• Always look on the seaside of life: Part 3

    by  • June 4, 2011 • Post, Uncategorized • 25 Comments

    22.05.11 MANCHESTER – A fruitful trip to Birmingham City (the Cottagers beat the Blues 2-0 in a game in which both the fans and the stadium gave me some insight into the famous Times description of soccer as “a slum sport played in slum stadiums and increasingly watched by slum people who deter decent folk from turning up”) gave rise to a long eight days as we waited for Sunday, when the relegation battle would be decided. Regrettably, the referee in Birmingham played very little injury time which prevented Fulham from possibly scoring another goal and ensuring that Blackpool would spend the week outside the relegation zone. Nevertheless, the Birmingham loss meant that things were crowded at the bottom end of the table. West Ham had been relegated after blowing a 2-0 lead to Wigan. Hilariously, fans of West Ham’s arch-rival, Millwall, had a banner flown over the pitch in Wigan towards the end of the match reading “AVRAM GRANT: MILLWALL LEGEND.” Grant was, at the time, West Ham’s manager; he was fired when the game ended. That produced the table at left as Sunday dawned.

    There were four critical games, all kicking off at 4:00 p.m. to avoid a West Germany-Austria scenario. Wolves and Blackburn, both on 40 points, faced off at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton. Birmingham travelled to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur. Wigan was on the road to Stoke. And, of course, Blackpool was travelling to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. This was to be the first game at Old Trafford for the Seasiders since April 26, 1975, in a game played in the old Second Division. Man U was promoted to the First Division at the end of that season and have been at the top tier of English football ever since, winning twelve league titles. Blackpool had enjoyed somewhat less success since the last meeting at Old Trafford but had avoided being relegated out of the Football League, a threat at one point.

    It seemed likely that Blackpool would need a result at Old Trafford. The table was incredibly tight. If Blackpool won, they would be staying up unless a) one of Wolves or Birmingham won, b) Birmingham won by at least as many goals as Blackpool and c) Wigan won by at least two more goals than Blackpool won by. If they drew, the would need two of at least the following results: Wolves to lose by two, Rovers to lose by seven, Wigan to draw, Birmingham to lose. If they lost, they would need Birmingham to lose by at least one more goal and Wigan to lose by no more than one fewer. The simplest thing would be to win the game.

    Except that this was Manchester United and this was Old Trafford. As Manchester United took the field, Blackpool’s players formed an honour guard for them and clapped them onto the field, congratulating them for their 19th league championship, a total that had taken them to first all time in England, breaking a tie with Liverpool. The fans held up coloured placards, forming the words “19 CHAMPIONS.” This was to be a day of celebration at Old Trafford, a field where United had yet to allow a first half goal or trail in the game all year long. There was a considerable amount of tension in the Blackpool supporters’ section waiting for the game to kick off. We ran into Roger, a friendly guy we’d met in a bar in Blackpool – I can’t stress enough how friendly everyone in Blackpool was; the communal feeling surrounding the team is just amazing – and he seemed nervous but confident that Blackpool would get a result.

    We’d had a good time with Roger and his friends when we met them in Blackpool. One of the members of his group guessed that we were Canadian because our accents sounded like Ron Sexsmith’s, which struck me as a spectacularly obscure way to discern where we came from. Roger and some of the others had been utterly baffled when I explained the National Hockey League to them – living in Toronto and cheering for Edmonton is like living in Blackpool and cheering for a team based out of Athens. Roger was even more amazed when I explained that Edmonton’s rival is Calgary, a mere three hours away. “What about the closer teams?”, he asked. Cultural differences.

    Of the eleven players in Holloway’s starting lineup, nine of them had been in the starting lineup exactly one year earlier when Blackpool faced Cardiff at Wembley with the 20th Premier League spot on the line. I remember thinking before the game how amazing it was that Blackpool had just scraped into the playoffs in the Championship and now, with an almost identical lineup to that which took the field at Wembley, were taking on the iconic English team of the last quarter century at Old Trafford and that it didn’t seem crazy that they might get something out of the game.

    The game started well for Blackpool – 25 seconds into the game, Charlie Adam zipped a pass through the box that Keith Southern inexplicably hit well wide of the net. Another chance followed in short order, with Gary Taylor-Fletcher narrowly missing a pass from Adam that would have been a sure goal. United seemed to be sitting back a bit – they had the Champions League final coming up with Barcelona FC, a game in which they were unlikely to have much in the way of possession, and I commented to the fellow beside me that I wondered if they were preparing for the game by sitting back, hoping to steal the ball and then strike on the counter. He sort of muttered something inaudible in response and I worried that the strain might be too much for him.

    The strain was amplified by a curious feature of Old Trafford: cellular reception is very poor. Unlike the two stadiums we’d been to up to that point, Old Trafford seats about 76,000. The theory, as it was explained to me before the game by a man from Blackpool whose accent caused my girlfriend and I to glance at one another every time he spoke, eyes filled with a question we thought it would be rude to voice: “Did you understand what he said?”, is that there are so many devices being used that it simply overwhelms the networks. This being England, there are no scoreboards constantly displaying the out-of-town scores. As a result, you were entirely dependent on someone catching a signal and then sending the score down the line. The tightness of the table meant that a lot of math would be required as well – note the gentlemen at left trying to work things out before passing the news along.

    Trapped in a void, we didn’t know that the first goal of the relegation battle was scored at Old Trafford. Ian Evatt was tracking back on a ball that was in the box as Park Ji-Sung of Manchester United ran for it in the 21st minute. It seemed to be a straightforward task – Evatt, who had been a rock all year, could either put the ball out for a corner or shield Ji-Sung off the ball and attempt to make a play with it. I’ve watched what happened a hundred times and I still don’t entirely understand it. Evatt either slipped or mistimed his run and suddenly, Ji-Sung was all alone on Matt Gilks. He easily put it away. 1-0 Manchester United.

    One of the notable things about the United fans at Old Trafford was, by and large, how quiet they were. 76,000 people is a lot of people but they weren’t appreciably louder than the fans at White Hart Lane. When Manchester United scores though…it’s an impressive sight, with 73,000 people rising to their feet in celebration. During the quieter moments though, they were ripe for taunting. Two songs other than the usual English classics stuck out for me. The first, “We support our local team” struck me as sort of vaguely absurd as Amanda and I sang along with the Blackpool fans but there’s clearly some real resentment towards a club like United, which has a fanbase made up of people who have nothing to do with Manchester.

    The second one though, was brilliant and one of the things I love about English soccer. Ryan Giggs, a sort of Nicklas Lidstrom figure in terms of longevity and quiet grace, had not been in the news due to the affair that he had with Imogen Thomas, an English Big Brother contestant. (Big Brother contestants are celebrities in England.) This is because he obtained a court order preventing this from being reported. His name had, however, been all over Twitter and the rest of the internet, while the mainstream media were stuck reporting about “A Premier League footballer.”

    There’s a famous chant that Manchester United fans do for Giggs, based on an old Joy Division song. The words are “Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart…again.” The Blackpool fans paid homage to Giggs’ affair and this chant by chanting “Giggs, Giggs was shagging a tart…again.” Brilliance. This was not, as far as I know, organized – it just sort of arose organically. As an aside: I think that orders of the nature obtained by Giggs are pretty odious, so I found it all the more funny that 3,000 people were singing this in an otherwise quiet stadium in an internationally televised soccer game.

    As the game progressed, there were moments when Blackpool looked dangerous. It felt like there was a goal to come. In the 40th minute, as Blackpool attacked, Gary Taylor-Fletcher was fouled just outside the Manchester United box. Charlie Adam stepped up, picked his spot and spun the ball across the net, past a diving Edwin van der Sar, off the left post and in. Tie game. Mania in the Blackpool end. The first goal that Manchester United had allowed at home in the first half all year.

    The reaction on Soccer Saturday wasn’t bad either. As I understand things, there are no games broadcast in the United Kingdom between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. This may be by law – it’s not entirely clear to me – but the intention is to protect the lower leagues by not forcing them to compete with a live game on TV at the same time. As a result, Soccer Saturday exists. The show consists of host Jeff Stelling and a panel of commentators who are watching the games and proceed to tell you what’s happened and keep you up to date on any important developments. While it seems awfully anachronistic, the highlights on YouTube make it seem like a fun show to watch, particularly when Chris Kamara, the UK’s PJ Stock, graces the screen. Paul Merson seemed awfully pleased with the events at Old Trafford.

    With Blackpool having tied the score, we got another piece of good news: someone managed to make his phone work and, after doing some beer impaired math, sent word through the crowd that things were not going well for Wolves. Blackburn had shocked them by pumping in three goals in the first half. If the season ended at the half, Blackpool was safe, ahead of Wolves on goals scored.

    Blackpool started the second half strong, generating some real chances. Manchester United defender Nemanda Vidic absolutely cut down DJ Campbell as he attempted to burst past him towards the goal, resulting in another free kick for Charlie Adam. The position was not, unfortunately, as good as the first one for Adam and rather than spinning it, he smashed it. It was easily palmed away by Edwin van der Sar but the Blackpool pressure continued.

    In the 57th minute, Blackpool goalkeeper Matt Gilks pounded a ball deep into the United end of the pitch. The United defender knocked it back up the field where Adam won a header, knocking the ball to the feet of David Vaughan (an underrated player who maybe got 1/50th of the attention that Adam did throughout the year but who cleaned up at the Blackpool awards dinner). Blackpool streamed forward again – Vaughan led the charge through the centre of the field, with Puncheon off to his right and Campbell and Taylor-Fletcher in front of him.

    There were a bunch of great individual moments in this. First, Vaughan was scythed down from behind by one of the United players. The foul occurred in an area that was in Adam’s wheelhouse and, after he bounced back to his feet, Vaughan paused for a second as if he was waiting for the referee to award the free kick before realizing that there was a pretty good chance developing. The off the ball running that I’ve enjoyed about Blackpool was in evidence here. Puncheon, to Vaughan’s right, pulled up to give Vaughan a target and Vaughan passed the ball to him.

    As Puncheon proceeded to drive into the box, rather than going towards the goal, he ran towards the centre of the box, but slightly angled towards the Blackpool end. Two Manchester United defenders stood up Puncheon while Vaughan sprinted behind Puncheon, before turning towards the net. This led to a lovely backheel from Puncheon, leaving Vaughan alone in space on the edge of the 18 yard box with the ball.

    While all of this took place, Taylor-Fletcher had been ghosting through the defence (all the more shocking, giving his usual movement is not particularly ghost-like), positioning himself for a pass into the centre of the box. Campbell and Taylor-Fletcher had ended up on the other side of the box from Vaughan and Puncheon, facing two United defenders, with Taylor-Fletcher starting behind Campbell, moving to his left and then cutting in between the defenders. The defender who had initially been responsible for Taylor-Fletcher seemed to switch his focus to Campbell after Taylor-Fletcher made his move but the defender responsible for Campbell didn’t recognize the danger in time. Vaughan zipped the ball through to Taylor-Fletcher, who didn’t so much kick the ball as just redirect it with his foot towards the far post, beating van der Sar and putting Blackpool up 2-1. For the first time all year, Manchester United trailed at home.

    manu2

    We got an excellent view of the glee of the players who dogpiled onto Taylor-Fletcher, a celebration that is not seen in enough in North American sport, although Adam was probably fortunate not to paralyze himself.

    I quite like this picture of the Blackpool players walking back towards their own half for the kickoff after they took the lead. It reminds me of the shot of the Oilers celebrating after they scored to take a 4-3 lead against Detroit in Game 6 of the playoffs in 2006, with the sort of gleeful romping around. Taylor-Fletcher is pointing to the manic crowd (the chant of “We are staying up” was strong), Neil Eardley hugs Charlie Adam and Ian Evatt (6) reminds everyone to calm down, as there are still 33 minutes to go. This was, unfortunately, a critical difference between the Oilers defeat of Detroit in 2006 and Blackpool’s game with Manchester United – Detroit only had a minute or so to score. United had 33.

    A minute probably would have been doable. 33 were not. Manchester United had been playing long balls to the man on Eardley’s side of the field all day. Eardley seemed to be drifting in towards the centre backs and when those balls were played in, he would desperately sprint out to provide some cover. In the 62nd minute a ball was played out wide to Park. As Eardley ran out to cover him, he left Anderson alone. Park quickly played the ball to Anderson who spun a shot across the face of the goal, past Gilks and into the net to tie the score. Even then, Blackpool was still in a position to stay up.

    Manchester United kept up the pressure. This was not a particularly great Manchester United team but they were breathtaking when they turned on the pressure. Gilks made an unbelievable save at one point, waving his arm desperately and palming a ball away. The ball ended up at the top of the box and Scholes (if memory serves) hammered it back in. Ian Evatt threw himself in front of the shot. The onslaught continued.

    In the 74th minute, it all came apart in the most awful way imaginable. Chris Smalling of Manchester United played a relatively innocuous ball into the box that Ian Evatt, facing the goal, tried to deal with with his right foot. He buried it, easily beating Gilks and putting Manchester United up 3-2. This was enough to drop Blackpool back into the relegation spots. The Seasiders pushed on – Evatt showed up in Manchester United’s box a few minutes later (akin to Jason Smith showing up on the edge of the other team’s crease) and forced van der Saar into a decent stop. With Blackpool pushing for the equalizer, a mistake at the back end led to Michael Owen breaking in alone on Gilks in the 81st minute and icing things – Manchester United 4 – Blackpool 2.

    To their credit, they didn’t give up. There were a flurry of chances over the last ten minutes of the game for Blackpool, with van der Sar forced to make some good saves on many occasions and rely on his crossbar. The fans were incredible too – with relegation basically certain, they resorted to celebrating the fact that they had beaten expectations by so much, chanting “10 POINTS! You said we’d only get 10 points….you said we’d only get 10 points. 10 POINTS!”

    I’ve seen athletes who were crushed by a loss before but I’ve never seen someone look as inconsolable as Ian Evatt did. I wasn’t particularly trying to take pictures of him after the game – I was just snapping some photos of the scene but as I looked through them, I realized how crushed he looked in every one of them. My gold standard for an athelete despondent in defeat has been Wayne Gretzky sitting on the bench after the shootout with the Czechs in Nagano – Evatt has managed to bump him out of that spot. A horrific way to end a season in which he was far and away Blackpool’s best defender. As I mentioned previously, he came to Blackpool after a career spent in the lower leagues – Blackpool was a League One side when he joined them. He was opposed to Holloway’s hiring as manager and Holloway wanted to get rid of him when he joined the team – Holloway had previously managed Evatt at Queen’s Park Rangers and they had not got on particularly well. Holloway praised him at the end of season dinner as the most improved player he’d ever coached. By any standard, he’d had an excellent season but he was devastated at the way in which it ended.

    The last person to turn away from the Blackpool fans was, of course, Olly. You can’t really understand this Blackpool team without understanding a bit of Holloway’s back story. He’s not a big guy but he manged to carve out a 598 game playing career in English football. He wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t really hold back a lot of what he thinks. Usually this is a good thing, although there’s the odd loopy pronouncement but it’s part of the package. He’s admittedly got some insecurities about his background – there was an excellent interview in the Times a few years ago in which he discussed this, saying:

    “Yeah, well, some of the things that have been written about me . . . I’m getting plaudits for being a comedian – I’m not a comedian, I’m a football manager and I want to manage at the highest level. I took a while to get there as a player and I’ll take a while to get there as a manager, but I’m going to get there . . . But I don’t think my accent helps. I listened to [an interview with] me on the radio the other day and thought, ‘Good gracious! Would I want to employ a bloke who sounds like that?’ Because these chairmen, you’re not going to entrust somebody with your club and your business if he doesn’t sound right, are you?”

    This interview is particularly fascinating for an exchange in which Holloway commented on loyalty, saying:

    “…I want to be a Premiership manager, but I want to take a team there. I’ve been very loyal and I’m going to be loyal because I believe in loyalty.”

    “But what if that’s your downfall?” his wife Kim interjects. “When you look at other managers and how they walk from one job to another or contrive a situation that gets them a better offer.”

    “I don’t want to be like that,” he insists. “The world can be how it is, but I want to be who I am. I can only live the way that I want to live. I can only be me.”

    The interview’s dated March 4, 2007, before he came to Blackpool and got them promoted to the Premier League. On November 21, 2007, he resigned at Plymouth Argyle and took a job at Leicester City, a much bigger club. Leicester City was relegated at the end of the year and Holloway found himself out of a job and out of soccer for a year. After Blackpool was promoted last year, he commented on this, saying:

    I had a year out of football and had to think about what went wrong in my life. I was given some decent values from my mum and dad in our council house and one of them was honesty and trust and loyalty, and I forgot to do all that at Plymouth. I left them and I made the biggest mistake of my life. But I ended up here and it was the best thing I have ever done.

    He was extraordinarily loyal to his players this year. He defended them pretty much unfailingly and was often laughed at for it. He bitterly criticized the Premier League after it fined him for playing a weakened roster in a mid-week game at Aston Villa, which he took as an insult to the players he fielded. He made sure that Bret Ormerod got into Blackpool’s final home game and into the game at Old Trafford, which probably meant a lot to Ormerod, nearing the end of a long career spent mostly in Blackpool. He’s made significant sacrifices for his kids too. Three of his four children were born profoundly deaf and he spent three years doing a 250 mile round trip every day so that they’d have access to a better education than was available where he was playing.

    He’s talked as well about how his year outside of soccer in 2008-09 affected him as a coach. He went from being afraid to lose to wanting to coach teams to chase wins. This is, I think, less common than you’d hope in pro sports. The fact of sports is that most coaches aren’t going to have the best teams. As a result, there’s a huge temptation to play defensively, trying to kill game, to minimize the chances and offence. In any sport in which a team is simultaneously playing offence and defence, (basketball, hockey and soccer, to name three), this problem exists. If you minimize the chances, you increase the role of randomness and maybe you can get lucky and pull a win against superior competition.

    It’s a nihilistic way to play a game though and I’ve got significant doubts that it can actually lead a team anywhere in a competition that has a reasonable number of games. Maybe if you’re Birmingham City, you can luck your way into a League Cup playing this way, if the draws go your way and you only have to play two teams that end up finishing above you in the standings over the course of the tournament. Maybe you can slightly increase your odds of making the playoffs or not being relegated if you play this way over the course of an NHL or Premier League season. You aren’t going to win the league doing so though, unless you’ve got a real quality team. In effect, Holloway rejected the idea that there’s value in playing for 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins or losses in order to marginally increase his team’s chances of success in the form of staying up rather than playing the game properly and, as he put it on many occasions, having a go at the other team. There’s something admirable about that, I think – Blackburn Rovers stayed up and Blackpool went down but Blackburn’s a pretty wretched team to watch and they can’t reasonably aspire to win anything that isn’t heavily dependent on the luck of the draw like an FA Cup or a League Cup, only to avoid relegation.

    Admirable way to play or not, Holloway was pretty clearly crushed as he lingered, applauding the fans and then turning to trudge off the field, a few steps behind Evatt. The riches of the Premier League come at a cost and that cost is a pinhead shoving a microphone in your face moments after you’ve suffered one of the worst moments of your professional career and asking a series of banal questions. There are a couple of great moments in the interview, including one where he responded to a question about the fans by saying “Yeah they’re absolutely brilliant…” before trailing off for a few moments and taking in the chant coming from the Blackpool end of the stands.

    Marvelously, the Blackpool fans were chanting “ONE IAN EVATT…THERE’S ONLY ONE IAN EVATT.” Evatt, a few yards up the pitch from Holloway, head down and shoulders slumped, turned an acknowledged the support with a wave. I’ve mentioned it before but the relationship between clubs and fans in Europe is so different from the relationships in North America. When Steve Smith scored in 1986 to eliminate the Oilers from the playoffs, he was met with something less than complete support from the fans in Edmonton. As great as the Edmonton fans were in the 2006 playoffs, it was unthinkable that Ty Conklin could take to the ice again after his mistake in Game 1 – he didn’t have the reserve of goodwill to draw on that Evatt did but even if he did, it’s tough to imagine him receiving this sort of support. By turning the sporting experience into the commodity that it’s become in North America, in explicitly turning it into a business from which profits are expected to be generated, the relationship is different. Fans aren’t supporters in North America in the way that they are in Europe – they’re consumers. If the product that the team is offering stinks or the team hits on tough times, they react like consumers who are receiving poor service.

    In the course of his interview, Holloway was asked about whether the support from the fans of Manchester United, who were clapping Blackpool off the field showed what a breath of fresh air Blackpool had been in the Premier League. “Yeah, it’s no good. Don’t help, does it? Don’t help.” His full post-game interview was a mix of despair and optimism. I’ll just quote some of the better bits:

    Well, she’s put the mike down, hasn’t she? The singing’s over, the fat lady has finished sing and, unfortunately, I don’t like her tune.

    I hope there’s some more bronze left on the Fylde Coast because I’m sure one or two of these lads will go down in history like the great Jimmy Armfield.

    (Aside for Canadian readers: the great Jimmy Armfield bears an extraordinary resemblance to the Friendly Giant, particularly in statute form)

    I believed in my group, I believed in how good they were and they’ve done nothing but make me proud…I’ve got fans who will now expect to get on back up, I’ve done it once, I might have to do it again and there’s thefootball vicious circle. But I’m very, very proud of these two years and I’m very, very proud of what that group achieved for Blackpool and I hope it will be remembered in a fond way not ‘Oh Charlie might have left and oh this and that.’ These boys should be remembered for what they’ve done.

    My job is to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and this is the best sow’s ear I’ve ever grabbed hold of.

    Just get on with it, write what you like, hopefully it’ll be nice about my lads because they deserve that, hopefully it’ll be nice about my supporters, because they deserve that…this game’s completely mad sometimes and it’s good to be like me, I’m not mad, I know where I’m going and I know what I’m doing…football is the secret. Man United showed me that today – you have to keep possession of the ball. Every time we gave it to them, it was dangerous.

    That’s it…you’re famous for two seconds in football and then you’re gone.

    If you’re successful, you go on again. If I was successful today, oh I’d be buzzing now, because I’d have been able to move my budget up again and I might have been able to re-sign [Stephen Crainey, David Vaughan and Matt Gilks] and I might have convinced Charlie to stay and I might have been able to give him a new contract and a bigger contract and a rise…oh dearie me. Our castle was made out of sand…but there’s concrete underneath with Mr. Oyston and how does things. So, let’s move on and what I’m going to say is ‘Can we satisfy the ones who are already in contract who we’ve just taken up their options?’ Because do they deserve to go back onto the wage they were on when I first took over the football club, which was nowhere near a decent Championship wage? That’s the truth. How many Championship sides would want to pick our bones as well? I’m ready. I’m ready for the fight.

    Olly touched on it repeatedly and there’s a very real chance that Blackpool won’t be able to bring back a team that looks like the team that they’ve fielded in the past two years. Matt Gilks is out of contract and unhappy with ownership. David Vaughan is probably attractive to a lot of teams. Stephen Crainey (who I wasn’t wowed with) is probably gone as well. And then there’s Adam. His case is curious to me – he’s signed for another year but is understandably interested in going to another club. It’s not entirely clear to me that he’ll go – the chairman seems to me to be entitled to let him leave on a free transfer after he plays out the rest of his contract. There are strong rumours that David Vaughan’s been offered a much better contract, although we’ll see if he signs it when there’s Premier League soccer available to him.

    I can’t agree with Olly that it’s two seconds in which you’re famous and then you’re forgotten though. Talking to Blackpool fans over the course of the two weeks that we were there, there are a number of moments from the season that I simply believe will not be forgotten – winning 4-0 over Wigan on the first day of the season, doing the double over Liverpool, beating Spurs at home, coming within a dodgy non-call of going 3-0 up on Manchester United at home, Adam’s goal against Blackburn…the list goes on. For a lot of the people I talked to, seeing Blackpool go from League One to the Championship was an unimaginable success – going to the Premier League and producing a point total that would have kept them up any other season in the past nine while playing attacking soccer and trying to beat everyone they faced was incredible. I can’t believe that this team will ever be forgotten in Blackpool. Personally, this team goes on the highest shelf of teams that I’ve enjoyed, right beside the 2005-06 Oilers.

    In a way, I don’t know that it matters if Holloway’s ever able to put together a team like this again. I desperately want him too – I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the 2011-12 Championship schedule and hoping that Oyston decides to hang onto Adam, re-sign Vaughan and make a run at winning the Championship – but it’s hard to see how this team could be forgotten or its memory of this team tarnished.

    Blackburn stayed up; will anyone talk about them five years from now? Will anyone fondly remember the way that they hammered balls towards the box and hoped for a bounce? Blackpool went into the richest league in soccer and played the game according to Holloway’s beliefs, which are in the best tradition of sport. I hope he stays on and becomes an institution at Blackpool, continuing to play an attacking game that’s attractive to watch. If you can’t realistically hope to win the Premier League – and, right now, such a thing is unimaginable – there seems to me to be more glory in trying to go as far as you can playing the right way than there is shooting for mid-table mediocrity in the Premier League by playing ugly soccer.

    I’m usually awfully cynical about people involved in sport and their motivations but Olly seems genuine in believing that he made a mistake in leaving Plymouth Argyle for Leicester City. As a guy from the wrong side of the tracks, who has had to fight for the chances he had and was a bit on the small side for professional soccer, he just seems to fit in Blackpool – if I was a better writer, I could draw some sort of clever analogy between him and the town itself; I can’t but he just seems like the sort of guy who should be managing a team like this. Barring an offer from a team that could legitimately compete at the elite levels of European soccer (say, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur), I can’t see there being any greater glory than in continuing to work towards building Blackpool as a team that plays attacking soccer. If he’s able to establish Blackpool as a Championship side – they still aren’t really – and make the odd return to the Premier League over the next ten or fifteen years, he’d probably earn a statue outside of Bloomfield Road himself.

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    25 Responses to Always look on the seaside of life: Part 3

    1. June 4, 2011 at

      Wonderfully written, Tyler – I followed Blackpool from afar down here in Tennessee, and was crushed to see them go out like this.

      Your last bit, on the nature of playing an attacking style and taking your best shot, is particularly relevant here in Nashville. Some might well call the Predators the Blackburn of the NHL. Since they’ve pretty much always been like this (outside of perhaps the 2006-7 squad), it’s ingrained into the local culture, so there’s not too much complaining about style. But can the realistically ride that model to a higher level of success? That’s the question…

    2. June 4, 2011 at

      Probably one of, if not THE best article I’ve ever read a Blackpool FC, almost brought a tear to my eye! You hit the nail on the head on a multitude of points there Tyler, particularly with your analysis of Blackburn Rovers and their negative brand of ‘anti football’. If there was any justice in the world, they would have been relegated, not us – and if it wasn’t for that b@astard linesman giving us a rightful corner in the 93rd minute instead of goal kick to them it might very well have been. *SIGH*

      Hope to see you at Bloomfield Road some time next season and Ill buy you a pint this time!

      Cheers and UTP!

      John.

      PS – If you’d like to republish this post at a guest post on my blog Id be more than happy to do so, I’m sure my listeners would love to read this.

    3. dave
      June 4, 2011 at

      Another great read – you’ve not said its the last one – can we hope for more ? – as a Brit, the commonplace seen through the eyes of someone not from this country is always fun

      I remember the day – it was more than a little sad
      - I’m no massive fan of the team – have been aware of Holloway for a few years – he’s quite famous for the random funny comments he makes

      I’ve half followed a side that was in the premiership for a number of years – almost always in the bottom half – there is almost a continual fatalism of trying to avoid the drop – which is possibly what the Blackburn fans are going through – though there are probably only 8 or so teams who could be confidant before the season started of not being down there at the end – all of the others, they will have their moments but they will all end up losing their best players to the bigger clubs

      Its different in the NHL – but would you trade getting to the finals once for half a dozen years of making the playoffs but getting nowhere ? – whats the measure of success ? – I dont know for the NHL or EPL …

      I’m sorry to say that I’m not a big fan of Blackpool the place – but if I was I might say that its a place thats true to itself – respects its past – whether that applies to ‘Olly’ I dont know.

    4. June 4, 2011 at

      Blackburn Rovers are an established premier league club, played in every premier league season bar two years. 7th in most premier league points accrued table. Since the departure of Sam Allardyce the standard of football played by Blackburn compares favourably to any club outside the top 6. It’s a shame that a good article has to be spoiled by ill informed, media driven cheap shots at a fellow traditional Lancastrian club

    5. D Owen
      June 4, 2011 at

      Yet they have to virtually give season tickets away and still cant fill the ground. strange that eh gareth?

    6. dave
      June 5, 2011 at

      Apart from the ‘Walker years’ I wonder how confidant the Blackburn fans have been – those Champions league places were a little out of reach.

      I dont think Tyler has been too influenced by media driven cheap shots – this year Blackpool went down and a local rival stayed up – but also fans of clubs get too big a chip on their shoulder about any perceived media ctiticism – its happens all the time – and I bet the rest of the country cares little about Blackburn or their style (good or bad) – yet they did about Blackpool this year.
      Who knows they might be all over, lets say, Swansea next year as the plucky club who showed a few sides how to play (yet still go down)

      Tyler – I dont believe there is any law about live games being broadcast – there was in the past, always a blackout of live games (like in North America to encourage fans to go to local games) – but of course here there is no ‘local’ tv in that sense – of course Murdoch’s Sky (and ESPN) hold the live tv rights now and they choose when games are played to suit their live TV schedules (and thats where the moneys from …)

    7. June 5, 2011 at

      25,000 average home attendance 2011, with 4 other football league clubs within 10 miles of our own stadium. Town population 110,000 – magnificent support I say. Post Jack Walker the club have won the League cup and qualified for Europe on two occasions via league qualification, including 7th before Fat Sam and 10th the season before last. To quote Rafa Benitez “its a fat.” It’s a shame a few away wins have gone to your heads as the majority of BRFC fans were cheering on your efforts at Old Trafford within Molineux and hoped you guys survived. I’m afraid it’s good riddance, remember Burnleys magnificent performances last year…..soon forgotten.

    8. Michael Howarth
      June 5, 2011 at

      Being a Blackburn Rovers supporter, I have the benefit of having followed the Premiership from its inception. Trust me, every season the media adopts a “little” club to big up. In recent years, Wigan got it for a season, Reading got it, Hull got it, Burnley got. This season it was Blackpool’s turn, next season it will be Swansea’s turn. That is all you are. For 12 months we are told that this chosen club has the most passionate supporters, plays the best football and everybody hopes they will stay up. What invariably happens is, as soon as results drop off towards the second half of the season the fair weather fans who have bumped up your crowds go back to where they came from (only selling 30% of your allocation at Spurs for a must win game – shame on you Blackpool! Blackburn sold every ticket at West Ham the same day! I didn’t notice Gary Lineker mention that on MOTD!); the team’s lack of Premiership class on the pitch starts to show and you either go down that season (a la Burnley and yourselves) or the following season (Hull and Reading). The real interesting thing from my point of view is whilst the media love to adopt a club like Blackpool for a season, the following season nobody cares about them. And if they out stay their welcome beyond 5 seasons they actually start to become really disliked (Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan). So my point is, don’t believe everything the media spoon feed you. The truth is:-
      1) Blackpool are Premiership one season wonders.
      2) Blackburn Rovers, Bolton, Fulham, Wigan are established Premiership football clubs.
      3) Blackburn Rovers have qualified for European football 4 times since the death of Jack Walker.
      4) The “adopt a little club for a season” media may decide what time your game comes on MOTD but they don’t actually win you any points.
      5) Every club that has ever existed gets more people through the turnstille the year after promotion. Big deal. The challenge is keeping a large proportion of those fans coming back year on year (like Blackburn Rovers have for the past 17 years – check out the population of our town compared to our average attendance and you will see how impressive our attendances actually are)
      6) Claiming to be a well supported club and not even selling half of your allocation for a must win game at White Hart Lane in your first season in the premiership is absolutely criminal.
      7) A high percentage of these media idiots who have been bigging up your club for the last 9 months only do so to hide their general lack of knowledge of anything that goes on outside the top 5 or 6 clubs.
      8) Your display at Ewood Park totally dispelled the myth for me that Blackpool play this beautiful care free cavalier flowing football. You watch the video of that game. You scored a great free-kick, dodgy penalty and then tried to time waste for the next 55 minutes. Ha,ha! It’s true!
      9) I have been watching Premiership football for 17 years and players like Charlie Adam come and go like clubs like Blackpool.
      10) I know Mrs Venky and she said we will swap you Keith Andrews for Charlie Adam and that fat guy up front.
      I really don’t want this message to sound bitter (I was going for a more gloating vibe) but the garbage I have heard spouted about your club for the past season has become nauseating and I just felt that if I didn’t get this off my chest my head was going to explode. Aaaaah. I feel much better now. Enjoy The Championship. I will be watching your attendances closely.

    9. mark b
      June 5, 2011 at

      Michael, for a man that doesn’t want to sound bitter you give a very good impression of one that is. Given a choice of who I would pay to watch I think Blackburn would come somewhere around the after Peterborough for me. Don’t fool yourself that your brand of football is better than under ‘fatsam’. You only changed your style of football at the end of the season because you were so desperate. You will revert to type next season and your attendances will show it to.

    10. Iain
      June 5, 2011 at

      Michael, where have you got this rubbish about us only selling 30% of our allocation for Spurs???.
      From the Official Site we had sold “Over 2,000 tickets of an allocation just shy of 3,000 have been purchased for the fixture at White Hart Lane, which takes place on Saturday 7 May (kick-off 5.30pm).” and that was on April 21st, more than 2 weeks before the game. And we had already sold almost 70% then.
      I was at the game and I couldn’t see many (any?) empty seats, and the game was live on TV kicking of at 5:30 in London. So that’s a pretty impressive following if you ask me.
      For what it’s worth I agree with your points about the media but when you start making up rubbish like that then it just makes you look stupid…

    11. Michael Howarth
      June 5, 2011 at

      Shows how limited your knowledge of football is because Peterborough were arguably the most entertaining team in the entire 4 divisions last year. Trust me, I’m not bitter. I have got nothing to be bitter about. Over the last 20 years I have been treated to what can only be described as a footballing fantasy. I don’t have to remember the great games my club have had in the Premiership – I prefer to remember the great SEASONS. 1992/93, 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1997/98, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2005/06, 2007/08 – And a couple of promotions to go with it. As for great football? Has nobody pointed out to you that although Blackpool scored 55 goals this season, the opposition scored 78 – ie, about 60% of the great football you have been watching has been played by the opposition. If you know your Premiership history you will know that the core of the Blackburn team that got promoted in 2000/01 went on to qualify for Europe via their league position playing some of the best football ever played by a cut-price team in the Premiership. Give me Dunn, Duff, Friedel, Thompson and Tugay over your lot any day. Nearly forgot, we qualified for Europe playing great football on a shoe string about 4 years later as well. Ha,ha! Nearest you have ever got to Europe was that Micky Melon free kick that landed in the Irish Sea. Blackpool play great football? Yawn.

    12. Michael Howarth
      June 5, 2011 at

      Go on YouTube. Fair play, I will accept your crowd was over half. But look behind the net when Adam misses that pen – unless there was a big queue for the toilet or a load of lads dressed as plastic seats, it was nowhere near full, mate.

    13. Iain
      June 5, 2011 at

      Might not have been full but I’m pretty sure we only had around 2-300 tickets left in the days before the game. It’s just the way of White Hart Lane that the last tickets sold/unsold are the ones behind the goal directly in line with the TV cameras. Go on Youtube yourself and look at the videos from in the Blackpool end and see for yourself how many were there.

    14. Iain
      June 5, 2011 at

      By the way, great set of articles Tyler.
      As well as being a Blackpool season ticket holder I am also a massive hockey fan, and stay up stupidly late October through April watching the Rangers (we never get far into May unfortunately!), and I was lucky enough to visit New York in March and catch a couple of games at MSG.
      And I couldn’t dream of writing about it the way you have about Blackpool’s run in so well, and perfectly encapsulate the feelings of those final 3 weeks. Obviously you’re a regular blogger and I’m not so that helps. But still, fantastic articles. A very enjoyable, if bittersweet, read.

    15. Neil
      June 5, 2011 at

      I find the comments from the Blackburn Rovers lot very funny. The only ray of light in relegation is that we don’t have to watch such total sh*te week in week out like they do. Roll on next season.

    16. dave
      June 5, 2011 at

      good points about teams getting chosen to be favourites each year

      Maybe Tyler can answer the mystery of the empty seats – as he was there – and it his is blog after all

      which makes me wonder how do supporters from offended teams find these blogs – are there so few of them (blogs that is) that simple searches throw them up ? or is Tyler so well followed …

      Not sure all the glory seasons were quite that for Blackburn which may go back to my earlier definition of what counts for success (thats not a criticism) – of course the average attendance may have been helped by all those close rivals (and their far travelling supporters)

      But can I also request that the habit of denigrating other teams (for whatever reason) is something that does no one any good (even when its Flames or ‘Nucks !) – I’ve been there myself – but why add it to the outside world guys ?

      Still with so many new followers this site will have a very cosmopolitan feel ….

    17. Michael Howarth
      June 5, 2011 at

      “Not sure all the glory seasons were quite that for Blackburn which may go back to my earlier definition of what counts for success (thats not a criticism)”

      Each one of those seasons (with the exception of the 2004/05 season in which Mark Hughes miraculously rescued a team doomed to The Championship) involved Blackburn Rovers either winning a major domestic trophy, qualifying for The Champions League or qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Considering where the club was in the 70′s and 80′s I happily consider these great seasons. Incidently, most of our achievements since 2000 have been achieved on a shoe string budget playing really good football. It doesn’t really bother me that people in the media chose to let 2 years of Allardyce and a few empty seats overshadow these monumental achievements. However when I stumble across “armchair experts” regurgitating what can only be described as totally incorrect stereotypes I feel it is my moral duty as a passionate Rovers fan to dish out a bit of education.

    18. Tyler Dellow
      June 5, 2011 at

      Dirk – it’s tough to compare the NHL and Premier League because the objectives are so different. Nashville could theoretically win a Stanley Cup. At this point in time, Blackpool isn’t winning the Premier League. The choice that some teams in the Premier League seem to make is a bit different – they choose to play ugly football, without much realistic chance of success, in order to ensure that they remain Premier League. It all seems sort of nihilistic to me – being in a league is an awfully low sort of goal to set for yourself.

    19. Tyler Dellow
      June 5, 2011 at

      John – Yeah, Blackburn’s awful tying goal after the ref blew the call is a real low point. Killer going down like this – I keep thinking about Charlie hitting the post against Newcastle.

    20. Tyler Dellow
      June 5, 2011 at

      Dave – I think you’ve got a good comparison there between NHL/PL. There’s nothing like a long playoff run and since 96-97, my team’s had a run where it made the playoffs a lot and a run where they had a finals appearance followed by a lengthy period of no playoffs. Hockey in June is a pretty wonderful thing when your team is in it (it’s otherwise terrible). If forced to pick, I’d probably choose finals and then no playoffs for a while over a series of early exits.

      This is the last on this year’s trip. I intend to be back next year, possibly in September and further game reports will follow.

    21. Tyler Dellow
      June 5, 2011 at

      Blackburn fans: Sorry for causing offence. I am, as I’ve acknowledged, a very new fan of soccer. I’m aware that Blackburn did well during the sugar daddy years but am otherwise mostly basing my comments on what I observed this year. If they used to play attractive soccer and stopped when Allardyce took over, then my criticism wouldn’t really be applicable in the past, which isn’t what I was talking about anyway.

      As for Blackburn being an attractive team under Kean – the only Blackburn game I watched with him in charge was Blackpool/Blackburn. This was, by the way, not a particularly strong game for Blackpool. With that said, Blackburn looked to me to just be pumping balls into the box and praying – both of their goals came off hammering balls in. There didn’t seem to be a lot of grace or finesse. I still remember what Allardyce had to say about Holloway earlier this year as well – said it was naive to play for the win late in the game after Blackburn got a late goal when Blackpool were pressing for the win late.

      Maybe he’s right that it’s naive but Holloway didn’t play for draws. That’s part of what made this team so attractive.

      I’m not really into comparing the fanbases of teams. I’m sure Blackburn Rovers have a much bigger fanbase in the UK, having spent much more time in the Premier League and its predecessors over the past forty years. The suggestion that Blackpool had a hard time moving Spurs tix seems a bit off to me though – most of them were full of Pool fans. While there were some empty ones, I’m honestly surprised that as many travelled as seem to have. A trip to London isn’t cheap.

    22. Tyler Dellow
      June 5, 2011 at

      Just to put my defence of my position a bit more pointedly: do you disagree that Rovers were playing shitty soccer this year in an attempt to stay up? We seem to disagree on what they did under Kean – as I said, maybe they played differently in other games.

      I’m not talking about past glories here – I’m talking about what I observed this year. This year, they seemed into just maintaining their Premier League position at any cost.

    23. Michael Howarth
      June 5, 2011 at

      Blackburn Rovers have definitely suffered as a result of Allardyce’s 2 years in charge and at some stages in the Kean reign we have seen a bit of a hangover from this. However, there have been occasions under Kean when I have seen some really promising football – demolition jobs on Liverpool, West Brom and Wolves spring straight to mind. I can only judge Blackpool on what I have seen. Your visit to Ewood is the game that sticks out most in my memory. I was fearful of this supposedly care free style we were coming up against – even though I hadn’t really seen it in the half dozen or so Blackpool games I had seen on Sky. On this day, Blackpool were the better of 2 poor teams in the first 35 minutes and went 2-0 up from 2 free kicks. The football was nothing to write home about from either team and despite the penalty Howard Webb awarded beig a total joke, on the balance of play, Blackpool deserved to be winning. It was what happened after you went 2-0 up that really shocked me. Far from continuing like a steam train which you were supposedly famous for, you totally shut up shop and started time wasting after 35 minutes. I have never come across this before so early in a game – even Allardyce at his worst wouldn’t stoop this low. Charlie Adam clapping himself on to the pitch for the second half was one of the most bizarre things I had ever seen. He obviously thought it was job done and was just waiting to get home for the new regular feature on MOTD – the Charlie Adam is Zinedine Zidane slot. After we destroyed you second half, both in the way we played and the 2 goals we scored, I tried to defend Blackpool and I argued that maybe they had just decided that the result was more important than the style of football on this occassion – which would have been fair enough. Then I had to listen to 2 days of garbage from all angles that this was another Blackpool footballing super show. Oh dear. The myth that Blackpool were the architects of an exciting new brand of cavalier football died that day for me – I realised I was just watching another Burnley/ Hull one-season media darling.

    24. dave
      June 5, 2011 at

      Michael – Yes apologies from me for being an armchair expert – I dont actually know enough of Blackpools history or Blackburns for that matter (though was a fan of Shearer, by the way) – I’m sure those seasons will be burned in your mind for ever – my original minor point was that, what does count as success to a club, its supporters – as I said before, I wasn’t sure in Blackburns case (I dont know the records) …if its coming 6th and getting in the UEFA cup or whatever then I’m glad for you – SERIOUSLY

      Im sure this season will be seen as great to the Blackpool supporters also – and good for them too

      But does it really matter that somebody in Canada and those that follow him have an incorrect impression of Blackburn and therefore need to be in receipt of a “bit of education being dished out” to them – did that sound a bit threatening to only me ?

      As I mentioned before, denigrating other teams (or people) does no-one any good in the long run …

    25. Michael Howarth
      June 5, 2011 at

      Genuine apologies – irony is lost in written word – I didn’t mean “bit of education dished out” in a death row kind of way. It was more a light hearted turn of phrase. Anyway, best of luck to you all in the future. I have enjoyed a bit of banter with Blackpool fans on this message board today. All I am trying to say really with my posts is for some reason Blackburn Rovers seems to have become a by-word for ugly football and an empty ground. It is wrong.

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