Sour Grapes, I don’t think so! a wonderful club, wonderful supporters but just let me begin by saying that I was invited to the Billy Ayre memorial function at Bloomfield Road on the Friday night the 5th of Oct 2012 and to the Saturday match following against Charlton FC at Bloomfield Road we lost this match but I’ve been reliably informed that we should have won!!!!
John Cross whom I’ve known forever is a Blackpool FC supporter, a Postman by profession and is at the forefront of the BSA, It would be nice if I had been added to the list of dignitaries at BFC but the people that matter have short memories and I have held various positions at the Club including Ex Player, Director, Manager “albeit the latter was in a caretaker capacity” and supporter!!
My assistant during my stint as Manager was none other than the man of the moment BILLY AYRE who is the main beneficiary of this evening! I have nothing to be proud of during my spell as caretaker other than I had become the manager of this famous seaside football club and had Billy as my assistant and I won him the the managers job to boot.
Along with the invitation was a page that had to be sent back to the club so as they could tell the numbers who would be attending for catering purposes, there was a section where it asked if we had any stories of Billy that we would like to share with the diners present.
In my reply I said that I had many stories about Billy but that now was not the time nor the place to be airing them!! I was delighted to receive the invitation but aggrieved by the content, The invitation from the BSA began by saying that they would be delighted if I would care to be a guest at this function and that it would be free of charge to myself, it was the clubs way of honouring Billy as one of the most popular managers of Blackpool. The BSA had commissioned a portrait by a “local artist” which was to be hung in the Bar within the Jimmy Armfield Stand.
Billy was a great lad and he certainly deserved this honour that the they were bestowing on him, Billy sadly passed away 10 years ago at a very young age and in tragic circumstances, Billy’s wife Elaine and their children were going to be there for this fitting tribute, unfortunately I had a prior engagement and I would be unable to attend this special night because my granddaughter Jamie was having her 21st birthday party which I’d arranged to go to before this event had surfaced, I’m sure that Billy Ayres family understood my dilemma.
Tales about Billy, we all know that Billy had his principles so much so that they were to rear their head soon after I became the caretaker Manager at BFC. Jimmy Mullen who was a close friend of mine was the Manager of the club, the board had been looking for a way to remove Jim for several months and they were trying to find someone on the board to do the this horrible job, mostly it would be someone prepared to do the dirty on behalf of the club like a newish director.
As I had been asked more than once, I deliberately kept away from doing this because of my friendship to Jimmy, when the time came to remove him as manager a meeting was called at Claphton Hall early at 9am. This was The Chairman Owen Oyston’s home, Jimmy and I drove separately to this meeting, three of us were in attendance when Jimmy was asked to resign, afterwards we drove immediately back to tell the players and staff what had happened.
Jim arrived at Squire’s Gate training ground slightly ahead of me, we both went in to tell the players what had happened, it was an open secret but I found it hard and emotional. Jimmy spoke to the players first he thanked those players who had been on his side and said that those players who had been against him that he would be leaving them in the capable hands of Mr White a Director.
I spoke to the players next and I don’t mind admitting that I found it extremely hard, I found my lips quivering as I spoke and was only able to free myself from this ordeal by saying that I was now going to talk to the Staff who were in another room. I was shaking all over, it was at this point that I went into the staff room.
I met Billy who had been at the club for a couple of weeks, Jimmy Mullen should be praised for bringing him to the Club. I introduced myself to Billy and the staff I then asked Billy if he would stay on along with the rest of the staff. What happened next was hard for me but understandable!
Billy was very principled and didn’t swear at all but on this occasion he simply told me to “Fuck Off”… I was gutted. What I said next was “OK then, but what I’ll do is that I’ll go down to the Cafe on Squire’s Gate Lane and I’ll have a coffee, then pop back and see if you have have changed your mind”.
I had done the right thing and it had the desired effect, but there was a twist to the tale, Billy told me that he would stay on but not because of me but for the players who need a Professional. I was pleased with his decision but not his reasons, what never seemed to surface was the fact that I had played professionally for several years and scored over a hundred goals. I would gladly have played against Billy if he had been around when I was playing. I had no fear of him or anyone else for that matter. What came to light was that being a football club director was not a way of getting back into football.
Billy and I became good friends, we didn’t socialise but it was mainly for BFC. As I’ve said before I’m not proud of my achievements as manager, we were relegated which is failure but there was something else about becoming the manager that rankled me and I think that it concerned Jimmy Mullen. I think that because of our closeness, Jimmy felt that I had stabbed him in the back… in my opinion I hadn’t. What Jim wasn’t aware of, was that we had all been sworn to secrecy and what he wasn’t aware of, was how long the club had been thinking of changing him as manager!
David Johnston the club secretary and I had put our names forward to manage the club. It hadn’t crossed my mind about Jimmy and only came to light when he and his wife were clearing his office, it became apparent to me that they thought that I had wronged him but they had no idea of us being sworn to secrecy.
I had been offered the assistant managers job at Coventry by Gordon Milne who was an ex- Liverpool player and I also played with Gordon for about 12 months at Blackpool. He was well respected in English football and for him to offer me this position after our short spell together was remarkable, he must’ve thought that I had something going for me.
I was also Player Manager at Fleetwood and I went to Lilleshall for my coaching badge, people who were there at that time were Ron Atkinson, Terry Venables, Graham Taylor to name but a few and Graham Smith was the head coach for the FA. I know I was a Pro and I was in the throws of being the real deal. It sticks in my throat when I have to explain all about it, this is what I mean about being a director It is definitely a hindrance, but there’s more.
I had a bit of a grudge with the board as none of them chose to be there in support. After I had spoken to the players and sorted the staff out we all drove to Bloomfield Road to meet up with the Chairman, we arrived at the boardroom when Owen started to speak to us all. It was at this time that I decided to interrupt him I then told everyone that Billy would like to say a few words and that nothing would change at the club apart from me being there during training. Billy appeared to warm to this invitation and had a new spring in his step, he went on to outline our way forward about our remaining matches.
One game I remembered was when we played Bolton, we beat them 1– 0 David Ayers scored a great goal, Phil Neale the ex-Liverpool full back was the Bolton manager. I remember when we were walking down the touchline before the match there was a huge noise from the crowd, Billy said to me to wave to them, they’re calling out my name. I wasn’t aware what they were shouting but I understood it once it had been pointed out they were shouting “Tommy White’s Tangerine Army”. Whilst I was very proud to beat Bolton that day one thing that I let everyone down with was the fact that I had run onto the pitch when we scored. It was pure adrenalin and I had forgotten all about this “no no” all of a sudden I’m first on the pitch when Ayres’y scored it dawned on me soon afterwards when I began ushering all of the supporters off the hallowed turf, Billy gave me such a look!
I apologised to Phil Neale but I’m sure it went over his head and he had thought that I was doing the correct thing by ushering our supporters off. It’s only now that I wish I had never been a director because I still believe that I would’ve been a great football manager, but we will never know.
The time has long gone when I strutted my stuff, I remember when Alec Ferguson brought Man Utd Reserves to Bloomfield Road, all he was concerned about at that time was Ryan Giggs In fact he shouted to the coaches and told them that he wanted Ryan to travel home in his car with him, he would have been 16 year old. That bunch of players were simply the best ever, I don’t have any regrets except that becoming a director of a football club was an enjoyable experience but is without doubt a hindrance to anyone who wants to continue in football as a Professional.. c’est la vie!
After my stint as manager and relegation the Chairman Mr Oyston told me that he would be advertising the managers job and that the interviewees would have to attend on the original date, if they were away on holiday they would have to come back or miss out. There is no doubt that I would’ve been the manager had we not been relegated, fate played it’s part, there was many a match that was impossible to win because of injuries to first team players.
We held the interviews for the new manager at The Tickle Trout, Mr Oyston frequented this place quite often. On my arrival I noticed that there was a Director of Liverpool in the foyer, I introduced myself and asked him why he was here. I was shocked with his reply when he told me that our Chairman had asked him to sit in at our interviews, I immediately told him of my disappointment at our Chairman but that no offence was intended to him.
I seem to remember that this chaps name was Tom Preston and he was involved with the juniors at Liverpool, we had quite a few interviewees including an angry Billy Ayre whom I had persuaded to come back from holiday and that it was important that he should be there. The interviews began with Mr Preston from Liverpool next to Mr Oyston, once we had finished it was unanimously agreed that Billy Ayre had won the interview as it was announced by the Liverpool Director, but in what can only be described as an own goal, he was asked by our Chairman did he have a Candidate in mind for our managers position. He replied that we should interview Graham Carr late of Northampton Town. This chap had taken Northampton from the 4th Div to the 1st Div and then back down to the 4th Div. This was a very impressive management performance but there was a massive sticking block in the announcement he could only turn up the following Saturday.
I was livid I had already told Terry Venables assistant at Barcelona that if he can’t make the date of the interviews then sadly he had to forgo it. Graham Taylor who was manager at Aston Villa at the time that one of his assistants could not make the date so we scrubbed him as well, you can imagine how angry I became especially when Billy Ayre had to come back from a family holiday, this was typical of Oyston, he ran the club his way and thereby hangs the tail.
Oyston held the interview with Graham Carr the following Saturday and it was so obvious that Graham Carr had been told to keep talking to Tom White because he never stopped talking to me. I had nothing against Graham Carr my only grudge was that he wasn’t able to make the first interview and because of this he should’ve been barred like the other people, Graham’s claim to fame is that his son is “the Chatty Man” and he himself is plying his trade with Newcastle Utd quite successfully at that. Graham was ratified as manager the Saturday after our original interviews, I resigned on that day but for reasons that I can’t recall I happened to be at the board meeting on the Monday when I was asked by one of the Chairmans henchmen if I’d consider staying on if Graham and Billy could work together. Julian Allitt popped outside and asked them if they could work together they both said that they could so I was happy to continue as a director, Graham was OK but I didn’t work with him much.
Approximately 6 months down the line we were all summoned to The Broughton Park Hotel at Broughton Nr Preston. I didn’t know why we were there and I was told by Julian that it was to sack Graham Carr for breakdown of communications and appoint Billy Ayre forthwith. The breakdown of communications was always on the cards as poor Graham was taken like the lambs to the slaughter, he had attempted to outfox the Chairman in the local press claiming that the Chairman had promised him some money so as he could add a new member to his squad.
It was at this board meeting that I virtually committed suicide and for sure that was the beginning of the end for me. The BSA and the fans at Blackpool are unaware of certain things that have gone on behind the scenes, It’s probably the same at every football club but I was Privy to how the Oyston family run BFC and have became very wealthy as a result, it’s not a pretty sight but such is life!!!!