First thing’s first…It’s not orange, it’s tangerine. 11th November 1989 is a day that I will never forget. It was my first visit to Bloomfield Road to watch the mighty tangerines of Blackpool FC. I’d just started to develop a taste for football and my first football memory is sneaking a peek from the sofa as Michael Thomas steered Arsenal to the title after a dramatic victory over Liverpool months earlier.
For my sins, I didn’t actually realise Blackpool even had a football team until days before attending my first game. My dad read out the football results in the newspaper and I remember saying “What, Blackpool have a football team?!” After a quick look at the upcoming fixtures my dad agreed to take me and my younger brother that Saturday for a mouth-watering encounter with Brentford.
My dad was a lapsed Tangerine who hadn’t been inside Bloomfield Road since the early 1970s when they regularly attracted crowds of 20,000. There were a lot fewer inside Bloomfield Road that day – just over 2,500 in fact – as the famous Lancashire clubs of Blackpool, Bolton, Burnley and Preston found themselves languishing in the lower divisions. As we set off, my mum seemed apprehensive and told my dad to “be careful”, the tragedy of Hillsborough six months earlier still hanging over the game.
After buying a programme and packet of cola cubes we took our seat in the West Stand, a wooden grandstand full of character, that was built in the late 1920s. The old boys in flat caps were stood on the terrace below, their pipe smoke wafting up to the sparse crowd sat on fold-down wooden seats. These were the same people who’d seen Stanley Matthews running down the wing, Stan Mortensen scoring goals for fun, Alan Ball covering every inch of grass and Jimmy Armfield inventing the wing back position and staying loyal to the club he adored for his entire career.
The team that they and I were watching that day against Brentford played liked the legends of yesteryear and ran out 4-0 winners courtesy of goals from my first Tangerine hero, David Eyres, Steve Morgan and a brace from Craig Madden. I enjoyed every second of it although my brother seemed to be more interested in the seagulls flying overhead. When he makes occasional visits to Bloomfield Road these days I still catch him looking at seagulls in the sky although to be fair sometimes the seagulls are much more interesting than the action on the pitch.
The team that day played well, but ultimately were very different from the legends of yesteryear as they would get relegated to the fourth tier that season. Blackpool also looked very different, as they broke with tradition and wore a shirt that was far from popular at the time and didn’t even look like their famous tangerine at all. As the players moved around the pitch the shirts shimmered and it looked more salmon pink as a result.
Little known manufacturer MGC Sports had given Blackpool a serious makeover, the all-over diamond pattern design remains to this day the most radical home shirt in the club’s history. The use of white and hash diamonds gave the impression of various shades but the shirt featured just one colour…tangerine, obviously. It was clever and daring and the Bass sponsor was the finishing touch to what I saw as a masterpiece (and still do).
I wanted a replica version of it as soon as I saw the players take to the field and luckily Christmas was just over a month away. The shirt went to the top of my wish list and I couldn’t wait to look just like my hero David Eyres. Christmas Day arrived and there was something wrapped up under the tree that felt like an item of clothing. BOOM, I WAS IN.
Excitement and joy quickly subsided though as it wasn’t a replica Blackpool FC shirt but an unsightly Blackpool FC heavy duty cotton rugby top! Money was tight growing up and my mum didn’t see the value in a lightweight polyester shirt in the winter months. She thought I’d get more wear out a top that would look more fitting in Twickenham or Richmond Upon Thames than the Fylde Coast. How wrong she was, and I’ve only forgiven her for this huge error of judgement in the last few years.
My mum went some way to remedying it a few days later when she bought me the tangerine away shorts. Ultimately, I would finally lay my hands on the shirt that Easter. I wore it until it fell apart and am no longer in possession of this shirt that means so much to me.
When it came to curating Strip!, it was an obvious contender for inclusion. It’s a shirt that fits firmly into the ‘eye-popping bangers’ theme of the late 1980s, but even during this era most brave and bold designs were consigned to away shirts. John Cross from the Former Blackpool Players’ Association kindly answered my prayers and loaned the shirt for the exhibition, where it sits alongside classics like Ajax’s away shirt from the same season and Northern Ireland’s 1990-92 op art banger. It was a proud moment.
While I no longer own this shirt, I have recently been lucky enough to find and purchase a Blackpool shirt from the following season. MGC Sports were out – replaced by the just-as-obscure Cavendish Sports. The design was more traditional and a bit of a throwback to the 1950s with a large polo collar and longer sleeves. It was clearly a reaction against what had come before, and must have been designed this way to pacify those who’d disliked the bold shirt of the previous season. The only similarity is that it also has a brewery as a sponsor, this time Vaux. I like it but it doesn’t come close to the beauty of my first football shirt.
Like many shirts from this period, the Blackpool 1989-90 shirt has been re-evaluated in recent years and is now looked at fondly by the Tangerine Army. Many of us would love the club to go for something as radical in the near future (if you’re listening, Mr Sadler).