Play-offs give smallest of clubs something massive to aim at
Gillingham, newly relegated to League Two, have just reappointed Andy Hessenthaler as manager with instructions to get the club back up to League One. But why stop there? Hessenthaler is not one for bold pronouncements and he knows if he declared his target was the Premier League he would be ridiculed, but managers and chairmen of every Football League club will have watched Saturday's Championship play-off final and wondered: Why not us?
It used to be only fallen giants, temporarily slumming it in the lower divisions – like Manchester City, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United – who fixed their gaze on the top flight. Now everyone should aspire to the elite. Successive play-offs at the new Wembley have promoted Premier League virgins: Hull City, Burnley, now Blackpool, each improbable guests at the top table.
Hull climbed three divisions in six years, Blackpool took 10 to make the same journey, but their ascent has been no less remarkable. The ground has only recently been enlarged to hold 12,000, the investment in players has been modest, and success can hardly have resulted from managerial stability when Ian Holloway is their fourth in seven years. The turnover reflects nine bottom-half finishes in the last dozen seasons. But on each occasion Blackpool have finished in the top-half they have been promoted. They are a club who have taken their chances.
The Seasiders will thus become the 44th club to have competed in a competition which is less than 20 years old. The Premier League is criticised for many things, but it is not a closed shop, not yet, and Blackpool's fairy tale underscores why the occasional moves towards pulling up the drawbridge must be resisted. The Tangerine dreamers bring romance and colour to the top flight, and offer hope to the lower orders.
Of course, next season will be a struggle and may end in relegation, but if Blackpool budget like Burnley, rather than Hull, the season should provide a platform for sustained progress, rather than provoke a looming catastrophe.
Footnote: A decade ago Blackpool and Cardiff were relegated together from the third tier; Gillingham, with Hessenthaler playing, were promoted from the same division after beating current Premier League clubs Stoke City and Wigan Athletic in the play-offs. In football stasis is rare – that is part of its allure.
Latest in Sport
What time does Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao begin and what channel is it on?
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao live: Mayweather puts on defensive masterclass to win by unanimous decision
What time does Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao begin on Sky Sports Box Office?
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao: What time does the fight start and what channel is it on?
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao: Only 132 pubs in the United Kingdom will show the fight - so where can you watch it?
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 3 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds