The date 23 December 1899 is well and truly etched into Blackpool Football Club history because it is when the club first played a game at the Bloomfield Road ground.
Football had previously been played on the ground but it was by the South Shore club, Blackpool's big local rivals. South Shore originally played its games at a ground just north of the old Waterloo Tavern, east of the railway line but in May 1899 the lease of the ground, more like a roped-off field surrounded by many other fields, expired. So early in 1899 South Shore began to look around for another ground and thought that they had found one on Cow Gap Lane (as the eastern extension of Waterloo Road was known at the time) which was very close to the old ground. The club considered themselves fortunate in finding another ground so handy but for some reason or another the proposed move fell through.
Another ground, or field, was secured which turned out to be Bloomfield Road and the new ground was scheduled to be ready in May 1899; the field belonged to Robert Fisher of Whitegate Drive, a prominent local landowner, and was rented out to a farmer who was sub-letting it to the South Shore Football Club. In fact work on adapting to a football field was not completed until October and the first game was played there on 21 October 1899 when south shore met the 1st South Lancashire Regiment and won 6-3. Even then the comment was "The new ground was not quite finished on Saturday and the linesman had plenty to do besides watching the game to keep the spectators from getting over the line. The grand stand was not up, but it is expected to be ready for next Saturday. A bar is going to be erected and two dressing tents."
The work was obviously completed for the following week because the ground was officially opened on 28 October when Lancashire League side South Shore entertained Second Division Newton Heath (later Manchester United) in an FA Cup tie. South Shore upset all the odds by winning 3-1, and that after having turned down a tempting offer to play the game in Manchester.
In mid-December 1899 the Blackpool and South Shore clubs amalgamated with the Lancashire League fixtures of Blackpool, which were deemed easier than those of South Shore, being accepted by the new joint club and also by the executive of the Lancashire League. [Blackpool had unsuccessfully applied for re-election to the Second Division following a 16th place (of 17) finish in the 1898/99 season.]
The first game of the new united' Blackpool was played on 23 December and Horwich, with only 10 men, were the opponents at Bloomfield Road which was deemed to be "quite as suitable, in every respect as the old one [ground], with the exception that it is not fenced round and anyone could easily see the game from Bloomfield Road without paying"! The Blackpool team was Griffiths, Parr, Edge, Brown, Stirzaker, Atherton, Threlfall, Scott, Birkett, Morris and Leadbetter with only Griffiths (later to become Blackpool's first international player - but more of that anon) Edge and Brown the only players drawn from the South Shore contingent. Blackpool won 8-0 with the opening goal on the ground being an own goal, scored by an unnamed opponent, before James John Morris netted the first goal by a Blackpool player at Bloomfield Road; the eight goals came from Morris two, Birkett two, Threlfall, Leadbetter, Scott and the own goal.
After just the one game at the new ground Blackpool, perhaps surprisingly, returned to play at their Raikes Hall ground and the Christmas Day game against Oswaldtwistle Rovers resulted in "a better attendance than ever". But many supporters left early "disgusted by the performance" as Blackpool lost 4-1. Raikes Hall was used for the remaining games of the season and it was not until the practice match held on 25 August 1900 that Blackpool returned to Bloomfield Road by which time the club had been re-elected back into The Football League Division Two.
Changing for that opening practice game was a problem and the players changed at the Bridge House Hotel and walked to the ground in their football kit. Thereafter the first home game of the 1900/01 season was played at Bloomfield Road, described as "the temporary football ground", and Blackpool drew 1-1 with Gainsborough Trinity. Although "the barriers on the temporary football ground at Bloomfield Road were thickly lined with the football public" [a crowd just short of 2,000 paid £48 17s 11d (approximately £48.90)], the ground itself "conveyed the impression that at some remote period of its history it had been a ploughed field".
After that single game, Blackpool returned to their town centre home at Raikes Hall and all the remaining home games that season were played there. The reason for the return to Raikes could be the press comment following that opening game; a critic wrote "We shall not easily forget Saturday's match, or rather, to be more accurate, the conditions under which it was played. Unfortunately for the club, the game had to be played at Bloomfield Road, and if there is one ground in this town unsuitable for the purpose for which it is used, this is surely the one. It is out of the way, all the players and most of the committee and the spectators declared that it was impossible to play on such a pitch; and the provision for the Press was absolutely nil." In addition, commenting on the attendance, it was thought that "the figure would have been nearly double had Raikes been available".
The only reason that the opening fixture was played at Bloomfield Road was because it was the back-end of the summer season and with Raikes Hall Pleasure Gardens still being used to entertain the visitors the football field was unavailable; it had in fact been agreed pre-season that Raikes Hall would be permanently used as the home ground but that "as soon as certain improvements are completed a move will be made to the South Shore ground". Obviously the necessary improvements were not made to the satisfaction of the club and they remained at Raikes Hall. There was, however, some football played at Bloomfield Road for such games as Blackpool Electric versus St Annes Amateurs, a Fylde League fixture, did take place there.
It was not until the start of the 1901/02 season that Blackpool moved permanently to Bloomfield Road and then only because Raikes Hall Pleasure Gardens was being sold of for housing development. It was, in August 1901, "by now pretty common knowledge that the only playing pitch available is that at Bloomfield Road, where the club commenced last season" and although it was conceded "the old associations have endeared us to Raikes Hall", it was accepted "however much the majority might prefer that the club should continue there, the simple fact remains that they can't".
And so it was to Bloomfield Road, "the next best place", that the Blackpool committee "turned their attention without any delay". Work had obviously been carried out during the preceding 12 months for "The playing pitch had been levelled, dressing room accommodation had been provided, and as no wealthy gentleman has the game or club sufficiently at heart to erect a new grand stand, additions and improvements have been made to the existing structure, and visitors to the ground in September will at least see very decent and comfortable quarters". In addition the Winter Gardens Company had erected "a large hoarding" and the view was "if the people can be got there once, there is no doubt that instead of the grumbling there was at the commencement of last season, the committee will be very heartily complimented on the way they have got over a bad job".
Blackpool duly opened the season at the re-vamped Bloomfield Road and lost 2-0 to Bristol City on 7 September 1901. A 4-2 defeat by Newton Heath on 28 September delayed the first League home win to 12 October 1901 when Doncaster Rovers were defeated 3-1. Everything was not rosy at Bloomfield Road however as in November 1901 there was severe storm damage to the new stand which "administered a very hard blow" to the directors who had to find the hefty sum of £30 to make repairs. An appeal was launched to help raise some of the funds required.
Since those early days Blackpool have continued at Bloomfield Road and now that the out-of-town stadium proposals have been dropped there is a welcome sign of current re-development on the the present site. It is, after all, the spiritual home of the club.