Former Blackpool winger Thomas Ince has lifted the lid on what it was like to play under his dad when he was at Bloomfield Road, and unsurprisingly it wasn’t easy for him. The then-22 year old infamously played for 11 months under his dad’s management before the duo went on a European tour to try and find the best club for him, ending up at Hull.
Speaking to the Athletic, Ince is now 29 and starting to think about what comes next after his playing career, which may mean following the same path as his dad Paul into management.
He said: “I’ve always been a student of the game. Whatever football is on, be it German, Italian, French, any league, for me it’s about staying in the game. I’d like to be a manager. Football is my life and always has been… I’ll try and take some notes from my dad about managing… but not too many,” he laughs. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
Playing under his dad
So what was it like playing under Ince at Blackpool, having initially signed under Ian Holloway but later under Paul, who had been watching the side play from the stands earlier in the season?
“I think there’s good and bad,” he chuckles. “It’s never easy, though. Some of the lads would be asking me what training was today, like I was the assistant manager. Some might think because I’m his son it’s easy. But then I come home and, after I’ve been around my dad all day, and played on Saturday, we’d be talking about the game and next week. I’m thinking, ‘I’ve had enough of your face today’.”
There also came a time when Ince senior pushed Thomas to play in our game against Watford when he didn’t feel fully fit. That came during our winning start to the 13-14 season which was our best start to a season since 1935 – obviously, it quickly soured after that as many of us will remember.
“I’d been out for two weeks. It was a massive game. Watford were second, we were top. I was touch-and-go for it. I woke up that morning and he asked me how I felt and I told him I was struggling. He said, ‘No you’re not’. So we were arguing a bit. I got to the ground and did a fitness test. I was about 50 or 60 per cent fit. I told him to leave it and he said no. He put me on the bench.
“It’s 0-0 with about 70 minutes gone and I’m thinking I can relax and get ready for Monday. Then he signals to me to come on. I end up getting the winner and afterwards he’s going, ‘I told you. I told you, you was fit’. So there’s good and bad to it. You can never argue with your dad, but when he’s your manager as well, it’s hard.”
“You want to be Thomas Ince and not just the son of Paul and that’s what I’ve tried to do as I’ve got older. He’s walked this road and knows what it takes to get to this level. But with that comes pressure. I’ll always be his son, and I’m proud of that. I would never want that to change. It doesn’t get to me. It was something to carry on my shoulders and be proud of it.
“You have to be proud of it and accept it because that’s the way it is. People will always link me with my dad the way it happens with loads of ex-footballers’ kids playing now. That’s just how football is. What’s helped me is I’m a different player in a different position. If I was trying to emulate what he was as a central midfielder then maybe it would have been worse.
“Me and my dad will always look at each other as father and son but as a player and ex-player. But he accepts I’m my own man and I know that too. But first and foremost it’s my dad. His job is to make sure I’m OK.”
Leaving Blackpool and nearly joining Inter (apparently)
Thomas was constantly linked with moves away from Bloomfield Road and eventually left for Crystal Palace on loan in January 2014, the same month his dad was sacked as manager. His contract ended in the summer, which led to Thomas and Paul going on a European tour, apparently seeing the likes of Inter Milan and Monaco, as teams looked to snap up the 22-year-old on a Bosman.
“I look back and ask if I’ve made correct decisions as far as clubs that I’ve joined, or if it was a better option to stay or go somewhere else. But I can’t go back and change it, you have to look at it now.”
“I think the situation with Inter Milan and Monaco (are regrets). I look back and… it’s difficult because I always compare it to now and there are British players going abroad a lot. When I had that chance it felt like it wasn’t at that point yet. Now you see the cultural crossover and it’s perhaps a bit easier to settle abroad. More managers speak English, more players speak a second language. Then you’ve got like RB Leipzig and Dortmund who give young English players a lot of games.
“When I had it though, it was a surreal moment. The history with my dad and Inter, us standing there in the San Siro. I felt I’d worked so hard as a young lad and the Premier League was right there, it was the next step. If I could do well there it could catapult me to England and all that. I was wondering that if the move abroad didn’t work out then would I get lost? I was young. If that situation came about now I wouldn’t think twice.
“I think that’s where the relationship with my dad came in. He went when he was 27. I was explaining that I was a young lad, (in a) different country without my family. I look back now and it’s something I regret but you never know what could have happened. I might have got lost, I could have played in there for five or six years. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
Early career with Ian Holloway
In Ince’s early career at Blackpool, his form on the field was going from strength-to-strength and he was also having fun off it. He shared one story from training with Ian Holloway.
“I’ve got a brilliant one for you. I’d only been there a few weeks and at that point Ian was staying down in Blackpool while he was finding a place. One week, we’re doing shape work on the Thursday for the game on Saturday. Some fella hops the fence — because Blackpool’s training ground is on the back of an airfield so anybody can get in over the fence — in a full England kit with ‘Beckham 7’ on the back and one of those string JD Sports bags over his shoulder. He’d got his boots on and everything.
“He starts walking over to the lads and I was wondering if anybody was going to stop him. He wanders over to Ian and introduces himself. Turns out he’s a waiter from a restaurant Ian was at the week before and this waiter had told him he was a Blackpool fan and could play a bit. Ian offered him along to training. I didn’t think it was real.
“All of a sudden we’ve got the 11 that are going out on the Saturday doing shape and… I think it was Kevin Phillips who pulls out, and Ian puts this waiter up front. All the lads are sending crosses in and saying, ‘I’ve put it on a plate for him’ and joking. I was just stood there… I couldn’t stop laughing. What a man Ian is. A hell of a man.”
I think I speak on behalf of many Blackpool fans to say that our opinions of Thomas Ince is mixed. When he first came through and scored 18 league goals to help us to the play-off final, he looked sure to burst onto the Premier League scene and even get a few England caps. He was certainly one of the most talented players I’ve seen in my time watching Blackpool. But when Holloway left and his dad came in, his form declined and so did his attitude.
The downhill spiral of both Inces in Blackpool fans’ minds cannot be underestimated – one week the stadium was full of Paul Ince masks, and yet a couple of months later, Paul was sacked and Thomas was loaned to Crystal Palace.
He’s never fulfilled that early potential, and has never had a proper run of games in the Premier League. To say he’s not very highly thought of by Stoke fans at the moment would be an understatement, following a £10m move from Huddersfield. Now on loan at Luton, surely our paths are bound to cross again in the next couple of years as his career continues to stagnate and we progress towards the Championship. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets next time he visits Bloomfield Road – one thing’s for sure, he won’t get booed as much as his dad.
Enjoying our content? Make sure you check out our latest podcasts too!
Don’t forget to turn on notifications on Twitter and Instagram to see our latest content first. Please help us out by commenting, liking and retweeting our posts to spread the word across the Blackpool fans. Up the mighty Pool.