AFC Blackpool 1-0 Ossett Town
FA Cup Preliminary Round, 29th August 2015
A sunny bank holiday weekend in Blackpool against lower ranked opposition must have seemed like an appealing proposition for Ossett Town when they travelled to the seaside for this Preliminary Round tie, yet this would prove to be no picnic.
Jepson Way, home of AFC Blackpool (formerly Blackpool Mechanics), was a ground I was familiar with having attended a game here in March of this year. Ongoing problems at their larger neighbours on Bloomfield Road saw fans of the then-Championship club boycott their match with Leeds and come down the road to see relegation-threatened AFC Blackpool entertain Bootle. Around 500 Seasiders came through the turnstiles that day to see the Mechanics win 2-1, but more on that later.
It’s safe to say FA Cup fever hadn’t quite gripped this small patch of the Fylde coast and it was a significantly lower crowd than on my previous visit, although a coachload from West Yorkshire helped boost the numbers. The opening stages was a tale of two keepers causing drama for different reasons. First, AFC Blackpool keeper Adam Caunce made a poor attempted clearance which went straight to the feet of an Ossett player, but the opportunity was squandered.
Moments later, his opposite number in the Ossett goal Tom Morgan was involved in a heavy aerial challenge which required him to have treatment. A few nervous moments followed given the lack of a substitute keeper, but he eventually found his way to his feet and the somewhat scrappy game continued.
“It’s good to see a few of you boys down here”, commented a stranger in an AFC Blackpool club polo shirt doing a lap of the ground, obviously spotting my ‘Oyston Out’ scarf and identifying me as a fan of the now-League One strugglers midway through the first half. A brief chat about the game so far ensued, with the two of us agreeing it had been a nervy start from the hosts but that they had done well to hold off their opposition from the step above.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name?” I asked of my new friend. “Oh, I’m Tom” came the response. Clearly a man with a lot of knowledge of all things AFC, I enquired as to what Tom’s role at the club was. “Oh, I’m the chairman.” Of course! It’s not every day you casually enter into a conversation with the club chairman while watching a game of football, so I took the opportunity to turn reporter and ask a few probing questions.
I soon learned that the season-old Blackpool FC away kits being used as training tops pre-game had been acquired at cut price and bargains at this level aren’t to be passed up on. As much as Tom wished they could afford custom-made training gear, the economics of being a Step 9 club means it’s a case of needs-must. In that sense, the Bootle game back in March had been a huge boost, with the chairman explaining how they had taken enough revenue (around £3,000) in that one game to pay the rent and electricity bill for the entire season.
Not only that, but Tom credited the huge attendance that day with saving the club from relegation with the players raising their games to grab the three points and giving them the confidence to pick up much-needed points in the matches that followed. Even in the early stages of this new season, avoiding the drop is once again the priority for a club that typically attracts “six men and a dog”, in Tom’s own words. Today’s crowd, albeit much smaller than on my last visit, was still decent in the chairman’s eyes and probably numbered around 100.
The finances would take a hit today, however, once the cost of officials, Ossett’s transport and sandwiches are taken into account. A “shared loss” is how the chairman described it, who was eager to avoid a replay which would also be loss-making. “I’d rather lose here than go back there mid-week and lose” explained Tom. With £1,925 up for grabs for the winner though, a victory would be a huge deal to a club of AFC’s size.
Five minutes before half time, and the dream looked as if it might be on, and in ridiculous circumstances too. An Ossett backpass from almost the halfway line looped up and over Morgan who, despite his scrambling, couldn’t prevent the ball slowly rolling over the line to give AFC Blackpool the lead. It was an own goal Frank Sinclair would have been proud of.
The second half, once the officials finally joined the waiting teams on the pitch, was one largely dominated by the visitors who were desperate to avoid an upset to their lower league opponents. As the half wore on, it became an ever more frantic affair and the nerves on both sides were evident as things started to get feisty and in danger of almost spilling over at one point.
As the final few minutes ticked away, Ossett sent their big number 5 Tyrone Gay up front and a couple of good chances did present themselves in the dying moments, but fortunately for the home side Ossett could not find the target. The Mechanics made a few changes to tighten up at the back and run the clock down further, and their hard work and determination paid off when the final whistle eventually blew.
A tricky trip to Northwich Victoria awaits AFC Blackpool in the 1st Qualifying Round, but the prize money won with this victory will go a long way to keeping the lights on at Jepson Way for another season. As for the Ossett fans, they were gracious in defeat and intended to make the most of a bank holiday weekend in Blackpool despite the result. “It’s Blackpool, in’t it? You’ve got to enjoy it!”. You sure have.