Category: Opinion

Down

Photo from the Guardian

It’s been more than a week since Blackpool were relegated at Old Trafford, but I have yet to articulate my thoughts on the blog, either on the game itself or the subsequent relegation. Unfortunately personal circumstances have meant I have had neither the time nor the energy to do this in the past seven days, and a report of the Man United game now seems barely relevant. For the best account of the events of 22nd May, Tangerine Dreaming’s report is a must-read, if you haven’t already done so.
With the dust starting to settle though, it is now time to cast an eye back over the events of the last 12 months. Picking through the pieces of a memorable season, I’ll be posting a series of articles in the coming week analysing where ‘Pool’s season went wrong, and to whom any blame should be apportioned. Keep ’em peeled.

Tangerine Dreaming Awards – 2010/11

Just brilliant!

After an amazing season in the Premier League it’s now time to start reflecting on a superb experience. First up are the awards picking out a few points from the season. The awards are entirely subjective and not formed through consultation and aren’t necessarily backed up with facts. However, (where applicable) further end of season articles will serve to cover the whys, wherefores and the greater detail etc.

TD  Blackpool player of the season

  1. David Vaughan
  2. Stephen Crainey
  3. Ian Evatt
The ‘Spotter’s Badge’ for doing your homework

Alex McLeish employed a restrictive diamond formation both home and away against Blackpool and the upshot was the the centre space was virtually eliminated and Blackpool were too slow to react to find space elsewhere
. McLeish was the first manager to clearly spend time thinking about playing Blackpool and it paid off reducing Ian Holloway’s men to two stale performances.
 

Reactionary tactical move of the year by an opposition manager

Mick McCarthy win this one in moving Michael Mancienne to right back to counter the threat of Luke Varney from Blackpool’s long diagonal balls. McCarthy sent his team out at Bloomfield Road with Kevin Foley at right back and Michael Mancienne in a holding midfield role. Blackpool enjoyed early success from that route and McCarthy was quick to change and it was a change that sparked a chain reaction, leading to the game being a close encounter as the match progressed.

Last throw of the dice award for manager who didn’t really know what to do

Owen Coyle spent the first half of the game against Blackpool at the Reebok seeing his 4-4-2 structure being exposed time after time. He didn’t seem to recognise what was going on until the second half when he decided to send on Martin Petrov, Rodrigo Moreno and Ivan Klasnic. Their passing as a team became better and eventually secured a draw, however, it was really ‘the kitchen sink’ treatment not by design, more through sheer panic. Still, it worked.

Best visiting player to Bloomfield Road

  1. Ryan Giggs – His speed and movement seemed to spark Manchester United in to life when the game was threatening to get away from them. Incisive, quick runs and thoughtful passing saw Blackpool opened up time after time.
  2. David Silva – his technical abilities are supreme, but the fact he ghosted around Bloomfield was a sight to behold. Space exists for Silva to fill. Enough said.
  3. Luka Modric – Just a brilliant footballer and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side at all at Bloomfield Road. Short, consistent passing all game long combined with a sense of when to make a break forward and get beyond the defensive line.

Hypnotic Passing Award

Luka Modric – see above. It was a privilege and pleasure to witness him pass the ball over 180 minutes this season.

The ‘surprised they were not relegated’ award

Bolton’s season was plastered together by two players. A brave statement which won’t be backed up here, but Stuart Holden’s energy held their flat midfield together at times, when he got injured Daniel Sturridge’s opportunism and desire to prove a point picked up some valuable points to keep them afloat.

Inexplicable tactical decision

At 3-2 up away against a good Premier League team may well require some tactical tweaks to contain, or you could try and keep the status quo. Ian Holloway chose to do something that went against his philosophy against Everton and did something that wasn’t thought through or drilled in training. He made two defensive substitutions, turning Blackpool in to a 5-4-1 and chaos ensued with Blackpool losing the match 5-3. 

Stroke of genius award for innovation

Ian Holloway gets this to make up for the previous one. His decision to go to a 3-5-2 when 3-0 down to Wigan led to a much flatter midfield three and convinced him that he had to return to his midfield set up that guided them through the Championship.

‘The Turnaround’ award for team better than their previous attempt at playing Blackpool

When Blackpool romped home 4-0 at the DW Stadium earlier in the season Wigan looked disjointed and had their fragile confidence shattered by poor goalkeeping from Chris Kirkland. Oh, and they didn’t have Charles N’Zogbia. Martinez made a great decision in dropping Kirkland soon after and the re-integration of N’Zogbia, gave them a direct goal threat as well as unpredictability in the final third. When Wigan (complete with the Frenchman and Ali Al-Habsi in goal) came to Bloomfield Road in April they were a different side, dictated the game and looked like a team focused on their game plan and their greater plan of staying in the Premier League.

Award for taking men on with considerable ease

Opposition players are just obstacles for Carlos Tevez to get around. In doing so against Blackpool he just kept taking men out of the game making it very hard to defend against a very strong team.

The Red Mist award for taking man and ball

Gonzalo Jara – When you’ve just seen your side reduced to ten men with a debatable decision, the last thing you should do is take man and ball when the game is stuck in the corner and no danger is apparent. Not Jara, he acted first, thought last and then had a shower.

Pass of the season

Charlie Adam’s first time passing can sometimes be played out of the vision of some Blackpool players. Adam is likely to pass at any moment, over any range and at any pace. Adam’s first time pass away to West Brom was perfectly executed and showed vision and inspiration that becomes hard to defend against but easy to admire.

Blackpool goal of the season

  1. DJ Campbell v Spurs – This goal was a classic counter attack, fast running, clever touches, turning a defence on it’s heels and a composed finish by Campbell all combined with a little good fortune.
  2. Luke Varney v Wolves – Superbly struck volley stunning Wolves and most spectators at Bloomfield.
  3. Charlie Adam v Blackburn – At 1-0 up, Adam clipped a perfect free-kick out of the reach of Paul Robinson to make it 2-0 at Ewood Park.

Opposition goal of the season

David Silva’s turn and shot at Bloomfield Road was a sight to behold. Crafty, cunning, balanced and one of those goals that even the Blackpool players probably wanted to applaud.

Moving on

Those were a few awards to remember just a small collection of memories of Blackpool’s season in the Premier League. Check back here later in the week for a few posts looking back at the season that was.

Financially Speaking (Part Two)

In the second of this two-part look at Blackpool FC’s finances from the financial year ending May 31 2010 we’ll examine more of how the club has conducted its business, and how the influx of Premier League money will impact the club in the future. Last time out we focused on:

  • Ownership
  • Losses and Negative Net Worth
  • Increasing Turnover
  • Stadium Development
Before continuing with this article, I would advise that you first read part one, which can be found here. This time round I’d like to examine the following:
  • Player Wages
  • Debt
  • Influx of Premier League Money
  • The Future

Player Wages

As with most items in the club’s accounts, it’s impossible to isolate the exact information for wages for the playing staff,  but it can be reasonably assumed that they form the majority portion of wages listed in the accounts. The chart below shows wages for the last four years (N.B £5m has been deducted from the 09/10 wages – the reported value of the promotion bonus – as it would unfairly skew the results)
Even after the £5m promotion bonus is deducted from the wages in 09/10, it can be seen that the wage bill was on a steady rise following promotion from League One, but the jump from 08/09 to 09/10 was almost double that of the rise from 07/08 to 08/09. Charlie Adam’s wages no doubt played a part here, just as the other high profile signings would have – Hameur Bouazza, Neal Eardley, Seamus Coleman (loan) and even Jason Euell are likely to have been earning more than comparable players from the previous season. When you also consider the performance-related pay that is widely reported to have been built into many of the players’ contracts, an increase in win and goal bonuses is an inevitable side-effect of a promotion season. It can’t be said that Blackpool gambled on winning promotion in the vein of other clubs, but in 09/10 they did perhaps extend themselves to their limit.
A common way of assessing if clubs are spending too much on wages is to compare this cost against turnover. While there are no caps in top divisions for what percentage of a club’s turnover can be spent on wages, anything much above 70% can be considered a little high – League Two operates a scheme whereby clubs have to limit this ratio to 60%.

In the four years shown, the arrival of Valeri Belokon before the 06/07 season saw ‘Pool throw a decent amount of money (by their own standards) at a successful promotion push, with the increased turnover of Championship football in 07/08 bringing the ratio down the following year. 08/09 saw Blackpool rely heavily on the loan market, resulting in a ratio around the 75% mark and the ratio for 09/10 remained relatively static, despite the 35% increase in turnover. Had the Seasiders not won promotion, Blackpool would surely have tried to reduce this ratio, although defeat at Wembley would have surely signalled the departure of Charlie Adam for a not insignificant transfer fee anyway, in turn affecting the wages.
One would anticipate that this ratio will drop dramatically on the 10/11 accounts, with a sharp increase in turnover as part of the Premier League’s huge television revenue.

Debt

That the club has been operating with a level of debt is nothing unusual in the football industry, but how much the club owes, and to whom, is a rather more complex issue. We have already established in part one that much of the club’s accounts portray a misty picture, and the same can be said of how the debts are illustrated. The group’s total liabilities over the last four years are shown below.

The group’s total debt has obviously sharply increased from 2008/09 (£15.4m) to 2009/10 (£27.2m), but in order to understand this it is necessary to drill down into the debt in more detail. Creditors are separated into two categories in the accounts – debts due within one year (current liabilities) and debts due after more than one year (long-term liabilities). First we’ll analyse the current liabilities – these are shown below.

An increase in the group’s current liabilities from £10.9m to £19.4m at first seems alarming, but on closer examination isn’t perhaps so bleak, not least because the incoming Premier League money dwarves this figure. Included in the current liabilities is the aforementioned £5m promotion bonus, which while accrued during the 09/10 season was infamously not paid until August 2010, much to the chagrin of the playing staff who got the PFA involved to settle the dispute.

Elsewhere current liabilities exist in the form of a loan from Protoplan Limited – an Owen Oyston-owned company – in excess of  £4m. It is unclear what the purposes of this loan was – Protoplan is listed as a ‘building completion’ firm – but the accounts state this was repaid in full on 17th September 2010, no doubt once the first tranche of Premier League money had been received.

Another Oyston backed company is also owed money by the club – Zabaxe Limited – and the story surrounding this debt is not straightforward either. Zabaxe is owed in the region of £944k, a debt stretching back more than a decade. In 2000 this debt was converted to share capital in Segesta Limited, but in the past financial year this transaction was deemed to be avoided – essentially it has been decided that for whatever reason this should not have been allowed. Therefore the original debt has been reinstated, and the share capital reduced. The accounts state that this debt of £944k was due to be paid in 2010/11.

An increase in trade creditors – other football clubs – due within the next year has also increased by around £800k with the various transfers, which are often paid in installments. The club has also called upon Valeri Belokon’s Baltic International Bank for a loan of £800k at an interest rate of 8%, which was due to be repaid on June 30th 2010. A separate loan for around £500k was received in the financial year from Belokon’s VB Football Assets Ltd, which one would expect was the vital contribution which secured the signing of Charlie Adam. This particular loan has also been repaid since the turn of the financial year, specifically on 2nd December 2010.

Albeit not an external creditor, Blackpool Football Club Limited continues to repay a debt to the parent company Segesta Limited at a rate of £435k per year – the amount receiver from the occupiers of the North and West stands, less a 10% administration fee. As of 31st May 2010, the remaining debt stood at £2.7m. Repaid at the current rate it will be cleared in six years, but whether the influx of Premier League money might see the parent company recoup the debt more quickly remains to be seen.

Looking to the longer term, the chart below shows the group historical long term liabilities.

The bulk of the long term liabilities during 08/09 was comprised of the loan owed to Protoplan, and with that becoming a current liability in 09/10, and now paid of as of September 2010, the long term debt in the 09/10 accounts comes from a different source.

Almost £7.5m is owed to Blackpool’s Latvian investor, in one form or another. Two significant outstanding loans remain – one of £4.75m to Valeri Belokon’s VB Football Assets Limited, and the other a £2.7m loan to Miss Vlada Belokon, the Club President’s daughter. One can only speculate why this personal loan comes from his daughter and not Mr Belokon himself, but it does show the influence the Latvian investment has had on the club. According to the club’s accounts, it is intended that these loans will be repaid from revenue received from the South and South West corner, suggesting that it was indeed Valeri Belokon who put up the money to get the stadium improvements back on track.

A personal loan in the region of £275k is also owed to Owen Oyston, but it is unclear how and when this loan will be repaid. The accounts state that Mr Oyston will not seek repayment in the current financial year, but with money flooding into the club’s coffers following promotion, it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise to see this debt cleared sooner rather than later – the same might also be said for the loans to the various Belokon-related creditors.

Overall the club’s debts, albeit a little complex, won’t be giving anyone any sleepless nights. The incoming Premier League money ensures that the clubs are in a fine position to meet their debts as they fall due, and if the club wants to loosen its shackles, can even pay them off early. The fabled £90m figure for one season in the Premier League and four years of parachute payments will, if nothing else, mean that the club is virtually debt-free going forward – an achievement not to be underestimated in the current climate. Once the debts to the Oyston and Belokon families are cleared, this would also surely mean that the club can really start to benefit from the various letting units in the stadium, on top of its football income.


Influx of Premier League Money

Returning to football income, the latest set of published accounts paint a story far removed from the current situation Blackpool FC finds itself in. With the prestige of top flight football comes the riches to match, and the levels of turnover the club will achieve this season will be by far the highest in its history. Exact figures are naturally difficult to come by but Blackpool FC appears to have timed promotion at a lucrative moment. Not only is the Premier League in the first year of an improved television deal, parachute payments have also been increased in the worst case scenario of relegation.

The amount of television revenue each club receives is calculated on the following basis:

  • 50% – Basic Award
    • Each club receives an equal share of half of the television revenue, for both domestic and international rights.
  • 25% – Facility Fees
    • For each game shown on live TV, clubs are awarded a facility fee. Typically this is a minimum of 10 games for each team (although Blackpool look set to feature in just nine televised fixtures). Naturally, the more often a club features, the larger its share of the payments.
  • 25% – Merit Payments
    • Clubs receive a payment based on their final league position. Last year the payment for finishing in 20th was around £800k, with a further £800k for each place above that, up to a total of £16m for winning the title.

What the improved deal means in real terms is best considered in light of last year’s television revenue. Last season’s bottom club Portsmouth received a total of £31.8m from its share of the television revenue. This coming season the club finishing in 20th can expect to receive a minimum of around £41m from television rights alone. For a club like Blackpool, who has never before turned over more than £10m from all sources in a single year, this amount is staggering. When other revenue sources such as gate receipts, merchandising and sponsorship are included, it is reasonable to expect that the club will turn over in excess of £50m in its debut Premier League season. Protecting this income by avoiding relegation would naturally be a massive boost, but even in the unfortunate event of returning to the Championship, the financial prospects still aren’t exactly bleak.

The new system for parachute payments ensures a total of £48m over the course of four seasons, assuming promotion back to the top flight is not attained. This is paid in sums of £16m for the first two years, with that figure halving for the remaining two seasons. Averaged out at £12m a season, this still eclipses total revenue from any previous years. With contracts reported to contain clauses that see wages drop upon relegation, from already modest salaries, the club would appear to still be in a healthy position whatever the outcome of this season – in a financial sense at least.

The Future


Of course, before we even contemplate Blackpool FC’s financial future beyond the end of this season (whatever division that may be in) there are some obvious events which have taken place after the publication of the accounts being analysed in this article. Off-the-field, the new East Stand is sure to make an impact on the 2010/11 accounts, as is the continued fit-out of the South Stand. On the playing side of things some higher transfer fees are inevitably going to have to be considered. Although meagre by Premier League standards, it’s likely that Blackpool may have spent as much as £5m, although the fees will be accounted for over the length of the players’ contracts. Wages too will have risen considerably, possibly to more than double the previous season’s level – and a potential survival bonus of another £5m will drive this even higher.
The Seasiders should turn a tidy profit in 2010/11, but when the various costs above are considered, as well as the various debt pay-offs, it may not be quite as profitable a year as some may have expected. Ultimate reward comes from a sustained spell in the Premier League but the club is in a healthy state and as already discussed, could see itself become almost debt-free within the next couple of years – an enviable position for every other football club out there.
This is not to say that all is rosy in the garden – key concerns will remain among the Blackpool support and with good reason. One supposed benefit of earning promotion, alongside the redevelopment of Bloomfield Road, was meant to be a brand new training ground. However, almost one year on this seems no nearer to reality and one wonders if the idea will be shelved completely if the worst happens and the club are relegated this May. It cannot be denied that the surroundings the players work in can be an important factor in attracting new talent, in both transfers for the first team and at youth level. A more professional training set-up is surely key to Blackpool establishing itself as a club that belongs in the top flight.
Another consequence of relegation could be a possible lack of competitiveness. Given the financial gulf that continues to widen between the Premier League and the Championship, any relegated team should normally be expected to throw its weight around and compete at the very top with their financial clout. However, a drop in wages upon relegation would likely see Blackpool return to an average-sized Championship wage bill at best. ‘Pool proved in 09/10 that wages aren’t always the key factor, but that promotion bid must surely be the exception rather than the rule. The club may have a healthy profit & loss account whatever division they find themselves in next season, but fans will undoubtedly worry about the ambition of an immediate return.
For now, all of this talk is hypothetical. Blackpool FC’s financial future is stable, but the next couple of months will decide whether the club can kick on from this position, or merely use the Premier League money to consolidate themselves as a competitive Championship side. Either of those options would have been a dream only five years ago, but with around £50m riding on the outcome of this season, the pressure (like it or not) is well and truly on.

Season So Far – Slippery Slope?

As we enter February on the back of the worst run of the season, the games become ever more crucial for Blackpool. In the last mini-review on 3rd January I’d surmised that we were ahead of the game in terms of the number of points on the board and felt that even as few as five points would be a good return from the rest of the January fixtures against Birmingham, Liverpool, West Brom, Sunderland and Man Utd. After all, with four of those matches at home, five points would be the minimum the Seasiders would chalk up, right? Wrong.

Disappointing home defeats to Birmingham and Sunderland were unexpected, and while the double over Liverpool was completed, narrow losses at the Hawthorns and against the champions-elect have seen ‘Pool walk away empty-handed from five of the last six games. All of these defeats were only by the one goal, some consolation in the form of the side’s goal difference, but it’s a run Ian Holloway and his team will be looking to arrest before the situation starts to look bleak.
Who’s up next then for the Seasiders? Let’s examine the next batch of fixtures for the month of February:
  • West Ham United (h)
  • Everton (a)
  • Aston Villa (h)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (h)
  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (a)
The two games that bookend this month are without a doubt the obvious ‘six-pointers’ and victory in these games would probably be a satisfactory return. This would take Blackpool onto 34 points by the end of February, while at the same time helping to deny their rivals catching up. West Ham’s activity in the transfer market could give them a lift, while Wolves will be expecting nothing less than three points when they entertain ‘Pool at Molineux. Failure to win at least one of these two games would be a concern, while two defeats does not bear thinking about.
The trip to Goodison Park is unlikely to be easy, with the Toffees’ form sure to pick up at some point you would imagine. Aston Villa, with the help of Darren Bent, look to have improved in recent weeks and following the war of words between Holloway and Gerard Houllier, that could be a hard-fought encounter. The mid-week visit of Spurs is perhaps the hardest of the lot,  and any points taken from this match must be considered a bonus.
I’ve said on so many occasions this season that a certain run of fixtures could be season-defining, and each time the statement feels truer. Halting the decline is a must, and one would hope that the reinforcements added by Holloway will help ‘Pool achieve this. Blackpool have yet to go more than three games without a win all season, something only Man City and Arsenal can match or better, but that record is in danger when the Hammers come to Bloomfield Road this evening. Preserving this record would go a long way to reaching an acceptable points tally by the end of the month, and in turn survival.

Incoming (Part II)

It’s that time once again to reflect on Blackpool’s transfer window activity and take a look at the individuals brought in by Ian Holloway in the increasingly nervous survival battle. 12 players were signed during the last transfer window, with a fairly even split between success stories and disappointments. With Dekel Keinan having already departed for Cardiff and long-term injuries to Chris Basham and the mysterious Malaury Martin, Holloway has reacted by signing a further five players during January, four of them on deadline day itself. Let’s run through them one by one.

Salaheddine Sbai – free from Nimes
Sbai was the first signature captured, signing a few days before the end of the window. Little is known about Sbai, with Holloway himself admitting he was signed based on DVD footage alone. The Moroccan international is primarily a left-back, although it is believed he can fill in at centre-back. The YouTube footage of Sbai reveals him to be quite a slender build, so it’s unlikely he will be utilised in the centre of the defence unless there are a few injuries. Sbai is a probable starter against West Ham, but with David Carney returning from international duty this week, and Stephen Crainey’s injury only likely to keep him out for a couple of weeks, it’s hard to know how much of a role Sbai will play between now and the end of the season. The unfortunate man out of the three options is Carney, who had it not been for the Asian Cup, could have established himself as first choice left-back.
Andy Reid – undisclosed from Sunderland
Reid should be a familiar name to most, and is a player with experience of both Premier League and international football. Reid has often been mocked for his heavy build, but his quality is undeniable. He arrives on an initial six month contract from Wearside, but at still only 28 is probably a player Holloway would like to nail down beyond the summer is Premier League survival is attained. In many ways Reid could have been seen as a replacement for Charlie Adam, with his on the ball ability and set-pieces among his strong points. Reid has struggled to make an impact this season at Sunderland, but if Holloway can get him firing, Reid will surely be an excellent addition.
James Beattie – loan from Rangers
Perhaps the biggest name of all the new signings Beattie brings bags of experience and a proven goalscoring record. It can be argued that Beattie is another player who has lost his way in recent years, but the same can be said for most of the Blackpool squad. Beattie reportedly earns a fair whack and one would expect that Blackpool are covering 50% at best of his wages. His signature is a coup for Ian Holloway and if he can get back amongst the goals in his native North West he will be a real asset. However, like Marlon Harewood, it remains to be seen how he may affect the balance of the side. With DJ Campbell excelling in the central striker role, it would be a shame to see the in-form striker shifted out wide to accommodate Beattie who is unlikely to be effective from a wide position.
Sergei Kornilenko – loan from Zenit St Petersburg
Belarussian striker Kornilenko was by far the most outlandish signing ‘Pool made on deadline day, but should not be underestimated. While he is unfamiliar to most, the consensus among Eastern European football experts seems to be positive. Jonathan Wilson, author of Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football, rates Kornilenko as a “big lad who will put himself about”, while Russian football expert James Appell is quoted as saying it could turn out to be a “fantastic deal” for the Seasiders. Both however have raised concerns over the language barrier and warned that players from that part of the world struggle to settle. If ‘Pool can make him welcome though, he could be a revelation. The YouTube clip above points to him being something of a poacher and a strong aerial presence. Again though, you’d expect a player of his style to be more suited to a central role rather than on the left of a front three – Kornilenko is left-footed.
Jason Puncheon – loan from Southampton
Less than a month ago Puncheon was part of the Saints side that knocked an unfamiliar Blackpool XI out of the FA Cup, but obviously impressed enough to earn himself a loan move to the seaside yesterday, believed to be with a view to a permanent deal. At just 24 Puncheon has already featured for five league clubs, with spells in non-league to boot. A recent loan spell with Championship side Millwall saw the midfielder rack up five goals in seven appearances and is a player with an eye for goal. Normally operating as a winger, it will be interesting to see where Holloway envisages Puncheon playing, but my suspicion is that he will provide competition for Elliot Grandin in the hole. Grandin has often drifted wide, in what Zonal Marking has identified as a ‘central winger’ role, and it is this position that could fit Puncheon too. The last player Blackpool signed from a team that had just knocked them out of the FA Cup was Keith Russell from Hednesford Town back in 1996 – it’s fair to say Puncheon has to be an improvement on him.
Arguably the most significant outcome of the transfer window was the news that bids for Charlie Adam had not matched ‘Pool’s valuation (contrary to what ‘Arry Redknapp might have you believe), thus keeping him at Bloomfield Road until at least the summer. That drama is for another blog post altogether, but the additions are bound to be welcomed by the majority of Blackpool fans. Ian Holloway now has the depth of attacking options he has been craving, and will no longer be forced to rely on the declining Brett Ormerod as a main alternative from the bench. Everyone associated with the club can be proud of their efforts in the transfer market, and Blackpool appear to have given themselves the best shot possible at staying up. The remaining 15 games will be the proof of this particular transfer pudding.

Ahead of the Game

Back on the 1st December, I questioned whether the upcoming six games would prove to be the defining part of the season. ‘Pool faced a particularly tough run of fixtures:
  • Manchester United (h)
  • Stoke City (a)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (h)
  • Liverpool (h)
  • Sunderland (a)
  • Manchester City (a)

The best I was possibly expecting was six points, and even that looked difficult. More importantly I was hoping ‘Pool would avoid a confidence-bashing run of defeats. In the end, with all three home games postponed because of the weather it was an incredible effort to win two of the three surviving matches, with ‘Pool nearly taking a share of the spoils at Eastlands.

Looking forward to the next batch of fixtures, January will perhaps be an even more challenging month with five more league fixtures still to play as well as an unwanted trip to Southampton in the FA Cup. ‘Pool must play three mid-week matches, and depending on how the cup tie goes, could face an extra two games in January with the potential replay and 4th round tie taken into account. Focusing solely on the Premier League however, as I’m sure Ian Holloway will do, the Seasiders will face, weather permitting, the following opposition:
  • Birmingham City (h)
  • Liverpool (h)
  • West Bromwich Albion (a)
  • Sunderland (h)
  • Manchester United (h)

On paper it’s probably a more friendly set of fixtures, with four home games among them, but with exhaustion sure to take its toll and squad rotation bound to play a part, expectations need to be realistic. From here on in, a point per game will see Blackpool avoid relegation comfortably, so a conservative target of five points does not seem beyond the team. Fewer than that though will likely see the Seasiders edge closer to the relegation zone.

To have 25 points at the turn of the year is beyond all pre-season expectations, but the Premier League has seen collapses before, and Holloway’s side will be eager to maintain their levels and cast aside all comparisons to Burnley and Hull.

Season Ticket Reward Refunds – Where Are They?

Original Offer
‘Your Loyalty Rewarded’ – this was the slogan in the 2010/11 season ticket brochure. The deal was that for every friend existing season ticket holders could persuade to sign up, they would receive 10% of the cost of their own season ticket back as a reward. This seemed like a great idea, and with the club sorely lacking in ideas in a commercial sense down the years, a breath of fresh air. In the end, promotion to the Premier League probably meant that no such incentives were necessary, with the full allocation of season tickets being snapped up in no time at all.

Non-payment
The small print in the brochure explained the following: “All reward refunds due will be paid by Wednesday 1 December 2010”. Sounds straightforward, right? At the time of writing it is now two weeks on from that date, and as yet no refunds appear to have been paid. No reason for this has been forthcoming from the club, and interestingly the local media have been silent on the issue too. This blog emailed the club but did not receive a response. The only tidbits of information have come via message board tittle-tattle, where one poster claimed to have received the following response from the ticket office:

Hi,

We are just waiting for the chairman and the accounts dept to sort out how we will be refunding the money, either by cheque or on to a card. They will advertise it when everything is sorted and let people know.


Many Thanks
Ticket Office
Of course, there’s every possibility that this message did not come from the club, but given past experience of how the club operates, it would not at all be surprising. As this blog has written about in the past, Karl Oyston has a reputation for keeping a tight grip on control, and this appears to be another prime example of his micro-management. The worrying thing here is that the club should still be sorting out ‘how to refund the money’. The brochure clearly stated that all monies would be repaid by 1st December, so it’s only natural to expect that a plan of how they approach the refund process would have been in place way before the due date. 
Delay
Season tickets went on sale in early May, which has given the club over half a year to formulate a plan. It’s fair to say of course that getting up to speed with life in the Premier League will have occupied the top level management at the club, but this issue being unresolved is a massive oversight. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that some people would have recommended 10 friends and thus be due a cash reward of approximately £360. In these austere times, and with Christmas just around the corner, the outstanding money would obviously have significantly helped a number of people. The club has let them down.
Cost to the club
So why has the club failed to meet their commitment? One possible reason is that the amount of refunds due was more than the club anticipated. To examine the potential numbers involved, let’s analyse season ticket uptake in 09/10 and 10/11. In 09/10 the number of season ticket holders was around the 5,000 mark with that figure rising to around 11,000 for ‘Pool’s Premier League debut season. These are crude numbers, but give a difference of 6,000. If all of those new season ticket holders were introduced by a friend, then the potential refund payout of £36 for each of the 6,000 introduced fans would be a surprisingly high £216,000.
It’s unlikely that all 6,000 new season ticket holders submitted their application citing a referral from a friend, but if even only half did, it leaves the club with a bill in excess of £100,000. While it is not acceptable, you can see why the club appear hesitant to pay out on their pledge. Going back to the rumours emanating from the club, I believe the key phrase in their supposed email is ‘how we will be refunding the money’. It’s not inconceivable to think that Karl Oyston may try to offer the refunds as a credit note against future purchases at the club, be it in the form of merchandise, match tickets or next year’s season ticket. This too would go against the original agreement however. The FAQ in the season ticket brochure clearly states ‘You will receive a 10 per cent cash back reward’.
What now?
All of this reinforces the mystery around the non-payment. The club set themselves a date to pay the refund – this was not met. The club stated how the refund would be paid – cash. So what’s the hold up? The clock is ticking and each day this situation goes on beyond the December 1st deadline makes the club look more neglectful towards its hardcore support. For now, all we have is silence from the club. If Blackpool are ever to be taken seriously at Premier League level, issues like this are an unwanted sideshow.

Man Utd Postponement – Avoidable?

So arguably the biggest home game of the season has fallen victim to the weather. Despite measures being taken to get the game on, referee Peter Walton was not convinced that the pitch would thaw out in time for the late evening kick off tomorrow. Is this merely a case of force majeure, or could the club have done more to ensure the fixture did go ahead?
Under-soil heating
The immediate reaction from many onlookers has been to question why Blackpool, as a Premier League club, don’t have under-soil heating. I believe this is something of a red herring. Blackpool had barely even got to grips with being a Championship set-up, so after promotion through the play-offs, there was a lot of catching up to do behind the scenes. To the club’s credit, getting Bloomfield Road up to Premier League standards in little over three months was a fine achievement. 
With so many regulations to meet, anything not compulsory had to wait. For the time being, under-soil heating is one such optional facility. Should ‘Pool stay up this season then there is every chance that under-soil heating will be installed in the close season, but with a stand to construct, media facilities to fit-out and a new pitch to lay, there was simply no time in the summer for the luxury of under-soil heating.
Actual measures taken
Postponements for frost is not a new phenomenon at Bloomfield Road. The chill last season caused two consecutive postponements against West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday. The club drew strong criticism then, amplified by the fact non-league neighbours Fleetwood Town were able to fulfil their fixtures after investing in frost protection covers Blackpool did not own themselves. In the wake of those two postponements, frost covers were purchased, and according to the club have been deployed since the middle of last week. 
With temperatures plummeting this week hot air blowers were brought in on Thursday and used throughout the night in an attempt to preserve the condition of the pitch. However further overnight frost on Thursday night resulted in yet more blowers being required on Friday morning. It seems as though this wasn’t enough though, with an afternoon inspection putting pay to hopes of the match taking place.
Criticism
Needless to say, many Blackpool fans have been dismayed by the outcome, citing embarrassment at the postponement. With the fixture due to be screened on ESPN, and with no other Premier League games postponed at the time of writing, the full glare of media attention will be on Blackpool’s inability to provide a pitch fit for purpose. ‘Pool have been looked down on in many quarters this season, and this latest news is only likely to add fuel to the fire for those who turn their nose up at the thought of Blackpool being a top flight side.
Fans of the scheduled opponents are also having their say, with one prominent blog deeming it “not good enough”. Frankly their comments border on the ridiculous at times, with the suggestion that the game being called off could cost Man United the title being perhaps the most outlandish. One point they make is hard to disagree with though – the inconvenience to fans. No doubt this fixture was one of the first most ‘Pool fans looked for at the start of the season, with many people arranging their plans around it at significant cost in some cases. It’s inevitable some people will now miss out on the re-arranged fixture.
Was enough done?
The fact I’m even writing this article now indicates that not enough was done to ensure the game went ahead. Even ignoring the absence of under-soil heating, it looks as if the club were not proactive enough and did not have suitable contingency plans in place. After last year’s problems with back-to-back games being called off in December, one would hope it would encourage plans for winter to be firmly in place, particularly with cost not being quite the issue it previously was now Blackpool is a Premier League club.
Then again, can the club really be held to account for the adverse weather conditions? Contrary to the beliefs of some of his critics, Karl Oyston does not control the weather and he would surely have wanted the game to go ahead. The cold weather has set in far earlier and harsher than in recent years, so to some extent these are extenuating circumstances. That said, it’s not as if winter is unforeseeable, and at the level the club now finds itself, it should be prepared for all potential situations, however unlikely they may seem.
With another freezing winter on the cards, ‘Pool must act now to ensure this postponement is a one-off. Under-soil heating is not an option until next season, so the club must find other ways to avoid forthcoming home games suffering the same fate. I’m willing to reluctantly let the club off the hook for this postponement, but everything possible must be done ahead of the Spurs game on 19th December. The current frost covers are inadequate and a more advanced system must be looked at, and not left too late, as the hot-air blowers were on this occasion. 
Life in the Premier League can be unforgiving, and once more ‘Pool’s off-the-field activities have made things difficult for themselves by being reactive rather than proactive.

The Defining Part of the Season?

Time for another periodic overview of the season so far. Towards the end of October, I wrote an article about how Blackpool’s season was panning out after the first eight league games. The mood at that time was not quite as buoyant as it had after the first four games, but the consensus was that ‘Pool were performing above expectations (admittedly not too hard).
Examining the next seven matches (Birmingham until Bolton) I had identified this as a crucial period in the season. Compared with the opening fixtures, many of these should have been seen winnable, and so it was vital that points were picked up in this period. I surmised that reaching 20 points or more would be a great return, and survival would look more than achievable. While not quite reaching that target, ‘Pool fell only one point short and if they can replicate this points tally over the 38 games, a mid-table finish is on the cards.
In truth though, each batch of fixtures is crucial, and no side can afford to hit a prolonged bad run of form, which in some ways makes the upcoming games even more significant. All of the next six matches see Blackpool take on top half sides – a daunting proposition. As Tangerine Dreaming rightly point out, it is vital that ‘Pool continue to “rack up the points” on a regular basis – a rocky spell will dent confidence and have the media turning up the pressure on Ian Holloway and his squad. Despite the tough opposition coming up in the next few weeks, it will be important for the Seasiders to pick up unexpected results.
The three home games are about as difficult as they come and even a much-weakened Liverpool team should be respected, albeit not feared. Burnley showed last season that it is possible to take points off the top sides at home, but just one victory from these three would have to be considered a decent tally – any more than that would be a welcome surprise. On the road the fixtures are just as tricky starting with a challenging trip to the Britannia against Stoke. Like the Potters, Sunderland are a good home side and despite some fairly uninspiring displays, the sheer amount of talent at Mancini’s disposal makes the journey to Eastlands one of the hardest away days of the campaign.
What would be a decent points return from these games then? So far Holloway’s side have kept ahead of the rough point-a-game safety target of 38 points (although it may require as many as 40 this season), but even six points from the upcoming six fixtures looks a big ask. Even as few as four points wouldn’t be disastrous, but what is probably more important from a morale standpoint is avoiding losing more than two consecutive games. What Blackpool have done particularly well thus far is earning points on a regular basis. While back-to-back victories have until now eluded the Seasiders, Blackpool have only lost two consecutive games on one occasion back in September with defeats to Chelsea and Blackburn.
I think it’s inevitable that a slide from the current 11th position will take place over the course of the next six games, but if Blackpool can stay out of the bottom three following these matches, then confidence in the camp should remain high. Then again, the January transfer window could impact things yet further. Insert your favourite rollercoaster cliché here.