Blackpool\’s 4-0 hammering of Wigan Athletic on the opening day of the 2010-11 Premier League season proved the most surprising and eye-catching result of the weekend. It was a remarkable performance for a newly promoted-side still struggling to put a squad together and hotly tipped to go straight back down to the Championship.
Three unanswered goals from Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Marlon Harewood (2) handed Blackpool a 3-0 interval lead before Alex Baptiste added a fourth in the second half to complete one of the most remarkable afternoon’s in Blackpool’s long and storied history.
Wigan Athletic were truly awful on Saturday and couldn’t even string a succession of passes together in as woeful a display as their 8-0 drubbing on the final day of last season.
Yet for all the travelling Tangerine Army’s delight at topping the Premier League for a few short hours the unusually pragmatic words from manager Ian Holloway were a timely reminder to the Blackpool players and supporters that a long hard slog of a season still lays ahead.
“I’m so proud of these boys, some of them only shipped up this week and I had to introduce everybody to each other. We have still have got our feet on the ground as we have got a long, long way to go to get to that target to stay in this wonderful Premier League.”
Wise words but despite the opening day victory the harsh reality of life in the Premier League should hit home next weekend when Holloway takes his side to the Emirates to face a star-studded Arsenal outfit.
There are echoes of Hull City’s equally remarkable start to their debut season in the Premier two seasons ago when Phil Brown’s side shocked the Gunners in one of the biggest upsets in Premier League history. By Christmas Hull’s season began to unravel when a paper-thin squad failed to cope with a succession of injuries and suspensions and results went downhill quickly.
Hull simply hadn’t enough quality and panic buys in an over-inflated transfer market failed to prevent the Tigers from exiting the Premier League after only two seasons. They are now re-building on a drastically reduced budget in an effort to get out of a hugely competitive Championship division.
One look at where Hull City currently reside should serve as a timely reminder to Blackpool fans that unless the club acquires a millionaire ready to invest heavily in the club then the Championship beckons for 2011-12.
But that might not be such a bad thing.
The increased parachute payments for sides relegated from the Premier League now guarantees Blackpool at least £8 million if they fail to stay up this term.
Unlike Portsmouth and Hull City – who were each in a terrible financial state having gone down last season and used the parachute payment to service crippling debt rather than new players – Blackpool’s decision to not pay over £10,000 a week in wages means they will not suffer such monetary issues were they to go down.
Re-investment in the stadium is on-going (if a little behind schedule) and once Holloway has a full season with a settled squad under his belt then Blackpool would certainly start the following season as one of the financially better-off sides in the Championship.
“I’ve only had my lads twice on the grass and it has been a hideous pre-season for me, the chairman and secretary because I am so shocked at what everybody else is on and what they are paying. Make no mistake we are completely out of our depth” said Holloway after the club approached over 40 different players in an effort to get them to sign for the club ahead of the new season.
The harsh reality of life in the Premier League, where money is king, has yet to sting a talented yet woefully thin Blackpool squad. Staying up this season would be nothing short of a miracle for the Tangerines, but being relegated while still keeping the club on a sound financial footing will go a long way to securing the club’s future.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.