Building an all-encompassing, fit-for-purpose training ground is at the top of Simon Sadler’s priority list for Blackpool Football Club.
That was the key message from last night’s fans’ forum, where the club’s new owner took a series of questions from supporters.
The meeting, which finished with a standing ovation in Rowley’s, saw Sadler outline his long-term vision for the football club.
He said it was his aim to secure promotion to the Championship within the next two years and claimed he would be “gutted” if it wasn’t achieved in three.
Sadler, who will remain based in Hong Kong, committed to attending at least 25 games next season and will be at Bloomfield Road for the season opener against Bristol Rovers next month.
The club’s new custodian appeared to rule out the possibility of working with Valeri Belokon, claiming Pool was in need of a “fresh start”.
The forum was opened by executive chairman Michael Bolingbroke, who introduced Sadler to the 80 supporters in attendance.
He said: “The last time I spoke to you at the previous fans’ forum I spoke about how we were hunting for a unicorn. You know they don’t exist, but you pretend they do.
“We wanted; an owner who could afford the club by themselves without a consortium; an owner from Blackpool; an owner whose one and only love was Blackpool; an owner who truly loved football; an owner who talked in decades, not years; an owner who understood the necessity of the academy and; an owner with a true vision for the club
“That’s why Ben (Hatton) and I are so happy to introduce Simon Sadler to you.”
Sadler was then giving a rousing reception, before going on to introduce both himself and close friend and new director Brett Gerrity.
“I’m overwhelmed, I can’t actually believe this is happening,” Sadler said.
“I can’t believe I’m the person that’s been left with the responsibility of running the club.”
Gerrity, meanwhile, quipped how he had already bought a season ticket for the coming season prior to Sadler’s takeover and joked about asking for a refund.
“Like Simon, I’m Blackpool born and bred,” Gerrity went on to say.
“It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be invited by my best friend to be involved in such an exciting journey this club is going to embark on.
“I know Simon better than most people know him and he’s a 100 per cent genuine guy. If he says he’s going to do something he will do it, he will always deliver on his promises. He’s our dream owner.”
The forum was then opened up to questions from the floor, where a supporter began proceedings by asking Sadler whether or not he will be seeking external investment.
“No, I’m financially able to do what is necessary and I think we’ve got a great management team in place,” was the response.
The club’s new owner was then probed about his vision for the Seasiders and where he sees them in five year’s time.
“I’d hope we’re solidly established in the Championship,” he replied.
“I’d also hope we’d have new training facilities, like we should already have, an academy on some way to be developed where our own players are coming through and for the stadium to look a bit tidier than it looks now.”
This was the first mention of the training ground, which later became a running theme of the evening.
The 49-year-old claimed Squires Gate is not fit for purpose and committed to finding new facilities within the town, with the search for sites due to start immediately.
Bolingbroke, however, called for patience, commenting on how such facilities don’t become a reality over night.
“In three to four years I’d like us to have own training centre up and running - for first team right down through the academy team,” he told supporters.
“It’s not just the pitch, you need 4G as well as turf and a covered indoor area.
“It’s not a financial burden, it just takes time to build that, but it’s part of Simon’s vision.
“There was no vision previously quite frankly, but going forward if we’re going to be a serious contender we need that type of facility, although it is difficult to do it straight away.
“A deal for land would involve the council because it would also involve community use.”
When asked if there’s any future for Blackpool at Squires Gate, Sadler replied: “No, it can’t be.
“There’s just two pitches there, it’s not fit for purpose and it’s too windy.
“Ideally the new facility will be centrally located and opening it up for community access is what we’ve got to aim for.
“We have just got to get the training facilities done. Get that done and everything flows from there. It’s the one big capital expenditure.”
Sadler also spoke about the need to provide Bloomfield Road with something of a facelift after years of neglect under the previous owner.
“I think you should start to see incremental changes very quickly,” Sadler said confidently.
“As part of the takeover process I got a survey done of the stadium, literally millions of pounds need to be spent to get it fit for purpose.
“I wandered around it myself with my family on Sunday and it looked tatty with a lot of weeds.
“Some things might be cosmetic but we will show it’s loved again, when it’s clearly been unloved for a long time.
“As for the East Stand, that is a semi-permanent structure, it is fit for purpose. Clearly it’s not ideal but ultimately any development will form part of a 10-year plan, rather than five.”
Attention soon turned to matters on the pitch, with a handful of supporters asking about the club’s summer recruitment.
To the fans’ surprise, Sadler revealed a deal was in place for an “exciting” new winger.
He said: “I had a meeting with Terry (McPhillips) earlier and we agreed we’re probably short of three or four players as we stand.
“But we hopefully made a signing today. Although I can’t reveal who it is, I can tell you he’s quite an exciting player, the like of player we’ve not seen in a while.”
When asked if Blackpool will now be more ambitious with their approach to recruitment, Sadler replied: “Yes, we will. In fact with the signing we’ve made, we already have done.
“But what you’ve got to remember is that there’s only so much money and millions need to be spent on the stadium and training ground.
“You will see improvements on the pitch but I don’t think you can expect £2/3m signings.
“We’re already making incremental improvements in the squad. Just last week we missed out on a player who would have made you think ‘wow’ had we signed him.
“We are building for the long term. Sure, some people would want me to spend a lot of money to get us out of L1 this season, but I don’t think that’s the right thing for the future of the club.”
When asked about what he can do to entice fans back to Bloomfield Road, Sadler said it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure the club is a success on and off the pitch.
“I’ve stood up, I’ve bought the club, but ultimately we’re all fans and we all need to contribute,” he said.
“The club is about its fans, but we need to provide a product and matchday experience that gets people here and gets people through the turnstiles.
“This club will lose money in League One before we even invest, so it needs people to be on side.
“I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, my eyes are wide open. I know a large amount of investment is needed and I will step up and do it, but at the same time revenue will need to increase.”
Sadler also committed to re-introducing a reserve/developmental side to help the pathway from the youth team to the first-team.
The lifelong Pool fan also pledged to look into the possibility of installing safe standing at Bloomfield Road.
Fans were also told the new kit will be available to buy at the end of July, while a new assistant manager should be confirmed this week.
Sadler also appeared keen to employ a Director of Football to help drive the club’s philosophy at all levels.