“Could all kids wearing Blackpool kits please come over here for a photograph?”
Those were the words of a Gazette photographer last week as he attended a sports camp at a Fylde coast school along with two Blackpool players.
Will Aimson and Jim McAlister posed for pictures as just one kid wearing tangerine stepped forward. If that isn’t an alarming indication of the current situation at Bloomfield Road, nothing is.
Supporting the Seasiders just isn’t cool for schoolkids. In face, it’s becoming embarrassing for them to admit Blackpool are their team.
And who can blame them? Match days at Bloomfield Road this season are as lifeless as they come. And although the football on show isn’t exactly forcing people back to watch, it’s the off-field issues which keeps most away.
That said, it’s not just the kids who are staying away – it’s just about everyone.
On Saturday we saw another, terribly sad, first at Bloomfield Road as fans of visitors Bradford appeared to outnumber the home support.
More than 3,000 officially made the trip, with another couple of hundred believed to be hidden among the home fans. Even home advantage doesn’t apply any more, as was proved on Saturday.
Blackpool’s players just don’t have any confidence or belief, something natural for a group of largely young and inexperienced players.
It happens to most teams at some stage of the season, but sadly for Pool it couldn’t be coming at a worse time.
Once Kyel Reid fired a 54th-minute goal it was game over, Blackpool had no response at all and the long-ball never, at any point looked like working. It’s been two-and-a-half years since Pool won a game they conceded a goal in.
In the end the Seasiders finished the game with FIVE strikers on the pitch. They may as well have had one – at no point did they get the ball to them.
I can understand McDonald wanting to play the counter-attack game on a bad pitch with a limited squad, but if Karl Oyston thinks that’s going to get the fans back, then he’s in for a shock.
His recent interview suggested he believed the football would eventually have people rushing back into the stadium. But sadly, if this style and these results continue, even the seagulls will be choosing somewhere else to circle on a Saturday afternoon.
It wasn’t just the huge travelling army which helped the away side, for many of Bradford’s squad it would have felt like home anyway, with Tony McMahon, Wes Thomas, Billy Clark, Steven Davies and matchwinner Reid all having spells at the Seasiders under their belts.
Surprisingly after the defeat at Swindon last week, Neil McDonald made no changes to his starting line-up, meaning Jack Redshaw and skipper David Ferguson remained on the bench.
While there were very few moments of action in the opening quarter of an hour, it was Bradford who played all the football.
Phil Parkinson’s side started the game very brightly indeed, playing all the football and facing two very solid banks of four in tangerine.
As has become a clear tactic of the Seasiders under McDonald, they were more than happy to sit back and bide their time.
It took 19 minutes for their first real venture forward, and it led to the game’s first effort on target.
As David Norris was fouled 25 yards from goal, former Bantam Mark Yeates fired into the wall before shooting straight at Ben Williams in goal with the rebound.
At the other end Blackpool were continuing to frustrate the away side, a familiar pattern emerging in the middle of the park.
McDonald’s men are more than happy for their visitors to have the ball, before holding strong in the final third of the field.
Bradford’s frustration was there to see on 22 minutes when midfield man Lee Evans took on a very unrealistic effort from 35 yards, it drifted harmlessly wide.
Blackpool appeared to grow in confidence as the half went on, and began to show intent in the opposition half, and on the half-hour mark had their second chance.
Norris met a Danny Philliskirk lay-off to half-volley into the keeper’s arms.
In attack for Bradford was Wes Thomas who enjoyed a loan spell with Pool until Michael Appleton.
While he was never a player to influence a game he was certainly a threat in front of goal and on Saturday he showed that twice in a minute.
First the forward turned well at the edge of the area only for Colin Doyle to save well, before a superb Tom Aldred sliding block prevented him from having the easiest of tap-ins. The game had all of a sudden sprung to life.
A key aspect of Bradford’s game appears to be to play through left-winger Reid, but he met his match on Saturday in Pool’s Hayden White.
The Bolton loan man didn’t give him an inch all afternoon, you could see the confidence draining out of the tricky winger with each block tackle.
While Reid eventually went onto fire the winner, he had an afternoon to forget and one which proved how much White is developing.
After 45 minutes of defending well, Pool almost fell as sleep in first half stoppage time.
After Potts was caught in possession by McMahon, the former Blackpool man crossed on to the head of James Hanson who headed straight into the arms of Doyle. Anywhere else but straight at the keeper and we’d have seen an opening goal.
But with the final act of the opening half Blackpool couldn’t have come much closer to opening the scoring.
Yeates picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the area, shifted the ball on to his right-foot and curled a wonderful effort on to the bar.
The start of the second half started in equally lively fashion, with Thomas having the game’s best chance just five minutes after the break.
McMahon’s cross was only half-cleared by Will Aimson as far as Thomas who prodded the ball over from seven yards, he should really have hit the target.
Former Pool skipper McMahon was known best as a full-back during his time at Blackpool, but at Bradford he’s reinvented himself.
He’s been involved in 14 of the Bantams goals this season, making him one of the highest assist makers in League One.
With Blackpool’s back four providing hard to break down, it was always going to take something out of the ordinary to break the deadlock, and that came on 54 minutes.
Bradford right-back Stephen Darby picked up the ball 45 yards from goal and went on a mazy run into the area before teeing up Reid to slam the ball past Doyle from 12 yards.
It was a fantastic finish from the winger, but much of the credit must go to Darby.
With a huge following in full voice the goal gave Bradford a real boost, and it only seemed a matter of time before Bradford doubled their lead.
McMahon’s superb cross on 62 minutes only denied by White at the far post before another Hanson header only nestled into the arms of Doyle.
After week’s of patience, Blackpool’s supporters began to show their frustration as boos began to ring around Bloomfield Road.
The confidence drained out of the players as the game went on, and so did the chance of a point coming their way.
McDonald threw on Martin Paterson, Uche Ikpeazu and Jack Redshaw in an attempt to liven things up, but sadly the service never arrived.
Pool’s frustration boiled over deep into stoppage time when Aimson was shown a second yellow card for getting involved in handbags with a Bradford player – by then the game was already lost.
It all leaves Blackpool in deep trouble at the bottom of the league and needing at least a win from the next two games to get them back on track.
It’s been a dreadful couple of weeks for McDonald and his men – and things could yet get worse.