Expansionist Blog: What a shame it was for Blackpool Panthers

Drew Darbyshire

Bloomfield Road was once the home of Blackpool Panthers

Blackpool Panthers were just starting to come to when they suffered a huge blow which ultimately cost them their place in the RFL.

The Panthers were a semi-professional Rugby League club based in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire and they played at the 9,000-capacity Woodlands Memorial Ground, which was owned by Fylde Rugby Union club.

They were members of the Rugby Football League from 2005 to 2010.

The club were originally founded as Blackpool West Coast Panthers ahead of the 2005 season and took the place of the defunct Chorley Lynx, with sixteen players of the Lynx team joining the Panthers along with head coach Mark Lee.

Bloomfield Road was the home of the club after Blackpool FC and the Panthers had agreed a two-year tenancy and they were put into the National League Two for the 2005 campaign.

Coach Lee was sacked before the start of the season and ex-Great Britain ace Kevin Ashcroft came in as Team Manager but the club struggled, finishing second bottom of the National League Two table, only managing three wins all year.

The club were struggling to make a substantial impact in the seaside town though, with only just over 400 people coming through the gates at each home game.

Dave Rowland, the club’s majority shareholder in 2005, put forward a proposal to relocate the Panthers to Preston where they would potentially share a ground with Preston Grasshoppers Rugby Union club.

The proposal didn’t go much further though, with the board buying out Rowland’s stake in the club and a last-ditch deal saw them secure Bloomfield Road again at a reduced rent cost.

Blackpool were trying everything to grow the sport in the seaside resort though, taking Rugby League into local schools but on the field, 2006 wasn’t the best as they finished rock bottom of the National League Two.

They then moved from Bloomfield Road to Woodlands Memorial Ground and signed a six-year contract to make it their home for the seasons between 2007 and 2012.

Wigan legend Andy Gregory took control of the Panthers in 2007 but resigned at the end of the season, with the club failing to win a game so former Ireland international Martin Crompton then took charge.

Crompton guided the team to end a 45-match losing streak, a record which lasted nearly two years, when they beat Workington Town and it was Crompton’s first victory.

They made further strides in 2008 when they won back-to-back matches for just the second time in the club’s history when they beat Hunslet and Swinton Lions.

In July 2009, Blackpool won their first ever trophy which was great for the Lancashire town. They won the first ever Northern Rail Nines beating Sheffield Eagles in the Final at Bloomfield Road and went on to finish fifth in the Championship 1 league table and unfortunately lost in the first round of the play-offs.

Bobby Hope became club chairman ahead of the 2010 season and the Panthers set their aim of winning the Championship 1 title and they didn’t quite achieve their goal but they still reached the play-offs.

But things then took a turn for the worse.

They went into administration in October of 2010 and had their membership of the RFL cancelled after they failed to provide the RFL with a financial plan for the following season and as a result, their membership was cancelled and they took no part in the 2011 season onwards.

There were a number of well-known players who represented the Panthers in their five-year existence, including then Wigan Warriors pair Josh Charnley and Chris Tuson (dual-registration) along with Samoa international Willie Swann and ex-Great Britain star Steve Molloy.

It is a big shame that it just didn’t work for the Blackpool Panthers, especially as when their membership was cancelled, they looked to be a club on the up.

It would be great if we could see another professional Rugby League team based in the brilliant seaside town of Blackpool one day.

Would you like to see a club based in Blackpool in any of the top three tiers? Let us know in the comments below.