As you approach the seaside resort town of Blackpool from the south along the coast road from Lytham St Annes, one of the major attractions that people travel to from all over the country, immediately comes into view. It’s an extravagant amusement park, similar to Great America, called The Pleasure Beach. Since May 2010, there has been a second “Pleasure Beach” in Blackpool. It’s further up the coastline at Bloomfield Road, the home of Blackpool FC, the English Premier League’s fairy tale team.
Let me explain first that I was a season ticket holder in the South Stand for 3 seasons back in the 1970′s when Blackpool were last in the top flight of English football. The memories I have of that 1970/71 season are fleeting as the club struggled to compete in almost every game. There were some days in the sun, particularly in the FA Cup against a star laden West Ham team as I recall, but even an Anglo-Italian Cup victory over Bologna couldn’t hide this 12yr old’s disappointment over their brief stay in the First Division. Last Wednesday night, Blackpool completed an historic double over a fading Liverpool club that only nine months ago would have seemed practically impossible.
Last season was expected to be a tough assignment for the Seasiders in the Football Championship, England’s second tier. Tipped to be relegation strugglers, they hovered in mid table for most of the season before embarking on a string of victories in the last six weeks of the season that propelled them into the play-offs against Nottingham Forest. Many experts gave them no chance over two legs in that semi-final but Ian Holloway’s men won both games to book a place in the Play-off Final at Wembley Stadium against much fancied Cardiff City. Who can forget that wonderful day at Wembley, where in front of some fans who flew in from all corners of the globe, Blackpool outlasted the Welsh side to clinch promotion.
Once the 2010/2011 season began, Blackpool were on the list of most tipped to go straight back down to the Championship. They had a small squad, with inferior training facilities and an unfinished stadium that at best, would only hold 16,000 fans. Some of the current squad only started work-outs with their coaches days before the season started. There was seemingly no way that this club could compete. Enter Ian Holloway. The West Country native, from the moment the season began, promised nothing, except to play football, and play it the right way. He publicly stated that he and his team would be outmatched in every game, but that they would give 110% effort, and they have been true to their word.
Every game they play is like a Cup tie. They play fast-paced, attacking football, and push their opponents to the limit. They have taken some hammering’s this year, notably a 6-0 thrashing at Arsenal and a 4-0 beating at Chelsea, but they have beaten Liverpool twice, Newcastle, West Brom, Sunderland and also given the superstars of Man City all they could handle over two games. In almost every instance, opposing managers and coaches have given them glowing tributes. Given any kind of luck this year, they may have achieved an even higher League position,as last minute goals have killed them in several games, notably today, against West Brom that cost them a 2-2 draw.
What is unique about the club is not just their attitude on the field. Many newly promoted Premier League clubs feel the need to go on a lavish spending spree with the money they generate, which in many cases becomes a boat anchor around their neck if they fail to maintain their League position. Famous clubs such as Leeds United and Portsmouth have spent themselves almost into extinction as a result of over zealous buys in the transfer market. Blackpool have done the opposite. They have purchased mid level players at bargain prices and relied on team chemistry to sew the squad together. They have built a new temporary stand to satisfy League rules, but even with little activity int the January transfer window promised, Holloway looks capable of taking this squad all the way to a respectable finish in the table, barring any extended losing streaks or injury gluts. As it stands, the club look to possibly profit somewhere in the region of $40m this current year. Unheard of in today’s “fantasy” football world.
Manager Ian Holloway is fast becoming the media darling of the sport and continues to blaze a trail that reminds me of the days of the one and only Brian Clough. Refreshingly blunt, without Clough’s arrogance, he is almost devoid of political correctness but rarely steps over the line into insults, and with his West Country accent, he consistently charms the pants off the crustiest of journalists and commentators. His coaching abilities speak for themselves and he is fast developing a reputation that could see him Manager of the Year when all this is said and done.
The fans have been treated to a roller coaster ride of excitement, disappointment and sheer ecstasy this season and long may it continue. The fresh faced approach of the club, it’s manager and players, and officials is a joy to behold, and as unknown worldwide as Blackpool is, I’m sure that with Ian Holloway playing his pipe across the world’s media each and every week, that further honors and recognition are only just around the corner. They are not safe from relegation yet, but with each game, they move closer to that magic number of 41 points.
I knew I shouldn’t have torn up that season ticket application !!