Five months ago, guest columnist Colin Wood wrote a piece here, talking about the phenomenal rise of Blackpool FC as they prepared to enter the Premier League. But no one could have predicted the achievements of Ian Holloway’s men as the second half of the season begins.
The Seasiders sit 11th in a crowded table, two games above the relegation zone alongside giants Liverpool and Newcastle United… and sitting above two clubs wishing for former glories, Everton and Aston Villa. It is an astonishing feat.
Blackpool has been simply entertaining to watch, with Holloway ordering his once-anonymous side forward with gusto. Their goals-against column suggests an offensive strategy that shows no concern for the Tangerine end of the pitch. But discard a 6-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, and a 4-0 defeat at the Emirates, and Blackpool start to look like Manchester City — a team they held to a 1-0 win on Sunday.
(Interesting side note: all three promoted teams — Blackpool, Newcastle and West Brom — are in the league’s top ten for goals scored. The strategy may keep them all from going right back down, come May. If it happens, it will only be the second time in the history of the Premier League.)
The key to it all seems to be the gaffer himself, Mad ‘Ollie. He has taken a rag-tag bunch of lower-league players and made them household names. Even followers of the Championship would have had trouble recognizing some of the Blackpool squad before the start of the season. That’s because players like Ian Evatt (BFC’s Man of the Season, IMO), Luke Varney and Charlie Adam were lads who put the “journey” in “journeyman”, struggling to even find the bench because of injuries and the inevitable rotation of lower-league managers and their particular strategies.
But Holloway has changed all that. He believes in his players. And even if he doesn’t, he tells them that he does, which is the entire point. Witness ‘Ollie’s supposed comments yesterday to midfield wonder Adam, telling the Scotsman that he will get a chance to play for a top-four club. Ian loves his players so much, he’s willing to set them free.
Blackpool’s unexpected success — and the manager’s unconventional comments — has given the Lancashire side plenty of television exposure. But that has backfired somewhat for the tiny club. Bloomfield Road is less than state-of-the-art — it held less than 10-thousand when the team was promoted — and brutal winter weather in England has forced the club to postpone three home games… a victim of its own meagre finances.
Critics say those postponed games will haunt the club, both financially (lost television revenues against big clubs Man U, Liverpool and Tottenham) and because the make-up matches will crowd Blackpool’s schedule. But Holloway says his side is used to playing mid-week games in the Championship, so it’s no bother.
In another season, the Seasiders may have not elicited gasps of wonder, and would have instead been headed for the inevitable drop. But these are topsy-turvy times for the world’s biggest league, and Ian Holloway should be commended… if only for sticking his neck out by getting his side to play exciting football, instead of looking down the ladder in fear.