of Wembley. Perhaps the people who decide these things thought the town's folk deserved to see the sun for once. A pitchside thermometer showed the temperature reached 106.7F, prompting a few fans to bring out that old Blackpool favourite – the knotted hankie.
The sight of a quarter of the population of Blackpool decked out in tangerine shirts, traffic cone hats, bright orange scarves and flags certainly added an unusually colourful dimension to the backdrop against which the most lucrative game in the history of British sport was played. Some supporters celebrated the occasion by covering themselves from head to toe in orange body paint, looking for all the world like a gang of Phil Brown impersonators.
Their team did not let the Tango Army down. Ian Holloway's side had to do it the hard way, coming from behind twice before pinching the decisive goal in first-half stoppage time. It was the way they have done it all season, a team that expected to be fighting relegation has instead claimed their place among the elite. Yesterday's game at Wembley may not quite eclipse beating Bolton 4-3 in the 1953 FA Cup final, but it must run it close.
The match – or at least the first half – was a testament to both sides, in the most testing of conditions. They could not make the Championship play-off final any harder if they tried. The pressure could hardly be any greater, now the Premier League's new TV deal means it is worth £90m to the winner, and nothing to the loser; to make matters worse, the game is often played on the hottest day of the year, on one of the worst pitches in the country. What next? Make the managers wear giant rubber It's-A-Knockout-style suits? On second thoughts, Holloway (left, with the trophy) would probably go for that.
Despite all that, Blackpool and Cardiff conjured up a genuine classic. It seems the equation is simple – the harder they make it, the better the football. Both teams had clearly decided that although the stakes were so high, they were damned if they were not going to go out and enjoy themselves.
These are often the final words of the managers on occasions such as this, but rarely do the players carry out those instructions with quite so much obedience. Twice Cardiff took the lead in a dazzling first 45 minutes, only for Blackpool to twice peg them back, before snatching a vital advantage in first-half stoppage time.
Cardiff's goals from Michael Chopra and Joe Ledley were negated by Charlie Adam's majestic free-kick and Gary Taylor-Fletcher's brave header after a bit of pinball in the Cardiff goalmouth.
Then in the moments before half-time, a kind of footballing twilight zone that is not really the first half but definitely not the second, Blackpool struck a blow from which Cardiff never quite recovered. DJ Campbell found Brett Ormerod and the local hero, who has played and scored in every division except the Premier League for Blackpool, poked in the fateful goal.
The result is particularly hard to take for Cardiff. The winner's spoils of £90m would have saved the club, whose supporters must now wonder if their prize assets such as Chopra, Ledley and Whittingham, along with manager Dave Jones, will still be at the club next season.
But there was no denying Blackpool and their day in the sun. What a splash of colour they and their manager Holloway are going to bring to the Premier League next season.Reuse content