As 4,000 Blackpool fans roared their side on in a sea of tangerine at Wigan Athletic, it seems that last weekend’s 4-0 victory will not be the only moment to savour for Ian Holloway’s men this season. The seaside club are ironically enough in a fantastic position of being favourites to lose every week. There is therefore no pressure on Holloway or his player’s shoulders, and Holloway achieved a miracle in taking his side to the promised land of the Premier League. Having been starved of top flight football since 1971, Blackpool’s faithful can enjoy the novelty of visiting The Emirates, Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
Fellow promoted team Newcastle United have endured a few miserable years including crippling injuries to key players, fan boycotts, despised owners and calamitous collapses in matches. Chris Houghton’s men are in a different position to Blackpool and need to stay up due to their history and demanding yet fiercely loyal fans. West Bromwich Albion, who finished as runners-up in the Championship last season will be desperate to stay up purely for a spot of stability. The Baggies have experienced four promotions and three relegations in the last 10 years, and are getting a reputation as an unaspirational club due to ostensibly being too good for the Championship and too weak for the Premier League. Roberto Di Matteo’s men would not have enjoyed their baptism of fire in getting smashed 6-0 away to Chelsea in the opening weekend.
Of course, Holloway has been in management for 14 years, and would be foolish to not expect a few hidings himself this season. Pundits and fans alike will be anticipating goals galore as Blackpool travel to European giants Arsenal this Saturday. But being the underdogs, not one Blackpool fan will leave The Emirates disheartened on Saturday. Just facing Arsenal in the league is an incredible feat for the Tangerines. For example, two seasons ago, when Blackpool elevated themselves from League One, their second league match was away at Norwich City.
Holloway, managing at the top level for the first time, is one of football’s most adored characters due to his larger-than-life personality. As well as bringing his brand of incisive, cutting edge, attacking football, his interviews are soaked in good-natured wit and self-deprecating humour. The 47-year-old once cherished a hard-fought, battling win as QPR manager by declaring: “To put it in gentleman’s terms, if you go on a night out, and you’re looking for a young lady, some weeks they’re good looking, some weeks they’re not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird, but at least we’d have gone home in a taxi with her.”
However, there were no life lessons regarding the fairer sex following Blackpool’s famous demolition of Wigan. The manager affectionately known as “Ollie” said: “We still have our feet on the ground. We’ve got a long, long way to go to that target to stay in this wonderful Premier League.” Holloway made a name for himself managing in the Championship and League One, and like his reputation, Blackpool’s facilities are a world away from the Premier League. Their wage bill is around £6m, and was the second lowest in the Championship when they got promoted. Consider the wage bill of Chelsea at around £140m, and the gulf in funds is further clear.
It is a testament to Holloway’s character and people skills that three of his vibrant, victorious starting line-up against Wigan were signed less than a week before the match. Along with ex Manchester United man Craig Cathcart and CSKA Sofia’s former player Elliot Grandin, Marlon Harewood impressed by scoring a brace on his debut after signing from Aston Villa.
With his 2 goals against Wigan, Harewood scored almost half the amount of goals he scored in his doomed spell at Villa which was largely spent on the substitutes bench. However, Harewood has spent six seasons in the Premier League and adds valuable experience to the Seasiders. The goalscoring prowess of Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Charlie Adam can aid Blackpool this season, whilst Jason Euell adds another old head who has almost a decade’s worth of experience in this league.
Mirroring their maverick manager, the sight of 4,000 Satsuma-like fans bouncing up and down joyously in the away end is one which raises a smile to neutrals. Holloway has done the impossible by taking a club with an average attendance of 8,811 to arguably the best league in the world, and is now a hero in the Lancashire town. Many will tip the Seasiders to sink, but they are safe in the knowledge that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Premier League football for the first time in 39 years is a wonderful thing, and the celebrations will continue right up until May. Football manager turned dating expert extraordinaire Holloway will of course hope his side can pull many birds this season, be it Megan Fox or Margaret Thatcher. We know which one we’d rather have.