At the turning of the year and mid-point of the current football season, it is customary to post an assessment of how all things football-related are playing out and what needs to be done to consolidate progress in the New Year. This, then, is BST’s half-term or half-time report on the current standing of our beloved Blackpool FC.
In each of the previous two New Years, relegation for the ‘Pool looked an odds-on certainty to many fans, as duly turned out to be the case. The mismanagement of the club in those years was truly awful. At least the current manager and squad look to have what it takes to avoid a third successive drop, into the National League – but so they should. Anything else would be an unmitigated disaster. Whether they have what it takes to win promotion for us at the first time of asking is another matter.
In the background, the training ground is an ongoing fiasco. Despite the Chairman’s promise last year of an upgrade, that plan was shelved yet again in the summer, with the official line being that it was not a priority for the new manager. If Gary Bowyer was told that he only had a limited budget for the season, he may well have conceded that buying some decent players was a priority, an invidious choice to have to make. In recent months, rumours have continued to circulate about discontent with the training facilities, of the electricity supply at Squires Gate malfunctioning, of the players getting changed at Bloomfield Road before heading out for training. That surely can’t be ideal preparation for a promotion push. Luckily for the team, it’s been a relatively warm winter so far!
Karl Oyston is on record as saying he doesn’t make plans for Blackpool FC and yet the Oystons’ response to BST’s proposal in 2015 was to ask the Trust for a five-year plan! Jokes about ‘operation conference’ aside (though in poor taste, if true, coming from the chairman of Blackpool FC), promotion via the play-offs has always been the Oystons’ mode of operation. Their reluctance to invest their own money in any significant or aspirational way is well-known. This narrow focus on trying to maximize achievement while minimising expenditure is almost certainly what cost Blackpool its Premier League survival and triggered the fall-out with Valeri Belokon. It is a story which has repeated itself in subsequent seasons with the added embarrassment that trying to buy their way out of trouble with last-minute short-term loan deals actually cost the club more than decent contracts would have done in the first place.
There are no short-term loan contracts available in this tier of the EFL, so the squad perforce has a more permanent look. While the football on offer has been far more positive and pleasing than has been the case for several years, it is all relative. This is division four by another name, after all, and Bowyer can only work with the resources he’s given. The Seasiders are currently sitting just above mid-table, almost the same number of points away from the automatic promotion and relegation places. There have been a few impressive victories, but their record against the nine teams above them is not great, 10 points out of 27, with 6 of those coming from home wins against Doncaster and Portsmouth.
Progress to date in the FA Cup has also been at the expense of non-league clubs. This Saturday’s tilt against Barnsley, a well-performing Championship outfit, might provide a better measure of Blackpool’s true capabilities – and if the Seasiders triumph over the Yorkshire side, will that be seen as giant-killing? And a poignant reminder of how the ‘Pool have fallen in recent years?
We all want the team to succeed and with the January transfer window open, Gary Bowyer will surely be looking to strengthen his squad for the second half of the league campaign. If Blackpool is to have a chance of making the play-offs then quality additions are required. A midfield play-maker and a forward who can be guaranteed to put fear into opposition defences and hit the target regularly must surely be on the manager’s wish-list.
As for the owners, the transfer window will be a test of their resolve. Further investment in the squad is clearly needed. There should be no hiding behind financial fair-play rules (the Salary Cost Management Protocol as it is known in Leagues One and Two); these are designed to prevent clubs trying to buy success by loading themselves with debt, but expressly state that gifts – as opposed to loans – can be included in turnover. The multi-millionaire Oyston family could, if they chose, gift funds to Blackpool FC to increase the players’ wage bill (capped at 55% of turnover), and upgrade the training facilities, reinforcing the chances of a successful campaign and sustained progress for the club.
The received wisdom is that in this game you make your own luck (be that either good or bad). The more you plan and work and invest (witness the buoyant seasons that Fleetwood Town and AFC Fylde are enjoying) the luckier you get. That’s not just wishful thinking, surely. Come on the ‘Pool.