In-depth Q&A with Blackpool FC chief executive on incomings, outgoings, season ticket sales, pre-season plans and more
Blackpool’s chief executive Ben Mansford sat down with the media yesterday to discuss a wide range of topics ahead of the 2020/21 League One season.
These varied from season ticket sales, to the club’s plans for a new training ground, to recent departures and arrivals and much, much more.
Here’s what the club’s CEO had to say:
How have season ticket sales gone so far?
“Really well. Obviously we have some challenges this year in terms of not being able to open the shop in the normal way we would, so we’ve asked all supporters to use the e-ticketing platform instead.
“For those that can’t, we’ve asked them to email us and we’ve promised that within three working days we will get back to all supporters and answer their queries.
“It’s got off to a really good start. The first 24 hours really show there is a wonderful support here and they’re absolutely behind Simon, Critch and the boys.
“I really look forward to the season starting and to getting as many people inside Bloomfield Road as soon as possible.
“Simon loves this town and this football club. He wants it to be a success on the pitch and as a town too, so it really is exciting to work for someone like that.
“When you see the supporters doing their bit, it’s quite humbling for me but really exciting for everyone involved with the club, especially Critch and his players.
“You look at the sort of message coming from our new signings, it’s about wanting to be involved at the start of this journey because they realise something exciting is happening at Blackpool.
“Just speaking to other players we’re looking to add to the group, they all say Critch has seen something in their game they’ve not even seen themselves.
“We’ve got something really exciting happening at Blackpool and it could be incredibly rewarding if we can get to where we want to go.”
What’s the latest on the new training ground?
“We’re working really hard. We have a great partnership with Blackpool Council and they are continuing to work with us to make sure we investigate all the right sites.
“We have preferred sites and we have architects retained now, some of the best that have developed Premier League training grounds.
“I really hope we can give the supporters some more definitive details as soon as possible, but I can assure them Simon is absolutely committed to it.
“There’s a huge amount of work going on at the club to get it right and as soon as we do, and I hope that will be in the near future, we will announce further news to supporters.
“It is something that has been missing from the past that Simon will put right for the future,
“The club will have a modern training facility that will hopefully play its part in not just taking the club to another level, but potentially developing the academy, engaging with the youth of the area and to play its part within the infrastructure of a modern, community-based club.”
Will the community be able to use the training facility?
“I think it’s too early to say. We must work through the stages with our preferred sites.
“I wouldn’t want to make some commitments here and now. Often CEOs, managers and owners fail when they nail their colours to a mast too early on!
“What I would say is that there’s definitely a progression towards a modern training facility that will be for the good of the club, for the professional team, for the academy side and then let’s see how far we can go with the preferred site.”
Is anything likely to change stadium-wise?
“We’re very much trying to improve the look and the feel of the stadium.
“Simon has enabled us to get on with some essential infrastructure investment and I hope the supporters will see some changes and some better-looking decor and metal work around the stadium when they’re allowed back in.
“There’s been a lot of work done since the lockdown period started to ease and I hope over the next few years we’ll have more important statements to make about the stadium as well.”
How are the club’s plans for pre-season friendlies looking?
“It’s difficult given the Premier League and the Championship played on until later, with clubs returning at different times, the testing protocols that are now in place and local lockdowns that could be put in place.
“It is a bit of a moving beast but we will try and update supporters on when we are playing games, we’ll try our best whether it’s commentary of those games, whether it’s potentially streaming those games or whether it’s enabling our local media to be there to report to the fans.
“We’ll try our best but I hope the supporters know these are quite unique circumstances and if they bear with us, we are dealing with a situation that is incredibly dynamic and changing every day.
“But we have got a pre-season programme pencilled in. It looks like it will have what Neil wants from it and we’ll try and get as much information and visibility to supporters as we can.
“We all want to see the players back in tangerine and in the new kit and playing football again.”
How happy are you to get Ethan Robson in the building?
“We’re really happy. Again, he fits in with a lot of what we’re trying to achieve here.
“We’re building a young, hungry and ambitious team with people with points to prove and people that want to be at Blackpool.
“We want people that are going to give everything for this club and can hopefully come together and deliver a brand of football the supporters will enjoy.
“More importantly, we want players that will die in a ditch to try and win games. That’s what we’re about.
“Ethan had a very good spell at Grimsby, a very good spell at Dundee and he’s unlucky that at a couple of times when he maybe could have grasped an opportunity at Sunderland, he was just let down by bad luck with an injury or two.
“When I say an injury or two, it’s nothing substantial because looking at his medical he went through with us it was an incredibly good one and there were some great outcomes from it.
“He’s a young man that comes with a real fire in his belly and looking at the other teams that were involved in trying to sign him, I think yet again the opportunity, the project and the ambition of this club - along with working with one of the best coaches around and one of the best developers of young players - then I hope the supporters will see what we’re trying to achieve.”
Are you surprised Sunderland let him go in the first place?
“Yes, it’s interesting. We do a lot of work into the background of the players we sign. We spoke to people both in and out of Sunderland and they were all a bit surprised.
“Neil knows all about him, there isn’t an Under-23 player in Europe that he doesn’t know, he’s got a fantastic knowledge of players and in particular young ones in England.
“He really saw Ethan being able to play the way we want to play and again it’s a young man that comes with the best years in front of him.
“Hopefully we’re building that team that we can all be proud of.”
Is the loan market an avenue you are looking at?
“Of course. We want to build the right squad, the right blend, the right mix and I think you can see there are clubs that don’t operate with many loan signings and if they do they’ve got an option to purchase.
“Or there’s other clubs who use the loan market incredibly well to make the budget go as far as they can.
“There’s probably a middle ground in where if loan players come in then they should be of the type that improve your squad and therefore play on a regular basis.
“I believe when Blackpool got to the Premier League, they benefited from the use of the loan market.
“Equally, I understand the supporters’ view that they like to see their own players and at times you see loan players come without the same hunger of a contracted player.
“I think Neil is very responsible and very good when we talk about it because sometimes he does say ‘we could develop our own player in this situation’ so maybe that’s better than going down the loan route.
“It’s a very careful consideration but I hope the fans will have seen with some of the loan signings we made last season that they made the group stronger.
“I think it’s getting the right blend.”
What was the thinking behind allowing Ryan Hardie to rejoin Plymouth on loan?
“I think with Ryan we had strengthened in that area. You think of Jerry Yates and we had also strengthened in that area in January with Gary Madine.
“Oliver Sarkic can play through the middle as well and Keshi Anderson and CJ Hamilton have both had times where they’re quite happy playing as part of a front unit.
“I think Plymouth was a really good loan for Ryan last year. Ryan Lowe knows all about him and Ryan knows all about Plymouth, so the opportunity for him to go and make the step to League One and get those minutes and that development is a good one.
“We have the option to keep Ryan at the football club next season, but they made us an offer we felt was right and Ryan felt was right.
“We’ll review the situation again when that loan expires.
“I just think it was a case of trying to do the right things by players at the right time and for the good of everyone, particularly Blackpool.
“I think Ryan playing at the next level up seemed like a good situation with us having the option to keep him at the club next year.”
Was a permanent deal ever on the cards?
“I think this situation was the right situation. We’ve invested in Ryan and he’s scored seven goals in 13 appearances for them last season, so let’s let Ryan continue to develop while he’s still a Blackpool player and review the situation at the end of his loan.”
Ryan Edwards was allowed to join Dundee United - was that another situation where the move suited all parties?
“I think so. Ryan is a really good guy, he’s come through every challenge people have thrown at him on the pitch and obviously off the pitch too.
“As somebody that really likes to play, him and Critch had a football conversation and the situation meant that when Mickey Mellon and Dundee United came along, it’s a good sized club in the SPL and Ryan told us he wanted to explore it.
“We were comfortable with him doing that and we wish him all the best.”
How important was it to retain a financial interest in Tony Weston following his move to Rangers?
“It’s difficult to talk too much.
“What I can say is that it’s immensely disappointing that there is a loophole within the FIFA regulations that you can lose a player cross-border for the amount that is set down.
“If Tony had decided he had accepted his scholarship but he didn’t want to see it through and not sign a professional contract and he’d like to move to a big English Premier League club, then because we had offered a scholarship and because we’d done all we could to protect ourselves, that would have gone to a tribunal.
“Three people at Wembley potentially would have decided what that money is.
“Not many clubs like to go to a tribunal and be beholden to the outcome of that tribunal, so if Tony had decided to go to another English club then we had done as much as we could to protect ourselves.
“However, when Tony said ‘thank you very much but I’d like to explore the opportunity of Rangers’ then the amount the club is entitled to could potentially be set down by the FIFA compensation.
“We were naturally very disappointed and this is something that needs addressing because Tony has been here since he was nine and that’s a lot of years to have coached and developed both a footballer and a person.
“That said, Rangers and their sporting director Ross Wilson conducted themselves as well as they could in the circumstances because the rules are there.
“What was clear was that Rangers wanted to try and deal with the situation as professionally, respectfully and as amicably as possible and we were therefore able to negotiate a situation that was better for the club that potentially FIFA’s regulations may have set down.
“It’s with a huge frustration that we lose Tony, but credit to Rangers and ourselves that we came to an outcome that it was as good as it could be in the circumstances.”
Can the fans expect to see more departures?
“We’ve got an idea of the make-up and the size of the squad we’ll need. We’ll need a robustness to the squad because we’re going to be playing 11 midweeks before cup competitions rather than five as the season is going to be six weeks shorter.
“We’ve got an idea of the look and feel of the squad we’ll need but I think there’s probably other players that might find first-team minutes a little bit scarcer than they have in the past.
“Again, Neil will be really honest with those players because he’s a man of real integrity. If it’s right for those players to move on then hopefully the supporters will understand that.”
Is Liam Feeney one of those players that might not get as many minutes as last season?
“Minutes at the moment is something for Neil and the players, I can pass that buck firmly onto the head coach because he’s way more qualified than me!
“Talking about specific players I think is not right but I think what people can see is that if there’s a situation where it’s right for players to move on and it’s for the good of the club then as we’ve seen with Nathan Delfouneso then we’ll conduct that business privately and we’ll work through those situations as and when they arrive.”
Have the EFL given you any indication on when fixtures will be released?
“We’ve been given some guidance that fixtures will be released in the last week of August.
“A lot of what we get from the EFL is confidential and things are very fluid so I’d hate to say, but I think by the last 10 days of August, maybe the last week of August, we’ll see some fixtures.
“Obviously there’s a lot of work they’re trying to deal with in a much shorter period, so we respect they’ve got a tough job to do.
“But we should hear more in the last 10 days of August on specific fixtures.”
The club has made a number of additions to the academy, how pleased have you been with the work done over the summer?
“We felt it was time that the supporters knew a bit more about these guys and the young men that were starting their journey with the club.
“It was nice to just put a short tweet or statement out on social media because I think it’s a really important start to their footballing journey and they deserve that.
“I’ve been really impressed with the work that has gone on in the academy to bring together some young men at 16 from all over the country - they’ve all got some different backgrounds.
“I’m really pleased with the business we did bringing the three boys from Salford, but we’ve also got a local boy that was ready for the opportunity in Brad Holmes as well. I believe his Dad and his Grandad sit in the North Stand, which is good.
“I hope we can pull together a much better Under-18 team this season and I think they’ll be well worth the supporters finding the time to take them in.
“One of the things Simon was very passionate about was a good academy, an academy that connects the club with the community.
“I think a good academy helps generate the next generation of Blackpool fans as well as you hope the lads go to their schools and they want to come and play for Blackpool Under-12s, Under-13s and Under-14s.
“I’m really pleased with the direction we’re heading in with the academy but there’s an awful lot of work still to do there.
“But I’m incredibly excited to watch some of these players play together this season.”
Is this a sign of the club’s growing scouting network to be able to bring in these youngsters from all parts of the country?
“We want to push forward and it’s important we have a very strong presence here and we’re seeking to make steps to do that by attempting to prove everything about the academy.
“But equally we maybe want to be as strong as we can as quick as we can so seeking to look outside Blackpool for talent to kick the academy on is something we’ve not been frightened of doing either.”