Recently, we, the sports fan have seen our share of putrid.
Less than two years ago, the Detroit Lions became the first NFL franchise to go 0-16.
(And now, the team’s architect, Matt Millen, is an expert. Go figure.)
This year, the New Jersey Nets flirted with the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers’ epically awful mark of 9-73. Thanks to a dude named Brook, the Nets managed three games better to avoid history.
But prepare yourself, Joe Sports Fan: It’s about to get worse. A lot worse.
Blackpool, a small northwestern English coastal town boasts a population of 141,000, ranking it the country’s 132nd largest. A city most known for being the first municipality in the world to have electric street lighting, Blackpool was a major tourist attraction… in the 19th century.
The city isn’t supposed call the English Premier League home. And frankly isn’t ready (literally and figuratively).
Heading into last season, Blackpool F.C. was the bettor’s favorite to be relegated from England’s second tier, the Championship, to League One.
However, instead of relegation the Seasiders shockingly earned promotion. (Which would be akin to the St. Louis Rams advancing to this year’s NFC Championship Game.)
The top two finishers in the Championship earn automatic promotion, while teams 3-6 compete in a playoff for the last EPL slot. Blackpool qualified for the sixth and final playoff spot and earned promotion through a thrilling 3-2 final win over Cardiff City.
The victory put the Tangerines in England’s top flight for the first time since 1971. The Super Bowls were still in single digits back then.
Promotion to the Premier League was such a pipe dream, the cash-strapped Seasiders inserted seemingly unreachable, safe clauses in players’ contracts that awarded them rich bonuses if the team miraculously secured promotion.
The bonuses varied, but a number of players were scheduled to receive as much as $635,000 each. After doing their part, the players naturally wanted what they were owed. Problem was, Blackpool didn’t have the cash. Labor strife ensued.
The team couldn’t pay the bonuses up front for a number of reasons. First of all, the team simply didn’t have the money. Despite earning the $142-million windfall Premier League status pumps into the club through the league’s television contract, Blackpool didn’t receive its first EPL payment until Thursday.
And secondly, any money the team did have was allocated into improving the stadium and increasing capacity to 17,600. Blackpool was set to host Wigan in the opening match on Saturday, but the game was moved to Wigan because the stadium’s renovations aren’t complete. That means four of the team’s first five games will be on the road. Not exactly a warm welcome for the Premier League newbies.
But the players, reportedly received their bonuses this week. So that’s a plus.
And that brings us to Blackpool’s players. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable soccer fan. Others would argue that I’m an overly obsessed footie snob. So the fact that I’ve only heard of four players on Blackpool’s entire squad should be troubling for Tangerines fans.
I know Charlie Adam and Stephen Crainey because they were fringe players for Scottish giants Rangers and Celtic, respectively. Jason Euell is familiar because he’s Jamaican and featured in the EPL with Charlton Athletic years ago. Thirty-three year old Brett Ormerod rings a bell from his time with Southampton, but he’s far from his prime (which wasn’t that good to begin with).
The club’s premier attraction is undoubtedly their talkative, irritable and humorous manager Ian Holloway. The dude has that naturally British weaselly-look to him, along with a little Freddie Kruger.
A father of three deaf children, Ollie is gem of an English personality. After his first away win with Plymouth Argyle in 2006, Holloway offered to buy a drink for every one of the 700 fans who made the 805-mile round trip to Sunderland.
A savvy practician of sign language on the touchline, Holloway’s mouth often provides Rex Ryan-like responses. Asked if he rehearses, Ollie responded, “No, most of it comes from the fact that I get the same questions over again. When I started I used to worry about what I said, but that’s all bullshit. All you’ve got to do is be yourself. What you see is what you get. I don’t practice any lines, I don’t write speeches. I just go with the flow. Some managers are scared stiff and have a pole up their arse and that’s all rubbish. They’re too scared to be themselves. I’m me. And that’s that.”
Now rumors emerged Tuesday that Holloway resigned, less than a week before the season kicks off. Those reports were swiftly denied, but Holloway is definitely a frustrated man and letting everyone know HE is fighting an uphill battle with his group of players.
While most teams are struggling with fitting their bloated rosters into the new EPL-imposed 25-man limit, the Tangerines aren’t having such issues. They have just 17 able bodies.
Holloway is finding the transfer market stubborn and troubling. Other teams see that $142 million windfall and understandably want a piece.
But Blackpool has yet to add any new significant signings, though they think they signed an Israeli defender, but unless Hamas suits up for Arsenal, that probably won’t help.
It’s being reported the Seasiders are close to adding Marlon Harewood, Ludovic Sylvestre, Chris Basham and Craig Cathcart. Who, who, and who? OK, I know who Harewood is. He’s a perfectly fine No. 4 striker. Problem is, he’ll most likely be Pool’s No. 1. That’s not good for Holloway, who of course says his team will play with a style familiar to the one Spain used to become world champions.
“After watching the World Cup I’ve realized we need to get more like Spain. You have to caress the ball, you’ve got to love it and you must not give it to anyone else.”
Problem is, in this analogy, the Spanish are beautiful dime pieces who save themselves for Mr. Right. Blackpool’s lot? They’re more like the drunken, 46-year-old chain-smoker bumbling around the biker bar looking for Mr. Right Now.
Caressing? No. Violent, disjointed groping? That’s Blackpool.
You can understand the bit of culture shock on some of the players’ sticker price. Blackpool has never spent more than $750,000 on a player. But if Holloway wants to play like the world champions, he’ll have to cough up the cash.
Perhaps it’s time to turn those street lights off.