Blackpool-1990s-Nigel-Worthington-Gary-Megson

After the ridiculousness that constituted the 1995-96 Blackpool FC season, it was essential to steady the ship in 1996-97 and to try and build on the success achieved under Sam Allardyce before it all went pear-shaped in such spectacular fashion.

With Allardyce unceremoniously booted out, in came Gary Megson as manager in yet another not particularly popular move by the board. With Chairman Owen Oyston now otherwise unhappily occupied, his position on the board was taken initially by his wife, Vicki, and it was she who was said to be behind the decision to hire Megson.

1996-97

Megson came in after two unsuccessful spells in charge at Norwich City and inherited a club low on morale, a falling down stadium, a chairman in prison, and a disgruntled fan base. What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, to be fair to Megson, he did a reasonable job in the circumstances, leading Blackpool to seventh spot, one place and four points from the playoffs. Indeed, had results been different on the last day of the season, Blackpool would have sneaked into the top six.

Megson, however, was not a popular choice amongst the fans and the football remained fairly uninspiring throughout the season. There was both flatness and a hangover from the previous season’s debacle, and Bloomfield Road was not a particularly happy place to be in 1997.

The highlight of the season was probably a two-legged battle with Chelsea in the League Cup. A par-for-the-course 4-1 home defeat in the second round first-leg at home was followed by an amazing second-leg at Stamford Bridge. In front of just 11,732 spectators, Blackpool came within a goal of forcing extra time as they prevailed by a 3-1 scoreline.

In the FA Cup, however, a truly shocking 1-0 home defeat at the hands of non-league Hednesford Town did nothing to lift the collective gloom at Bloomfield Road.

Subsequently, there were precious few tears shed when Gary Megson resigned at the end of the season to take up a position at Stockport County.

Into the hot-seat stepped Northern Ireland international, Nigel Worthington, who took over initially as player-manager. Again, a rather uninspiring appointment was greeted with little more than a collective shoulder shrug by the Tangerine faithful, and so it proved to be.

1997-98

If 1995-96 was an awful disappointment and 1996-97 a bit of an anti-climax, then there was no doubting that 1997-98 was a season of almost total nothingness. At no time during the season did Blackpool look remotely like challenging for a play-off place, or of being in any danger of being relegated.

An almost symmetrical record of 17 wins and 18 defeats, combined with 11 draws saw Blackpool firmly entrapped in 12th spot in the final standings. It was a season of extreme mediocrity, with once again the only highlight being a two-legged League Cup battle with Premier League opposition.

Coventry City were defeated 1-0 in the first leg of a second-round clash, and there were guarded hopes that the slender advantage could be protected in the second-leg. However, a 3-1 defeat at Highfield Road put paid to such wishful thinking.

Phil Clarkson was top goal scorer with 13 league goals and 18 in all competitions.

With Bloomfield Road as good as condemned and large sections of the rambling old ground now out of bounds due to safety concerns, the summer of 1998 rumbled into view.

Owen Oyston was still in jail following his conviction for rape but was still pledging money to have the ground redeveloped. Hopes weren’t high, but to most people’s surprise planning permission was granted and so preparatory work finally got underway to turn the famous old ground from an absolute rubbish tip to something fairly respectable.

The fact that the ground was subsequently in a constant ‘state of redevelopment’ for the next 12 years, with stands being torn down and others being built at what seemed to be generously described as a leisurely pace, is perhaps by the by.

1998-99

Back on the pitch, the ageing Nigel Worthington decided to retire from playing and concentrate on management. The effect was immediate and startling as Blackpool finished a further two places lower in the 1998-99 table.

Finishing a massive 20 points off the play-off places and only six ahead of the relegation pack, Blackpool won and drew 14 games apiece, while losing 18. Out of the FA Cup in the first round, and the League Cup in the second, it was another season with barely a whimper.

Gates fell to around the 3,500 mark and the fact that Martin Aldridge was top league goal scorer with a paltry 10, probably speaks volumes.

By this time the average Blackpool fan had despaired of ever seeing a return to even the days of the 1970s when a strong side would regularly push for promotion from the old Second Division and be in and around the top five or six each season.

In 1977, for example, Blackpool missed out on promotion to the top flight by a single point when they were pipped by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. One more victory for the Tangerines that 1976-77 season could have been the catalyst for an entirely different footballing legacy.

Then again, maybe not.

1999-2000

By 1999-2000 Owen’s son, the equally lovely and charming Karl Oyston, had been installed as chairman in his father’s stead and so the season kicked-off to almost total apathy.

Nigel Worthington’s managerial career continued in its downward trajectory. By Christmas 1999 he had overseen a drop into the bottom three and the club was in desperate danger of slipping back into the fourth flight of English football.

A demoralising 3-0 tonking at near-neighbours Preston was the final nail in Worthington’s coffin, and he resigned shortly afterwards.

A trip to Highbury for a December third-round FA Cup tie against Arsenal was the highlight for the Seasiders faithful this season. A decent performance in a 3-1 defeat at least showing half a promise of better days to come. It was to be a forlorn hope.

The decade, and indeed century, was neatly wrapped up seven days into 2000 with the installing of ex-Liverpool and England stalwart, Steve McMahon, as manager.

In January 2000, though, the club suffered a tragic loss when player Martin Aldridge was killed in a car crash. On loan at non-league Rushden at the time, Aldridge was just 25 when he was killed. Following an inquest, it was found that Aldridge had crashed on a road which had inadequate lighting around some roadworks.

Although McMahon was appointed with over half the season still to go, he was unable to oversee any discernable change in fortunes and Blackpool slipped miserably into the Third Division.

So, the decade ended as it had begun: with relegation to the bottom division and a general malaise and unhappiness around the place.

The next decade would, of course, see a rise to the Premier League, which would, in turn, be swiftly followed by an almost immediate descent back down the divisions.

An extreme and protracted battle between supporters and the detested Oyston family would then follow.

At the time of writing it appears the Oystons are finally are their way out, if not yet totally out of the door, and the five-year-long supporters’ boycott of home games is at an end.

Although the threat of a possible points deduction hangs over the side for going into administration, the team is currently battling for a place in the League One play-offs. Could it be that finally, the ghosts of the recent past are about to be laid to rest?