When the final whistle went at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, it signalled the end of Blackpool’s brief flirtation with the Premier League. But, rather than be down about their plight, the seasiders should be proud of what they have achieved in their adventure in England’s top-flight.
With 39 points, Blackpool would have been safe from relegation in nie of the previous ten Premier League campaigns. Their total of 55 goals scored was the same as fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and better than 11 other Premier League teams. Away from home, they won five away games, the same total as champions Manchester United. But still they went down. The reasons, their home form and inability to stop the other team scoring.
Two years ago, Ian Holloway was appointed as manager. His remit was to avoid relegation. Instead Ollie guided Blackpool to the final play-off place. Victory over Nottingham Forest set-up a Wembley final against Cardiff City. The Tangerines ran out 3-2 winners in a classic, earning themselves promotion to the top flight for the first time in 39 years. More importantly it earned them a £90m windfall.
Rather than go down the same road as the likes of Bradford, Swindon, Sheffield Wednesday, etc, who all now languish in the lower leagues following Premier league relegation, Blackpool decided against blowing all their budget on players. Instead, they put trust into the team that got them to the promised land and instead used the cash wisely, safeguarding the club’s future.
Knowing that his squad wasn’t good enough to tactically outwit the Premier League big guns, Ollie decided to go with his tried and trusted philosophy of attack, attack, attack. On day one of the season, they travelled to Wigan Athletic and came away with a 4-0 success. The following week they travelled to the Emirates and conceded six goals to a rampant Arsenal side. No matter who they played, their tactics were the same. And it made a refreshing change in an age when teams more often than not, set out not to lose rather than to win.
At the turn of the year, after victories at places like Liverpool, Newcastle and Sunderland, the plan was working as they sat 8th in the table with 25 points and games in hand on their rivals. Leading from the front was skipper Charlie Adam, a £500,000 signing from Glasgow Rangers at the start of Holloway’s first season. Adam produced many man-of-the-match performances making him the subject of intense transfer speculation throughout the transfer window. But others also contributed greatly. David Vaughan impressed alongside Adam, with players like Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Luke Varney and DJ Campbell, all more accustomed to the lower leagues, scoring vital goals.
The second half of the season proved to be tougher. In the transfer window, they managed to hold on to Adam despite an eleventh hour bid from Spurs and brought in players with Premier League experience such as Andy Reid and James Beattie. But talisman Adam’s form dipped and the new players didn’t have the impact Ollie wanted. Subsequently a disastrous run of 2 wins in 18 league games left the Seasiders in a relegation battle with only three games to go.
Still Holloway didn’t change his philosophy. Away to Spurs, Blackpool came to within 10 minutes of a vital win, instead settling for a 1-1 draw. At home to Bolton, the good and the bad sides of Blackpool resulted in a 4-3 win. Needing to beat Manchester United away, something which no other team has managed, they continued what they had done all season and went for it. At one point it looked like the miracle ws about to happen as the Tangerines lead 2-1 and were clear of danger, but the all too familiar defensive collapse resulted in a 4-2 loss and more importantly relegation.
The attacking philospohy has ultimately failed. But Blackpool and Holloway can be proud. Even if they had spent loads of money, there are no guarantees they would have stayed up. Instead, Blackpool have ensured that their future is secure. They have provided plenty of entertainment this season, becoming alot of people’s second team. The likes of Adam, Vaughan and Campbell have performed well enough to attract interest from other Premier League sides.
Ollie himself, will be missed. His pre and post-match press conferences were a joy to watch. When quizzed about a possible sale of captain Adam, he responded with “If he’s only worth £4 million, then I’m a Scotsman called Mctavish”. The Premier League will be a quieter and less exciting place without him.
The same can be said of his Blackpool side. Entertaining throughout, they contributed a great deal to the Premier League season. So, Blackpool fans, rather than be downhearted, take pride in what your side have achieved over the last two years. I have no doubt that we will be seeing you back in the big time in the not so distant future.