Saturday, 29 May 2010

Blackpool Light the Way to Wembley

It’s an away day dream. Off to the seaside for the weekend; 2 night stay in a B&B, meal out on Friday night, thumping win for your team on Saturday afternoon, clubbing Saturday night, and then throwing it all up again at the Pleasure Beach on Sunday morning before going home. That was the event that most Championship clubs were expecting when ‘Blackpool away’ was the next fixture on the calendar, and truth be told this time last year it almost always came to form. Now however, Championship fans are just one game away from surrendering the away weekend to the Premier League as Blackpool FC, a side hotly tipped for relegation with no money and relatively unknown players, are 90 minutes of football away from the big-time. After a thumping 6-4 aggregate win against one of the best sides in the league, Nottingham Forest, they’re off to Wembley to meet Cardiff City for a place in the Premier League.
It’s more proof of how vulnerable the Championship is; anyone really can beat anyone, and if you look at the bottom half of the table, how 4 points can separate 14th from 20th. It is re-inspiring in a world of constant talk of finances, multimillion pound transfers and 6 figure weekly wages, that a team who have had to rely on low wages, loan signings and free transfers have done as well as they have; adding some ammunition in the debate that money doesn’t buy you success. In a league that is so easy to drop down from, and so agonizingly hard to go up from, that this traditional old club are sat on the brink of achieving what was regarded as impossible at the start of the season. At the moment there is a lot of praise for Harry Redknapp, and Roy Hodgson, for taking Tottenham to the Champions League and Fulham to the Europa League final; both are fantastic achievements and both worth the plaudits they are receiving, however, and you may have to read this a few times for it to sink in and not seem like a like or a joke, Ian Holloway has got Blackpool to the Play-Off final and perhaps the Premier League. In my opinion this is an achievement on par with Redknapp or Hodgson considering the tight finances, below-par pitch and ability of the players. In fact you have to stop and question how on Earth he has done it?
Top flight football brings with it a lot of camaraderie, a lot of flashing lights and TV cameras, (much like Blackpool town itself, actually), huge sums of money and well paid foreign players and managers, lots of tactical discussion and criticism, ambitious news stories and predictions, and also a lot of garbage brought about by pundits and predictions. However when you strip all this wrapping away you still have one underlying current that is applicable to every team in the world regardless of stature, the game itself; a game where the aim is actually really simple, to kick the ball in the goal more times than the other team. You’ll only have to have watched Blackpool once this season to realise that this is exactly the philosophy their players have been playing under. My side, Watford, welcomed them to Vicarage Road way back in August, and even then it was clear that the team were no pushovers. We took the lead in the first half and they duly equalised, and then the same transpired in the second half. They played decent football, and at no point looked like an “away” side. When Watford went to Bloomfield Road, Blackpool scored two goals in the last five minutes to beat us 3-2. At no point did they look like a team who would be fighting relegation. The same thing happened in both Semi-Finals against Forest, the reds took the lead, but Blackpool never gave up, and created and fashioned chances all through the game and never looked beaten, and in both cases came from behind to win.
The football is not flashy - it’s not ‘Arsenal’ – but then again it’s not long ball either, the passing is swift and the midfield players are responsible as much with defence and attack. There (appear to be) no big characters other than the manager, and huge amounts of respect for his decisions and management style. Indeed Holloway himself, usually loud and brash with his opinions, anecdotes and jokes, has been relatively quiet this season, and kept the players focused on winning every game. He also is brilliant at getting the best out of players. Most important has been midfield maestro Charlie Adam, who was signed from Rangers with a club record fee of £500k (!!!), has scored 16 goals for Blackpool this season. Unused and clearly undervalued by the Scottish champions, Adam has been the surprise package of the Championship this season and some of his goals have been absolute corkers. Another player with a chequered past is DJ Campbell, who would achieve less-than-favourable reviews from many managers he’s played for and could easily be described as a ‘journeyman’. His contribution including a hat-trick away at Forest is another reason that Blackpool are where they are. Another player who’s found a home is Hameur Bouazza, who failed to find his feet at Fulham, Birmingham and Charlton, and who only lasted 5 days at a club in Turkey. Holloway’s grasp over these players along with a great mix of youth and experience has formed a team that are versatile and ambitious yet clever in defence (although their one weakness is the amount of goals they’ve shipped). They play with a typical old-English No.9 and No.10 strike partnership with the more modern marauding midfielder backing the two big men up. It is old-school football from an old-school managing style, and Holloway definitely deserves the world of credit for installing this into the players and staff at Bloomfield Road.
Should they beat Cardiff - something they have not achieved this season – there will be a huge amount of careful planning and investment to survive amongst the vultures of the Premier League, and you would think they (once again) would be favourites to be dumped straight back down.
Yet it is inspirational that in a league with Newcastle, West Brom, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, that Blackpool are one game away from the Premier League, and trips to the Emirates, Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge. It gives hope to any team in the Championship or in their respective football league that it is possible to get to the top with the right mentality and unity between players and staff. Every year the BBC has a ‘Team of the Year’ award at their December awards, perhaps a thought should be spared for Blackpool if they do the impossible and make it to the big time…

No comments:

Post a Comment