When Blackpool announced the signing of Neal Bishop on a five-month contract I, among many other Blackpool supporters, questioned the transfer.
The 32-year-old initially joined the Seasiders in August, and his deal was set to expire in January 2014. But due to his excellent performances so far this season, Bishop has been rewarded by being given a contract extension until the end of the season.
Bishop is a central midfielder who has plied his trade mainly in League’s One and Two, but when he decided to cancel his contract at Notts County by mutual consent in June, his move to the Seasiders would be the first time in his career that Bishop stepped up to the Championship.
Many outsiders looking in questioned why Blackpool manager Paul Ince took a gamble by signing a lower league player on a short-term deal. However, Bishop is a player that Paul Ince and Blackpool’s current assistant manager Alex Rae know well. During his six-month spell as Notts County manager, Ince, alongside his assistant Rae, made Bishop club captain towards the latter stages of the 2010-11 season. This was a role in which Bishop had experience in, he was appointed captain of Barnet F.C in 2008-09. Ince’s decision resulted in Bishop being awarded with a two-year contract extension at County.
Bishop, who has never been a prolific source of goals from midfield, then went on to have his most fruitful period in front of goal. In his final two seasons at Meadow Lane, County’s captain led by example and went on to score nine goals in all competitions. The Magpies ended the 2012-13 season in a comfortable 12th place in League One, with Bishop being the club’s joint third highest goal scorer.
After a successful mid-table finish, Bishop’s contract with County was cancelled by mutual consent. He then spent the majority of July training with the Seasiders, playing in a number of pre-season friendlies. Given the lack of depth which Ince had in his squad, Bishop was offered a short-term contract, with a promise from chairman Karl Oyston that the deal would be extended if he did well.
Four months later, and here we are. On Monday, Bishop accepted a new contract which will keep him at Bloomfield Road until the end of the season, with an option to extend the deal beyond 2013. This is the reward which Bishop fully deserves. The player who has been dubbed as ‘Mr. Utility’ by his manager has played across the whole of midfield, and has even filled in at defence, playing at both right-back and left-back when required. Despite spending most of his career in the centre of the park, Bishop has adapted to these new roles with ease. In October, he saw his efforts for the team rewarded when he earned the club’s Player of the Month award. Bishop’s distinguished performances, and his ‘can do’ attitude have made him a favourite among the Bloomfield Road crowd.
Mr Utility has missed only one game for the Seasiders since making his debut against Barnsley in August, scoring once. Not even the most ardent of Blackpool fans would have expected such an outcome from a 32-year-old signing a short-term contract, who has made the step up to Championship level comfortably.