Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Alive And Kicking!!

Last Sunday the curtain was finally drawn on the 2010-11 Premier League season, with many commentators and pundits claiming that it was the best season ever.

There are certainly quite a few factors to support this argument. The title race was wide open for the vast majority of the season, with Chelsea and Arsenal both in with a chance of claiming the title prior to Manchester United finally clinching the honours. Manchester City at last managed to fashion a team out of their myriad of stars and broke into the champions league places. Tottenham may not have repeated their champions league qualification of the previous season, but they cemented their place at the upper reaches of the league, beating Liverpool into fifth place and suggesting that we now have a big six rather than a big four. The three injury time goals scored on the final Sunday also lifted the goals tally for the season to a record for a 38 game season, with 1063 goals being scored throughout the season. However, the real drama took place at the bottom of the table, with one team in particular encapsulating all that has been good and exciting about this season.

The promotion of Blackpool to the elite circles of the premier league was seen as the ultimate fairytale. Although Blackpool have a rich history their success was seen as a thing of the past - a small team making up the numbers in the modern, cash-driven world of 21st century football. If we are all completely honest with ourselves, despite the romance of their promotion, most neutral observers expected Blackpool to not only struggle in the premier league, but to be cast adrift at the bottom of the table. It didn't matter. We were glad just to see them there, but they were expected to be relegated and by some distance.

Fortunately for all true football fans, Blackpool refused to live down to expectations. They grabbed their opportunity with style and showed that they belonged among the game's elite. If Blackpool had decided to battle their way to premiership survival with negative football and a grim determination not to lose then they would have won friends and admirers. We would all have appreciated a team making the most of what they had and looking to beat the odds any way they were able. However, that was not the approach adopted by Ian Holloway and his team. They played football - and good football at that. Blackpool were the entertainers. Goals flowed at both end of the pitch as they took their attacking style of football around the premiership grounds. They were a joy to watch.

The final game of the season summed Blackpool's season up perfectly. At Old Trafford the minnows were taking on the rich superstars. Nobody outside of the tangerine faithful gave them a prayer. Going into the game Blackpool knew that a ground out draw may well have been enough to keep them up. Many teams in their position would have shut up shop and tried to prevent Manchester United from scoring - not Blackpool. From the very first minute they took the game to their illustrious opponents. Despite falling behind their attacking play paid off as they not only equalised, but went on to take the lead at the home of the champions. For a long time on Sunday it looked like they had done enough to defy the odds and secure safety. Ultimately however, they fell just short of the target. The competition had more resources than Blackpool were able to cope with. It was a valiant effort though.

This article is not a tribute to glorious failure. Over the course of the season Blackpool earned the right not to be patronised with claims that they were unlucky to be relegated. They competed as equals and failed as equals. Ultimately Blackpool, along with Birmingham and West Ham, deserved to be relegated because they finished the season with less points than the rest of the premier league. However, this article is a tribute to the example set by Ian Holloway and the rest of the Blackpool team. They have shown that it is possible for smaller, less well off clubs to compete in the premier league, and to compete by playing football.

They have also shown that no matter how much the clubs in the premier league engage in self protectionism and elitism, they cannot shut the door to new clubs gatecrashing their party. The system may well be set up to protect the teams within the inner circle with the way that the premier league grabs the lion's share of the money within football, and the way that it protects those who fall short with parachute payments, but it is possible to break into the gated-community of football's rich list.

Blackpool's achievements this season do not just offer hope to the three teams gaining promotion to the premier league this season. They offer hope throughout the football pyramid. With the right approach, ambition, leadership and skill any team can dream the dream of making it to the top of the football tree - and succeeding once they get there. Survival wasn't lost for Blackpool on Sunday when they were beaten by Manchester United. In hindsight it was lost when they failed to win one of their nine drawn games earlier in the season. They may not have been unlucky to fail, but the margins of success and failure were as small as they could have been. In another year they may well have fallen just on the right side of that dividing line.

Football success may seem a distant dream for many teams, but Blackpool have shown that it is achievable and for that they deserve great admiration. They have reminded fans of all teams that football is alive and kicking for all teams. The future may not be orange, but it is bright!

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