Cost of Survival


Blackpool – home to the big dipper, the illuminations and a tower. And, for a short time only, Premier League football.

For despite humiliating Wigan on the opening day, Blackpool’s prospects (somewhat at odds with some of the town’s more, erm, glamorous attractions) look bleak.

Shipping four goals to League One opposition last night will have further deflated what buoyancy remained following the victory at Wigan, after Arsenal provided a chastening reality check at the weekend.

A tough season beckons for Holloway’s men

Whilst getting hit for six in the Premier League is no longer the rarity it once was, the fact remains that Blackpool is the smallest club to have ever graced the rebranded top flight.

I cannot tell you from whom this prized mantle has been stolen (Swindon Town?!) but the previous incumbent was unlikely to have faced quite such mountainous odds for survival.

Of course, with 36 games to go, the points remain there to be won and Blackpool will look to Saturday’s visit of Fulham as an opportunity to mark Bloomfield Road as their proverbial fortress, irrespective of its physical limitations.

However, such is the modern game, as many points can be won off the pitch as are won on it and in Blackpool’s case a tough summer may have safeguarded their long-term future at the expense of their medium-term Premier League status.

Ian Holloway is a man of many things (subtlety not being one of them) and so it is that his club’s travails in the transfer market have not gone unnoticed, despite a late influx of players – all of whom appear to be untested at this level.

Undermined by the club’s inability to retain the services of key loanee DJ Campbell, Holloway has had to make do with Marlon Harewood as his marquee signing.

Harewood did (once upon a time) enjoy a successful season in the Premier League but, in reality, even if the hulking forward does manage to ‘bag a few,’ his contribution is unlikely to mask the fact that a team widely tipped for relegation from the Championship last season might have risen too far too quickly.

Once upon a time …

Holloway’s squad has been (and remains) in desperate need of strengthening but the message from the now former Chairman, Karl Oyston, has been unyielding – not at any cost. Indeed, Blackpool’s strident wage cap has proved to be more akin to the guillotine than the stumbling block.

Oyston is reported to have insisted on a wage cap of £10,000 per week – a tough sell in a league where the average wage is believed to be more than twice that figure.

Oyston’s intransience – in the face of a reported (and remarkable) £90 million windfall – is admirable but it is unclear whether his imposed wage cap is compatible with the heady heights of 17th place in the table.

The pitfalls of his position are not lost on the man himself who, conscious that his hardline approach was negatively impacting the club’s ability to sign players, last week announced he would be stepping down from his role as Chairman with immediate effect.

Oyston’s announcement has divided opinion. Whilst one fan called the decision ‘great news’ and described Oyston as being ‘clearly out of his depth in the Premier League,’ Ian Holloway, ever the enigma, has been vocal in his support of the former Chairman, claiming that it was Oyston’s way of doing things that was key to attracting him to the club in the first place.

The frustration of the fans at the lack of big name vaguely household name signings is understandable but surely football should welcome Oyston’s approach and laud it as a rare display of integrity and common sense.

Without the billions of the Abu Dhabi United Group to ‘guarantee’ survival, any newly promoted club must reconcile the rewards of Premier League tenure with long-term stability. As was recently witnessed at Crystal Palace and Southampton, the failure to reduce costs after relegation from the Premier League can be near fatal.

Oyston’s approach has been to pre-empt this risk by refusing to lose control of his cost base in the first place – a sensible policy when one considers that Blackpool’s turnover potential is unprecedentedly limited.

Whilst last year’s dismal crowds will be a thing of the past (last year’s average attendance was a paltry 8,611), Bloomfield Road’s capacity will only be 17,600 and that after the completion of the new East Stand.

Full house but no cash prizes

But it is not all about cold blooded business, at least not for Oyston, who’s fiscal conservatism has been buttressed by his apparent dismay at the behaviour of agents and, perhaps worse, the indifference of his fellow Premier League Chairmen.

As he struggles to come to terms with players’ salary expectations – he has compared entering the transfer market to entering the arms race – Oyston has bemoaned the ability of money to supersede ambition, with potential targets forsaking the ‘dream’ of playing in the Premier League in return for a more lucrative contract elsewhere – a trait that he believes (correctly – Jerry Maguire was sadly not a biopic) is fuelled by players’ agents.

With his counterparts accepting of this as the norm, it would appear that Oyston did not relish being the lone voice of dissent and has opted to step down, rather than compromise on his principles.

Oyston’s detractors will be quick to point out such principles have no place in the cut and thrust of the Premier League and, in some respects (odds on relegation being chief among them), they will be right, but for me bigger picture is inescapable: Blackpool will be a poorer club without him.

Oyston – the hugs are in short supply these days