Coming into the year, most people had Blackpool destined to head right back down to the Championship when all was said and done.
Simply making it to the top flight was astounding enough of a feat for the Tangerines; this season marked their first ever appearance in the Premier League and their first season at the highest level in nearly forty years. As recently as 2007, Blackpool were playing in League One and in the first year of the Premier League’s existence they were but a tier above Conference. For their majority of their history Blackpool have been the very definition of minnows, and though the club have clearly taken a step forward no one could expect them to hang with the big boys. Right?
Well, the answer to that question is probably still yes. Though they currently sit 9th in the table, they’ve been defeated by six goals to Arsenal and four goals to Chelsea. They lost at home to Blackburn. Their stadium holds 16,000 people. Their manager is almost certainly more than a bit nutty. Chances are good that as the season wears on and fixture congestion and attrition take their toll Blackpool will slip back towards the relegation zone. But until that happens, Blackpool are a club worth pulling for.
As long as you’re not the favorite, underdogs are fun. Watching teams win when they have no business doing so reminds us that as much as things might seem predetermined, crazy stuff happens. Many of us take a certain pleasure in watching the big clubs that so often torment our own go down in embarrassing fashion. Liverpool might be in a bit of a rough patch at the moment, but it didn’t diminish the feeling of improbability that permeated Blackpool’s leaving Anfield with three points. When a team that no one expects to make a peep continue to garner positive results, it can only serve to heighten the excitement.
To me, Blackpool are even easier to root for than your typical newly-promoted team. They wear orange, for one thing. For another, so many teams resort to playing tactically negative after promotion that it’s fun to see a team come up and attack like mad. It’s difficult for me to pass judgment on clubs that take the more typical route, but given the choice between the two I’ll pick Ian Holloway’s style every time. Charlie Adam has emerged as a potential star under Holloway and it’s tough to be overly critical of any style of play that allows Marlon Harewood to present a threat at goal. And though I’m sure there are a few Preston North End supporters that would politely disagree, the fact that there’s nothing remotely off-putting about the Seasiders is yet another reason I find it so easy to wish them well. They’re an historically small club with few controversies in their history, a few unlikely successes and plenty of struggles and disappointments along the way. While they’ve made the financial investment necessary to advance to and compete at the highest level they appear to have done so without limitless funding from ownership or putting the club in financial peril. They represent the city that gave the world TVR automobiles, for heaven’s sake.
And of course there is Ian Holloway. If there’s a more lovable character in English football I’ve yet to encounter them; Holloway is well attired, entertaining, quotable and appears to be a quality tactician. His interviews get most of the press, and rightfully so; some of the things that spring from his mouth are so delightfully bizarre and yet simultaneously spot-on that he’s destined to go down in history as one of the game’s great characters. He has the rare gift for being funny, crass and insightful all at once. But Holloway has every appearance of being a good man outside of the game, and though I am outspoken in believing that those in the spotlight should not be unfairly scrutinized and criticized for personal transgressions I also believe that celebrating people’s quality as human beings is worthwhile. The father of three deaf children, Holloway has been an advocate for equality in education for the hearing impaired in England. While playing for Queens Park Rangers he commuted 250 miles per day so that his children could have access to education tailored to meet their needs. The drive was so physically taxing that Holloway has admitted it had adverse effects on his playing career. After appearing on a BBC program designed to highlight the role stress can negatively play in people’s lives he took up abstract painting as a stress-reduction hobby. To use a metaphor that baseball fans should understand, Holloway is like a hybrid of Yogi Berra and Bernie Williams, and if he keeps wearing three piece suits and creamsicle ties we’ll have to go ahead and add Ichiro to that equation.
The entire picture then is of a club that has endeared itself to me greatly in a short period of time. I’m not going to be trading in the claret and blue for tangerine any time soon and come the time for Villa and Blackpool to do battle I will of course be hoping that my team wins in convincing fashion. But the rest of the time I’ll be pulling for Blackpool. I always need an underdog to cheer me up when they succeed without bringing me down when they don’t. This year that’s Blackpool and they’ve done a pretty excellent job of fitting the bill so far.