Interview: Alex Baptiste: “Blackpool chairman jumped in a fountain to sign me for a cut price”

Alex Baptiste has explained how an agreement between then-Mansfield chairman Keith Haslam and the Blackpool chairman led to him joining Blackpool for a cut price deal. Baps signed for just £20,000 following the Stags’ relegation from the Football League, which has gone down as one of our best signings of the 21st Century. But the background story on how it came about has now been revealed by the current Bolton Wanderers defender.

Speaking to us in our 1-2 podcast, Baps explained: “The Mansfield chairman and the Blackpool chairman were friends and he was selling the club – obviously they’d gone down.

“He sold me because the Blackpool chairman jumped into a fountain at a conference, and that’s why he sold me for a cut price!

“It was like £20,000 that he ended up selling me for, but he was selling the club anyway and obviously he wanted to get as much as he could because we’d gone down and I think he just wanted a fresh start. But that’s the story behind me going to Blackpool!”

Simon Grayson was the manager of the club at the time, but it wasn’t his decision to sign Baptiste and instead was the chairman who managed to broker the deal after a cheeky dare from the Mansfield chairman who clearly knew the lengths the former chairman would go to in order to get a good deal!

“It wasn’t actually Grayson, it was the chairman who did the deal… I signed, the other lads that were signing went to stay in the Hilton and they put me up in a B&B in town!

“I’ll never forget the first time I came up to Blackpool, it was a Saturday and I had a suit on to come up. The chairman was late by about two hours so they said ‘go and get some food and come back in a few hours’.

“Obviously I’m miles from home so I just went for a walk round town to see the area. It was a baking hot day and I was walking down the front and all I could see was stag and hen parties and it was about 1pm! Everyone was absolutely steaming. I was thinking ‘It looks alright this place, my mates are gonna love me signing here!'”

Baptiste struggled to break into the first-team initially, given he hadn’t previously played at Championship level and Grayson had his preferred back-four who had previously won promotion from League One and kept the club in the Championship for a season already.

“I always knew I was decent. I was a good player and in pre-season training I was training with the lads and I did something in training and the lads thought ‘he didn’t mean that’ and I actually did mean it. I knew I could live at this level. I always worked hard, so when the squad was set I was in on Saturday mornings running and I’d go to the games and it was just a case of… at the time they wanted to stay up in the league, so it was just a case of he probably didn’t trust me to play in the Championship which is fair enough.

“I played against Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday and I did alright, it was October-November time and it wasn’t a case that he didn’t fancy me, it was that we had a really good side with Shaun Barker, Evo (Ian Evatt), Rob Edwards was club captain and then Crains (Stephen Crainey) so it was a settled back-four that he was going to play and it was just a case of waiting for my chance.

“I was going to go out on loan to Notts County but I hurt my hamstring and I was out for two weeks, and in those two weeks he (Grayson) went to Leeds, so it was a bit of luck that I actually got in, so it was one of those things.”

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Steve Thompson and Tony Parkes took over for the rest of that season following Grayson’s departure to the club he supported just before Christmas. They signed numerous loanees, including Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell, leading the club to an impressive 16th placed finish.

“I think Evo and Rob must’ve been injured, when one came back the other would get injured so I was playing regularly and then Shaun Barker moved to centre half and it was me and him, and we did really well and got some results and that.

“I ended up doing really well and from January to the end of the season I was fit, others were getting injured and I was the mainstay in the back four, doing really well and Tony Parkes was doing really well too.

That summer, Ian Holloway came in with a promise to lead Baps to the Premier League – but did the then-24-year-old believe the Bristolian?

“Not in a million years. It was always a case of – they stayed up the year before I got there and then the year I got there, it was all about staying up.

“The first game under Holloway, we played Rochdale in a pre-season friendly on the same day as we were getting our staying up bonus (for the previous season), and all the lads were buzzing about the bonus because that was what we were living for.

“Holloway went absolutely ballistic saying ‘why are you looking at that? It’s £5m if we go up. So all the lads are like ‘whatever, we’re just going to try and stay up. So he had a mindset of that from the first game really. It was all down to him – the belief, and you’re coming back from away games and we’re playing really well and talking about what we were going to buy with the money. It was just dreaming really so we never really thought it would come to fruition until Scunthorpe away.”

Listen to episode #28 of the 1-2 Podcast to find out what Baps had to say about the 2010-11 Premier League season, play-off defeat to West Ham and how he left the club in 2013.

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Published by Tom Johnson

Seaside exile living in Leeds. Been watching the Pool home and away since 2001

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