A Tale of Missed Opportunity at Blackpool
Most people reading this will, like myself, be rabid 'Pool fans. We eat, drink and sleep tangerine. Not a single day passes without a conversation about BFC, logging onto a BFC website or listening to Radio Lancashire for any snippets of news. For years we have craved Championship status, so now that we are there why am I not jumping out of bed in a morning, willing away another 24 hours to the next match? At the risk of being classed as a 'doom and gloom' merchant, here's why...
Firstly, let me state here and now that I am not a businessman. I have never run a company, produced a balance sheet or indeed put forward a business plan in any shape or form. I speak purely as someone who has supported my team since 1961 and coped with the stuff we all tend to do - marriage, mortgage, children - so from a naïve financial point of view, that is all I know about credit and debit.
However, I do know that football is a business unlike any other business, where standing still is going backwards, good form on the pitch has to be capitalised off it, and lack of investment means relegation. We are, on the surface, playing the highest standard of football for thirty years; we're up against some of the bigger clubs in the country in front of sizeable crowds, the like of which we have only experienced in the FA Cup. What is the problem then?
Quite simply - and it hurts to admit it - Blackpool Football Club is, and has been for a long time, a shambles. For example, why do we never, ever, take advantage of the momentum created by success? History will back me up on that one - Billy Ayre got us up, we sold players; Sam Allardyce got us to the brink of promotion, we sold players and sacked him; Steve McMahon not only turned us into an attractive team on the pitch with promotion and LDV Cup wins, his high media profile got us noticed off it - yet when he begged for money for players he was turned down flat and eventually left out of frustrated ambition. The biggest missed opportunity was, of course, after Larry's incredible feat of getting us into the 'promised land'. 30,000 people went to Wembley to witness the biggest game in the club's recent history and came back fully enthused. OK, 10,000 probably went because of the venue and the occasion and will never go again; 10,000 were probably like us, genuine 'Pool fans; that left 10,000 who were in the category of 'potential future support'. Here was a great opportunity to grab a whole new generation of supporters, we had the chance to progress like never before.
So, what actually happened? I'm afraid it was more a story of what didn't happen, the most glaring of which was the failure to build the South Stand immediately. When I say immediately of course I mean as soon as was feasibly possible. The first season in our elevated status came and went - in exciting fashion on the pitch, with 'Pool guaranteeing CCC football on the final day of the season in front of yet another full house - and still the weeds grew at the south end of the ground. Worse was to come. An unprecedented and crazy price hike decimated any chance of increased support so not only was there no new stand but there was no-one to put in it - a spectacular double 'own goal' as the away fans have voted with their feet too this season…and quite rightly so. Now we hear of yet another delay in construction 'to get the best possible price'… ever get that sense of déjà vu?
You cannot fail to notice the rapidly deteriorating state of the North and West stands too. Whenever you go to an away game the comparison with other grounds simply reinforces the belief that corners were cut building ours. Do we have a maintenance contract with anyone? It doesn't look like it. Even the 'showpiece' frontage to Seasiders Way looks shoddy and dirty, with the signs fiasco another bone of contention.
How can those famous hotbeds of football Colchester and Shrewsbury manage to build new, four-sided stadiums yet we cannot? I went to Shrewsbury pre-season and what a lovely fit-for-purpose ground it is - complete with illuminated signs!! Before anyone counters with 'Yeah, but which division are they in?' just let me say that the ONLY thing about BFC that is Championship standard is our current status in the league and if we lose that then suddenly we will be looking enviously at the likes of Colchester and Shrewsbury.
Our transfer policy is totally counter-productive too. We abuse the loan system which only serves to destabilise the team. I think Larry and Tony Parkes performed miracles over the last couple of years but just because we managed to survive one season in the CCC does not mean it is the right way to do things. Again, look at other sides, and even the likes of Doncaster can point to a settled team of players signed to the cause - which is now paying off - as opposed to a hotch potch of loanees. We supporters put our money where our mouths are, thinking that our hard earned cash will be put towards building a team, a club to be proud of. Instead we have a squad of Premier wannabe's and not-quite-made-its, flitting in and around a nucleus of permanent signings, some of whom are clearly not good enough. We don't even have a manager, the chairman preferring to 'suck it and see'. Is that progress? Is that the way to build and attract? Eight home defeats so far would indicate otherwise.
I mentioned Doncaster - another example of how things can be done. It isn't that long ago that they were non-league within a whisker of going out of business playing to crowds of less than a thousand. What they have achieved - in tandem with the local authority - shows what can be done if the right people are in charge and are prepared to invest, to have a dynamic outlook and cohesive strategy to build 'the brand'. I was most impressed with the Keepmoat and surrounding area. Does anyone think that our board is capable of realising our potential as a club in the same way?
I normally try to write a balanced piece finishing off with an optimistic slant. Sadly, I cannot lie to myself enough to do that. The trouble for me is that I have lost faith in the club because of the way it has, is, and always will be run whilst under the stewardship of the Oystons. This of course, is the real problem. It is all very well offering free pies and '3 for 2' offers but that is trying to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted - it is the cumulative effect of over two decades of short term thinking and lack of real investment that has done the damage. The reputation associated with the name Oyston is long established, the cynicism in the town absolute. To the onlooker, it seems that nobody wants anything to do with the club whilst it is under the current regime.
I really, really hope that I am wrong and that the future is bright and Tangerine, as indeed it could be with a bold and positive outlook by the board. They are where it has to start; they must show that they mean business by demonstrating to the Blackpool public that they value our custom; they must make it both affordable and attractive to come to Bloomfield Road; they need to develop the football side both on and off the pitch by appointing a 'Wow!' factor manager and financially backing him. Most importantly, they have to make Blackpool a place that players want to come by finishing the south stand and improving the unbelievably archaic training facilities. Of course it all costs money but excuse me, that responsibility comes with the job of being on the board. Success always comes at a price - is it worth paying for Blackpool Football Club?