Leeds on their guard as Blackpool seek repeat of famous win

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Nobody seriously expects Blackpool to win their Challenge Cup tie at Leeds tonight, but one certainty is that their preparation will be smoother then it was when they last played at Headingley.

Thirty years ago, bottom of the First Division in the only season they ever spent in it, they got lost on the way, arrived only 15 minutes before kick-off and won 18-15 in what is still considered the most embarrassing result in Leeds' history.

"As usual, the directors asked if anyone knew where the ground was. We went the wrong way and got stuck on a bridge," recalls Don Parry, the Welsh international hooker who played for Blackpool Borough that day. He and his team-mates ran the rest of the way to Headingley, dragging their kit-skips with them.

"The referee was waiting for us, saying that he was going to kick off on time. We'd forgotten our jock-straps, so we had to ask Leeds for some old ones of theirs. You can imagine the sort of stuff we played in, but we went out there and beat them fair and square. It wasn't a bad Leeds team either."

Indeed it wasn't, with ten internationals, including the likes of John Atkinson, Les Dyl, Kevin Dick and the late John Holmes, whose brother, Phil, lined up for Blackpool in the match.

Also making a rare first-team appearance at hooker for Leeds that day was Gary Hetherington, now their chief executive and the man most responsible for the club's current strength.

"It's not something I've spoken about much over the years, because it's gone down as Leeds' worst-ever defeat in the club's history," he says. "It's funny how your mind plays tricks, though. I would have said it was a weakened team, but looking at it now it was pretty much full-on.

"It was strange out there that day. It never felt like we were going to win it. They were so enthusiastic and, as the game went on, we realised that we were in a real dog-fight – one that we lost. Syd Hynes was the coach and he really gave it to us afterwards."

The mood on the Blackpool bus, once it was extricated from the bridge, was very different. "Even though we knew we were going down, there was still plenty of spirit," says Parry. "If we'd played like that all the time we would have stayed up."

Relegation started a long-term decline for the code in Blackpool, with Borough and their eventual successors, the Blackpool Gladiators, both going out of business.

Now, however, in the Blackpool Panthers, the town has its most successful team since that day at Headingley. They are two levels below Leeds in the Co-operative Championship One, but they are the only unbeaten side in the league.

So could lightning strike again? "I wouldn't have thought so," says Hetherington. "But they've done very well under Martin Crompton, it's the Cup and, as I know, anything can happen."