If ever there’s a book written about the last few years at Bloomfield Road it could simply be titled: The Club That Threw It All Away.
That’s exactly what Blackpool FC have done.
In 2010, Ian Holloway and a very special group of players inspired football’s equivalent of a Lottery jackpot in terms of money and status. A club we all thought was more than comfortable in the shadows was handed a golden opportunity ... which they simply didn’t take. Blackpool FC, particularly the owners, blew it.
And it’s not just in terms of finance or a place in the top two divisions of English football – something more fundamental has been lost. Last week I was lucky enough to visit a school with a couple of Blackpool players and listen to them promote a healthy lifestyle.The community scheme is one of the shining lights of a club which has had very little to shout about in the past couple of years.
Though it was a great afternoon, it highlighted for me the unseen side of the recent slump. I asked the kids to put their hands up if they were Blackpool fans. Just one did. A visit to the same school a few years ago would have seen everyone raise their arms proudly.
It is throwing away a generation of supporters which is one of Blackpool’s, and the Oystons’, biggest crimes. After years of disappointment and apathy, we all finally had a club to be proud of and the perfect foundations to build something special.
While we’ve all seen it coming, Saturday’s abject, embarrassing and spineless second-half display was almost the final nail in the coffin of any survival hopes. And who could blame any of those kids for not wanting to support the club? Why would they, with a largely unrecognisable squad of loan players and free transfers? It isn’t something any of us can be proud of.
What makes all of the above even harder to take is that we all saw it coming. The alarm bells have been ringing for the past two years.
All the noises in the summer were the right ones as chairman Karl Oyston talked about it “never happening again”, “a new start” and a “different way of doing things”. It’s been different, all right. It’s been much, much worse than any of us could ever have expected.
Going into Saturday’s game, Lee Clark spoke about the importance of taking risks and he certainly did that with his team selection. Keeper Joe Lewis, who has been excellent for most of the season, was dropped in place of Elliot Parish, a decision which shocked most fans arriving at Vicarage Road.
After a difficult afternoon at Wolves, Charles Dunne was dropped, with new boy David Ferguson making his debut at left-back. It made for a 5-3-2 formation, with Nyron Nosworthy and Ishmael Miller both returning after injury.
From the very first kick, Pool were positive in their play, no doubt with Clark’s words ringing in their ears. Just a minutes in, Jamie O’Hara lifted a free-kick right down the throat of keeper Heurelho Gomes, who flapped at the cross.
The pace of Pool’s start caught the hosts out and on five minutes Miller almost had them ahead. He burst into the box from the right only to drag his effort wide from 10 yards. You could feel an uncomfortable atmosphere building around the ground and most were stunned on eight minutes as Pool took the lead.
Ferguson burst into the box on the left and his blocked shot fell for Andrea Orlandi, who fired into the roof of the neck. It was fantastic technique from the Spaniard, who struck the ball brilliantly past Gomes.
The lead was well deserved at this point, the Seasiders looking a totally different side to the one which crashed at Wolves. Watford came into the game on the back of a 5-0 win against Charlton and you could see why in flashes.
Matej Vydra and Troy Deeney are as lively a pair as you’ll find at this level, and it was Vydra who fired a warning to Pool soon after.
Pool’s back three were having to hold their ground as the home side were urged forward by their fans, with Ikechi Anya going closest as his decent effort was beaten away by Parish. His confidence will have been done no harm by his start, catching a few crosses before again saving well from Odion Ighalo on 32 minutes.
Pool continued to push forward, particularly through wing-backs Tony McMahon and debutant Ferguson who was looking good down the left. Watford pushed as half-time approached but it was Pool who were to double their lead on 42 minutes.
When O’Hara’s corner was cleared, McMahon did brilliantly to get to the bye-line and fire a perfect cross towards Davies, who fluffed his first effort only to poke home at the second attempt. The 511 travelling fans could hardly believe it as the referee blew for half-time. If only they knew what was to come.
With Clark no doubt asking his players to keep things tight at the start of the second period, Watford changed their system to devastating effect. Aware of Pool committing their wing-backs forward, Watford switched to 4-4-2 and pushed their wingers as high as possible. The impact was instant.
Just 90 seconds into the second half. Miguel Layun burst down the right and played a perfect pass into the path of Ighalo, who tapped home from seven yards. Just five minutes later, Deeney glanced home a Daniel Tozser corner to draw the game level. Blackpool looked totally shell-shocked and simply didn’t respond.
Watford completed the turnaround on 54 minutes as Ighalo put his side ahead after a Layun cross was knocked down by Deeney. Before the hour was up, Vydra made it 4-2, firing home an Anya cross which was knocked down into his path.
At this point the Seasiders gave up, crumbled and it appeared Watford would score with every attack. It was painful to watch. By now it was a training game for Watford and on 66 minutes Pool conceded a fifth, Angella applying the finish after a Deeney header from a corner rebounded off a post.
Another assist from the woodwork following a Deeney strike allowed Ighalo to complete his hat-trick in the 77th minute as the ball cannoned into the net off his chest. His fourth and Watford’s seventh was another close-range finish following more good work by strike partner Deeney.
After the game, Clark tried not to hang his players out to dry, but the manager was more than aware of the deserved hammering which would be coming their and his way.
But it hardly mattered. Barring some sort of miracle, Pool will be playing their football in League One next season. They will be playing in front of around 6,000 at Bloomfield Road, few if any of them proud young schoolchildren.
It’s a disgrace, a shame and a heartbreak for Pool supporters after where the club has been in recent years. Sadly not everyone cares as much as they do.