Martin Hardy: After a difficult job at Birmingham, Lee Clark is facing an even tougher task with Blackpool

Life Beyond the Premier League

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The Independent Football

The Blackpool Gazette reported today that the town’s football club were chasing their 50th signing of the season. “Is that how many it is?” says Lee Clark. “Wow.”

Then there is laughter. There has to be, the tears of self-pity are not an option.

Clark was brought up in Walker, in the east end of Newcastle. It is not a place for shrinking violets. He will need all of those fighting qualities for the remainder of the season. The Geordie has gone from the frying pan into the fire, and he knows it.

Clark was manager at Birmingham City for just over two seasons (after doing an excellent first job at Huddersfield Town), riding through a continual crisis because of the money-laundering charges against Carson Yeung which eventually saw the club’s owner jailed for six years by a Hong Kong court last year.

Against that backdrop he kept the club in the Championship in truly dramatic style in the final minutes of last season, at Bolton. When the club were fighting at the foot of the table this season, Clark was relieved of his duties – a truly painful event.

It made the decision to move to Blackpool as his next job all the more surprising to those outside the world of football. Blackpool had gone through their own summer of problems and were marooned at the foot of the Championship. It was also just 10 days later.

What is lost is the slim pickings for would-be managers. The League Managers Association released figures last season which showed that one in three managers never get a second job.

“It’s easy for people to question me for coming here,” added Clark. “I want to be a football manager and I was getting the chance to get back in very quickly. I spoke at length with the chairman and other people about the club. I decided to make that decision.

“Whatever anyone thinks, that’s the decision I made. I have to keep fighting. It would be the biggest thing I have ever achieved if we were to stay in the division.

“We had an initial run where we lost one in seven. We have to be able to do that again but change the draws into wins. We’ve got 10 home games and most of them are teams in and around us at the bottom of the table. The home games will be crucial.”

Home for Clark and his assistant, Alan Thompson, is now Bloomfield Road. The pair are staying in the hotel from which you can see the pitch. There is no escape.

The club have encountered all manner of problems this season – the controversial payday loan company Wonga announced the end of their sponsorship deal today as well – but the Geordie pair are determined that they still have a fighting chance.

By half-time at Watford on Saturday, Blackpool were 2-0 up. By the 81st minute they were 7-2 down. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life,” said Clark. “In the first half we were terrific. Then 36 minutes into the second half we’d conceded seven and you’re all over the shop.

“We’ve had a good conversation between myself and the staff and the players for the reasons why. We have to take positives of why we did well in the first half. We had to dust ourselves down and go again quickly. We have 18 cup finals basically.”

Nothing more clearly paints the size of the task than the current league table. Blackpool are bottom of the Championship with 17 points from 27 games. Safety and 21st place, where Rotherham currently sit, are 12 points away.

Clark must also tiptoe around the political landscape, but that is part of management too. “We look out the window and see the size of the job on our hands,” he said. “We are well aware of that. We have to have a relationship between owner [Owen Oyston] and manager, which we do. We talk on a regular basis on all aspects of the club but I don’t get involved between him and the supporters.

“I respect the supporters immensely, they have been great with the support of the team, home and away. My objective to stay in the division is for them. I hope I can deliver it.” It is truly going to be a monumental ask.

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