Blackpool FC owner Simon Sadler reflects on two years in charge and outlines plans for the Championship
Blackpool owner Simon Sadler says he was “the calmest man in Wembley” on the day of his hometown club’s promotion success and now he is laying down plans for their future in the Championship.
In a personal statement published on the club website to mark the second anniversary of his takeover at Bloomfield Road, Sadler reflects on an unforgettable season and outlines his vision for the years ahead.
Sadler admits the tasks of rebuilding the club and of winning promotion from League One were greater than he had envisaged.
Starting the season confident of automatic promotion, Sadler began to lower his expectations after Blackpool’s disappointing start but insists he “never lost faith” in Neil Critchley, his staff or his squad.
Sadler states he was determined to enjoy the play-off final whatever the result, though he always felt Blackpool would win and the owner lived a dream by joining the Wembley celebrations on the pitch and hearing fans chant his name.
He says plans to stabilise in the Championship began the following morning, with Sadler stating that: “I feel that our natural place in the football pecking order is as a mid-table Championship side but with the right wind behind us we can make it back to The Premier League. I don’t have the wherewithal to buy our way into the next tier so we’ll have to earn it.”
Sadler believes the squad can hold its own in the Championship with “a few additions” and says his “top investment priority” by far is for an integrated training facility to be used by the club’s players at all levels.
Reiterating that he cannot personally fund all the investment the club needs, Sadler expressed thanks to the club’s volunteers and all supporters, particularly those who bought season tickets despite being unable to attend the vast majority of games in 2020/21.
Simon Sadler’s full statement reads:
At 4.53pm on Sunday 30th of May 2021, with a record-breaking sixth Play-off final victory, our club, Blackpool Football Club, was promoted back to The Championship.
At a Fans’ Forum in early July of 2019, just three weeks after having purchased the Club, I was asked what I thought about our chances of promotion to The Championship.
I replied that we’d get there “hopefully in two years and I’ll be gutted if we don’t do it in three”. In the following weeks and months, as we began the rebuild of our club, that statement took on the characteristics of a millstone or an albatross.
The task at hand was significantly more substantial than I’d envisaged and the Club clearly needed rebuilding from top to bottom.
By March 2020, however, we had the bones of a new structure in place throughout the Club and in Neil Critchley had just appointed a young, talented and hungry Head Coach.
With the Covid pandemic spreading and the nation under lockdown, Neil and the recruitment team worked tirelessly to assemble a competitive squad.
As the pre-season games got under way, we marvelled at the attractive brand of winning football of which this new group seemed capable.
Not only were we going to get promoted, we were going to go up automatically, probably as Champions!
The Gods of Football, however, seemed to have other ideas and with only seven points from our first nine games of the season, those words of mine uttered in July 2019 were again weighing heavily around my neck.
Whilst of course I was concerned, I never lost faith. There were more than enough positive moments to see that we were on the right track, but it was also increasingly apparent that I’d underestimated just how difficult it was to get out of League One.
We hadn’t had much luck in those first nine games or so, as evidenced by our xG, the widely used statistical measure of expected goals, which indicated that we should have been much higher in the table.
Nevertheless, I considered all that had happened over the preceding 18 months or so and concluded that a more realistic target would be for this to be the season where we laid the foundations to mount a serious challenge for at least the play-offs in the 2021/22 season.
Others with more football experience than I were more confident. Ben Mansford kept drawing parallels with his time as Barnsley Chief Exec five years earlier, when a new, young team started the season similarly poorly yet still got promoted to The Championship via the play-offs.
Linton Brown, an ex-pro centre-forward himself (as he likes to remind us), kept telling me that although Jerry hadn’t scored yet he’d bag us 20 goals this season.
And Critch maintained a quiet, calm confidence that results would soon improve, as he embraced life as a League One manager.
We can all pick our own turning points but mine was that narrow 1-0 defeat when down to nine men away at Wimbledon on 27th October.
The character and resilience we showed that day was remarkable and we were unlucky to leave South West London empty-handed.
At the next game, away at Burton Albion, Jerry broke his duck with a brace and we were off.
There were stumbles along the way as we showed that we could beat the better teams but often struggled against some of our more dogged opponents.
You could increasingly see that the players were fit and that they worked hard. We were hit by more than our fair share of suspensions, injuries and absences through Covid, but we were so well coached and organised that players seamlessly slotted into the team to replace the absent.
You could see the confidence and belief grow as the performances improved. At one point automatic promotion looked a possibility but 1-0 defeats in quick succession to Rochdale and Shrewsbury Town put paid to that. In the end we finished third, comfortably in the play-offs with six points to spare.
I spoke to Critch in about late March/early April and I recall saying something along the lines of ,“Please make sure that we reach the play-offs as I want the players to know what it feels like so that if they don’t do it this year, they’re ready for next year.”
As he does, Neil calmly assured me that we’d make the play-offs (I think he may have been keeping a closer eye on the League One table than he was letting on) and, of course, we did.
When we knew we were there and that we would face Oxford, I tried not to think too far ahead.
I tried not to think of Wembley and I tried to take it one game at a time, like Critch and the boys were doing.
Prior to the first leg against Oxford, I’d discussed with the likes of Ben and Brett (Gerrity, director) how it would likely be a close game.
I watched the warm-up at the Kassam quite intently and the lads exuded a professional confidence. As we took our seats just before kick-off, I turned to those around me and said, “I think we’ve got this.”
After a nervy start, we settled and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners. In the return leg, we discussed how the first goal would be vital.
In true Blackpool style we then proceeded to turn that theory on its head by conceding said first goal but then quickly recovered to score two in quick succession to put the result of the tie beyond doubt.
The countdown to the final was interminable, but on the day I was the calmest man in Wembley.
I’d decided that whatever happened I was going to enjoy the occasion, and when my mind tried to play the day forward to the point of victory or defeat, I consciously didn’t let myself go there.
Win or lose, I was going to celebrate as my expectations had been exceeded. But I always thought we’d win.
We had so much momentum behind us and had shown such spirit and character that I thought that with a bit of good fortune it should be our day.
When we went a goal behind in the first minute I thought back to a conversation that I’d had with Critch after the second leg of the semi-final, where I’d expressed how impressed I was at how we’d responded to going a goal behind on the night, and that after five clean sheets in a row in the preceding matches that experience may well come in useful.
My comments proved to be prescient and the lads didn’t panic. My belief only wobbled once on the day and that was when Lincoln hit the crossbar midway through the first half.
I thought that our response to that scare was magnificent and once we’d equalised there was only ever going to be one winner.
When the final whistle went, I hugged Gillian and my kids and just savoured the moment. The Lincoln directors immediately and graciously congratulated us. They’re good people and it’s a good club, but it was our day.
I shared a few fist-bumps with family, friends and club officials and then grabbed Ben to go down to the pitch.
Lads who grow up on Glastonbury Avenue and Bispham Road don’t normally get to go on the hallowed Wembley turf to celebrate their hometown football club getting promoted as fans, let alone as owner and I enjoyed every moment of it.
I’ll never forget standing there hearing my name ringing out as we celebrated our victory and it’s a travesty that many more of you weren’t at Wembley to experience the day.
Later, back at the hotel, players and staff alike deservedly let their hair down. By breakfast the next morning, though, we were already planning for the season ahead – squad, season tickets, sponsorship etc, etc...
One of the peculiarities of this past season has been that whilst fans have not been allowed into Bloomfield Road, a lot of them tell me that they feel a connection to the team and the Club that they have not felt for many a year.
I think that this is partly down to the availability of iFollow, which has allowed us to watch every game live – something that in normal times is expensive and difficult to achieve.
I’d also suggest that the weekly preview show that we introduced has helped to connect fans with the Club and its players and that this has been particularly welcome given the remote circumstances under which we have all been living and operating.
More than this, though, I, like many others, feel that we’re building something very special here with Critch, his team and this set of players.
I think that this squad ,with a few additions, is more than capable of holding its own in The Championship. Our first target now we’re there is to stabilise and ensure that we don’t get relegated.
I’ve said before that I feel that our natural place in the football pecking order is as a mid-table Championship side but with the right wind behind us we can make it back to The Premier League.
I don’t have the wherewithal to buy our way into the next tier so we’ll have to earn it.
To do that we’ll need to rely in the first instance on our coaching and recruitment and in time on our Academy.
Whilst timely investment in players early in the summer 2020 transfer window helped Critch put his squad together, much investment is still needed.
For the Club to really thrive we need to have all of our players, from The Academy through to the first team, training in one facility.
We’re developing a footballing philosophy based around working hard and being organised, which then provides a platform to allow players to show some flair and to entertain.
This philosophy needs to be imbued throughout the Club and to do that we clearly need new, integrated training facilities.
This is by far and away my top investment priority and hopefully we will have good news to impart on this matter in the coming months.
Other investment throughout the Club and the stadium is ongoing, a few examples of which I’ll share. The common areas of the hotel have been spruced up, making the hotel much more welcoming.
The pitch is again being refurbished and the astro turf around the edge should hopefully be replaced in time for the start of the season.
My personal pet peeve, the rusty stanchions in the stadium roof ,are being treated and painted.
I’m also hopeful that we’ll find and enact a permanent solution to the stadium pigeon problem and must again thank the volunteers that clear up their mess and apologise to you and them for not having addressed this problem earlier.
Fans can also expect to see further developments with our digital offering over the course of the next year.
As I’ve said before ,I alone cannot fund the investment that the Club needs. I am truly grateful for any contribution that you, the fans, make.
I’ve been blown away by the support that’s been shown this past season with purchases made from the Club shop and of iFollow passes.
I’d also like to single out those of you that bought season tickets last year and are buying again this year.
The purchase of a season ticket is a significant commitment. It is a contract between the Club and the supporter.
The Club takes your money and in return the supporter gets to watch 23 matches live at Bloomfield Road. Last year’s season tickets were different, though. Four thousand of you parted with your money hoping to watch all, or at least some of the matches live, knowing that there was a chance that you may not get to watch any of them at all.
We made it clear that in the eventuality that fans were not allowed into the stadium there would be no refunds if the matches were broadcast live.
I am fully aware that to commit to the Club under those circumstances is an entirely different proposition to normal.
I want those of you who bought season tickets last year, and are buying again on the same terms this season, to know that I am inordinately grateful that you are standing beside me and sharing the financial burden needed to rebuild this great club.
I am particularly grateful to those of you who purchase multiple tickets from the same household. The task at hand to turn Blackpool Football Club into the modern, progressive football club that we all want is immense and I cannot do it alone.
I’m grateful for every pound spent at the Club and for every hour spent volunteering there. We’re all in this together and I greatly appreciate the ongoing support.
I think that it is clear to us all that there is now a level of engagement between the Club and the fans that was unimaginable a few years back.
The Club is being restored at the heart of the community and now has a good working relationship with important fan-led groups and institutions such as the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust and The Armfield Club.
It’s heartening to see how in the past year many of us have worked together on important initiatives such as the provision of mental health support for fans suffering during the lockdown.
The collective effort in December to raise money for Christmas gifts for local children who would otherwise go without affirmed to me that Blackpool are indeed Back.
A few other thank yous before I wrap up. To Critch, his staff and the players for bringing us such joy and excitement this past year. They’ve sustained us during challenging times and I’m sure that I’m not the only one missing the Saturday-Tuesday routine.
To Ben Mansford, Linton Brown, Brett Gerrity and all of the rest of the staff at the football club. They work incredibly hard and are building a football club that the town can be proud of.
To our sponsors who, as a part of our Backing Blackpool initiative, continue to return to support and partner with us.
To the Community Trust for all of the commendable work that they do in the locality. To Gillian and my family for their ongoing love, support and understanding.
Two years in and I’m still full of awe and wonder at being the owner of my hometown football club.
I know that it’s a great honour and privilege to be the custodian of Blackpool Football Club and I will continue do my bit to protect, cherish and nurture it for the future generations of fans to come.
Now bring on The Championship……!
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