On This Day In History - 14th May 1977 A Trip To The Seaside
Thursday, 14th May 2020 09:38
As I sit and type this story about the last game of the season in 1976/77, it strikes me at this very time 43 years ago I was playing football on Blackpool beach with dozens of other Saints supporters.
Just over a year earlier we had been celebrating the FA Cup Final win, the 1976/77 season had promised much in the cup competitions including a good run in the Cup Winners Cup in Europe, but the league campaign was not ending at Blackpool with a promotion party, but on a little bit of a damp squid in 9th place, that in itself being our highest placing all season, we were a big game side, but not consistent and Lawrie McMenemy was changing the team.
But it was still a party mood for the Saints fans and the trip to Blackpool saw around 1,500 -2,000 make the trip.
Somewhere at home I have the Blackpool evening paper with a big picture of Saints fans emblazoned on the front page, asking how hundreds of young Saints supporters had suddenly materialised on Blackpool seafront at around 7.30 am on the morning of the game, it reported that there was little trouble, that the red & white clad hordes amused themselves by playing football on the beach, stopping trams on the seafront and spraying the name of their team on seafront shelters.
I could have told them how we all got there, lots of pubs etc ran trips up there, I went on a coach from the Sailors Return on Millbrook Road, sadly long gone, i was about to leave school so I turned up at the pub just after closing time and we journeyed overnight to Blackpool getting there about 7.30am.
Coaches in those day had no facilities, no toilet, no video, the only amusement was looking out the window, the return trip from Blackpool was leaving at about 9pm so it was a case of two nights sleeping upright on a coach.
When we got there as mentioned there was a massive game of football going on, on the beach, we were not the first to arrive and as the game went on more and more groups of Saints supporters were turning up, most like us having travelled overnight.
The football was good fun as was the tram stopping, which to be fair was only about 10 minutes before the police turned up, in context most Saints supporters had never seen a tram before, it was heading for 40 years since the last Southampton tram had run and Blackpool was the only place in the country that now had them back in 1977.
In fairness this was probably the norm for Blackpool back then and still is, most visiting teams will have a fair number of supporters who will go up to make a day/weekend of it aside from the depths of winter.
Once the seafront fun was over for our gang of 15/16 year olds it was a few hours of wandering up and down looking for something to do, we had the odd pint, but we didn't have any money for much more than that, the pubs were packed with Saints supporters wherever you went it was a good atmosphere, I can't remember seeing a Blackpool supporter until I got in the ground.
When we got to the ground we had about a third of the then Kop end, a big covered terrace that probably housed about half of the capacity.
It was a crumbling old terrace even back then, which made it dangerous for a couple of reasons, the main one being the throwing of missiles.
We were seperated from the home support by a big fence, this was a rareity, most away ends hadn't got segregation fences back then, you went into the away end and congregated, the Police would keep an eye on you and then if their was a home support welcoming committee they would usually form the barricade.
This was perhaps the first time I had seen an actual fence running down the terrace from top to bottom, this one was a solid corrugated iron affair, about 8ft tall, you couldn't see through it or over it, you could hear the Blackpool fans hurling insults from the other side but not see them, but then suddenly a brick would fly over the top, again you couldn't see it till it came over the fence and for some it was too late, they were returned by some with gusto.
The game itself was a nothing affair, Blackpool had just missed out on a promotion place in the week leading up to the game and would end the season 1 point short, although with a lot poorer goal difference so effectively 2.
The Saints team was already in transition as Lawrie started to take apart his cup winning side and build a promotion one, 7 of the 12 on duty at Wembley a year earlier had already left the club or played their last game, only three of that side played at Blackpool on this day, Mike Channon, David Peach & Nick Holmes, the other two were Ian Turner who had lost his place to Peter Wells in goal and Peter Osgood who was injured.
Indeed of these 5 only Peach and Holmes would be standing in the directors box celebrating promotion in 12 months time, Mike Channon was playing his last game of his first spell at the club.
The game was dour, it was settled by a goal from Blackpool's Bob Hatton just before the break and many Saints fans in the second half knackered after an overnight trip, laid back on the terracing in the corner away from the brick throwing and went to sleep.
The end of the game saw us leave and finally see who had been throwing the bricks over the fence, I remember a large group of Saints fans waited behind the terracing but they refused to come out, stood on the grass bank behind it hurling abuse, but declining to come onto the car park behind.
The police dispersed Saints fans towards the seafront and we again had a few hours to kill wandering the sea front, it was starting to get a bit dodgy as darkness neared, Wolves had won at Bolton to secure promotion and essentially stop Bolton's going up and the Wolves fans were pouring into Blackpool in their thousands for a big promotion party.
Luckily for us we got on the coach at 9pm and headed home, another sleepless night followed by a walk home at around 4am in the morning, all good fun and I wouldn't change a thing.
As an afternote I also went to the fixture the following season played the week before Xmas, it was a far colder affair, I went by coach again, but we didn't go overnight this time, we took about 400 fans this time and Blackpool fans tried to wreak revenge after, a solitary police horse keeping them back, Saints fans were not that phased
I'm not glorifying what went on back in the 1970's just telling it how it was and what I saw not did, just being an away fan back then made you fair game for the hooligan element so to speak, at times you took your life in your own hands.
Photo: Action Images
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Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
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