The Matt Scrafton column: Blackpool supporters may not call it a derby, but the Fleetwood match really matters and Town are not going away

The Fylde coast clash against Fleetwood Town will never be as important to the Seasiders as their Lancashire derby rivalry with Preston North End – but you can’t question its growing significance.

Friday, 6th December 2019, 11:45 am
A crowd of 12,000 attended the last Blackpool v Fleetwood clash
A crowd of 12,000 attended the last Blackpool v Fleetwood clash

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The numbers may have been swelled by the sheer jubilation of the club only recently freeing itself from the shackles of the despised former regime.

But there’s no doubting this encounter brings intrigue, narratives, talking points and added spice in equal measure.

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Plying their trade in the same division for the fourth time in five seasons obviously helps build that rivalry.

Some Pool supporters may still look down on Fleetwood as Blackpool’s smaller, upstart neighbour who will return to non-league obscurity at some point.

But while Fleetwood’s average crowds remain disappointingly small – they’re the lowest in League One and are betteredby 18 clubs in League Two– there’s absolutely no suggestion they’re about to go anywhere soon.

They’re here to stay and, if anything, are more likely to go up than down given Andy Pilley’s continued investment.

Pilley registered an interest in buying Blackpool, the club he used to support, earlier this year and probably feels he’s a point to prove.

You’d have to say he’s assembled a very talented squad this season, one that arguably should be challenging for the top two and not just the play-off spots.

While Fleetwood earned their first competitive victory against the Seasiders last season, they’ve yet to taste victory at Bloomfield Road.

Instead, their fans will have painful memories of witnessing their side suffer defeat in stoppage-time on their past two visits.

Armand Gnanduillet bundled in a 94th-minute winner in 2018 before Nathan Delfouneso did exactly the same a year later to claim the spoils against 10-man Fleetwood.

Historically, these matches have not brought much entertainment, with just one goal being scored in the three games between 2015 and 2017.

That trend appears to have shifted in recent times, with 11 goals being scored in the last trio of meetings, so let’s hope for another thrilling encounter tomorrow.

This time last week Fleetwood had been struggling to sell tickets, with sales of around 500.

You’d like to think that number has significantly increased in the past seven days, given the club requested its full allocation straight away.

Fleetwood launched a number of initiatives to drum up interest, including free mascot packages, extending ticket office opening hours and having first-team players helping to sell tickets in the club shop.

Now Blackpool are ‘back’, to coin the clichéd phrase, what does the future hold for Fleetwood? Or is it a misnomer that Fleetwood’s potential growth is dependent on Blackpool’s success or lack of it?

We’ve seen over in Kirkham that AFC Fylde’s crowds have dwindled, barely reaching four figures for some home games.

Indeed, sometimes an official figure hasn’t been published.

Is that because of Blackpool’s rejuvenation or because of the Coasters’ surprise lowly position in the National League table?

Even if Fleetwood’s crowds do increase, they’ll always be limited by what they can do with Highbury stadium.

It’s no surprise that Fleetwood are reportedly looking at sites for a new ground, with land near Rossall School identified as a possibility.

Would a shiny new stadium make a big difference, though? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, to the football. Blackpool could really do with a win given they’re level on points with Fleetwood, having played two games more. Whatever advantage they can gain, even this early in the season, has got to be a bonus.

The fitness of Armand Gnanduillet is likely to be key to Pool’s aspirations, given the 12-goal striker has missed the club’s last three games in all competitions with a thigh injury.

Simon Grayson typically gave little away when asked by The Gazette if the Frenchman is likely to be fit for tomorrow’s game. Hopefully he’s just playing some Fylde coast mind games to keep the Cod Army guessing.