Requiem for a tangerine dream
Allow me to change gears and talk about English Premier League soccer for a bit. If you have no interest in the subject, you can skip this one.
One year after they became everybody’s second favorite club in making it to the English Premier League, the little team that could, Blackpool F.C., is heading back down to the Championship (England’s second league).
The Tangerines had a chance to stay up if they could defeat mighty Manchester United on Sunday, but failed in the way they have failed all season: by poor defending in their own end.
While Blackpool had the chance to stay up with a win Sunday against a Man. U team that had nothing to play for (they’d already won the EPL and are gearing up for the Champions League final), the truth is, Blackpool lost their chance to stay up with multiple bad stretches that started occurring as soon as the calendar flipped to 2011.
On January 12, after their second shocking win against EPL titans Liverpool, the Seasiders were sitting comfortably outside the relegation zone with 28 points. Realistically, they only needed 15 points – five wins – in their final 18 matches to stay up. Just go 5-13 and ‘Pool was pretty much guaranteed another year in the top flight.
They promptly lost five matches in a row. Included in that was blowing a 2-0 lead to Man.U and losing to bottom-feeders West Ham.
After a draw with Aston Villa and another surprising win against a league heavyweight – Tottenham Hotspur in this case – things were again looking up.
Blackpool would win only one more match the rest of the season.
They had their chances. Oh did they have chances. The biggest one was losing a 2-0 lead to Blackburn Rovers that saw Blackburn earn a draw by scoring in stoppage time. You could make the argument that Blackpool was all but destined for relegation after losing those critical points, followed by another three game losing streak.
Despite that, ‘Pool still had a chance to avoid the drop, but could only muster three draws against Newcastle United, Stoke and Tottenham Hotspur. A win against Bolton stayed the execution for one more day, but to be honest, the lads were all out of miracles. For consistency’s sake, they held a second half lead in the final game before once again self-destructing.
So why are the Tangerines back in the Championship? It’s quite simple: they just could not keep the other team from scoring. Or, as colorful manager Ian Holloway would say, “We just can’t keep teams out of our kitchen.”
I don’t know much about soccer strategy, but I do know this – when you can’t prevent goals, you’re asking for trouble.
Holloway likes to play an uptempo, entertaining, offense-heavy style. That style leaves you susceptible to counterattacks on your own goal. The style worked in the second tier, where the opposition is more on Blackpool’s wavelength.
But against the true heavyweights of English and, for that matter, world soccer – the Man. U’s, the Manchester City’s, Arsenal and Chelsea – those counterattacks usually end up in the goal.
Ollie’s style can work. The guy can manage. Blackpool even being competitive in the EPL is a testament to that. But ultimately, ‘Pool, which had the smallest budget in the top flight by a mile, just didn’t have the guns to stay at this level, both up front and in back.
The sad reality now is that the economics of the English game are about to catch up with Blackpool big-time. Holloway already had the unpleasant task of informing seven players before the Man.U game that they would not be back next season. Our best player, Charlie Adam, is likely to seek a big payday with a top-flight club. Even Holloway’s return is in question. The retention of Ollie should be ownership’s top priority. He got the club to this point, and he should be the man to try to get them back.
The last 365 days have been heady ones for this club. Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” This has indeed been a great ride for ‘Pool fans. Nothing can ever top the jubilation felt by all members of the Tangerine Army when ‘Pool shocked the soccer world a year ago by winning promotion to the biggest league in the world, and then validating it by winning their first match against Wigan Athletic, 4-0. For one glorious day, Blackpool was truly on top of the soccer world, not to mention the EPL standings. No matter what happens, we’ll always have that.
Still, all us supporters knew this club was going to be fighting an uphill battle all year, both in terms of on-field talent and Blackpool’s miniscule resources; the big clubs pay individual players as much as our entire team. The real goal of the season was to stay up, to not be relegated. That they fell short of that goal is not entirely surprising. What’s disappointing is they had so many opportunities to achieve it.