Matt Williams: Leaving has been hardest decision of my life

Matt Williams
Matt Williams
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Pool’s departing secretary writes his final column for The Gazette, looking back on 12 years at Bloomfield Road.

As some of you may already know on Friday I accepted an offer to become the Chief Executive at Shrewsbury Town and as such I am now currently working my notice at BFC.

The decision to leave the club was probably the most difficult decision I have had to make in my life – certainly in my working life.

It was back in March 2002 that my relationship with the Pool began when I was offered the role of Website Editor.

It was quite a pay cut at the time and a commute from Oldham each day.

I’d attained a university degree in business and property management, and gone to manage a number of businesses in the leisure industry in Oldham and Manchester.

But my passion had always been to work in football, I knew I’d never been satisfied with my day to day work if I hadn’t at least given it a go.

At the time the club were preparing for the LDV Vans Trophy final in Cardiff against Cambridge and there was a real buzz about the place.

I remember that day at the Millennium Stadium vividly and I was hooked. Since then I have made some fantastic friendships, with players, staff and supporters, and I have learnt so much through the highs and lows…

My first game as an actual Blackpool employee was the 5-1 battering the Seasiders gave Bristol City, those present will remember a play-off chasing Bristol side being played off the park by an irresistible Pool side and the sight of hundreds of Bristol fans heading over the Bloomfield Road bridge towards the town’s bars and attractions just before the half time whistle.

The following week away at Chesterfield was the first time I met Steve Canavan and Ian Chisnall. I remember Canners telling me shortly after that within twelve months he wouldn’t be at the Gazette….

My first memory of Chissy was his lack of dress sense (he had a terrible yellow shirt on that day) and his Phil Brownesque sun tan although he tells me it is rust!

In the weeks leading up to the following season the role of programme editor was added to my list of responsibilities and, as someone whose youth was spent collecting programmes, I was excited about the prospect.

The first match day programme I was responsible for was the game where I saw one of the best every goals scored by a team in Tangerine.

It was Luton Town at home and the goal was scored by Paul Dalglish.

Had it been scored by a Premier League side it would still be talked about today, the move and number of passes exchanged prior to the goal was something else.

Later in my first full season my role was expanded to include the duties of the Club’s Press Officer after Graham Emmerson left to take up a similar position at Wigan Warriors.

As a result of Graham’s departure it was more practical for me to travel on the team coach to away games.

There are too many tales to tell from the away trips over the years, but Steve McMahon was different in that he sat at the back of the bus in his shirt and underpants playing cards with his sidekick Mark Seagraves, Phil Horner and Simon Grayson.

My first major press conference was in January 2004 and the now infamous Steve McMahon resignation that never was!

I was delighted that representatives of all the major newspapers and broadcasters were packed into the Directors Box to quiz the chairman on the news Steve had resigned and after a thorough interrogation, Gary Hickson posed the question to Karl, “Was Steve McMahon still in the building…” as the Chairman replied, “No” the door to the Directors Box opened and there was Steve McMahon asking the Chairman for a “quick word”. Less than fifteen minutes later the chairman and Steve were briefing the press on how Steve was not resigning!

Three months later we were back at the Millennium Stadium for the LDV Vans final against Southend, I remember watching the game sat alongside Scott Taylor who missed the game through injury, at full time as Simon Grayson and Richie Wellens lifted the trophy I joined the players and staff on the pitch to celebrate which is another feeling I will never forget.

Despite the LDV success Steve’s time at the Pool was coming to an end and in the days after the 4-1 defeat to Peterborough he left by mutual consent – replaced by Colin Hendry.

I have to admit, I got on well with Colin and his family and it was during his second season that I became club secretary.

Colin gave me the encouragement and assistance to be able to take over from Peter Collins on his retirement in September 2005.

My first game as Pool secretary was at Nottingham Forest on a Tuesday night and the first player I signed was Chris Armstrong on loan from Sheffield United. “Stretch” played five games for the us before being recalled by the Blades.

At the time he assured me his return to Bramall Lane was nothing to do with the fact his room-mate Rory Prendergast had been sleep walking and disturbing his night’s sleep prior to a game at Colchester!

Colin Hendry’s time with the Club came to an end in the November and he was replaced by Simon Grayson who had been on the verge of leaving us to take the Assistant Manager’s job at Bury.

During the summer of 2006 “Larry”, the Chairman, Steve Canavan, Gary Hickson and myself headed out to meet Valeri Belokon in Riga following his decision to invest in the Club, again it will be a trip I will never ever forget – there are enough funny stories and incidents to fill several chapters!

One of those includes our meetings in the huge sauna.

Apparently it’s a Latvian tradition that business gets discussed in the sauna followed by jumping in his lake to cool off… it was bizarre.

With the investment from Mr Belokon, some shrewd wheeling and dealing by Karl and Larry and an Easter Sunday spent chasing Joe Hart to sign loan paperwork, Pool found themselves in the play-offs against Oldham. People have often questioned my loyalties to Blackpool particularly when Oldham are involved but I can assure you that there was no one more happier than me when the team swept past the Latics to set up a play-off final with Yeovil.

The plans for the play-off final were to travel down to London on the Friday afternoon, train at Bisham Abbey on the Saturday morning before going to watch the first half of the League Two play off final.

Simon felt that watching the game at the new Wembley would prevent the players from being in awe when they arrived on the Sunday and it certainly worked as Pool ran out comfortable winners. The journey back shall we say was messy and by the time we reached the Blackpool Hilton for a party, I was ready for bed!

The following season was a real eye opener, especially when visiting some of the so called bigger clubs but we always competed and it came as no surprise to me that 18 months after we were promoted Larry was head hunted by Leeds, he deserved the move and had worked wonders.

A week or two before Simon left for Leeds, I had agreed to join Shrewsbury, I had found a house in the town and was working my notice when Karl and I reached an agreement for me to stay at Bloomfield Road.

After Simon’s departure Tony Parkes and Steve Thompson picked up the baton and kept Pool in the Championship, we then embarked on a permanent appointment, “Tommo”, Gary Brabin, Andy Ritchie and Alan Knill were all interviewed but the man who stood out head and shoulders above anyone else was Ian Holloway.

It has been well documented that Karl and I were about 20 minutes late for the meeting and Karl was in his casual clothes, Ollie immediately took his tie off and began interviewing us.

The interview took over four hours and I am sure Karl is indebted to Ian calling him back after Ian’s agent had tried to scupper the deal with his demands.Again the time with Ollie could fill several chapters, it was an incredible time that I will never forget.

Ollie inherited a great group of players, not just ability wise but as a group of people.

With the addition of Charlie Adam and classy loan signings like Barry Bannan, Seamus Coleman and DJ Campbell the Seasiders were a joy to watch and I still feel privileged to have played my part, especially in the signing of Charlie Adam.

Charlie was signed following a conversation with my counterpart Andrew Dickson at Ibrox after Alan Gow decided Norwich was a more appealing destination that Blackpool the season before Ollie took over. Andrew told me that he had a left midfielder who was a talent but was suffering with a lack of confidence.

Charlie originally turned the loan move down but changed his mind late afternoon and got the train to Preston before making his debut against Doncaster.

Charlie was shown a red card for a stamp on Richie Wellens which in a way endeared him to the Pool faithful and he became a cult hero when he scored the winner at Deepdale.

It was that game at Deepdale that prompted Ollie to convince the chairman and Mr Belokon to sign Charlie, a group of supporters held a “Deepdale revisited” night for Charity and a DVD of the game was shown in the Sponsors Lounge, Ollie watched on and throughout kept saying we have to sign him Matt, we have to sign him.

The Premier League season was something else for me. This working class lad from Oldham sitting at breakfast alongside the likes of Richard Scudamore, Bruce Buck, David Gill and Garry Cook prior to the Premier League AGM is something that I will never forget, all of them knew exactly who I was and what I did.

Having only tasted success with the Pool, when we were relegated from the Premier League I felt numb.

I had experienced relegation from the Premier League as a fan watching Oldham, but this was a feeling I wouldn’t want to feel again.

To his credit Ollie dusted himself down and got everyone motivated for another crack at the dream.

Thomas Ince joined from Liverpool, Barry Ferguson and Kevin Phillips came in from Birmingham and Angel Martinez arrived from Spain and we came within a whisker of doing the unthinkable again.

I remember Gary Taylor-Fletcher trying to convince Ollie he was fit on the morning of the play-off final and I maintain that had GTF played that day Pool would have been promoted.

The summer was full of rumour and speculation about Ollie possibly leaving for Swansea and it came as no surprise that he eventually left in the October.

Perhaps the only surprise was that it was for Crystal Palace rather than a Premier League club, but he went to Selhurst Park and managed to get them over the line and into the top flight.

I have no doubt that his Millwall side next season will be dark horses for promotion.

The decision to replace Ollie – at the time - seemed fairly easy, Karl and I met with Michael Appleton on the Sunday after Ollie had left, he came with an outstanding reputation from West Brom in particular, and interviewed extremely well. We were both convinced he was the right man for the job. I still speak to Michael occasionally and I think in hindsight both sides should have done a little more research into each other before offering and accepting the job.Michael’s decision to leave us for Blackburn didn’t surprise me, however, I bet he didn’t bank on his Rovers career being equally as brief!

Having had Michael depart for Blackburn, we turned our attentions to Sean O’Driscoll, but he thought the Bristol City job was more appealing and Billy Davies played us, in my opinion, to get back into Nottingham Forest. We also met Owen Coyle but his agents relationship with Karl was always going to prove difficult.

Paul Ince ticked all the boxes, he knew the club, the players, the staff and had first- hand experience with how the chairman worked.

He initially wanted the job until the end of last season rather than the standard rolling contract.

When Barry took charge in late January, he had aspirations of making the play-offs and he probably didn’t appreciate the enormity of the job and situation the club was in and I know he has enjoyed his three months in the hot seat and also how delighted he was to keep us in the Championship.

Over the last 12 years I have met so many good people who are now friends and have had many good times.

This column can’t do that justice, you never know one day I might write a book about my life and times at Blackpool FC!

I’d like to thank Karl for his support over the last 12 years, both professionally and personally, and hopefully I can convince him to bring a team to Shrewsbury pre-season.

I’d also like to thank Will Watt and the Gazette for giving me the chance to share my passion for my work and the interesting stories. I hope you have enjoyed reading it.

I’d also like to thanks my loyal assistant media officer Stewart Hudson for his efforts and also patience!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but unfortunately none of us can live or run our businesses with the benefit of it.

I know we all would do some things different given the chance, Karl and I certainly included, but there is no point looking backwards, it is important that we look forward and to the future.

If you are looking for a day out on the international breaks, Seasiders will be made very welcome in Shrewsbury!

Thanks for 12 fantastic years

Matt