Great Football League Teams 28: Blackpool, 2006-7
Making her debut on these pages, Fiona Martin winds the clock back five years to Blackpool’s momentous return to English football’s second tier. Much has happened in the interim, of course, but this was arguably the season which gave the Seasiders the impetus to push on and climb the league tables.
The summer of 2006 on the Fylde Coast was one of upheaval. Blackpool were still recovering from the disastrous Colin Hendry era, rookie manager Simon Grayson had had to scramble together a team that avoided relegation from League 1 on the final day, and then rebuild it in preparation for his first full season in management. In had come new President and mysterious Latvian benefactor, Valery Belokon, derided for promising Premier League football within five years.
Belokon’s arrival was accompanied by a number of new players, including experienced defender Michael Jackson, full back Shaun Barker, winger Adrian Forbes and an unknown Irishman by the name of Wes Hoolahan. Just days before the season started, captain, leader and fan’s hero Peter Clarke sent shockwaves through the fanbase by signing for Southend. Clarke was replaced by Ian Evatt on loan from QPR. Evatt had big boots to fill, and with an inexperienced manager and no Clarke many declared relegation a certainty.
“Judge us after 10 games” Grayson said. Unfortunately for him those first 10 games generated just 1 win and 8 points, and by the time game 11 came round – a Tuesday night away fixture at Carlisle – the pressure was on. By half time, Blackpool were a goal down, and no end to the dreadful start was in sight. Then came the turning point. The 11 players that emerged in the second half suddenly gelled, and although ultimately losing 2-0, they had shown what they were capable of. Grayson’s pleas for patience, maybe, just maybe, could be justified.
From then on Blackpool lost just 6 more games that season. Led by the creative inspiration of Hoolahan, the Seasiders racked up a points total of 83 and scored 76 goals – the most in the division. The unlikely striking partnership of Keigan Parker and Andy Morrell hit more than 30 of those between them. Eventual champions Scunthorpe were beaten home and away and by the time March came around a play-off spot looked a genuine possibility.
Going into a Tuesday night fixture at lowly Rotherham Blackpool were sat in 6th and were desperate to cement their position. They lost 1-0. Then, something truly incredible happened. Blackpool racked up back-to-back wins against Crewe (H), Tranmere (H), Huddersfield (A), Northampton (H), Cheltenham (A) and Scunthorpe (H) to leave them with a chance of automatic promotion on the last weekend. It was a finale that saw Blackpool secure a dramatic 6-3 victory away at Swansea to finish the season in 3rd. ‘If only we’d started well’ was the lament. There was no doubt in the mind of anyone of Tangerine persuasion that they had turned into the best team in the division – and surely they couldn’t mess this up?
Play-off semi finals witnessed a pair of victories over Oldham at Boundary Park and Bloomfield Road to set up a Wembley date with Nottingham Forest’s conquerors Yeovil. There was only ever going to be one team that would win that game. A free kick from Robbie Williams, and a wonder strike from Keigan Parker secured the tenth straight win. ‘The Perfect 10’ had led Blackpool to promotion. Back to the second tier of English football for the first time in 29 years. Belokon celebrated on the Wembley pitch like it was the Champions League. In May 2007, the Championship was the promised land.