x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Stakes just as high as they were in 1971

Loss to West Ham banished Blackpool to lower tiers, but this time the club is determined to fight as they meet after 39 years.

Blackpool's Ian Holloway has a contrasting  temperament from his counterpart Avram Grant at West Ham.
Blackpool's Ian Holloway has a contrasting temperament from his counterpart Avram Grant at West Ham.

The last meaningful match between West Ham and Blackpool came in an FA Cup third-round game 39 years ago.

On a frozen pitch at Blackpool's old Bloomfield Ground, the Tangerines thumped the Hammers 4-0.

The defeat became even more infamous for West Ham because an irate fan phoned a newspaper on the following Monday, informing reporters that he had seen four players out socialising on the eve of the game: Bobby Moore, the World Cup hero; accompanied by the legendary Jimmy Greaves and two lesser-known players, a young Clyde Best (the first black player to make a real impression in English football) and Brian Dear.

It caused a massive furore at the time and, in many ways, marked the gradual decline of England's World Cup-winning captain Moore and proved the final straw for Greaves.

It also serves to emphasise that the tales of debauched footballers making headlines in tabloid newspapers is not the preserve of the current crop of multi-millionaire players.

Then, as now, West Ham are struggling to retain their top-flight status, and if the Hammers do not beat Blackpool at Upton Park then the portents for the rest of the season will start to look ominous.

"If we don't get three points against Blackpool then I realise people will think we are doomed," Kieron Dyer, the West Ham midfielder, said yesterday.

The players, at least, seem to have grasped that the club is in trouble. Club management have been reluctant to come to the same conclusion.

Before last week's match at Birmingham, David Sullivan, West Ham's co-owner, suggested the team needed to gain at least seven points from their next four games. Draws against Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion mean the Hammers must beat Blackpool and then go to an improving Liverpool side and win if they are to exceed that target.

Avram Grant, the club's manager, appears unconcerned by the fact that his side have mustered just one victory this season and are rooted to the bottom of the league table.

His lack of urgency and inspiration is an escalating concern for Sullivan, who said that if the team did not get seven points from a potential 12 then he would need to "shuffle the pack".

It will, however, not be easy to reshape the squad in January, particularly with limited resources, so Sullivan could have been referring to his coaching team.

To add to Grant's woes, the Hammers will today face a Blackpool side fired by the criticism that their manager, Ian Holloway, received for fielding a so-called weakened side in their 3-2 defeat at Aston Villa on Wednesday.

Holloway has threatened to resign if he is charged by the Premier League.

That row has papered over the fact that after their fine away start to the season - they won at Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United - Blackpool have gained only three points from the last 15 and are four points off the bottom three.

West Ham may be four points adrift from the safety zone, but they will take some crumb of comfort from history. In 1971, both clubs were also battling it out at the foot of the table yet West Ham survived and Blackpool did not.

That was the last time Blackpool dined at the top table of English football. They are unlikely to go back down quietly this season.