Opinion: utmp’s Christmas Wish List

International breaks give you the chance to sit back and consider where we’re at as a football club. What a joy it is to study the Championship league table and see us sat nicely in the top half, above PNE and with a nice cushion between ourselves and the relegation zone. We’re only a point off the play-offs so can even afford to get slightly carried away and excited if we like.

But if there’s one thing we know about Simon Sadler and the Blackpool board, we know they’ll be planning far beyond the upcoming January transfer window and have plenty of items still on the wishlist that Sadler’s been working down since he took over in 2019. The recent news that Neil Critchley has signed a deal until 2026 is one hell of a statement to make, so what next?

In this blog we’ve devised a ‘Christmas wish list’ to look forwards into the new year and just how far our club can go in the coming weeks, months and years.

Preparing for the winter window

Blackpool’s transfer strategy is no doubt well-prepared and planned over the long-term so will have taken shape alongside the summer recruitment, while targets will have been nailed down over the season so far to allow for us to have the best chance to sign these players when the window opens. There’s of course no guarantee we will get our first choices and we’ll move down that list until we get who we need.

Ellis Simms will surely be a target – he recently signed a new deal with Everton and is back fit so looks primed for a loan out again and we should be towards the top of the queue here. Midfield is another area where we lack options – Ryan Wintle has been exceptional but has a recall clause in his loan contract from Cardiff and they’ve recently appointed Steve Morison as their permanent manager, so we’re in real danger of losing him unfortunately. Kevin Stewart has struggled for fitness, while Matty Virtue is still a few weeks away from fitness and Grant Ward is likely to be out for a little longer. That leaves just Kenny Dougall who we can rely on, so we’ll surely need at least one addition here.

Otherwise, the squad is looking in decent shape and it will come down to making decisions on the likes of loanees Dujon Sterling and Tyreece John-Jules, as well as whether Owen Dale’s signing is made permanent. We should have a stronger squad at the end of January than we have at the end of December.

Policing outside Bloomfield Road

One of the more immediate priorities, Blackpool Gazette recently revealed that the policing on a match day is being looked into “as a matter of urgency” – both from the police but also with Ben Mansford and the club. Hopefully we see an improvement in the very next home game against West Brom as surely it’s in everyone’s best interest that we don’t see too many scenes on Bloomfield Road that are becoming far too frequent. If you’ve not been to a home game recently, I recommend this blog from Mitch Cook’s Left Foot on the issues. Hopefully this should be ironed out and sorted well before Christmas. It needs to because we are a club looking to progress on and off the field.

Contracts

Decisions also need to be made by the club on players who are out of contract at the end of the season. The most notable are Daníel Grétarsson and Grant Ward – the Ice Man is out of favour at the moment, so the jury is out on this one and it may be that Blackpool want another player in that position instead and may look to do that in January. In terms of Grant Ward, it will all depend on whether he can fight back to fitness. Matty Virtue’s deal was extended recently and Ward is in a similar position as he fights back to fitness, so hopefully he’s another we look to tie down for the next few years after he was one of the stars of last season.

Decisions will also need to be made on Richard Keogh, Marvin Ekpiteta, Gary Madine, Josh Bowler and Demetri Mitchell who each have 12-month extension clauses in their deals for the summer – based on the fact Sullay Kaikai was released last year, it would be premature to suggest that each of these are absolutely nailed on and each will be playing for an extension on their existing deals between now and the end of the season. Each have impressed so far this season and shown they can succeed at this level though, so it’s more likely that they’ll be signed for longer and some may even get longer deals.

Joe Nuttall, Teddy Howe, Stuart Moore, Oliver Sarkic and Cameron Antwi are all out of contract at the end of the year and will need to work hard if they’re to earn new deals in the second half of the season.

Training ground

We’ve all been talking about this one for years so naturally there’s a growing excitement given something is imminent. Ben Mansford promised us an update this side of Christmas and recently Matt Scrafton explained in the Gazette that the legal process was the only thing preventing an announcement. Rumours on AVFTT suggest that a site has been identified on Garstang Road West in Poulton, near to the PlayFootball site. Hopefully something is confirmed sooner than later, as this has been the biggest bug bear for fans for the last few decades. When it’s announced, the excitement will last for as long as it takes to build it!

East Stand

This one feels like the final piece in the puzzle. What on earth will us fans have to moan about if we get a new training ground and complete the stadium, and are competing in the Championship? Naturally we’ll all want more as it’s human instinct, but what an exciting future we have at the moment.

So what exactly do we know about the East Stand so far? Ben Mansford told the Gazette last month that it “will be part of potentially a wider group of discussions about the surrounding area and I would hope that at some point next year we can give the fans a bit more information.” So nothing is imminent but it’s likely to coincide with the Revitalising Revoe plans unveiled by the council last year. It’s also likely to be linked to the pitch drainage issues which were prevalent last season where significant investigation is required below the surface. Sadly it may be a while yet before these plans progress, but being in the Championship allows for Simon Sadler to give it some great consideration. Our job is to continue to improve the atmospheres at games which has been brilliant this season and increase the attendances further to ensure it’s a requirement in the medium-term for the club to invest here.

Women’s football

The final job I’d like to see the club press on with is building a professional women’s side. This is something we originally raised in our podcast which you can listen to here:

Clearly this is one that will split the fanbase slightly as everyone’s priority is naturally the men’s team and making progress here. However, as we look towards the future, it should be considered that this is a massive area of potential growth in my view. Women’s football is growing and we’re miles behind many clubs – including Fleetwood and AFC Fylde. As we look to grow our club for the new generations, we should be pushing the boundaries on this one and bringing the women’s team in line with the men’s team to provide a best-in-class offering across the Fylde coast. I hope it’s on Sadler’s list to provide additional funding and attention where possible. The women’s football team needs to be considered at the forefront of the new training ground plans, alongside the Community Trust, which is the first step required. This also allows for additional funding too, so is a bit of a no-brainer.

As highlighted in our podcast, there is a lot of work done by volunteers currently after years of underfunding and the hope is that this will be recognised by the club and additional awareness is given to this. It would be great to one day see our club at the forefront of driving social change like this where we’re challenging the norm of the past where women’s football is an afterthought and investment here is one way that we can appeal to a greater audience around the North West. It would be great to start seeing increased coverage of the women’s game and highlights appearing across social media and Tangerine TV.

Summary

Not asking for much this Christmas, are we? Just a multi-million pound training ground and stadium expansion as well as a stronger squad and keeping hold of one of the country’s best young coaches. There’s a real reason to be excited about our club at the moment and hopefully this upward trajectory continues – both on and off the field. The hard work has been done in getting us back to the Championship, so these ‘secondary issues’ for Simon Sadler can now take primary focus.

Do you have anything else you’d add to the list? Let us know in the comments.

Enjoying our content? Make sure you check out UTMP’s latest podcasts too!

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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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