Lancashire Turf Wars
Pitch Publishing 2018
Softback 350pp £12.99
It may be surprising, but Blackburn Rovers was originally the “posh” team in the town. Founded by the well connected, its original colours were Cambridge Blue and white. It was Blackburn Olympic that was the working-class club, founded in 1878 as a merger between Black Star and James Street. Within five years it had brought the FA Cup to Lancashire, beating Old Etonians, and the town was chosen to host the first England game outside London.
The power and influence of Lancashire clubs upon football has hardly paused since then, including 59 league championships, with its 16 league clubs outreaching any other county by far. It’s necessary to clarify what “Lancashire” means in this context. Steve Tongue has a definition that is open to dispute but works ok for his book. Basically, it’s the historic county, so including Liverpool, without Furness (so no mention of the former league club Barrow), but with Tranmere and Stockport (historically Cheshire). With that hopefully cleared up, this is a fine history not only of the county’s clubs not only individually but in the context of their rivalries and fluctuating pecking order.
The initial focus was very much outside Manchester and Liverpool. The initial Lancashire Football Association in 1878 had 28 teams, none of which were from those two cities. It was the Blackburn and Bolton areas that supplied most of the teams and the early competition outside of Rovers and Olympic was between clubs including six from Darwen , five from Bolton and two from Haslingden. It wasn’t until the latter part of the century that the landscape became populated by names that are more familiar now. By then, of course, Preston became the first Football League champions. Newton Heath and Ardwick morphed into Manchester United and City, Bury became a major force, winning the FA Cup in 1900, Oldham, and Blackpool. emerged , and Bootle, a major player, faded whilst Liverpool and Everton became that city’s league clubs.
There are then three main periods of history. Up to the First World War, supremacy was shared amongst several clubs. Oldham were league runners up and cup semi-finalists, Liverpool, Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers, league champions. After 1918, however, the balance changed again. Burnley started off with two finishes in the top two, Bolton had a superb ten-year spell, three Cup wins and frequent top six finishes. The big city clubs began to draw massive crowds and others lost ground. Life for Rochdale was a constant struggle, Oldham dropped out of the top flight, Southport, Accrington Stanley and Southport were perpetual Div 3 North participants, and Nelson’s brief league membership ended, as did that of Wigan Borough.
Since 1945 the footballing world has become a different place again, especially in the last twenty years. Lancashire has brought back the European Cup, umpteen championships and cup successes whilst, at the other end of the wealth list, there have been ups and downs. Bolton, Preston, Blackburn, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool, Burnley and Oldham have all had spells in the top flight, but the bottom division has also been graced by some of these. Fleetwood, Wigan Athletic and Morecambe have joined the top 92, Southport and Barrow have left it. The thrusting operations at AFC Fylde and Salford are knocking on the door and the breadth of the game in the county still, to a greater or lesser degree thrives. Steve Tongue encapsulates all of it, including non-league, exceedingly well and this is a book that is both a good read and a reference work for years to come.