One of the better pieces of news to come out of Blackpool during the week was that life expectancy in the town had risen by two months since 2009. Yesterday’s result dramatically increased the football club’s prospects of surviving in the Championship for another year while ensuring that Birmingham City, who were relegated from the Premier League with Blackpool, have the life chances of a 100-a-day smoker with a bottle of vodka under the bed.
By the time the final whistle went, Blackpool required a draw at home against Charlton in their final game to stay up and, if they do, Karl Oyston’s gamble would have paid off, although few Blackpool fans would be inclined to congratulate their chairman. There has been too much bitterness for that.
As a peace offering to those who had accused his family of ransacking the club for personal profit, Oyston had paid for 3,600 supporters to pack the away end of the DW Stadium while at the same time threatening 32 of them with libel writs for comments posted on internet forums. It seemed to sum things up. However, as Wigan’s electronic scoreboard counted down, the visiting fans filled the emptying stadium with the defiant conviction that they would be staying up.
Where Wigan are going is altogether more questionable. This is a club that is about to complete an extraordinary year. In the space of 12 months they have won the FA Cup, been relegated, got through three managers, travelled Europe from Bruges to the Ural mountains and are on course to go to Wembley for the fourth time.
That kind of schedule might have tested a squad with Manchester City’s resources and perhaps it is not surprising that Wigan are starting to fray at the edges, although their manager, Uwe Rosler, thought the mistake that led to Blackpool’s opener was far more significant. As it is, Wigan still require three points from their final two matches to guarantee the Championship play-offs.
Had Martyn Waghorn converted the softest of spot kicks, awarded when Shaun Maloney appeared to lose his footing, it is unlikely a Blackpool side that had won two of their previous 25 games could have recovered. Waghorn’s shot was well struck but, somehow, Matt Gilks turned the ball on to the post.
After Wigan’s failure in the shoot-out against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final, Rosler suggested that they would now practise penalties intensively and when asked yesterday if they had, he became irritated. “Do you think that playing every three days, as we do, we have time for that?” he asked. Perhaps it is not surprising that a German would be more than usually angered by failures from the penalty spot.
The error that so enraged Rosler was the failure to deal with Isaiah Osbourne’s cross, converted by Andy Keogh. Ten minutes later, Keogh crossed deep from the byline and Stephen Dobbie timed his run perfectly to clip the ball home.
On Good Friday, at around the same time – the 70th minute – Dobbie had been preparing to come on against Burnley when he became involved in a fight with one of his own coaches, Bob Malcolm.
That was a game that summed up the civil war that has been brewing at Blackpool. After unveiling a banner that accused the Oystons of using the club as a “cash cow”, the crowd began hurling tangerines and tennis balls on to the pitch. The fruit is self-explanatory, the balls date from a protest by fans of Basel and Lucerne angered by the rescheduling of their fixture to accommodate a tennis match involving Roger Federer. Blackpool fans are passionate but they also know their minor European football.
And yet if you judged a club purely on its balance sheet, Blackpool would be a model. The Championship runs on economic lines that would shame a banana republic and last year Blackpool were one of only four clubs in that division to make a profit. The seven most indebted Championship clubs in 2013 – Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City, Brighton, Ipswich Town, Middlesbrough, Hull City and Cardiff City – owed a combined total of £670m. Blackpool are debt free.
In their first season after relegation from the Premier League, their wages-to-turnover ratio was running at a healthy 42 per cent while Bristol City were paying their footballers a lunatic £1.57 for every pound the club made.
And yet, had Oyston, who was watching from the directors’ box, paid to hire an experienced manager to replace Paul Ince after he was sacked earlier this season, or spent a little more – even when they went down from the Premier League they had one of the lowest wage bills in the Championship – they might not have been in this state. The town has enough rollercoasters without this.
One of the biggest attractions on Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach is the Pasaje del Terror, although compared to what the club’s supporters have been through, the “Journey of Fear” seems a very tame way to spend an afternoon.
Wigan Athletic (4-3-3): Al Habsi; Perch, Boyce, Barnett, Beausejour; McArthur, Gomez, Espinoza (Fortune, 69); McManaman, Waghorn (Powell, ht), Maloney (McClean, 79).
Blackpool (4-4-1-1): Gilks; McMahon, Cathcart, McGahey, Halliday; Basham, Osbourne, Perkins, Bishop (Barkhuizen, 69); Dobbie (Martinez, 90); Keogh (Fuller, 82).
Referee: Andy D’Urso.