To say: ‘If they can, anyone can…’ is to belittle both the club and the manager.
And, I suspect, both Blackpool FC and Ian Holloway have already had more than enough of that from the Premier League.
Richard Scudamore and Bloomfield Road don’t sit easily together; which is why I, for one, will be keeping every finger crossed that the Tangerine dream can live on for another season.
This weekend and they travel to Old Trafford with all still to play for; two return tickets to the Championship are on offer for five clubs – Blackpool, Birmingham, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves. To the loser goes £48 million in parachute payments; to the winner goes another season in the biggest of big times.
Which, ideally, will include both Blackpool and Holloway getting right under Scudamore’s skin for another 12 months – proof that, even now, football can still reward the little man with the big heart, as opposed to those with the biggest wallet.
“I believe we can do it, whoever they [United] put out,” said Holloway this week, aware that United’s pursuit of the Champions League crown next weekend has prompted some to suggest that Sir Alex Ferguson will put out a ‘weakened’ team for Blackpool’s visit.
Last weekend’s astonishing 4-3 home win over Bolton Wanderers has kept the faith alive; unbeaten in four, unbeaten in five would give Holloway and Co a fighting chance of meeting the Canaries next season.
“Maybe the main man up there has written a story that would probably beat Cinderella,” said Holloway, whose achievements already this season should serve as an inspiration for all. Most ‘experts’ had his side dead and buried at the turn of the season.
But they have dug in, dug in, dug in and kept the belief going right till the last kick of the season. And for a club of Blackpool’s size that is all anyone can ever ask.
Should they go, they will walk out of the Premier League with their heads held high. There’s no £70,000-a-week player disappearing without trace; they beat West Ham to the drop, after all.
“All that matters is the dignity, the pride we’ve showed, getting back on track,” added Holloway.
“That’s four games unbeaten, and anyone who’s seen the last four games can tell that Blackpool are back and looking like we did at the start of the season. That was really important to us.”
It’s those last lines that are telling as the Canaries begin to ‘Dream The Impossible Dream: Part III’.
Because if Blackpool can, anyone can… if the magic lingers.
And that’s the ‘if’. Holloway is something of a one-off, but then so is Paul Lambert.
Player for player, you could run through each squad and suggest he’s better than him, we’re stronger there, etc etc.
But in many senses the story of Blackpool is not about certain individuals – there isn’t a Scottie Parker in their midst, in theory, making all the difference.
I would have no idea who is deemed to be Blackpool’s ‘star’ player this term; just as much as you could claim that Norwich didn’t have one ‘stand out’ player this term; skipper Grant Holt was a colossus but he was pushed hard by a clutch of others. And Holt himself would be the first to insist that it was never about him; never down to one individual.
Other, of course, than the manager.
Holloway is a man apart; different to the norm – in the same way that Martin O’Neill is; in the way you sense Lambert is.
Holloway lives in the real world beyond football. He and his wife Kim have four daughters, three of whom are profoundly deaf.
“Yes, our children have a severe disability,” Holloway once said, “but it’s an invisible disability and in every other way, they’re perfect, and so we’re thankful for that.
“To experience the sheer trust and love of a deaf child is amazing. The girls’ deafness has touched and enhanced our lives. We’re better people because of it.”
And why will that ‘journeyman’ group of players run through the brick walls of Old Trafford for Blackpool this weekend? Because of exactly that reason; that they recognise that Holloway is a better man than most in that he has looked adversity in the face and come out the stronger for it.
For me, the Premier League is a far better place for having the likes of an Ian Holloway in its midst.
Someone who knows all about real life; who doesn’t live in the fairy-tale world that is Planet Football – one of whose number is now apparently that divorced from reality that he and his lawyers think they can tame the Internet.
The story of Ian Holloway and Blackpool FC should put a spring in the step of every City fan this summer. It proves where spirit, dignity and decency can get you and the 25 players you gather around you.
It’s not always all about the money. And for that alone, we should all be extremely thankful for. Perhaps there is hope for football after all.
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