The season run-in – SuddickTheKing
As we entered April, every ‘Pool fan knew that anything short of massive performances from the team and we could be in trouble. The first in a series of ‘cup finals` was West Brom at home – could we finally beat the Tuesday night jinx? It all started so promisingly with Pool doing most of the pressing, creating chances and taking a well deserved lead through Ben Burgess. Unfortunately, the difference between the ‘have`s` and the ‘have not`s` was brought into clear and cruel focus when, with about 25 minutes remaining, the Baggies brought on Kevin Phillips. To be fair, the tide had already turned and the game was almost WBA attack versus stubborn and determined ‘Pool defence, but we were looking comfortable and still having the odd break. Alas, with Greening imperiously dominating midfield, pinging passes to left and right with pinpoint accuracy, it was about plugging gaps and tackling for our lives for the Tangerines. Enter Mr.Moss who gave the Albion a penalty which didn`t look like one at the time and definitely wasn`t on TV replays. Kevin Phillips stepped up to level from the spot. I have not seen ‘Pool implode this season but what followed in the next six minutes was horrendous as West Brom poured forward and ripped through our shattered defensive cover to add two more goals, Phillips again being the man in the right place at the right time for the second on Miller given too much time to turn and pick his spot for the third. Hard on Blackpool, absolutely, but a demonstration of the facts of life in this division.
The pressure was on to get something at Cup Finalists Cardiff City. Unfortunately, any thoughts that the Bluebirds would have all eyes on Wembley were way off mark as ‘Pool slumped to a second 3-1 reverse in five days.
We now had a real ‘cup final` of massive proportions – fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday at Bloomfield Road. The conditions were not conducive to silky skills football – a bobbly pitch, blustery wind and two teams staring the drop in the face – and indeed it was not for the faint hearted. A goal from Claus Jorgensen seemed to put us on our way but yet again, poor defending let the Owls in for an equaliser and it took a Dickov screamer to eventually claim the points for ‘Pool, despite a dreadfully anxious last ten minutes when ten man Wednesday threw the kitchen sink at us.
One point at Plymouth would probably be enough and on a gorgeously sunny April Saturday I and just short of 700 other ‘Pool fans made the long trip to the south west corner of the nation. Unfortunately, we were the only ones to turn up as a disgracefully unprofessional ‘performance` allowed the hosts to notch up an easy 3-0 win. It was a pathetic surrender with a bizarre team selection and an attitude that appeared to be one of ‘on the beach`.
So, we found ourselves going into the last weekend of the season needing to get at least a point to ensure survival. Watford were the visitors to a pulsating Bloomfield Road, themselves needing a win to ensure a place in the play-off spots. In an often frantic encounter the spoils were shared 1-1 which, as it turned out, suited both parties. Survival for us, a second chance at promotion for them.
The last 12 months have been an amazing journey for Blackpool fans. We rode the express train to promotion culminating in that fantastic day at Wembley to earn the right to compete in the Championship (or the ‘2nd Division` as us old timers call it) for the first time in nearly 30 years, mixing it with some of the big city boys. For those of us who regularly travel away this has taken in some spectacular arenas, in front of 20,000+ crowds. We have come up against players of great repute and transfer fees, and only been found really wanting on three occasions to my memory – Coventry, Charlton and Plymouth. After 46 games we have finished in 19th place and gained a lot of respect. There have been many positives to take from the season – Larry has shown that he is not just a one season wonder, bringing in some decent players and moulding together a side which has become a team in the true sense of the word. He has his weaknesses of course as do most managers, but has demonstrated man management skills and a good eye for a player. With Tony Parkes as right hand man I feel that we are in good hands. Another positive has to be the support. Who knows how many more would have turned up at home games if there was room, but those who did manage to attend supported the team magnificently. The noise, the passion and atmosphere were top notch.
Downside? I am afraid the old chestnut of the South Stand will not go away. The Chairman has stuck to his guns and insisted that until ‘pre-lets` are sold or a ‘business case` proved (??) then building will not commence. This has only served to further alienate him from the fans, indeed his intransigent attitude – particularly in radio interviews – has got the backs up of not only the ‘Oyston Out` brigade but moderate supporters like myself who have hitherto appreciated the situation the club is in financially after years in the doldrums. Karl Oyston has to realise that this is a massive step up the football ladder and we have to be able to compete. That would be tough enough with everything in place but with a two sided stadium and an infrastructure more suited to the lower leagues we really are at a massive disadvantage which will only be exacerbated next season with small clubs leaving and big clubs entering the division. The Chairman has a responsibility to make change happen, not wait for it to knock on the door. Why, for example, was the Travelodge not incorporated into a big south stand? What a difference that would make to the ground and to the image of BFC; prospective signings would look at us as a club on the up instead of one in decline which, to be brutally honest, is what it does look like. The south MUST be built if we are to progress, it is as simple as that.
That said, it would be wrong to finish on a downbeat note. Our team has performed miracles to achieve what it has; we have taken four points off each of our local rivals (including that fantastic day at Deepdale); the level of support and interest has not been as high for many, many years; we have a financial backer in Valerie Belokon who may just provide Larry with what he needs to build upon this first season success; and as a result of the last 12 months more and more kids are wearing the tangerine shirt with pride.
Here`s to an enjoyable summer.
Up the Wizards!!
When writing this, little did I realise what plans the Board had in store for us loyal fans! Season ticket prices have been increased by an exorbitant amount, ostensibly to provide Larry with money to create a team capable of consolidating in the division. I was under the impression that was what the Board were there for?
This is nothing short of a kick in the proverbials for the fans, especially those of us who have supported the club through thin and thin for the last 30 years. An increase was expected and justified if it was reasonable. This is outrageous. Not only does it not compare with our neighbours, it is almost £200 more than the cheapest season ticket at Blackburn Rovers in the Premiership! The worst part about this whole price hike though is that yet again it proves that the Board are totally out of touch with reality – do they not realise the ‘pay profile` of the Fylde Coast?
Have they not noticed that taxes, fuel and food have all rocketed up in price yet wages are being pinned down? For most working fans of this club, to suddenly find the best part of a £1k for two season tickets is impossible. Why then, have the club not implemented an interest free (like another club in our division) payment plan – or a nominal interest to cover ‘admin costs` – to help us? To charge what they are which amounts to another £60 on top is nothing short of scandalous and Blackpool Football Club should hang it`s corporate head in shame.
The season run-in – SuddickTheKing