Tangerine dreams stir the passion of the pundit

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The Independent Online

The man from the aggressive national radio station caught me on the hop yesterday. "We'd like you to act as our pundit for the Blackpool v Stoke FA Cup first-round match next Saturday," he began.

The man from the aggressive national radio station caught me on the hop yesterday. "We'd like you to act as our pundit for the Blackpool v Stoke FA Cup first-round match next Saturday," he began.

Now, I've been punditing for the last 10 months. Whenever anything happens, producers who can't get through to Tommy Docherty call my number. I have become the other pompous, condescending, bespectacled twit who pontificates on our national game after having lost his job in controversial circumstances. But I've never yet pundited on a match. Blackpool at home in the FA Cup seemed an ideal place to begin, having spent 40 years following the Seasiders.

Hearing a sharp intake of breath the caller continued, apprehensively, "There will, of course, be a small fee payable."

"How much do you want?" I asked. "No, no, no," he replied, "we pay you. We think you're just the man to add colour to our coverage because of your local knowledge."

Well, the colour, of course, is orange and the thought of regaling the public with my Blackpool reminiscences is overwhelming. So much to say and so little time. I accepted the offer and began to reflect on the prospect.

When Gianfranco Zola was tearing the hapless Galatasaray defence apart last Wednesday, Ron Atkinson said "We've given the little fella so many platitudes." I will avoid platitudes as far as possible on Saturday. Nor will the plaudits be very plentiful, because the Seasiders have given me far more grief than joy over the years.

They did win the FA Cup once, in 1953, in the famous Matthews Final. The late Stan Mortensen, scorer of a hat-trick in the 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers that day, never minded the tag. He always used to say that he would have headed many more goals had the incomparable Matthews centred the ball with the lace facing away from Morty. Later that year Pool provided four players for the England team. Matthews, Mortensen, Ernie Taylor and Harry Johnston were powerless to prevent Ferenc Puskas' magnificent Hungarian masters giving us a football lesson in November 1953.

Johnston would drive the short distance to Blackpool's training ground alongside Pontins on the Blackpool-St Annes boundary and invariably pick up the manager, Joe Smith, from the bus stop on Central Drive.

After he retired as a player, Stan Mortensen campaigned, as a town councillor, for the municipal pitches to be made available for Sunday league football; I was a beneficiary of that concession.

I didn't see Bloomfield Road on the Chinese President Jiang Zemin's itinerary for his recent visit, but I am sure he was aware that his countryman Cheung Chi Doy was the first Chinese to play in the English league. It was 1963 when Cheung, a lively, direct winger, made his one and only home appearance for Blackpool. He was a peripheral figure in every respect, as a dense pall of smoke descended over the West Stand from the neighbouring railway line, causing us (and him) to miss most of the game.

The railway line has gone now, as have Blackpool's glory days. Pool sunk to the foot of Division Two after a 0-5 home thrashing by Bury two Saturdays ago.

I left the area when I became chief executive of the Football Association in 1988 and have never seen Blackpool win in the intervening years.

I will give careful thought to my impending punditry performance. How can I convey the feeling of falling in love with football? Even so many years later, when the ground is dilapidated and exposed to the elements, I still experience a thrill as I approach it. Blackpool regularly played to gates of 30,000 in my childhood, but I wonder how a supporter of an unfashionable club first develops that special devotion and kinship.

Is the game solely about money nowadays? Would Blackburn Rovers sink without Jack Walker's millions? Could Preston North End build a viable future based on a larger central Lancashire hinterland and a strong community link? And what about Burnley, one of the earliest European Cup participants?

Not so far away, Oldham Athletic's chairman, Ian Stott, recently floated the idea of a merger with Rochdale and Bury to form Manchester North End. Whether it was the loss of identity or merely the adoption of "Manchester" that was anathema to the fans, Stott resigned amid a storm of protest. Oldham once had a director who argued passionately for summer soccer. Unsurprisingly Blackpool supported him, his sole ally in a fruitless quest.

Unfortunately I couldn't obtain a ticket for the FA Coaches Association annual conference, so I'll have to settle for Charles Buchan's Soccer Tips for Boys 1960. And a sheepskin coat from Millets will be obligatory on Saturday.

I hope Sir Stanley Matthews is there to watch his former clubs.

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