Seasiders coast to victory on golden day for Holloway's heroes
Staggering display on return to the big time as Blackpool rock – then manager heads home to see apricot poodle!
Sunday 15 August 2010
The Wakes Weeks of August when the Lancashire mills stopped and their exhausted operators were allowed a brief respite by the coast was always a boom time for Blackpool but it has seldom been quite like this. Not since the 1950s when 17 million a year flocked to the Golden Mile while the two Stanleys – Matthews and Mortensen – brought the FA Cup to the Fylde coast has football been at the heart of the town but even then there were very few afternoons quite as golden as this.
The faintly soulless DW Stadium will become part of the fabric of the club's folklore now but when the fixtures for Blackpool's first season in the Premier League were released there was a certain disappointment that they should have opened at home against Wigan and even more when the game had to be switched because the reconstruction of Bloomfield Road would not be complete.
On the morning of their great adventure they queued at the ground to buy the new club shirt, which typically for this frantic, last-minute summer had only been released a few hours before. Aside from the headquarters of easyJet, there is probably no place in Britain as orange as the Blackpool club shop. They may have run out of Premier League badges to sew on to the shirts but the faithful were so keen to put them on that some barcodes were scanned with them on their customers' backs.
Their signings – Marlon Harewood, Craig Cathcart, Ludovic Sylvestre, Elliot Grandin and Chris Basham – were another rush job; bought in one go, in cut-price deals as if preparing for the Premier League were like a trolley dash round Aldi.
Ian Holloway, who sometimes seemed less likely to begin the season than Martin O'Neill, had proclaimed it a worse side than the one that beat Cardiff in the play-off final. Midway through the second half you could glance up and imagine that the tangerine shirts belonged to Holland, who were playing rather better than they had in the World Cup final.
Too often this season Holloway will be portrayed as the jester at the bloated court of the Premier League, although he knows that too many medieval funnymen had their throats cut when the monarch tired of their quips. He tried to be serious, saying it had been a "hideous summer", adding: "We are miles behind everyone else. You are either good enough or not and we will find that out in 37 games' time. We go to Arsenal next Saturday and I only hope we don't get absolutely embarrassed because that could easily happen." But then Holloway couldn't quite help himself; saying he would now be driving back to Bath to be reunited with his wife and their newly-acquired apricot poodle called Teddy.
In a perfect world Blackpool would have begun where they left off in their last game of top-flight football in 1971, taking on Manchester United at home. Jimmy Armfield, who played the last of his 627 games for Blackpool on that May afternoon, provided a form of continuity as a BBC radio summariser. Had he been impartial? "Never" smiled the one-time England captain before pointing out that Holloway's great secret was the way he keeps changing formation. "He is nobody's fool," Armfield said, and the Premier League would do well to remember.
As Harewood's second goal made its way under Chris Kirkland's body, the Blackpool chairman, Karl Oyston, sat shaking his head. He had come to lead the club after seeing his father jailed and his mother driven from Bloomfield Road by a supporters' revolt. His father, Owen, hidden beneath dark glasses and a fedora, sat beside him, a relic of the past. The Oyston family have ruled Blackpool for 21 years; long enough to see a club that survived in the Championship and below on minuscule gates stumble into the Premier League, like someone who has come along for a game of bingo and found themselves winning the lottery.
There have been some unlikely teams to have made English football's top table – Northampton, Carlisle, Luton and Barnsley – but none, surely, has made a more improbable entrance than Blackpool, who in the space of nine seasons have advanced from the bottom to the top tier of the domestic game in a ground – stadium is too grand a word – that sometimes had two sides and sometimes three.
Blackpool ended their first afternoon in the Premier League by topping it, although Holloway acknowledged these things do not last. Carlisle won their first three matches in the old First Division, ending Bill Nicholson's long reign at Spurs as they did so, but were still consigned to the trash by April. Burnley's 1-0 win over Manchester United last August was merely a memory when relegation came calling. Nevertheless, Sam Allardyce took Bolton into the Premier League with a 5-0 thrashing of Leicester and ensured they stayed there. From this sunlit triumph, their season could go either way and since Blackpool has more fortune tellers than anywhere else in Britain, they ought to have some idea of what the future holds.
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