A week on from our success at Wembley, it still hasn’t sunk in what has happened and that Blackpool FC are in the Championship.. I felt compelled to summarise my thoughts and thank Simon Sadler – and everyone else associated with the club – for what’s happened over the last couple of years, but of course last season in particular.
You read that right – Blackpool FC are in the Championship. Not only that, but we have a Seasider as owner and chairman, another in Brett Gerrity on the board and have a club to be proud of from top to bottom, both on and off the field.
Looking back to the summer of 2019 when Sadler took over, we all considered what success looked like for Simon Sadler. Of course, the fact he clearly had the club’s best interests at heart was enough alone given what we’ve been through, but it’s also our job to be ambitious and to look forwards.
The key metrics for success to me in the first couple of years were to build an infrastructure behind the scenes, to progress the team through solid recruitment and a clear playing identity, and in achieving both of those two, to repair the bond between fans and the players and manager. The immediate objective of course, was to overtake Fleetwood and regain our place as the pride of the Fylde Coast – that’s how low we’d dropped.
It’s fair to say it was a chaotic first summer as Sadler scrambled to replace Terry McPhillips with Simon Grayson, sign almost a whole new team and build an infrastructure. Some mistakes were made, but Sadler and Gerrity steadily started to piece together the infrastructure, bringing in Ben Mansford as Chief Executive, Tommy Johnson as Head of Recruitment and John Stephenson as Head of Football Operations. They also brought in Ciaran Donnelly (Academy Director) and Matthew Blinkhorn (Head of Academy Coaching) from Fleetwood Town to structure the youth setup and Linton Brown as Chief Commercial Officer. I could go on – there are 45 staff members listed on the club’s official Staff Directory which is a far cry from years gone by.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Sadler’s reign has been his ability to spot issues and fix them. Grayson’s style of play and quality of results wasn’t good enough, but he was quick to replace him. The pitch issues over the winter have been rectified. Plenty of work has been done to the ground. Think back to six months ago and it was a case of ‘everything is fantastic off the pitch, we just need a team on the field to start performing’ – well now we have both.
There have also been 45 players brought in since 1st July 2019, 33 of which joined after Ben Mansford and the new recruitment team came in and have been ranked in our recent blog. At least 25 of the 33 wouldn’t have signed for us under the previous regime in my opinion, as they’re a higher calibre than we’ve attracted historically at League One level – or in some cases the Championship. Jerry Yates joined us despite competition from other teams at our level, and the calbire of Kevin Stewart, Kenny Dougall and Luke Garbutt speak for themselves. We’ve also seen some young players from the country’s top clubs joining in Dan Ballard, Ben Woodburn, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Ellis Simms, indicating that we’re once again a desirable place for teams to lend their best talent. While not every signing has worked, we’ve made some brilliant signings in the last couple of years. We have an exciting summer ahead, with surely at least 10 more players likely to come through the doors before the end of the summer, but we are now comfortably in safe hands with the structure of staff now supporting the manager.
Repairing the bond
Perhaps the most important measurement of success for Simon Sadler was by recovering the bond between the fans and the manager and players. That’s the key thing which was lost in the boycott years – something we’d always had in abundance in the days of Billy Ayre, Sam Allardyce, Steve McMahon, Simon Grayson and of course Ian Holloway. With the backdrop of a global pandemic where fans have only been able to be present at three games all season (Swindon at home where we had 2k at the test event, the home leg of the play-offs which had 4k and the final at Wembley which was capped at 10k) we have all been able to fall back in love with the club from our armchairs. The significance of this cannot be underestimated and is very exciting as we look ahead to next season. With the way Neil Critchley has conducted himself all season, it’s clear that he understands what the fans have been through and how much it all means to the us – including Sadler himself of course – and the missing piece now is the fans returning through the turnstiles at Bloomfield Road which we’ll surely be able to do in August to watch Championship football. What a treat!
Thank you Simon Sadler
It’s amazing to think how far we have come in such a short space of time. We’ve returned to being the pride of the Fylde coast, returned to the Championship, have one of the most highly rated young British managers in the Football League and have the spine of a really strong Championship side. Not only that, but off the field we now have all of the tools to enable us to continue this upward trajectory – something that has been distinctly lacking in times gone by. Seeing Sadler get his hands on the Championship was my favourite ever moment as a Blackpool fan for two reasons – not only did it justify his gamble to purchase the club and invest his hard earned personal wealth to get us back to where we belong, but it also closed the chapter of turmoil, anger, disappointment and ignorance towards the club. We as fans can now do what we do best – support the team, and this time it will be inside Bloomfield Road. Thank you Simon Sadler, for giving us our pride back and making up for lost time. Bring on the second tier!
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.