OPINION: Blackpool’s satisfactory season going into a new dawn at Bloomfield Road
Cast your mind back to January 2017, when Karl Oyston managed to outdo himself in a now infamous interview with TalkSport.
“I’m sure they’ll get bored in time,” the club’s former chairman said, referring to the boycotting fans.
“Their numbers are dwindling, the interest is dwindling. They are a busted flush, they have nothing to offer, no alternative.
“You can only go on for so long trotting out the same tired rhetoric before people get fed up of it.
“We own the club, we run the club, the family has run it for 30 years. The difference is I think they, rather naively, in some childlike way, seem to think that we should just be driven away or just walk away. Clearly, it’s naive.”
Just consider those words for a few moments; it’s amazing how one person can get it so badly wrong.
Fast forward to March 2019 and just shy of 16,000 fans crammed inside Bloomfield Road for the big return – the match dubbed ‘The Homecoming’ – an occasion that, irrespective of what happened on the pitch, will forever define this season.
Ignore the title winners, the sides who secured promotion and the clubs that survived relegation on the final day, the real success story of the 2018/19 English football season is right here in Blackpool.
Yes, the return of the fans was a victory born in the courts, but there’s no doubting it was also a victory for fan power, a victory for what can be achieved when supporters stick together and fight for something they believe in.
The four-year boycott and the eventual victory will forever go down in infamy. It was an unprecedented triumph, an almost Hollywood-esque tale of good overcoming evil.
Blackpool fans have been a shining light in the fight against rogue owners and boy, there’s a heck of a lot of them still hanging around so there’s certainly more work to be done.
But the battle-hardened Seasiders have shown what can be achieved by leading the struggle in ousting the most despised and unpopular owner of the lot.
It wasn’t easy and I’m sure there were times when the fans felt like giving in, but that Southend United game was their reward. It was a spine-tingling afternoon and many tears were shed.
On the pitch, it’s been a third consecutive season of progress for the club, with Pool beating last season’s points tally and finishing two places higher up the table.
Given the nightmare start to the season, where Gary Bowyer handed in his resignation after just one game, the Seasiders have done remarkably well to finish where they have.
Given the off-the-field uncertainty, the lack of goals and this season being Terry McPhillips’ first in management, there should be a lot of satisfaction around the club at how the season has unfolded.
It’s not just the league where Pool have performed well, either; they also enjoyed two good cup runs, both culminating in clashes against Premier League giants Arsenal.
But, interviewing Jay Spearing, Ben Heneghan and Marc Bola at the awards’ evening, ‘disappointed’ was the word that kept being repeated time and time again.
Yes it’s been a good season, but could it have been better?
Pool hovered around the play-off spots for much of the campaign but never launched a full-on push for the top six, not with any real conviction anyway.
At the start of the season the squad was insistent they could challenge for the play-offs. Not many believed them, but they gave it a good go.
Blackpool do have the core of a very good squad and it’s telling the players themselves are admitting they probably underachieved this term.
Defensively, when everyone is fit, the Seasiders are as good as any in League One, although Heneghan will need to be adequately replaced should he not return next season.
There’s options in midfield but it’s the front three that has been the sticking point all season; addressing that will clearly be McPhillips’ priority.
Armand Gnanduillet has done well, enjoying the best season of his career to date. But too much responsibility has been placed on his shoulders and not enough have chipped in with goals from elsewhere. Pool need at least one, if not two new forwards in the summer.
Recruitment will only play a tiny part in what is going to be a defining off-season for the football club.
We are approaching a new dawn and this is a huge opportunity for a club already steeped in history and tradition to write itself a bright new future.
Get it right and there’s no limit to where Blackpool can go. First stop, the Championship. But wherever the destination may be, just enjoy the journey and enjoy being back on board.