Friday 27 April 2018

Seasiders' style is food for thought

Ian Chadband

How the other half lives. When Matt Williams, Blackpool FC's club secretary, rang Chelsea for a quote on how much it would cost to have lasagne prepared and delivered to the team's dressing room after today's match at Stamford Bridge, he was gobsmacked to be told £15.50 per head. Plus VAT.

Fifteen fifty? For pasta? Bloomin' 'eck. Williams had to smile because the previous week, he had to argue with the club's famously careful chairman Karl Oyston just to clear a similar deal at Newcastle for a fiver a head.

"I thought there's no chance he'll go for this," pondered Williams. Time for another plan.

So this morning, near Blackpool's "reasonably priced budget hotel" in Twickenham, you may bump into Williams in Tesco's buying sandwiches and fruit for the team's post-game refuelling instead. "Or I could get 30 lasagnes from M&S for a couple of quid each," he smiles.

"It's not being cheapskate, it's a bit of principle really. There are loads of things we do that other Premier League clubs would be astonished by, but I don't look at it like that. We're Blackpool; we do things our way." Like having players wash their own kit. Or travelling by train from Preston to Euston yesterday, instead of by coach.

"Ah, that's because whereas most clubs have a driver who's got a sat nav, we've got a bloke with a machine that magically makes him find the traffic," says Williams. Last season, midfielder Gary Taylor-Fletcher relates, the bus crawled along at 10mph on the motorway for two hours with the driver complaining the gearbox had gone. "Until he realised he'd had it in cruise control all along."

Ah, Blackpool stories. Impossible to resist. They feel like the last tales of romance left in the Premier League, especially when it comes to a day like this when, flying improbably high in the table, a club whose weekly wage bill would barely match John Terry's payslip can visit Chelsea and dream, in the splendid bravado burr of their manager Ian Holloway, about "shocking the world".

A day at Bloomfield Road only makes any neutral visitor ache all the more for Blackpool to succeed. It feels like a throwback, the people's club, populated by a bare-bones staff as refreshingly welcoming, down to earth and open as you could meet in the increasingly Colditz-like Premier League world.

Only Blackpool could be run by such an eclectic crew headed by the bluff Oyston, acting chief executive since being made bankrupt last month, and key investor Valery Belokon, a multi-talented Latvian businessman and one-time sniper in the Soviet army, who may have been caught wearing the maddest orange suit in history at the Wembley play-off but is actually quiet, reserved and calculated.

On the football side, there's assistant boss Steve 'Tommo' Thompson -- "Mr Blackpool," says Williams -- and, of course, manager Holloway, the incomparable enthusiast 'Ollie'.

He may seem like Blackpool in human form -- entertaining, colourful, unpredictable, full of life -- but, as Taylor-Fletcher says, it all helps disguise Holloway's "great tactical awareness, detailed study of the opposition and preparation -- and so behind the daft quotes, the Premier League will find what a serious, top manager he is". In Holloway, the Tangerine Army trusts.

"To be fair, the excitement's getting madder than ever here," smiles Williams, as he reflects how the Blackpool fans just keep singing about the best trip they have ever been on while thousands of opposition supporters plan the best footballing weekend they have ever been on.


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