Living the Tangerine dream

By Colin Wood

The Premier League kicks off this Saturday with a proper old fashioned derby, a Lancashire derby.

Never mind champions Chelsea hosting West Brom, Liverpool’s opener against Arsenal on Sunday or Manchester United hosting Newcastle’s return to the top flight on Monday. The ‘derby’ match between Everton and Blackburn is irrelevant too (they both used to be Lancashire clubs until Liverpool was given its own Metropolitan authority of Merseyside).

No, the match of note to kick off the world’s most popular domestic football competition will take place in the unglamorous surrounds of Wigan (ok, so that’s inside the boundaries of Greater Manchester these days but who cares?) as the newest Premier League team, Blackpool, travel 38 miles from their seaside home to whatever the Latics’ stadium is called these days.

Last time these two sides met in league competition was in English football’s third tier just seven years ago. Having seen the Lancashire rivals play out a 1-1 draw in February 2003, nobody in their right mind would have dreamt that both these teams would have been promoted twice since then to duel in the Premier League in 2010.

Ok, so Wigan started their march up the Football League pyramid being bankrolled by Dave Whelan – they finished the season top of the then ‘Division Two’ on 100 points – but Blackpool were destined for another uninspiring mid-table finish. Their half-renovated stadium was a jumble of the past and the future – one side and one end were decrepit and falling apart and the Stanley Matthews Stand and Mortenson Kop had been opened in 2002 as a hopeful sign for a brighter (orange) future. The second half of the redevelopment has ground along like a tortoise going the wrong way on a treadmill.

Six years on in August 2009 those ‘new’ orange seats were pretty faded when the Tangerines, then in the Championship (having been promoted after a third-place League One finish in 2006/07), notched an impressive 4-1 League Cup win over their Premier League counterparts from across the county. It was one of those results that, if Wigan had been any other Premier League team, could have been described as a giant killing.

Blackpool went on an impressive run of results though and were contemplating the dizzy heights of the Championship playoff zone by Christmas. Everyone expected their season to implode or fizzle out, even those within the club were not dreaming of the Tangerines reaching the Premier League. The attitude was more ‘Let’s get 53 points to avoid relegation and then we can relax.’

But Blackpool kept marching on, they finished in the top six, beat Nottingham Forest in the playoff semi-finals before a 3-2 defeat of Cardiff City at Wembley sent the Seasiders into the promised land of Premier League football – and all this was done on one of the lowest budgets in second tier football.

So, Saturday’s match at the DW Stadium will play host to the minnows of the world’s most televised club football competition. But this is why English football is just so enticing – it proves you can afford to dream, whatever your perceived level.

Just like last year, Blackpool will be favourites for relegation. This year they will be playing a league higher than before, in a league they shouldn’t logically have contemplated playing in. Blackpool are in the Premier League! They’ll be playing at Bloomfield Road, which still hasn’t finished being built, a stadium that averaged around 8,600 spectators last season. Can the reality of this really kick in?

The Tangerine dream may not last long but it will be worth indulging every minute for those Seasiders fans who have not seen any top level success since Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson steered Blackpool to one of the memorable FA Cup wins of all time in 1953.

Much has changed in 57 years since and the 2010/11 campaign will now expose Blackpool’s unpredictable, erratic and entertaining manager, Ian Holloway to the world. Now that will be worth watching…

A former newspaper reporter in the UK, Colin Wood spent more than a decade working in communications & media relations for his hometown club, Colchester United, the A-League’s Perth Glory and Sheffield Wednesday. He lives in Perth, Australia, with his wife and infant son. Read more of Colin’s thoughts on footy at his blog, Off the Woodwork.

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