The first decade of the new century saw Blackpool take a most modern route from the basement of the Football League into the Premier League. A decade ago they were in what we now know as League Two, but they will start the new season in the Premier League having been promoted three times via the play-offs. They’re the the first team to have managed this, but will this promotion prove to be a step too far? The obvious statement to make is that they are the pre-season favourites to return from whence they came, but there are reasons for Blackpool supporters to feel optimistic about the new season.
The biggest single reason for holding the opinion that things might not be as bad as they might be is the general stasis in the transfer market over the summer. At the time of writing, Blackpool haven’t brought in any new players since the transfer window re-opened at the end of May, but they’re not the only club to have done this. They may also consider that the twenty-five man squad rule introduced for the start of this season though, with just twenty players currently on their books at present, they have the smallest squad in the Premier League at the moment, although this may well change over the next couple of weeks or so.
Their attempted forays into the transfer market this summer have so far proved to be unsuccessful. The young Everton defender Seamus Coleman impressed for them while on loan from Everton last season. Indeed, some may say that he impressed too much. Everton are feeling the pinch as much as everybody else and seem reluctant to grant Blackpool the opportunity to allow Blackpool to make Coleman’s move to Bloomfield Road permanent. Similarly, DJ Campbell was on loan with the Seasiders from Leicester City when he caused the damage that he did for Blackpool, but Leicester also seem likely to hold out for a big price for the striker. They may have more luck with the Swansea City defender Angel Rangel, but even this is far from certain. If Blackpool can’t find reinforcements and are unsuccessful in their overtures for Coleman and Campbell, though, they could yet find themselves in the position of starting their first Premier League season with a weaker team than they started last season with.
Blackpool, then, could be forgiven for starting the season with some degree of trepidation. Yet even if the worst comes to the worst, their long-term future seems secure. The ground improvements to Bloomfield Road which have transformed it from one of the most delapidated grounds in the Football League into a tidy, modern arena holding 16,000 people are almost complete and, if they were going to pick a season to start their life in the Premier League, this season, with changes to the rules regarding parachute payments having just changed, seems like a pretty good one.
The brilliant success of the 1940s and 1950s seems longer ago than ever – is it mere coincidence that the club’s resurgence has come about as the age of those that can easily recall this albatross around the modern club’s neck has been lifted? You have to be comfortably of pensionable age to remember Mortensen, Matthews et al and few people under the age of fifty will be able to remember their last time in the top division, forty years ago. This season’s Blackpool team is, of course, some way off the vintage of their past, but is relegation the foregone conclusion that many expect it to be? Much will depend on their home form, and the responsibility is on the shoulders of their supporters to make their nineteen home matches as difficult as possible for visiting players. For every Derby County or Burnley, though, there has been a Stoke City, who defied the odds and have established themselves in the Premier League against all predictions.
To an extent, the biggest achievement for Blackpool has been getting this far in the first place. Survival in the Premier League may prove to be beyond them, especially if, as anticipated, the points threshold required to survive is higher than last seasons one of just thirty points. If we work to the assumption that they will need a minimum of ten or eleven wins to have a realistic chance of staying in the Premier League, where are those wins going to come from? The good news for them is that it seems likely that the bottom half of the Premier League table seems likely to be a congested place to be this season, but even this could be a mixed blessing for Blackpool if it pushes the points threshold for survival even higher. Still, though, they need new players if they are to give themselves a fighting chance, and time is starting to run out.
Perhaps the key to retaining their sanity over the next nine months is keeping their level of expectation in check. If they can persuade the likes of Leicester City to part with DJ Campbell, they have a chance, but for a club like Blackpool a perfect storm is brewing in which the transfer window means that new players have to be brought in quickly and the twenty-five man squad limit which means that they cannot afford mistakes. Looking down the fixture list over the summer may or may not have been a daunting experience for their supporters, and much will rest upon how the players react to the new challenge that they face. It will, at the very least, be an adventure for all concerned.