William Watt signing off

'If anyone sees Will Watt, tell him I'm going to rip his head off.'

By The Newsroom
Friday, 15th July 2016, 10:19 am
Updated Friday, 15th July 2016, 11:24 am
William Watt welcomes Michael Appleton (briefly) to Blackpool FC
William Watt welcomes Michael Appleton (briefly) to Blackpool FC

Those words were in a text I received from a colleague quoting a furious Ian Holloway ahead of a Championship clash against Brighton in 2012.

It was in response to an article I’d written claiming Ollie was thinking of walking away from his job as Blackpool boss.

At the time I was just 13 games into my time as The Gazette’s Blackpool FC writer, and Ollie saw this as a chance to very much show who’s boss.

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I managed to avoid Holloway ahead of the game and spent most of it nervously praying for a comfortable Blackpool win.

As it happened they drew, leaving me to face the music as I crept into his office under the West Stand at full-time.

“What are you playing at?” he blasted, making sure everyone in the corridor could hear. “What are you trying to do to me?”

Four days later he quit to join Crystal Palace – turns out I was right all along.

That terrifying memory stands out on this, my final day covering Pool for The Gazette.

While I’ve spent a brilliant 11 years at the paper, the last four covering the Seasiders have been incredible.

Including caretakers, I’ve worked with nine managers, suffered two relegations, abandoned games, player arrests, club bans, chairman rows and even a player going missing for six months.

Looking back on the highs and lows, there’s no better place to start than Mr Holloway.Don’t let the above story fool you, he was a total dream to work with for a journalist – mad, passionate, caring and ultimately a winner .

He took the time to call me the day after he left to offer the first exclusive interview – he wanted to explain to the people of Blackpool why he left and I respect him for that.

As news broke on a Thursday morning that Holloway was on his was to Palace, BBC Radio Lancashire’s Gary Hickson and I set up camp at the entrance to Pool’s training ground. The idea was to get the final interview and hopefully some explanation.

Holloway’s wife Kim drove in, then drove out 20 minutes later. She appeared to be alone in the car ... or was she? Ollie never surfaced that day, and after waiting a couple more hours we gave up. Legend has it the greatest manager in the club’s history had left in his wife’s car boot to avoid us. Still, the man is a legend and I’ll not have a bad word said about him.

Next up was Michael Appleton, who arrived with a superb reputation as one of the country’s top coaches. He lasted a month.

About two weeks into his spell, I went to the training ground to find him frustrated and totally fed up.

Unlike others who have tried to make it work, he knew Blackpool and Karl Oyston wasn’t for him, and you have to respect him for that. He called me personally to say he was going – a nice touch.

By now the wheels were starting to fall off at Blackpool. Heads had gone, fans were turning and players were looking for ways out. The best trip was well and truly over.

Two wins and four losses for caretaker Steve Thompson saw Oyston turn to Paul Ince.

Many who had dealt with Ince at Blackburn warned me of a stroppy and difficult manager, but that was never the case.

Ince was always a pleasure to deal with and much more hard-working than it maybe looked from the outside.

The stand-out moment of the Ince regime came at Bournemouth, where he was sent to the stands.

The usually buoyant club secretary Matt Williams declared the manager wouldn’t be available for media duties.

It turned out Ince had lost his head with the referee in the tunnel and ended up with a six-game stadium ban.

We won’t even talk about The Gazette’s decision to hand out 4,000 masks with his face on the following week.

Ince was fired after a long meeting at Oyston’s house following a hammering by Barnsley. The following evening I remember taking a call from Barry Ferguson.

“I’m getting the job,” he declared, telling me his plans to step into management.

Ferguson had all the tools to be a good manager, ticked all the boxes. But what cost him a long-term job was probably his ambition.

During his first press conference, and with Blackpool towards the bottom of the table, he announced the Seasiders would make the play-offs.

He meant it too and I was desperate for Ferguson to do well. He was a great guy to deal with and that was probably the time I had most access.

However, after supporters’ group BSA wrote an open letter accusing the players of not caring, Matt Williams told me the players were going to write a reply, and he asked me to help them do it. I should have known this was a bad idea.

It was like trying to get blood out of a stone. 24 sulky footballers and one journalist didn’t exactly make the dream team – luckily Andy Halliday stood up to be counted.

Ferguson kept Pool up but his time as manager was done.

That summer, secretary Williams left to join Shrewsbury. To sum up his influence at Bloomfield Road – well, he did everything. There was not a decision made at the club in which he was not involved.

Losing him was as big a blow as losing any manager,and Oyston’s decision to replace him on the cheap would be Pool’s downfall.

That summer 17 players left and the Jose Riga revolution arrived. His slick looks and Mourinho-like soundbites made him an instant hit with supporters, but from day one I knew he was in trouble.

After initially refusing to speak to the media, refusing to go on a pre-season tour and threatening to quit, he eventually committed to a press conference.

I’ll always remember him breezing into the room dressed like he was going to a Hollywood film premiere only to find Radio Lancashire’s Phil Cunliffe and myself. To say he was underwhelmed is an understatement.

Riga remains hugely popular with fans because he took on Karl Oyston but I really don’t know what sort of club he thought he was coming to.

While much he said about the club’s structure and investment was right, a quick call to anyone in football would have told him Blackpool FC was like that.

He left with just one win in 14 games. By this point Oyston was public enemy number one.

Lee Clark was next to take on the impossible job. Again he was a decent enough guy but to say he faced an uphill battle is an understatement.

Pool initially gave it a go with the signings of Jamie O’Hara, Chris Eagles and Stuart O’Keefe ,but it was soon a case of praying the season would end.

It ended with an abandoned match against Huddersfield, and with myself locked in the tunnel with Clark and his players as fans attempted to get in to confront Oyston.

Clark’s assistant Alan Thompson quit there and then and the manager followed just a week later, his reputation in tatters.

With all Clark’s problems, I can’t say I got to know him too well, although we were best mates compared to what followed.

I was on holiday when Neil McDonald was appointed, and one of my colleagues to Bloomfield Road for the unveiling only to have the door closed in his face – no pleasantries, no explanation, just a closed door.

On my return I was told only ‘preferred media partners’ would be welcome at Bloomfield Road that season. In pre-season I was banned from talking to anyone. I was even told that McDonald had warned his staff they would be fined if they were seen even talking to me casually.

Who knows if that was true but the situation became ridiculous, as did some of the PR noises coming out of the club.

I remember travelling to Kilmarnock to watch a Blackpool side desperately short of quality. The following week McDonald declared the squad was ready to challenge for promotion.

As Blackpool got worse, McDonald snapped at me away at Swindon, accusing me of “asking tough questions”. Surely he realised that was my job?

When McDonald’s time came to an end there were no hard feelings from my side. He was in a hugely difficult situation and following orders. I wish him well.

It’s ironic I’m walking away just when Pool appoint a manager who appears a dream to deal with.

I spoke to Gary Bowyer the night he was appointed. We’ve shared coffees since and he seems a thoroughly good guy.

When I told him I was leaving, he said: “Wait until I tell Karl. Seven managers have tried and I’ve got rid of you in three weeks!” He was joking ... I think.

I do believe Blackpool are in for a decent season, and I wouldn’t put it past Bowyer to have a good run at the top 10 at least.

It’s fitting my final words should be on the person I’ve talked about most over the years – Karl Oyston.

Karl was always pleasant, honest and approachable – until he banned me. It’s almost 18 months since we spoke.

Despite claims from some, I don’t for a minute think Oyston planned to run the club into the ground. Everything has just fallen to pieces since the departure of his right-hand man Williams.

The decision to sue fans is ridiculous, as have been many of his calls over the last two and a half years. He has failed as a chairman and allowing Blackpool to fall into League Two was the biggest failure of all.

Relegation from the Championship should have been the low point. Oyston should then have resolved his issues with supporters, brought in a chief executive and built bridges with the media. Instead he appeared to do very little. Oyston is now at the point of no return at Blackpool FC.

The past four years have been a crazy, bizarre, tough and ultimately disappointing spell for the club.

The Gazette has stood-up for what was right, showed it still has huge relevance to the community and campaigned for supporters.

And I was incredibly proud to report on all of it.