The Forgotten Italian Job of 1974

Now that Blackpool are back in the Championship perhaps one area of the club which arguably stands out from when the Seasiders last enjoyed football at this level back in the 1970's is the lack of any talent emerging from the reserves and youngsters.

Ashton Bayliss today left the club and joined Blue Square Conference North strugglers Burscough on loan until the end of the season. Bayliss, who skippered the Seasiders Youth team to Lancashire FA Youth Cup success last season spent a similar loan spell at Fleetwood Town earlier in the season. Not so fortunate was the news at Christmas that Dominic Merella and Ross Lloyd have been released by the Seasiders which came as a shock to many, especially Marella's exit just weeks after the teenager made his senior debut when he came on as a sustitute in the FA Cup defeat at Torquay. With D'Agostino returning to Canada and in the recent past Jamie Burns and Matthew Blinkhorn amongst many others who have failed to make any impact on the first team you can be forgiven for thinking when was the last time anyone from the club's youth and reserve's set-up made it as an established player in the first team....Danny Coid? this year being awarded his testimonial!

Looking back things were very different when Pool where not just happy to be playing Division Two (Championship level) football in fact for a few years in the 1970's we were serious contenders for promotion back to the top flight.

Blackpool's squad was rightly packed with quality players around this time but this also extended further to a very talented reserve and youth team outfits that actually contained some of our future Seasiders stars still yet to emerge on the big stage - and many of these youngsters made a name for themselves in the late Spring of 74 after taking part in a top class tournament in Italy.

The Forgotten Italian Job of 74'

Harry Potts with Eddie Quigley and Ray Pointer
Harry Potts with Eddie Quigley and Ray Pointer
It was described as one of the most sparkling performances accomplished by Blackpool in recent years.

This is the story of how 17 of Blackpool's young Seasiders covered themselves in glory by winning a gruelling European soccer knock-out, the "Caligari" International Tournament, played in Northern Italy in May of 1974.

Tour manager Eddie Quigley and coach Ray Pointer - accompanied by Blackpool FC's athletics coach, Jack Chapman - had charge of the party of the Bloomfield Road lads - and recount this soccer success story.

When the young Seasiders finally secured victory in the 1974 Italian "Caligari" International Tournament, Blackpool had gained no fewer than a staggering seven trophies.

We were able only to bring back six of the seven trophies that Blackpool won, Eddie Quigley regretfully announced. The other was far too heavy to transport, surmounted as it was on a marble base and standing two feet high.

Casale Monferrato, where the competition was staged, is a town in Northern Italy, which had a population around 70,000. "Caligari", the name of the tourney, commemorates a player of that name whose home was Casale Monferrato, situated between Milan and Turin.

He was Italy's most-capped international at the time of his death and the Under-21's soccer series originated in 1954 serves as a lasting memorial to him.

The Blackpool Under-21 Team
The Blackpool Under-21 Team
Blackpool began their run with a 0-0 draw with Napoli, then beat CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria) 2-0, and continued with a 5-0 victory over AC Milan, Matches were arranged on similar lines to the World Cup, each team appearing among a group of four.

Team Photo:

Back Row: Stuart Betts, Mike Betts, Steve Harrison, John Curtis, Alan Ainscow, Mike Walsh.

Centre Row: Ray Pointer (Coach), Paul Hart, Kevin Moore, Colin King, Jimmy Weston, Tony Evans, Eddie Quigley (Tour Manager).

Front Row: Stuart Parker, Stan McEwan, Harry Johnson, Harry Potts (Manager), Billy Ronson, DavidTong, Brian Wilson.

"That last game was vital to us," stresses Eddie Quigley. "If AC Milan had beaten us they would have gone to the top of the table and Blackpool would not even have gained second place in the group."

But there was clearly no stopping the Seasiders! By now they had reached the big time of the tournament, a place in the semi-final against Lanerossi and after an extremely tough encounter the scores were level 1-1 after normal time.

Regulations however were for the game to be eventually decided on penalties. Blackpool had four cool-as cucumber penalty specialists to do the trick. Mick Walsh, John Curtis, Paul Hart and Alan Ainscow all scored from the spot for the boys from Bloomfield Road to win 4-3. Colin King saved two spot-kicks as the excitement rose to fever pitch.

Success came sky-high for the Seasiders when they had to face Napoli in the final. Blackpool 3, Napoli 1, was the outcome with great goals by Stuart Parker (2) and David Tong.

"The final was a sizzler," is Ray Pointer's verdict.

"Napoli scored first but then the turning point came with our lads grabbing two goals in two minutes, just after the interval, to alter the situation completely.

It was the well-behaved conduct of the Blackpool youngsters that Quigley remembers with pride.

"They were a credit to Bloomfield Road and to England," he remarked. Ray Pointer looks back on the trip in this way:

"There was not a lot of entertainment when there was no soccer or training. Casale Monferrato is only a small place. But the lads enjoyed themselves because they played well. There was not a single weakness in the team."

A Jubilent returnfor the Blackpool Under 21 squad
A Jubilent return for the Blackpool Under-21 squad
Quigley discloses that one of the most successful Under-21's team ever to have been moulded together by Blackpool may regretfully never play together again. There are also some thought provoking facts about Blackpool's goal hungry teenagers causing the Continentals to reconsider their own lamentable "defensive" tactics,

"Seasiders" supporters may be unaware of the fact that Blackpool were the first English team to win this tournament, Eddie Quigley emphasises.

"Several other sides from over here have competed in the past. Wolves, Stoke City and West Ham, among them, without achieving what our lads did," he points out.

Not every player among the 17-strong squad got a game, "This was a pity. Everybody wanted to take part but we wanted to win, so every match was vital. This necessitated making as few changes as possible, seeing that the side was working so well together," it was stressed.

Kevin Moore sustained a broken wrist and missed the final. David Tong stayed an "ever present" despite having his arm in plaster from an injury some of the time. Four youngsters who were never called upon still had no "grumbles", for they obviously enjoyed the outing and the experience immensely.

Northern Italy's fanatical soccer crowds, indoctrinated with the defensive manoeuvres that made some of the World Cup boring to watch on TV became delighted with Blackpool's constant zest for attack. "They enjoyed our positive approach," Eddie Quigley declared, "Alan Ainscow's quickness, Stuart Parker's skill in the air and Paul Hart's dominating work in defence and exciting play from players around them was the sort of soccer they were not often used to seeing".

Quote by Ray Pointer: "Whenever any of our opponents got a goal they ceased to press forward and went back on defence. When Blackpool scored it was the signal for our lads to keep going at the opposition — attacking, attacking, attacking. It brought the crowds over to our side. Towards the end of the competition, Blackpool were attracting the biggest gates and had a fan club".

Back on English soil, nothing would be finer than for these young Seasiders to stay together as a team. Unfortunately, League commitments make this impossible — unless by a stroke of fortune the lads all "make the first team" as colleagues.

Paul Hart and Stevie Harrison were 21. Their youngest companion in Italy, Stan McEwan was still only 16.

And for the record, these are the other Blackpool lads who rightly deserved credit for a such a magnificent performance. They were Colin King, John Curtis, Stan McEwan, Paul Hart, Steve Harrison, David Tong, Kevin Moore, Tony Evans, Stuart Parker, Mike Walsh, Alan Ainscow, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Weston, Stuart Betts, Micky Betts, Billy Ronson and Harry Johnson.

If only today we had no need to look further for the stars of the future around Bloomfield Road like we had back then in 1974?