Brett Ormerod interview: Together in Tangerine dreams – Blackpool legend and the improbable anthem

‘Who put the ‘Pool in the Premier League?’ Brett Ormerod, as the song has it, but even the man himself says there was a hidden squad member – a world-renowned one at that – with an unforgettable part in Blackpool’s probability-defying feat a decade ago.

This May marked a full ten years since the Premier League got itself a temporary tangerine tint, as Ian Holloway’s Blackpool triumphed over Cardiff City in front of 82,244 in the Championship play-off final. It was arguably the most popular (local rivals aside perhaps…) promotion to the top flight in the modern era, and an achievement many feel may never be matched, when considering their meagre resources that year.

If the fans were the archetypal ‘12th man’, there was a lucky 13th that had a cameo in seeing them over the line.

As manager Holloway put it after they sealed a play-off place: “I’ve just said that someone’s got to win it, why can’t it be Blackpool? There wouldn’t be a better story anywhere.”

The story had its own anthem behind the scenes, and while the song in question may not hit the mark with everyone, for Blackpool’s Class of ’10, it captured the moment with all the precision of a Charlie Adam 30-yarder at Wembley. Match-winning goalscorer from that 3-2 final, Brett Ormerod, recalls.

“I think Matt Gilks used to do a bit (with the changing room music), because when we got promoted at Blackpool, we had ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ by Journey. We won the last nine out of 11, and he put it on when we won the first one, and we got in the play-offs on the last day.

“He started putting the song on every time, so that just became our sort of tune, if you will. So when that comes on now, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, because it’s a special song and it just takes me back.

“Every game we won, we put it on, all the lads were singing it, and so that became our little group anthem. Music’s like nostalgia, isn’t it?

“It was part of our squad in the last ten games, that song! If you ever speak with anyone else from our squad at that time, they’ll tell you exactly the same.”

Brett’s 81 goals across two spells with the Seasiders went a fair way to cementing his place in fans’ affections, but the firmly grounded personality and ever-present sense of humour helped endear him that bit more. Ian Holloway said last year that his former frontman should have his own TV programme.

He was often right on cue when the big moment arrived, and with some help from Lola and Rico (don’t forget Tony), he hasn’t fluffed his lines when a different kind of football spotlight has fallen upon him.

“I sang at (AFC) Fylde (while in temporary charge with John Hills last season); I’ve never been assistant manager and I had to do that. I always do my karaoke one, which is ‘Copacabana’, Barry Manilow.

“That’s a banker for me, that’s stood me in good stead a few times down the years! It’s a different world now, when I was a kid at Blackburn, early-90s, you used to have to sing at Christmas in front of the pros and it used to terrify you.

“They used to fill the bath up, the first-team bath in the old Nuttall Street Stand, before the Jack Walker Stand, and if you weren’t singing, the reserve keeper Matt Dickins used to pick you up, fully clothed, and then whizz you in the bath. I think that’s what added to the pressure, but they got rid of them big baths a long, long time ago!

“The big difference was that by the time I was a senior player, all these kids had grown up watching The X Factor and that, so it took the fun out of it. No one was scared any more, they were doing requests!”

Not much represents the generational shift he witnessed in the game over his career quite like the £31.50 he was earning as an apprentice at Blackburn (while cleaning Alan Shearer’s boots). Across well over 500 appearances, from young pretender to elder statesmen, did he ever take it upon himself to try and cater to the team’s taste, as changing-room DJ?

“No, I was probably too shy when I was younger, and when I got older, it was more rap music and all that. If I put mine on, I think people would look at me like I’ve got three heads!

“I used to leave that to people who had more popular choice than me.”

Spending time working in a textile factory while at Accrington Stanley, Brett has said before that he thinks raver would have been his ‘occupation’ of choice if not a footballer! Certain sounds are sewn into the memories for him, and it is the bands that signify something from yesteryear who go down as his favourites.

“I like my bands – Oasis, Simple Minds, New Order, Depeche Mode – but I love 80s music, 90s music, so it really does depend what mood I’m in. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always found the pop bands a bit cheesy, certain ones, or really hard grime or heavy metal, or rap music doesn’t really do much for me.

“If I was to put myself in a box and pick a favourite, I’d say my indie bands, of that era.”

However, if you turn the clock back a few years further still, to the first music he ever had or bought, you get a very different result!

“The first one, I remember it well, because it was Bucks Fizz ‘Making Your Mind Up’; I think I must have had a crush on Cheryl Baker! My mum bought me that, the first one, and then Meat Loaf and Cher was the other one, ‘Dead Ringer for Love.’”

Speaking of throwback spectaculars, his first spell at Blackpool included not just feats like his 27-goal season (2000/01), but also…an especially bleach blonde phase. Does he remember the inspiration?

“Do you know what it were? My missus was a hairdresser, she was practicing bleaching.

“First time she cut my hair, she told me she’d been practicing, and she hadn’t – I was gonna take her to the small claims court!”

Blackpool FC

There were certainly plenty of highlights from those years (mostly football…). Let go by Blackburn while still a teenager, Brett could have easily fallen out of the game, but instead went on to catch the attention with Accrington in the Unibond Premier, earning his move to Blackpool while still only 20.

The Tangerines legend also had time at West Lancashire rivals Preston North End, which took him out of what he remembers as a fractious, toxic environment at Southampton, with internal politics splitting the club apart at the time. He would reach the Championship play-offs with North End in 2006, though he broke his leg in six places in the semi-final with Leeds United –returning to play again regularly by that October was some going.

Figuring in four Premier League seasons with Southampton, Brett also helped Wigan Athletic on their way to the big time with a couple of goals (in a brief loan) during their promotion run-in in 2005. His move back into non-league with Wrexham also yielded two more Wembley run-outs in 2013, with an FA Trophy win over Grimsby Town and a Conference play-off final loss to Newport County.

While that day at the national stadium with Blackpool in 2010 is surely untouchable for all manner of reasons, he considers the time in his career where he felt happiest overall, and at his best on the pitch.

“I had a spell at Stanley when I’d left Blackburn, and I was confident, I was scoring. I was a right-winger, so I was never an out-and-out centre-forward, but the spell where I felt I could do anything, I’d come back from a broken leg and we got promotion (at Blackpool in 2001).

“I’d scored 20 goals the next season (by December) before I left for Southampton. That season-and-a-half under (Steve) McMahon, that’s probably the best ever.

“I was 23/24, coming up to my prime, and I was…not cocky, but just confident, running at people, taking them on. Premier League (with Southampton) was difficult, because I didn’t play all the time, and it took me a bit to get in, but when I did, I felt alright.

“I broke my leg again at Preston when I was going through a good spell. I think at 33, when Holloway took over at Blackpool, I thought I was winding down in my career, and he always said to me ‘I’ll get you back in the Prem,’ and I thought ‘yeah, right!’

“I had one of the best seasons of my life at 33, so that was a special one as well. That boils down to confidence and playing.

“I think man-management’s a massive thing and it’s very underplayed.”

Indeed Holloway is impossible to overlook in that sense. While the Bristolian’s one-off personality was a pivotal aspect, the playing style he introduced upon taking the Blackpool job saw them ultimately ransack their way to promotion as third top scorers (74) in the Championship, with a further nine in the play-offs.

Add in their status as a famous old club, but everything else, in theory, to suggest that they had no real business mixing it with the big hitters, it all endeared them greatly to footballing neutrals when they triumphed. It was a team filled with talent, but with plenty who had been unfancied elsewhere, or veered off-track in their respective careers.

For Brett, he said he has never had that same feeling as a player, before or after, of absolute belief in his team’s ability to create chances no matter what. Although the 78 they conceded in 2010/11 was their very obvious undoing, no team has ever scored as many (55) and been relegated in Premier League history.

Retiring from playing in 2016, Brett was part of AFC Fylde’s interim management team last season alongside former ‘Pool teammate John Hills (whose pass he converted in the Division Three play-off final against Leyton Orient in 2001). They had some ready-made inspiration when they stepped in.

“It was just nerves a bit, especially on the first match day, but a nervousness that you miss. The first game, it was a cup game and we went in Saturday morning, just had a brew and were just talking, and I got them butterflies that I’d not had since I finished playing.

“There’s a bit of an addiction to that, that sort of lost feeling that you just don’t get when you don’t play. Me and Hillsy went in the first day, they hadn’t been winning games, they hadn’t been scoring a lot of goals, and when we went in, they looked pretty low on confidence.

“We just tried to change that, we tried to make everything upbeat. We gave them a way that we wanted to play; pretty much in the style of Ian Holloway at Blackpool.

“I played under Ian Holloway in a 4-3-3 and Hillsy had been on the youth team staff at the time. Just picking the lads up and getting them enjoying football again, and we managed to do that.

“I really enjoyed it and I felt we picked the lads up and got a real smile on their face (with two wins from two).”

What we have lost for much of this year in football is that feeling of spine-tingling unity in a stadium. Whether you find yourself in the away end, or part of the home contingent, it is that shared wishing for the game to turn your way, and the outrageous rush when it comes true right in front of you.

For now at least, that magic remains on hiatus, and the same is true of live music, in its unrestricted form. Brett has experienced his fair share of those live experiences down the years, including a true ‘grassroots’ outing for the former non-league player, which he recalls first.

“I’ve been to Creamfields a few years ago. I’d have loved to have gone to more, but I was always away on holiday or it was during pre-season.

“I’ve been to watch a few bands; I’ve been to watch Depeche Mode at the MEN. I went to watch Justin Timberlake once and he was fantastic, but I spent more time looking at the audience, to be honest!

“I’ve been to quite a few, I do like my music. I saw Queen, with Adam Lambert; that was at the MEN a couple of years ago and that was unbelievable.”

What, though, if he had his ticket for any act from all-time?

“It’d have to be either Freddie Mercury or Elvis, or even Michael Jackson; just one of those pioneers who took it to a different level. I mean Freddie Mercury, at Live Aid, with everyone packed into Wembley, he just had them in the palm of his hand, so it takes a special kind of person to be able to do that.

“So, probably just being in the crowd at Live Aid, at the front, when he was on.”

We know by now Brett can bring out the CopacaBlackburn when the moment calls, but what if he had to get in the studio to record a fully spruced-up song cover – with any teammate(s) from his career?

“I’d just get the lads from 2010 at Blackpool. I don’t know what song they’d sing…probably Journey.

“There we go. We sung it enough, so at least we’d be on the same page with it.”

Undoubtedly the fondest portion of his Southampton spell was playing for Gordon Strachan, and those years included featuring in occasions like the final game at Manchester City’s Maine Road (in May 2003), and most notably, the FA Cup final with Arsenal six days later. During his time as a Saints player, there was also a memorable moment when he brought out the flip celebration, as seen on certain occasions in his career.

The twist this time, though, was that no goal had been scored, and there wasn’t even a match taking place! He explains as he’s asked if he can still manage it (as well as when he last tried it, and where it all started).

“Not a chance! On a trampoline or a bed, yeah, but on the floor, I wouldn’t really like to try.

“When did I last do it? It’s a few years.

“I once did it at Southampton when I was drunk, showing my mate – I landed on my back and I couldn’t walk. I wouldn’t have the confidence to try it now, so there’s no chance!

“Me and my brother used to mess around on my mum and dad’s bed trying to do front flips or back flips, trying to beat each other. When we went on holidays, used to go to Pontins, and they’d have the trampolines behind the net.

“I never used to do gymnastics, we just used to try and do somersaults and put different things into it to try and outdo each other. It was like breakdancing with trampolines!”

Brett has previously spoken about players apologising on Twitter after losing a game, expressing his view that if those players have given their all, there should be no need to apologise for simply losing a game of football to another team. As he is reminded of that, he considers whether there are any other such trends in the game that he doesn’t quite agree with.

“Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to have respect for football fans and I totally do, but going on to that issue, everyone will have a bad game. Nobody goes out there to have a bad game.

“I hear ‘if I didn’t do my job I wouldn’t get paid,’ but it’s different. If you’re a plumber, there’s not another plumber trying to rip something out while you’re working on it.

“Players are athletes now, and it’s two teams going at each other, trying to get one over on each other. Sometimes you’ll have a good day, sometimes you’ll have a bad day, but no one goes out to have a bad game.

“When you’re winning games, the world’s a brilliant place. I’ve been in promotion battles and I’ve been in relegation battles, and I know which one I’d rather be in.

“In a relegation battle, the squad’s lost their confidence and it can be a lonely place, and a horrible place to be in. The thing is with Twitter, it came in at the back-end of my career.

“I went on it, straight away I was getting dog’s abuse from a Wrexham fan about a game I was useless in…and I hadn’t even played in that game! It’s not like when I was younger and I was watching Blackburn, and they’d had a bad game and they’d lost; Twitter’s like having a bat phone straight to you.

“People do suffer with mental health nowadays, and with everything online, there’s no respite from it, these kids have got it 24/7 now. Everything’s digital; at the dinner table, everyone’s got a phone.

“My three kids, I used to shout up their tea’s ready, they don’t come down, you walk into the computer room and turn the Wi-Fi off, and honestly, it was like I’d dropped a bomb! They’d be in tears.

“I’d say ‘well, come down then!’ I didn’t even have Wi-Fi growing up, I had a Commodore 64, me.

“Press play on the tape deck and then go out and play football for half an hour while the game loads. Most of the time it would crash, but when it didn’t, it was the worst graphics ever!”

Brett’s career spanned a few computer systems and game consoles, and from VHS to Netflix. The latter has been put to good use just recently, with Brett isolating after a trip abroad with friends. Schitt’s Creek and Formula 1 (Drive to Survive) have been at the forefront of the watchlist, while The Big Bang Theory remains a firm favourite.

In football, meanwhile, the media side has been central in his recent endeavours. The man who scored in each of the top four divisions (for Blackpool alone), before ticking off the fifth with Wrexham in 2012, currently does co-commentary for BBC Radio Lancashire, as well as a column for the Blackpool Gazette.

In addition to that National League dugout cameo with AFC Fylde, he also lent a hand last season at former club Bamber Bridge, where his one-time Blackpool teammate Jamie Milligan manages. The possibilities are huge with both the media and coaching side for a former player, but it is true that there will never be a like-for-like replacement for being out there yourself.

“You spend 20-odd years of your life being told what to do, you’re structured; it’s almost like being in the Army. You get told where to go, every week you’ve got a game, your whole life is built around football matches.

“The first six months after I stopped, I was like ‘this is great, this,’ but then 12 months, it started to blag my head and you feel like you’re a prisoner in your own home, you lose your sense of purpose. The Radio Lancashire stuff’s always a help, doing the media side of it, because that gives you your football fix, which I really enjoy.

“I started playing again for a vets team, Darwen Vets, 7-a-side. I stopped playing totally for two years, and the first time I did a 7-a-side, a year-and-a-half ago, I felt so far off it.

“When I was going home, though, I just had that feeling, like that Ready Brek glow! When you used to finish training and you’re driving home and you just felt good, it’s sort of that.”

His team are currently waiting for the green light to start their league again. While it is over-35s, Brett says there is no lack of competitive edge involved, and a bit of exactly that will fit in fine in this regular closing scenario.

The man who loved a debut goal has another new side to try and get off the mark for here. Over the years, the interviewees have been asked to put forward four teammates from their career who they know they would enjoy playing alongside again, in a 5-a-side game.

The idea is to give some examples, rather than a definitive ‘best four’, but as his former gaffer Gordon Strachan used to say, ‘you’re only as strong as your weakest link’, so there’ll be no passengers in this line-up! Over to you, Mr. Ormerod.

“I’d have probably Jamie Milligan, Danny Coid, who in 5-a-sides, you couldn’t get the ball off them. Everyone tried to get on their teams at Blackpool, because the loser had to buy the biscuits!

“If it was me, I always brought them in, but it was rich tea – the finest rich tea you could get in Blackburn! Antti Niemi in net.

“Marians Pahars or a Keith Southern. I’d try and go for a balance in my team.”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes

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