Blackpool bid to revive faded seaside glamour

LONDON - Travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote that Blackpool's famous illuminations "were nothing if not splendid, and they are not splendid," a rather unkind view of one of Britain's most-loved and visited seaside towns.

Blackpool's enormous sweep of sandy beach, it's iconic Victorian tower, the sprawling theme park which curiously boasts a ride called Bling and its profusion of fish and chip shops attract millions of fun-seekers each year.

Tucked away from the traditional delights of the Golden Mile, however, is one of Blackpool's less talked about landmarks, the antiquated Bloomfield Road stadium, home to the Lancashire town's football club since 1899.

Fun has been in short supply there for some four decades as the club, known for its tangerine kit and a winger named Stanley Matthews, languished in the shadow of Liverpool and Manchester United, to say nothing of Wigan Athletic and Preston North End.

That could all be about to change on Saturday, however, as Blackpool take on Cardiff City for a place in the top flight of English football for the first time since 1971.

Under astute manager Ian Holloway, the Seasiders have proved the surprise package of the Championship this season, clinching sixth place and a shot at the playoffs on the final day.

They beat former European champions Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals and will turn Wembley Stadium orange on Saturday against Cardiff, who are bidding to become the first Welsh side to play in the top flight since Swansea City in 1983.

"I don't even want to think about what could be if we do it," Holloway, who once said he loved Blackpool because like him it "looked better in the dark", told the club's website.

"What a great opportunity for everybody at the club to try and cap off a magnificent season. Trying to get people to think that this is just another match that we need to win is an almost impossible task."


He is not wrong in that respect. The Championship play-off is regarded as the most lucrative match in world football.

According to accounting firm Deloitte, the team that wins on Saturday could get a 90 million pounds windfall - double what the play-off was worth last year.

Even a club finishing bottom of the Premier League next season will receive 40 million pounds with so-called parachute payments expected to total 48 million over the next four years.

"In financial terms, this match offers the winning club the most substantial prize in world football and the value is now even greater as a result of the Premier League's increased revenues from international broadcast rights and the extended parachute payments over four seasons," Paul Rawnsley, director of Deloitte's Sports Business Group, said.

The sums up for grabs are mind-boggling for both clubs.

Blackpool's stadium currently only has three sides and a capacity of less than 10,000 while most of the squad have been plucked from the lower leagues.

Their record signing is Charlie Adam from Rangers in 2009 for 500,000 pounds and the Scottish midfielder's contribution has taken Holloway's side within one win of the jackpot.

"I've been lucky to play in some big matches in Europe and for my country but this is the biggest game of my career so far," said Adam, who took his goal tally this season to 18 in the semi-final win against Forest.

Cardiff moved into a new stadium this season but their financial problems have made bigger headlines and, unlike relatively debt-free Blackpool, are desperate to cash in on the riches of the Premier League.

"I've said many times that to win this game would be life-changing for many people," Cardiff boss Dave Jones told the club's website.

"It's not just for the player and the football club, it's for Cardiff as a city. We know what's at stake."

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