2019/20 : THE SEASON THAT PETERED OUT - FOR SOME
In theory, this season started like any other, with ninety two clubs vying for glory. It ends with one club dead and gone, fifty two still competing for one thing or another (to one extent or another), two clubs trapped in a peculiar limbo at the very bottom of the pile and thirty seven (including Blackpool) reduced to the role of onlookers for the next month or so. What COVID19 has done for competition integrity puts the EFL quite in the shade.
This article isn’t about looking back - the cul-de-sac our season finished in merits little by way of a review, except to thank the likes of Ronan, Dewsbury-Hall, Heneghan et al for coming in and entertaining us before moving on. And of course to laud Armand Gnanduillet for his annus mirabilis , one that he has confirmed will be his last with us. His exploits this season put him up with Taylor, Bamber, Ormerod and Morrell in recent history - and he will be fondly remembered for them.
We have been used to major surgery on the squad in recent years, and it looks as though the coming summer will be no different in many ways. Gnando’s departure gives the new manager the chance to shape the squad in his own image, and it will be interesting to see whether the high press, high intensity game he has been used to at Liverpool will be a feature of our approach next term. Whatever way he goes, he has a great deal to do to get us ready for what will be another tough test.
None of the seven sides coming into the Division from either end need frighten us, but at least two clubs who appear to be slumming it in L1 (Ipswich and Sunderland) will still be in situ in 20/21, with Pompey a three in four chance to be around as well. Getting out at the right end will not be easy.
At a time when our gates are higher than they have been in five seasons, it is a shame that we will all be held at arm’s length for a few months longer, with no immediate prospect of fans returning to stadia anytime soon. It will be interesting to see which squads cope best with the task of concentrating on the task at hand without playing to the gallery ; we can only hope that we will be one of them. For most of us, the day we can all fully participate can’t come a moment too soon.
The club itself no doubt sees it the same way. Match day revenue is the essence of life in L1 and L2, and our club is no different to the others. Our new owner has been dealt a rotten hand since he took over, and for his sake, if no-one else's, we look forward to a resumption of normality with more than average fervour. Much has been done by the Board in this abridged season to prepare us to be fully competitive in the post-Oyston era - now they deserve the chance to build on the platform that they have been putting in place.
One of the by-products of COVID19 has been to throw the national game’s continuing problems around leadership and governance into sharp relief. The endless saga over how this season was to be concluded serves to demonstrate that the EFL in particular are in office, but not in charge.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the EPL and Championship are going to continue to play on. The current system confers financial benefits upon them that nobody else gets, and they can well afford the expensive hoops that COVID makes them jump through in order to get games on. And by “on”, we mean “on television” - naturally.
Getting consensus lower down, where continuing on with no crowds would have been the death knell for some clubs, was always going to be tricky, and the place where leadership from the top was most needed.
Why is this so? Well, it is vital that someone puts the game’s broader interests to the fore, and it has become all too clear that the club owners cannot be relied upon to act collectively to secure those interests.
We should all be grateful to owners such as those at Bradford and Port Vale, who were prepared to put their promotion ambitions onto the bonfire in order to safeguard their Divisional rivals’ very existence. League One has not been nearly so impressive - at least four owners have spent weeks lobbying for four different approaches to ending the season that suited their individual interests over and above those of everyone else. At least one is continuing to threaten the EFL with legal action.
It has been ugly to watch, but the EFL’s abdication of responsibility at the outset set the tone, and they cannot be surprised by the lengthy wrangling that has ensued. Even now (incredibly), Stevenage, Macclesfield and poor old Barrow can’t be sure which Division - indeed, which League - they will be playing in next season. It is a long, long way from being good enough.
Key opinion formers in the football world have not been oblivious to this low farce, and it will be interesting to see whether some of the more interesting proposals for changes to football governance, and the growing appetite for independent regulation, continue to gain traction over the course of the next few months.
Blackpool Supporters Trust has always been very active in this debate. Our recent good fortune in our change of ownership has not led to us forget how friendless our campaign for major change was as recently as two years ago. The fact that we now have a club we can take pride in does not blind us to the fact that many other supporters up and down the land are not nearly so lucky.
Many others will see their clubs come under existential threat in the next few months, and much of their predicament will be down to a combination of bad luck and the truly crazy way in which football clubs are run, and financed. It is behoven upon us all to continue to speak out on their behalf, and to campaign for something better than what we currently have.
There will be a football life beyond COVID, even if the virus plays a large role in shaping it. Influencing what that life looks like will be a huge challenge - and BST will be ready for it when it comes.
In the meantime, we wish all our Members and the club’s wider fan-base a pleasant summer. We will be back together soon – stay safe!