Dear reader, we have arrived!
The Pool Are Going Up
There has clearly been much going on behind the scenes at Bloomfield Road this summer. And it has all been very much behind the scenes. I get the impression that our new owner Simon Sadler is a private man who prefers to conduct his business away from the public eye. This of course makes a refreshing change from our previous owners. This also means that Lee has been unable to bring you videos from behind the scenes at Bloomfield Road this summer. He wasn’t even allowed in to clean the seats.
But I have a theory: there has been an exorcism at Bloomfield Road this summer. The shadow of the previous owners and (shudder) the previous manager (whose name I dare not type for fear of summoning him back) no longer appear to haunt Blackpool Football Club. We are starting this season completely anew.
Watching the first few friendlies I wasn’t aware of this. I still felt the ghost of that (mercifully) former manager on my shoulder, whispering into my ear ‘don’t get carried away, lower your expectations’.
But, you know, if you can’t get (over)excited about your team’s hopes before the season has started, then what’s the point? You have to have hope as a football fan. And now we have that back in spades. Going into today’s match at home to Everton, we had won three friendlies on the bounce. And within ten minutes of today’s match, we were 3-0 up. Against Everton. Premier League Everton. More of that later. So, I’m sorry (not sorry), but I’m BLOODY excited about the 2020/21 season and you’re powerless to stop me. So much so that I’ve put a bet on us at 20/1 to win the league because, let’s face it, those are stupid odds. Just like the 9/1 for us to win at Anfield in the Premier League. Even FLEETWOOD are shorter odds than us to win League One and as if they are going to win the league. Quite ridiculous.
But before I get onto today’s match, let me digress somewhat.
The fixtures came out on Friday. Usually, I can’t wait for them to be released and straight away I’m stabbing them into my calendar, booking my leave to accommodate the midweekers and weekends away – and maybe even booking hotels and trains. But not this year.
Frankly, I was still in bed when the fixtures came out and I only remembered half an hour after. Instead of checking for where I wanted to go (which I hadn’t really given much thought to), instead I looked desperately at the early away fixtures, hoping they would be rubbish ones that I didn’t want to go to anyway. Plymouth, Gillingham, Sunderland – yeah that suits me just fine.
Next I scanned for midweek away matches. Accrington (local), Wimbledon (grr), Donny (not too far), Shrewsbury (not too far), Wigan (local), MK Dons (not too bad) and Rochdale (local). That’s a pretty good haul, to be honest. You’ll know from my away day reviews that Accy and Donny were in my top three last season – and the latter being a midweek match didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the trip at all.
Wigan, however, is the awayday I’m looking forward to the most next season. I am delighted that this comes in 2021 when (hopefully) things will be a bit more normal when it comes to following football away. Also I’m ok with it falling on a Tuesday, as this gives me all afternoon to explore this wonderful town at my leisure. This is why I love Wigan.
We’re at home on Boxing Day, too – a traditional bumper payday – which is brilliant.
In short, I think the fixture gods have done a good job this time. I don’t know how much of a say the clubs have in the fixture scheduling. I was involved in completing the Northern Premier League fixture questionnaires for Chasetown in my time there, so I do have some experience of this process. Back then, the clubs could agree Christmas/Easter fixtures between themselves and propose these to the League as their preferred fixtures for those dates. They also listed their most local and most distant awaydays. Looking at last season’s fixtures for Blackpool, the less profitable fixtures with Gillingham and Wycombe (when fewer fans would have likely travelled) were scheduled midweek. All of the above leads me to the conclusion that Blackpool might actually know what they are doing and have had a hand in making these fixtures favourable.
In recent weeks I (along with many others) been getting progressively angrier about fans not being allowed into non league matches. It simply made no sense, especially when unmasked spectators were allowed into the (indoor) World Snooker Final seated directly next to each other.
Now you don’t need to tell me how important non league football is to the powers that be. After all, it doesn’t generate a great deal of revenue, does it? During the #LetFansIn campaign, the FA fobbed it off to the DCMS and the DCMS fobbed it back off to the FA, eventually admitting that their original guidance dated July did allow for fans to be allowed back into grounds from Step 3 downwards. Seemingly, this had slipped down the back of the sofa and no-one in power had noticed. But I guess at least the issue has been resolved now – and today fans were allowed back in at Steps 3-6 for the first time since lockdown.
I admit to feeling pangs of jealousy on seeing my Twitter timeline filled with excited fans preparing to go to the match. I wanted a part of this! I had missed it more than I realised. Hmm Colne were at home today. Tickets were on sale online. They had some left. I loved it there. The view from the ground is spectacular. And I’m dying to show Lee how stunning Wycoller is.
But, no, I was committed to watching Blackpool on TV today, as Lee and I were doing another watchalong. BUT WE WOULDN’T BE THERE! I have recently become concerned that I’m getting comfortable watching matches from the comfort of our living room. But it’s really not the same. Until today, it was all we had…but now there are matches we can go to, how long can I be expected to sit at home and watch football on the TV when there is REAL FOOTBALL going on out there?
So it was not without a sense of reluctance that I sat down to watch my team play in my living room.
Blackpool v Everton
Both sides started with strong line-ups. If I’m honest, I’m taking others’ words for the strength of the visitors, as I have no idea who’s who in the Premier League because it’s really not my world at all. I’d heard of Jordan Pickford because I’d seen him play for England in the last World Cup. I’d heard of Seamus Coleman (who was on the bench) because he had been a star for Blackpool on loan in 2010, having a big hand in helping us win promotion to the Premier League (when it was my world for a brief, magical season). And I’d heard of Theo Walcott (also on the bench), again because he’d played for England in major tournaments. As for the rest of them? No idea who any of them were.
But then the opposition have rarely mattered to me. To be honest, I don’t really concern myself with the opposition. It’s what Blackpool do that matters to me, always has been. Sure, I am occasionally dazzled by an opponent’s trickery or goal (Danny Murphy’s goal for Crewe at Bloomfield Road still sticks in my mind), but Blackpool are the important ones.
And boy are Blackpool looking good right now! Seeing Jerry Yates, CJ Hamilton and Sullay Kaikai in the starting line-up will be enough to strike fear into the hearts of defences this season. Yates is a strong, fearless goal poacher. Kaikai is one of the most exciting players I’ve ever seen. He has me on the edge of my seat every time he gets the ball. And Hamilton. Oh Hamilton! He is…in the words of fellow Blackpool blogger Mitch Cook’s Left Foot ‘quick. No, he’s not quick. He’s fucking quick. And a bit quicker than that.’
Ten minutes into the match we knew we had every reason to be excited about this attacking line-up.
BANG! An opener from Hamilton. Yes, I HAVE got an end product and THERE IT IS!
BANG! A second from Kaikai, his third of pre-season. Sure, I can win free kicks, but I can stay on my feet and score, too.
BANG! A third from Grant Ward. You might not have seen much of me at the back end of last season but I’VE ARRIVED!
Just what was going on here? This was a massive statement of intent from Blackpool. This is NOT the Blackpool that disappointed last season. This is a revamped, reinvigorated Blackpool. These ARE the Mighty Tangerine Wizards – and they are playing football like we haven’t seen since, well, 13 managers and eight years ago. The potential in this team is phenomenal.
This is only pre-season and already we have seen so much improvement. Last season I wasn’t convinced the lads were even training in the week, their performances were that woeful. But now we are seeing what these boys can do. In the previous three friendlies, it took them about 20 minutes to settle into each game. Within half that time today they were already 3-0 up. They are improving so rapidly. How good are they going to be by the time the season gets going?
The game ended 3-3, Everton’s goals coming from an own goal, a penalty and a free kick: ultimately, all avoidable. There’s room for improvement in this Blackpool side, of course there is. These players aren’t in League One because they’re perfect. But my goodness they are good – and getting better with each match. Exciting times.
Now back to Wigan. I’ve been engaged in some food debates on Twitter this week (as I do). Chippy teas are source of fierce debates, as different regions have wildly differing chippy offerings. If you’re a longstanding reader of this blog, you will be well aware of the time I was almost hounded out of Cleethorpes for the crime of having gravy on my fish and chips. The people of Lincolnshire also call scraps ‘scrumps’, which I worry may result in a fist fight the next time I am down there.
But (I’ll try again) back to Wigan. You may be aware that a famous Wiganese delicacy is a pie on a barm – otherwise known as a ‘Wigan Kebab’. Now much as I love trying out local cuisine when I am on my travels, I felt I would have to draw the line there. I’m not a huge fan of pies as it is, finding them too dry and often just eating the filling, leaving most of the pastry crust untouched. But a pie in a barm would be even drier and surely not for me?
My disgust at Wigan cuisine was exacerbated at the introduction of a ‘pea wet’ into the equation. First of all, it sounds like some form of watersport. Secondly, what is actually is is watered down mushy peas. Why would you water down mushy peas? Anyway, apparently this horrific sounding concoction is used to add moisture to a Wigan Kebab. Still, no.
It wasn’t until Saturday night that the Wigan Kebab was intricately explained to me in such a way that I might be enticed to try one.
So, Wigan, when I finally get to visit you again on 26th January 2021, I will give this a go. Thank goodness I have plenty of time to build up to it. I might just have to visit a few local hostelries to pluck up the courage (and the appetite).
It’s great to be back in the (admittedly alternative) football routine and to have some fixtures in the calendar to look forward to. I’m now actively on the hunt for some LIVE football to go to, to complement the wizardry we’re witnessing on our televisions. I really hope we can get back into Bloomfield Road very soon. The longer this lockdown lasts, the less tangible league clubs become, making non league football ever more appealing. After all, who can resist a Non League Dog?
Who knows what the 2020/21 season is going to look like and where we’ll be watching it, if at all? For now, it just feels great to have football back, in whatever form it takes.