With the announcement last Thursday that Blackpool have appointed a new CEO, it feels like an opportune moment to hypothesise about how that role might seek to move the club forward. This post will suggest a new vision for Blackpool FC with a focus on the bond between the club and the town to give the community an asset to be truly proud of for generations to come.
It’s very easy/lazy when writing along these lines to use Barcelona as an example of good practice. After all, strategy, structure and long term planning are key to their ongoing success. So, that’s where I’ll start. (Me, lazy, never!)
In his book, ‘Goal: The Ball Doesn’t Go in By Chance’, Ferran Soriano (former FC Barcelona VP, now at Manchester City) identified that Barcelona would be built upon two pillars. Firstly, to play spectacular football and secondly, to focus on their social commitment. At the top of the pillars is the now famous slogan, ‘More than a club’. Under each pillar there are three items each, as outlined below. Whilst you could point to the fact that these are just words, you can see now how they run through the football club (try to forget the Qatar links for now) and in rebuilding Blackpool FC a simple approach such as this could be used. Those two pillars aren’t far off from what Blackpool could build around. The detail that lies beneath each could differ and we shall explore that now.
Under each pillar Barcelona has the following;
Stars & Team
Social & Humanitarian Actions
The People’s Club
When looking at Blackpool we don’t have to look too far to gain an understanding of the football pillar. That defines itself very clearly, even if the traces of it have been lost in the years since Ian Holloway left the club. Holloway understood the root to getting a club like Blackpool back into prominence. First and foremost, a commitment to play attacking football and to entertain. The town was built on entertainment and the football club should always honour that tradition. Blackpool teams at all ages should be known for entertaining games, win or lose. Always aiming to score one more than the other team and always striving for five or six goal thrillers. You want fans of both teams leaving a Blackpool match claiming that it was the best game they’ve seen all season, end to end football, spills, thrills and bellyaches. The club can be an extension of the Pleasure Beach, the Tower Circus, the Golden Mile. Ian Holloway brought tonnes of that to the football club and it can be sustainable with the right development plans. Even if a team loses to Blackpool they should feel like they had a great time and had fun.
‘Stars and team’ might be a stretch for Blackpool in the third rung, but there’s really something else to build on in order to sew together an identity and character on the pitch. When it comes to players it’s plainly obvious. The town has the Tower Circus led by a ring master, there are fantastic trapeze artists, creative magicians. You could easily build out these archetype templates to develop talent whilst sticking to the roots of the town. Alongside this is really where the magic can happen. Youth development. Blackpool has long missed a trick in not taking youth development seriously. Ian Holloway, again, took some steps in the right direction, only for the rug to be pulled. The club could set some ambitious targets here to develop talent from across the Fylde coast and north Lancashire region. With the right commitment to coaching and talent identification there’s no reason why the club couldn’t build towards a commitment of going 100 years with a Blackpool lad in the first team come three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.
Starting with a grand idea like that could lead to even grander aims. Within 15 years the club could commit to having a Blackpool youth team player develop through the first team and into the England national team, whether or not that is whilst playing for Blackpool or another team. In addition the coach and the coaching staff could be developed from the local area too. It’s also a realistic ambition to aim for Blackpool to become everyone’s first choice club on the Fylde coast and the club that every child aspires to play for ahead of the Manchester and Liverpool clubs. This could be the secret sauce that links across to the other pillar and connect the community. If the club is helping to build a better community why couldn’t it be a symbol for hope and aspiration, building better generations for the good of the town and local economy.
Under that second pillar, I wouldn’t suggest the club becomes a members club like Barcelona, after all their roots go back to Joan Gamper and to many more sports than just football. However, it could be something that could be played around with in time. The focus here could be how the football club creates aspiration in the town and the early signs under the Simon Sadler regime appears to suggest that a good deal of effort is going in to this side. You only have to look to the shirt sponsorship deal with Blackpool Council to realise this. Further effort to tap in to the root causes of poverty in Blackpool could be something that Blackpool FC could take on here. Everton are leading the way in this social context (Everton in the Community) and a lot of lessons could be learnt from their experiences.
Aiming to regenerate the local economy driven through the football club is a noble and clear principle to build on. It should be an honour to work for the club in any capacity and if revenue could be generated by the football side you could see how the relationship could build tying personal aspiration to economic prosperity. One more season in the Premier League or sustained Championship involvement could provide a platform for the next 100 years at Blackpool.
If the definition of strategy is about where you want to play and how you want to win, then…
The strategy for the club for the next 5/10/100 years falls together really nicely off the back of all this. Simply put it would be….
‘To play attacking, entertaining football in the top two tiers of English football built on a back bone of local talent, with the majority of the team being brought up within 15 miles of the town’.
Whilst this is full of fanciful thought, you can make a safe assumption that Simon Sadler means business and something of this ilk is currently being drafted. I for one can’t wait to see what emerges and I can’t wait to dream again of what might be possible down the road for a great club like Blackpool with such passionate and committed fans. Fans that did the unthinkable and forced out the Oyston family through sheer dogged determination and planning for the long game.
When our ancestors sit down on a Saturday evening in 2120 they’ll be able to reflect on their day’s entertainment watching Blackpool take on Barcelona in the Champions League final. A local lad captaining the team as the ring master, pulling the strings from midfield. Three of his team mates grew up alongside him at the club, two performing somersaults down the wing, whilst the other sits behind the striker, pulling a rabbit out the hat to score the goal that claims the trophy.
Up the Mighty Pool!