'Pool Downhill or Par for Course?
There have been several false dawns for Blackpool FC before and since September 23, 2006, when Latvian millionaire Valeri Belokon's cash allowed the start of building work on the South Stand, apparently heralding the start of a new era for the Seasiders.
The truth is that, one year on, building work on the South Stand is still yet to be started (the amount of weeds growing on that wasteland would be a challenge for Alan Titchmarsh); Valeri Belokon hasn`t spoken publicly in weeks; with fans now frustrated and angry with the lack of any proactive nature off the pitch.
Last May, as we all know and remember so well, the mighty Seasiders gained promotion to the second tier of English Football for the first time in nearly three decades. Why is it that, even after such a great achievement, Karl Oyston still runs the club as a joke business? The truth of the matter is that even after our promotion and higher league standing, we haven't yet caught up with the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Swansea City off the pitch, stemming from the money they spend on players (something the manager has bemoaned recently), their stadia and their club shops to name but three.
So I'll start at the focal point in many people's arguments at the present time - the South Stand. The chairman, Karl Oyston, publicly announced:
That the South would get built after Bloomfield Road Bridge was knocked down (2003/4)
There was a trouble with pre-lets (2005/06)
The South West corner was to start same time as hotel build (weeks running up to the 23rd September 06)
Announcement on start date in 2 weeks (July 07)
South Stand will be in place for next season (July 07)
Of course, none of the above have happened, which is par for the course at Bloomfield Road - as we've come accustom to expecting - but what have the excuses been like coming from the Boardroom (consisting of how many people? Three? Four - maximum? There must be such a mass of opinion!). After September last year we weren't even given the decency of an excuse, let alone a reason for the lack of building work. In the past it has been all to do with selling pre lets, and that we are unable to. Hang on; who in their right mind would buy some office space in a stand that hasn't even been built yet? It defies all business logic. Who would buy, or deal with the Oyston`s is another potent question!
In the official programme's "exclusive" interview with the chairman in Saturday's issue, Oyston was supposed to give the tangerine world some news as to where the club are with the stand. On reading the question and answer, I remain deeply dissatisfied with our chairman. The question "Can you give us an update on the South Stand?" was met with a complete digression before he'd even started answering the question! He spoke about a proposed possibility in the late 90's of building a stadium ala Scunthorpe United or Walsall, which in context was totally off topic, as that was years ago - classic Oyston. As he finally answered the question, the chairman stated "we are in final negotiations and are very close to concluding two pre-lets which will definitely see the start of the construction process in one way or the other". So we are close to agreeing some pre-lets, after all these years? These must be - and I quote - "momentous times for the club"! Karl Oyston implied that the main South Stand wouldn't be built straight away, and that the South West will take priority for now. Why not build the whole stand straight away?
Looking at the season so far, it is frightening as to how much money the club have lost out on at home games. An extra 3,500 seats in the south would have been filled in some games, if not all, with home and away fans, which means thousands of pounds extra revenue on ticket sales alone, let alone the customary pie and pint at half time. This is without the proposed expansion of the East stand, which would add more seats to the ground and in turn more revenue again. Take West Brom Albion (WBA) for example; when they come here and fill the away end (1800 fans) we will only be operating at half our possible revenue from away fans alone, as they are capable of bringing 3500 at least. As a side issue, the east stand's seats are now bowed, and look to be a serious health and safety hazard. I worry for the WBA fans when they start their famous "boing boing Baggies" chant and start jumping up and down!
On the subject of the North and West stands, there are extra issues with those. It's so wonder that away fans reach Bloomfield Road and ask themselves where they are, because there certainly isn't a sign telling them! Blackpool Supporters Association (BSA) had been landed with the job of funding a sign for the ground, something that should have been done years ago. Now we are led to believe that BSA did a poll with their members and decided against funding the sign, donating money to it instead. The sole fact that the supporters association had been asked to do it is laughable; why can't Oyston fund it himself? At a dinner in July, fans were asked to donate money towards the sign, but many refused on principal.
Outside the Kop end of the ground lies our magnificent statue of Blackpool and England goal scorer Stan Mortensen - Wembley hero of '53 - that should be the focal point outside the Kop. Instead, it stands forlorn, often alone, surrounded by weeds. The woodchip boards, of the (still) unused area provide the backdrop for Morty, which is, unlike the great man, lacking in class.
The Seasiders still train day to day at Squires Gate, near Blackpool airport, the picturesque (!) setting of training sessions for decades. The facilities inside are minimal, with a basic gym, two changing areas with two sets of showers. Toilets are situated at the back, hidden, like your classic old style toileting facilities. The pitches remain in acceptable condition, but the whole field is open to the elements, as the wind so often gusts in from the sea and makes playing football extremely difficult, especially in the winter! This must be one of the reasons why players choose other clubs over us when transferring. Recently I recall that the club said that they had identified new facilities for a permanent move, but nothing came of it, and the first team had been training at Myerscough College near Garstang in the summer, on a temporary basis, just like they have done in the past at Lytham YMCA.
There was also a strong sense in and around the club and in the media that a feeder club was to be set up, and again they had identified possible clubs in Latvia to take on this role, but it seems that again nothing has come of it.
On the pitch, the team are holding their own brilliantly. Ok, so a few more wins would be lovely, but only two defeats so far this season shows we're a test for any team, which is excellent progress from Simon and his management team. What does bother me, and many other fans, is that officially Larry is on a rolling contract, thus easy for other teams to poach. What happens if Sheffield United sack Bryan Robson, for example, and Grayson fancies that job? In business terms, a rolling contract doesn't give an employee any job security. Something I'm positive Larry would love is a permanent contract on decent wages, something to keep him at the club, and a signal that the board see him as a fantastic manager, which he has proven over the last ten months. Some of his interviews to the media have given out some negative vibes, which may signal some unrest behind the tangerine scenes.
What I am disappointed with is the perceived lack of investment over the summer. President Valeri Belokon didn't invest heavily, if at all, in pre season and many fans were saying that our current team isn't as good as the one that got us promoted! After watching us miss yet another opportunity for three points at the weekend in the 0-0 draw, it is evident that we need a striker who knows where the goal is. Without one, we could well struggle. With, and we`ll challenge the upper reaches of the division.
As we sit comfortably in the league, our team are on the cusp of being a fantastic outfit, but the facts are - after a "momentous time for the club" in our promotion - we are a Championship side in a League One body off the pitch, and before that changes, the team will suffer: par for the course at Bloomfield Road or a downslide in fortunes?