Book Review: Flat Caps & Tangerine Scarves – A biography of Blackpool Football Club by Roy Calley

A biography tends to be about a person, but Roy Calley a former BBC journalist and author of a range of books, has opted to apply this to his beloved Blackpool FC.

Roy saw his first Tangerines game in January 1968 when Bristol City were the visitors in the old Second Division. He went on to be the editor of the fanzine View from the Tower in 1990, then having published, Blackpool: A Complete Record, 1887-1992 (with an updated version in 2011) and an e-book, Blackpool’s 1953 FA Cup: Tangerine Wizards. Therefore it’s fair to say he knows a bit about the club from Bloomfield Road and most definitely its ups and downs.

The first thing to say that the authors journalist background is evident in the quality of the writing and research. Calley is able to mix a poetic and lyrical style with fact, also including in some places dreamlike fantasy pieces, but retaining a conversational and at times humorous tone in telling the warts and all story of the Lancashire coastal club.

At 188 pages the book covers, at a breathless pace, nine main chapters which could be argued make up the constituent part of the soul of a club, including, The Beginning The Ground, The Colours, The Managers, The Players, The Successes, The Failures, The Owners and The Supporters.

Given the size of the book and the ground it covers, Calley acknowledges that in the chapters around managers and players, not every supporters favourite will be included, but what he does create is text style which reflects those fan conversations had travelling to games and over pre and post-match pints, where names are banded about as villains and heroes are praised and slaughtered in equal measures.

Of course no book about the Tangerines can be written without discussion of the Oyston family era, which began in 1988 and ended in 2019. It was to be ultimately a turbulent period for the Bloomfield Road club both on and off the pitch and Calley offers a pragmatic view of their involvement and the sacrifice fans made in boycotting the club until Blackpool was free of the Oyston’s. Calley’s last line in The Owners chapter, has particular resonance, not just for Blackpool during that time, but for football in general, in the wake of COVID with games played behind closed doors and the aborted launch of the European Super League: The supporters won the club back. A football club is nothing without its fans and Blackpool fans proved that.

This is undoubtedly a book aimed at the Blackpool faithful and will no doubt be a source of debate for those old enough to remember the 1953 FA Cup Final win, and those younger fans who witnessed the 2010/11 Premier League season only to find themselves watching football in the fourth tier just six years later. However, it has a wider appeal for anybody wanting to get a snapshot of this famous English club and its place in the English game.


(Conker Editions Ltd. April 2021. Paperback 188 pages)



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Book Review: Queen of Cups: Part 1: by James Durose-Rayner

Queen of Cups is the final instalment of the trilogy that includes, I Am Sam and itv7 and differs from the first two books is that it is in two parts.

As with I Am Sam and itv7, Queen of Cups is a mix of the fictional word of central character Lee Janes and a factual exploration of aspects of the history of Arsenal FC. This time the focus is on the years of ex-England and Wolves player Billy Wright and his difficult period as manager at Highbury (1962-1966) and that of Terry Neil who was in the hot-seat for the Gunners from 1976 to 1983. Woven into the story of the Neil era are tales of unrest, politics and poor management as players such as Alan Ball, Liam Brady, Alan Hudson and Malcolm MacDonald came and went from the Marble Halls of N5. However, the author also looks to touch on other football topics, so that for instance the continuing problems at Blackpool FC between fans and owner has an airing.

Away from the football, Lee Janes’ businesses in the form of the itv7 channel, studios and music company continue to be successful and this story is told through chapters from the central character, longtime best friend Sooty and one of the television staff Abi. What these chapters also do is further delve into the past of Lee, his wife Emily, ex-wife Jeanette and Sooty, providing more glimpses into their backstory, giving the reader a more complete picture of what makes the central protagonists tick and its impact on their present-day life.

Indeed, the slowly more considered and reflective storytelling within Queen of Cups reveals the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the main characters that is only hinted at within I Am Sam and itv7. This allows the reader, as in the earlier parts of the trilogy, to fully engage with both the cast and plot-lines.

If Queen of Cups was a match you were watching, you would be more than happy with the opening period and the entertainment so far, but now having returned to your seat in the stands after the break, it’s time for the second-half and you just can’t wait to see how it turns out.


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Book Review: The Great English Final – 1953: Cup, Coronation & Stanley Matthews by David Tossell

David Tossell’s book about the 1953 FA Cup Final when Stanley Matthews’ Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 makes a grandiose but puzzling claim. It says that the “…legendary game continues to occupy a prominent place in English football legend…” (sic) because it has, “…come to represent a Golden Age…” But it doesn’t even leave things at that. Not content with such a mighty claim about the game’s footballing pedigree, it makes wider claims for the match that cannot possibly be substantiated. The raw material for a really good story about football is there all right, but he nearly messes it up by trying to bring in too many different themes. Happily, he is saved by the fact that, finally, the Final delivered.

It is hard to work out exactly why people who want to read about a football match that has come to be known as ‘The Matthews Final’ have to wade through so much that is not actually about the game itself, nor indeed even about football. That is, until you realise that most of the match up to the climactic ending was rather dull. In searching for something more to say about it, Tossell greatly widens his remit to look at the “…merging of historical, cultural and personal narratives…”

Some of the things he says are pretty much beyond question; the game did take place in Coronation year, Mount Everest was conquered for the first time, it was watched by a much bigger television audience than any previous one, post-War food rationing did stretch out till that year, the Duke of Edinburgh apparently did say the Bolton kit made them look like a bunch of pansies. However he tries, particularly in the first half of the book, to make the 1953 FA Cup Final carry much more weight, culturally, than is fair for what was, after all, a football match. He makes a nod in this direction himself when he says, “…the threat of nuclear obliteration notwithstanding…”

A major problem with the book is its structure. Even before the account begins, we are given pen pictures of the players, curiously called the ‘Cast of Characters’, something that could surely have gone to the back of the book to ease the narrative flow. Except that there is no narrative flow. He repeatedly breaks away from his match report of the Final itself, gleaned from having studied the DVD, to explore his themes. Therefore, his first interlude arrives after a mere seven and a half minutes of uneventful football. He continues to encounter difficulties with this approach until the game itself takes over narrative duties. But before that, we are torn away from our match report yet again, this time to get, er, a match report of the Semi-Final.

Although a little credence can be given to the Final having had some degree of cultural impact since it was watched by so many, it is always dangerous when authors generalise, especially about things like the public attitude to Elizabeth II’s Coronation. People never did and never do act with one mind. Tossell seems much more comfortable and is on much safer and more interesting ground when he talks about the players and supporters. This is, in any case, what most readers of football books want all along. An over-generous helping of social enlightenment is not what they crave.

Isn’t it more real and interesting to read about Stanley Matthews having personalised boots made in Heckmondwike? Isn’t the reader more engaged by the many and varied attempts made by fans to get tickets for the Final? Isn’t everybody happier reading about Blackpool fans presenting a huge stick of rock to Number 10 Downing Street in the days when you could actually walk up to the door and knock?

Once the author has bravely trudged through the historical and cultural narratives, and most of the personal ones, he relaxes much more into what the match itself has to offer and it is amusing to note how he can barely tolerate the legendary commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary of the legendary game. And he teases the reader throughout, being unprepared to admit it was ‘The Matthews Final’. He does have a fair point since Mortensen and Perry made pretty important contributions, too, in actually scoring the goals. Yet the match, in an era when substitutes were not allowed, was turned on its head by Matthews in the final minutes as Bolton tired. They let a 3-1 lead slip and the nation’s most popular player, Matthews, won his medal aged 38. The book’s clanking title ‘The Great English Final’ obstinately launches a counter-claim, but its cover admits the reality. One picture of little Queen Elizabeth, no Everest, no Bolton pansies, but three shots of Stan. 2nd May, 1953 – The Matthews Final.


Review by Graeme Garvey


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