The Seasiders Lost Grounds
Feature by INOIT
Updated Friday, 10th June 2011
Royal Palace Gardens, Athletic Grounds and Cow Gap Lane have long disappeared. Where were they? What was there connection with the club? We uncover the history together with some rare photos.
The modern club bearing the name Blackpool FC will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2012 but prior to it's formation in 1887 at least three other clubs existed in the town. Blackpool St. Johns (who played matches at Masheters Field off Caunce Street) were originally formed in the early 1870's as were around this time, a club which began as Victoria FC but eventually bore the original name of Blackpool FC. The latter club soon became extinct, and while the St. Johns Club continued, South Shore arrived on the scene.
A number of Blackpool St. John members first mooted the desire to change the name of the club to plain Blackpool, which would have been more representative of the town as a whole however, the Vicar and the club chairman, refused to sanction this title. Four days later, on the 26th July 1887, a large number of Club members held a meeting at the Stanley Arms Hotel (which eventually became, for many years, the headquarters of Blackpool FC), and decided to form the club we know today.
An entrance fee to join the new Club was set at 3/6d. (17p), and at the end of the 1887/88 season the Club gained it's first major honour by winning the Lancashire Junior Cup. Initially a field off of Bloomfield Road was used as a home venue, following the first match which produced a 2-1 win at Chorley. However, a more suitable ground was soon secured at Raikes Hall (or Royal Palace Gardens as it was also known), an enclosure within a Pleasure Grounds complex which also included a Theatre, a Skating Rink, facilities for other sports and - immediately adjacent to the Football Ground - a Lake for which the comment about the ball being fagged from in the lake was a popular saying. The Ground, which was also used, during the Sumner, for Cricket, consisted of a (probable) enclosure fence and a two thirds pitch length covered and seated Stand on the North (lake) side. The photos below were taken from the positions shown on the above plan. The photo of the boating lake and the rear of the stand is taken from the position of the red circle where today it is the site of a Sunday School on Raikes Parade. The Second Photo of a match taking place and looking west is taken from the position of the blue circle close to the present day junction of Leeds Road and Leicester Road.
After the first season, the new Club made a satisfactory profit of nearly £20, and with a membership which contributed £66 from subscription fees. On the 5th of November 1888, a notable victory of 12-0 was achieved over Little Hulton, and on the 28th of that month, the Club's first visitors of note were entertained at Raikes Hall - Bolton Wanderers. Although this match was lost 2-4, the home team were far from disgraced. Such was Blackpool's early success, that at the end of this second season, the total receipts over the year doubled to £480, and a profit of £60 was made.
The rapid rise of the Club continued for several years, for after becoming founder-members of the Lancashire League in 1889, they soon became a force to be reckoned with being runners-up on three separate occasions from 1891. This was followed by the Championship in the 1893/94 season. Inexpicably, and after such a noteworthy quartet of gratifying seasons, interest waned the following year, despite the team finishing second in the final table once again. Entrenched in an area where most members of the Football League were based, perhaps the Club's followers found their team were nothing more than 'also-runs' . They had strong local opposition in South Shore - more or less a southern suburb of Blackpool -- but the older club never aspired to such heights as their near neighbours. Whatever the reason, Blackpool's support declined, and in 1896, they became a Limited Company with capital of £2,000. But this move did not halt the slide, and one year tater an enormous loss of 1,183 was announced, although in their bid to maintain their prowess, wages accounted for £1,470 of the Club's income. During the 1896/97 season gates averaged around 2,000 at home matches. An agreement was made on the 18th of April 1896, when the two local Clubs agreed to pool their resources, and amalgamate. But South Shore, probably unwisely, cancelled the arrangement, and the two continued as separate Clubs.
Athletic Grounds - Stanley Park
Despite the Club's financial problems, they were elected into the Football League for the 1897/98 season.
But after nine years.at Raikes Hall, the Club were forced to seek a new home, since the Pleasure Grounds were earmarked for future housing. The Club moved, somwhat prematurely, in August 1897, when a five year lease was taken out on the Athletic Grounds, that were located within Whitegate Park close to the present day Stanley Park.
The first home Football League match was played on the 11th of September, when Burnley were the visitors, and two goals were shared. On a sunny afternoon, the Mayor ceremonially 'kicked-off' in front of an encouraging attendance of 4000.
It had been a rush to make the Ground playable, and much labour had been used draining and levelling the pitch. The Athletic Grounds were not so conveniently situated as Raikes Hall, being further from the centre of town (a threepenny bus ride away), and the overall layout of the venue was far removed from their former compact arena.
A Racecourse ran around the perimeter of the overall 24 acre enclosure, with much of this area taken up by a Cricket Ground - complete with pavilion and open seating areas. At the West end there was an elongated oval shaped, cinder covered, trotting and cycling track, by then disused and rapidly decaying. On the West side there was a covered Stand and a short length of uncovered seating (but not, initially, an enclosure for the Press!) The spectators were somewhat removed from the action, and cover and seating were very limited. The first match ended as a 1-1 draw.
Initially attendnces rose, but this uplift in the Club's fortunes was shortlived, and by the season's end the financial situation forced the Club into selling several promising players. Games versus Manchester City and Newton Heath both attracted traditionally good crowds of around 3,000, but for some games, barely four figure gates were achieved (Small Heath's visit produced only £27 in match reoeipts). The Club also attracted unruly elements, and the bad language frequently heard in the Stand caused many complaints. On December the 31st 1898 a 1-2 defeat in pouring rain was conceded to Glossop, and two days later a friendly match with South Shore ended goalless in front of no more than 300 spectators, who had to brave the elements once again. These two games were the last played at the Athletic Grounds, for after a stay of only eighteen months a move was made, back to Raikes Hall. The expected redevelopment of the site had not started, and for just under one year the Club were able to play at this preferable enclosure.
Back to Raikes Hall
The first game back at the old home not only produced an encouraging three goal defeat of Burton Swifts (on the l4th of January), but also a rise in the normal attendance, to around 1,000. It was by now appreciated that the Club's premature move to the Athletic Grounds had been a bad mistake!
Rumours abounded with regard to Blackpool and South Shore amalgamating, and this now seemed a distinct possibiity with both teams floundering in the League, and each accompanied by poor attendances for home matches. The season finished with the Club placed 16th in the League, and although only third from bottom they were somewhat surprisingly not re-elected. Fortunately the attendances had improved back at Raikes Hall, with 3,000 present for the Newton Heath match and the match receipts for this game and the other home fixture over Easter totalling £200. The 1899/1900 season started in gloom once again. Back into non-League football plus the announcement that 71 plots on the Raikes Hall Estate had been sold. It was obvious that Blackpool F.C. would soon have to move on again. On September the 2nd a good crowd saw the team thrash Roohdale 8-1 in their first fixture back in the
South Shore's Cow Gap Lane
Meanwhile for their neighbours things had not been particularly bright. South Shore joined the Lancashire League in 1891, playing their home games at the Cow Gap Lane (later Waterloo Road) Ground, which was located about a quarter of a mile South of Bloomfield Road. The entrance to the Ground was off Cow Gap Lane, and contained a small covered seated Stand on the West side, with narrow standing areas alongside and at the Cow Gate end, Plus a wider expanse opposite the Stand. It was a small, compact Ground, yet despite being the underdogs to their more illustrious rivals, it was South Shore who managed to secure the Bloomfield Road Ground. Financially it bad been far more of a struggle for South Shore, with attendances normally only in the hundreds, although in September 1899, a crowd of 2,000 were present for Blackpool's visit for a Lancashire Senior Cup-tie. South Shore upstaged Blackpool F.C. when they moved to Bloomfield Road and played their first match there on October the 2lst when the First South Lancashire regiment were beaten 6-3. The Ground was unfinished for there was no rope enclosure to the pitch and the Grandstand had not been built. A bar plus two dressing tents were planned for. The formal ground opening coincided with perhaps the team's finest victory when they beat Newton Heath in the FA Cup. In the next round Southport were entertained before a very large crowd, and a few`more attendances of this size would have removed the financial worries from the Club. But after a draw, they lost the match in the replay and dreams of Cup glory, and more money, were dashed. The photo below was taken from the position of the red circle on the above plan and looks west it is in close to the present day junction on Waterloo Road with Seasiders Way.
On December the 9th Blackpool were the hosts to South Shore, a game which attracted one of the best attendances of the season. However, their time at Raikes Hall had nearly come to an end, and that evening it was finally decided that the two clubs should merge.
With Blackpool F.C. being the more successful of the two, they continued in the Lancashire League, while South Shore resigned. The last game at Raikes Hall, on December the 16th 1899, produced a good crowd - despite the poor weather, and Darwen were beaten by three unopposed goals. Seven days later, the 'new' Blackpool crushed Horwich in their inaugural match at Bloomfield Road.
The three former Grounds of the two earlier Clubs have all disappeared. The Raikes Hall Ground is now covered principally by Leicester and Longton Roads; the formerly named 'Athletic Grounds' remains a sporting area, and still contains the Cricket Ground. But the former Football enclosure is not the current Athletic Ground, which is now covered mainly by West Park Drive.
The old Cow Gap Lane Ground which was nearly opposite the modern Blackpool South Railway Station is currently part of the new gateway and is situated close to George Bancroft Park.
Acknowlegement - Dave Twydell - Football League - Grounds for a Change. Article created by Peter Gillatt and additional photos by Gerry Wolstenholme.