With the haunting memory of Play-Off heartbreak from 12 months previous still at the forefront of their minds, Blackpool’s players arrived at Wembley Stadium in 1992 fully focused on making amends.
Having lost on penalties to Torquay United the previous year, it was ironic that The Seasiders secured a memorable promotion to Division Three in the same manner against Scunthorpe United.
The success set the precedent for the club, being the first of their record five Play-Off victories, and two heroes from the day, Tony Rodwell and Phil Horner, look back on the afternoon with fond memories.
“The first time it passed us by and we didn’t really enjoy the occasion, so the second time I was focused on enjoying it because the feeling was we were going there to win it,” Rodwell admitted.
“The previous year’s disappointment focused us because we knew we were capable of promotion. In hindsight you’d take going twice, knowing you’d win the second time and it was an incredible experience.”
Automatic promotion was the target throughout the campaign and looked the likely outcome for Billy Ayre’s side until the final game, when defeat to Lincoln City condemned them to the Play-Offs and a feeling of Deja-vu for Horner.
“I’ll be honest; the overriding memory was thinking ‘here we go again’. We didn’t leave the top three all season until the last game when we dropped into the Play-Offs, so it was a bit of a body blow,” Horner said.
“However, we gained confidence from being that high up in the league for most of the season. We didn’t really go as tourists to Wembley the second time, like we maybe did the first time, and that helped.”
After his costly penalty miss against Torquay the previous year, striker Dave Bamber was on a revenge mission of his own and headed his side in front from a tight angle on 40 minutes. However, Scunthorpe responded after the interval and a fine one-touch move was concluded when Tony Daws hammered home the equaliser and sent the final into extra-time and penalties, when both Rodwell and Horner avoided the call.
“When it went to penalties me and Dave Bamber took our boots off because we knew who was going to take them and if it went to sudden death we’d be the last they’d pick because we’d have to lace them up again,” Rodwell joked.
As for Horner, he added: “I didn’t complete the second game, I went off right on 90 minutes, so that got me out of it.
“The first game I was up next when ‘Bambs’ (Dave Bamber) missed and he probably did me a favour as we might have been talking about me because my record wasn’t very good for penalties.”
Mitch Cook, Paul Groves, Andy Garner and David Eyres did the business from 12 yards for The Seasiders, who had Steve McIlhargey to thank for his vital penalty save when it mattered. The goalkeeper got down and watched his outstretched right arm scoop the ball away from goal, denying Graham Alexander, who’d ironically go on to become a popular figure down the M55 at Preston North End.
“It was a really good save,” said Horner. “Funnily enough, I’ve never looked back on it, and saw it on a clip a few months ago. It was a great save; I didn’t realise how good it was at the time.
“I’m not one to watch old games back. My dad has a copy of the video somewhere but I’ve never watched it back myself, probably because I don’t have a video player anymore,” he joked.
The victory was made all the sweeter given the tight-knit nature of Blackpool’s side, which remained almost entirely intact for the second final, with Mitch Cook replacing Alan Wright as the only notable change.
Rodwell explained: “There were no major changes between the two teams, it was near enough the same side. We were good enough to go up and missed out on going up automatically, but we were always confident we’d do it.
“It was great to be back at Wembley for a second time. To see the twin towers and play there, it was such an iconic stadium. Even the first time, although we lost, it was great to be there.”
This promotion was the only one of Horner’s career, despite spells with Leicester City and Halifax Town, so remains the proudest moment of his career.
“It was the only thing I won and my only promotion so it was a proud moment. I think I was average on the day but that was me all over really - never really good, never really bad. I played at the back, probably Gary Briggs picked up another suspension.”
Rodwell enjoyed the best spell of his career at Bloomfield Road, making more than 100 appearances, and explains where the Wembley win ranks in his memory.
“Playing against Tottenham and ‘Gazza’ (Paul Gascoigne) in the FA Cup was a great memory - he was the first player I saw have minders because he was such a super star, but winning at Wembley was the highlight of my career,” he said.