1995 - The year Owen gambled everything...!
Feature by INOIT
Updated Tuesday, 6th March 2012
Owen Oyston spent money on players and wages during 94-95 to the tune of £2 million and after Pool had survived relegation. He vowed history would not repeat itself - but did the gamble pay off?
Following relegation after a disastrous return to the top flight in the early seventies by the start of the 1995 season the club had gone through the worst period of it's long history having been in the doldrums for almost 25 years.
The Seasiders had long been aiming to rekindle their former glory days, but no-one could have predicted that before a ball was kicked that the 1995/6 campaign would be remembered for an extraordinary gamble by the club's owner which almost paid off but ended by plunging the club into even further debt and misery for the fans.
Plans for a new stadium were nearing approval, and the playing squad - already peppered with big-money buys - was constantly being improved as the new campaign unfolded.
The sudden desire for the club to succeed coincided with the arrival of Sam Allardyce as successor to the popular Billy Ayre in the Blackpool hotseat in the summer of 1994. The club was so close to relegation to the Third Division - saved only by Fulham’s failure to win at Swansea on the last day of the season that Chairman Owen Oyston vowed history would never repeat itself.
‘The back half of the season was our downfall,’ admits Allardyce of the 1994-95 campaign. ‘What should have been wins ended up in draws and points slipped away, particularly at home. We got ourselves on the fringe, but injuries and suspensions fell at the wrong time. At the end of the day, we were close...but not quite good enough.’
With around £2 million spent on players (including wages) in the previous 12 months, the Tangerines obviously didn't intend on hanging around the Second Division for much longer. Chairman Owen Oyston had his critics, but his financial commitment to the club could not be questioned. His confidence in building a new stadium at Bloomfield Road, assuring the long-term future of the club, had now brought the team to the forefront of his mind.
‘The chairman felt more confident about the club’s future,’ managing director at the time Gill Bridge stated. ‘That is why he started to invest in quality players, breaking the club record transfer fee twice in succession. The board is setting its sights firmly on promotion.’
As Oyston opened his cheque book the club record signing was first shattered in July 1994 with the audacious arrival of £165,000 striker Tony Ellis pinched from right under the noses of shocked rivals Preston North End. Then in November 1994 Andy Morrison — a robust defender who was made club captain — joined the club in a new record deal of £245,000 deal from Blackburn Rovers.
This trend continued throughout the close season with the likes of Andy Preece signing from Crystal Palace, Andy Barlow from Oldham and highly-rated keeper Steve Banks from Gillingham. Allardyce gave Blackpool their busiest summer in the transfer market that fans could remember, and he rightly regarded these new arrivals as key players for the 1995/6 season ahead.
‘Preece was an important signing, he is hungry to get back up there again. Barlow was brought in for his experience at the back, and in Banks we have a cracking prospect who will learn as time goes by and become a valuable asset.’
Preece’s brief interlude in the Premiership helped bring added quality to an already potent attacking force. In 1994 Tony Ellis finished as top scorer with 19 goals, Andy Watson second with 15 — despite being injured for nearly half the campaign — and young James Quinn notched nine goals in his free role behind the front pairing. Increased competition was something Quinn was looking forward to. ‘If there is a space alongside them or even one of their places, then I don’t mind!’ he admits.
James Quinn the Northern Ireland Under-21 and B cap obviously wasn’t overawed by the pairing and he went on to play a pivotal roving role behind the front two for the most part of the following season. Allardyce had nothing but praise for the striker originally targeted by Liverpool last term.
‘Quinny’s emergence in terms of the experience gained last season will hopefully stand him in good stead,’ enthuses his manager. ‘His finishing should improve this season — and If it does, the big boys will keep watching him.’
At the back, Jason Lydiate (ex-Bolton) and Darren Bradshaw were hoped to continue their solid partnership at the heart of the defence but which sadly did not materialise.
Record buy Andy Morrison was hoping for an injury-free campaign after constant frustration in 94. Signed as a central defender, his newfound role in front of the back four seemed to be his best position.
‘The squad is a lot stronger now than is was last year,’ says Quinn, who believed they can only improve. ‘Our chances of promotion must be greater with the players we’ve brought in.’
Manager Allardyce was equally optimistic about this term’s prospects. ‘We are back to three up and four down this season,’ he says, ‘but it will be tough. The teams who have come down from the First will be strong contenders, with Bristol City, Swindon, Notts County and Burnley all spending money last term. Carlisle and Walsall will be difficult sides to beat and I expect them to fare well. I’m hoping we can get off to a good start and stay right in there.’
If the spending ambitions of chairman, and manager at that time had been also matched by the commitment of the most expensive crop of players brought to the club then Blackpool could've yet brought the glory days back to Bloomfield Road by the turn of the millenium - and they so nearly pulled it off.
Blackpool began this eventful season of 1995/96 with a modest 1-1 away draw against the Robins at Ashton Gate and with two futher home wins Pool were in 6th spot by the end of August. September finished with a 2-1 win away at Bradford and with four wins during the month Blackpool were now lying runners-up position behind Swindon Town with 19 points from 10 games played. Over the next two months the Seasiders slipped back again to 6th place but by the end of the year they were back up to 4th with 36 points taken from 21 games and again they had thumped Bradford City on the 16th December 4-1 at home.
As January turned into February Pool had risen another place to 3rd and with four further wins in February Blackpool had managed to move back into the second automatic promotion spot for the first time since September.
If that wasn't enough satisfaction on Tuesday 12th March an evening home 3-1 victory over Lancashire rivals Burnley finally lifted the Seasiders into top place.
Marvelous March as it was to turn out to be witnessed Pool with an unforgettable run of form finished unbeaten and recording 6 wins from 7 games and recorded 19 points in the process.
Blackpool were now on the brink of a return to lucrative First Division Football they were lying in top position and had taken 77 points from 39 games. They w ere now 5 points ahead of second place Swindon Town and 10 points ahead of 3rd place Crewe.
Two clubs that were eventually to come into the reckoning were Oxford United who were in 5th spot over 14 points behind and finally Bradford City in 8th spot outside the play-off positions over 20 points behind on 57 points.
Looking back most fans will agree if only the season could have ended at the end of March it may all have turned out so much differently.
At Saltergate on a Tuesday evening Blackpool's run of promotion form was stopped dead in its tracks with a surprise 1-0 defeat by 6th placed Chesterfield who recorded only two further wins during the rest of season. The following Saturday they had the misfortune of running straight into the in-form team of the Division - Oxford United.
Although Blackpool narrowly lost that game 1-0 Oxford, who in February were back in 19th place went onto to win 6 of their last 7 games scoring an incredible 19 goals and only conceded 2 picking up 19 points in the bargain. It was the last thing the Seasiders needed because they suddenly hit a disastrous run of form winning only their last game of the season 2-0 at home to York and were agonisingly pipped for an automatic promotion place when the Posh were hammered 4-0 by Oxford who then leap frogged the Tangerines into runners-up spot.
What the fans were left with though ultimately was complete and utter desperation. For the first time Blackpool had failed to make the play-off final as the Bantams roared to Wembley with a stunning 3-0 victory. Three seasons later in 1999 they were playing Premiership football - th efollowing season Pool dropped sank into the Third Division. Sam Allardyce was dismissed shortly after the Bradford debacle and the most expensive team in Pool's history was eventually broken up.
Owen Oyston began undertaking a prison sentence with his dream in tatters leaving the club drifting rudderless and again on its knees facing mounting debts. Even the Oyston's Stadium plans his final piece in the jigsaw was eventually shelved once and for all.
It's comes as no surprise then that Pool fans have taught themselves to be patient for success....we've learnt our lessons the hard way which eventually saw Blackpool return to the top flight but only with the unlikely help of a Latvian banker named Valerie Belokon.
Through Belokon Holdings and VB Football Assets, Belokon bought a 20% stake in Blackpool Football Club in 2006, and is the club's president. In June 2007 he stated that he was prepared to increase his stake in Blackpool from 20% to 50% following the clubs promotion to The Championship. In 8 July 2008, Belokon announced that he and Owen Oyston, the majority share-holder of the club, would be personally financing the construction of the new South Stand and South-west corner at Bloomfield Road, with work to start immediately. It was then announced on 31st July 2009 that Belokon was setting up a new transfer fund for Blackpool, into which he was adding a "considerable amount" on 5 August in order to invest in new players identified by team manager Ian Holloway.
On 22 May 2010, Blackpool F.C. were promoted to the top tier of English football, the Barclays Premier League, one year quicker than Belokon had predicted when joining the club in 2006 and exactly 23 years after Owen first took control of the club.
PLAYER SIGNINGS AND FEE 1994-5
Phil Brown Bolton W July 1994 Free
David Burke Bolton W July 1994 Free
Les Sealey Man U July 1994 Free
Craig Allardyce Unattached July 1994 Free
Darren Bradshaw P'boro Utd Aug 1994 £65,000
Dave Thompson Brentford Sept 1994 Free
Andy Morrison Blackburn R Nov 1994 £245,000
Micky Mellon West Brom Jan 1995 £50,000
Jason Lydiate Bolton W Feb 1995 £125,000
Scott Darton West Brom Mar 1995 £7,500
Andy Preece Crystal Palace July 1995 £200,000
Andy Barlow Oldham Ath July 1995 Free
Tim Carter Millwall July 1995 Free
Brian Croft QPR July 1995 Free
Steve Banks Gillingham Aug 1995 Tribunal
Marvin Bryan QPR Aug 1995 £100,000
Richard Brown Blackburn R Aug 1995 Free