Blackpool: From the Premier League to having eight players

By Steve CanavanBBC Sport
Blackpool FC fans
Promotion to the Premier League was supposed to be the start of a bright new era for Blackpool FC, but they narrowly avoided relegation last year and have just eight players ahead of the new season

The new Football League season is a month away and most clubs are putting the finishing touches to their squads for the forthcoming season. All but one.

One former Premier League club, who were mixing it with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool three seasons ago, have just eight players. Not one of the eight is a goalkeeper.

Since the end of last season, 27 players have left, including their player of the year and one of the most highly-prized assets in British football.

With the club's first pre-season friendly a matter of days away, fans and recently-departed players are frustrated, uncertain what the future holds.

Yet the club's chairman is unruffled. In fact, he thinks the club is in a strong position.

Step forward Karl Oyston, chairman of Blackpool FC.

"There is no panic," he tells BBC Sport. "In fact, I see it as a benefit. It allows the manager to bring in his own team, as opposed to picking up a squad that is already overloaded and he doesn't think is good enough."

Blackpool's eight contracted players
Defenders: Gary MacKenzie, Tony McMahon, Charles Dunne
Midfielder: David Perkins
Forwards: Steven Davies, Bobby Grant, Sergei Zenjov, Tom Barkhuizen

That is not how some of the fans see things.

"The squad is not just thin, it is almost non-existent," says Glenn Bowley, chairman of the club's official supporters' association. "There seems to be a significant lack of progress. It is a complete and utter shambles."

What is causing widespread unrest and anger is a perceived lack of investment since a Premier League season that generated £80m - a sum the chairman claimed would "change the club forever".external-link

While Blackpool almost won promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking - losing to West Ham in the play-off final - they have endured two disappointing seasons since.

John Terry
John Terry puts Chelsea on the way to a 3-1 win over Blackpool at Bloomfield Road in March 2011

Last year, the team narrowly avoided relegation, while some fed-up fans hurled tennis balls on to the pitch in protest at one game.

The mood of supporters did not improve when they learned the club paid £11mexternal-link to a company owned by Owen Oyston - Karl's father - during the Premier League campaign, equating to £211,538 a week and putting Oyston senior among the highest earners in world football.

In the past few years, players such as Charlie Adam, David Vaughan, DJ Campbell and - most recently - Tom Ince have departed. They have been replaced, in the main, by free transfers.

Keith Southern, who played in midfield during Blackpool's year at the top and is now at nearby Fleetwood Town, understands the frustrations.

"When we were relegated, that should have been the start of it, not the end," says the 33-year-old.

"There should be a legacy the club can look back on and in 10 or 15 years say, 'we got relegated but this is what happened, this is what we built from that day'.

"Unfortunately it didn't happen and it doesn't look like it ever will. Neither the foundations or the infrastructure is in place and it breaks my heart."

Blackpool's recent record
2005-06League One19th, 53 points
2006-07League One3rd, 83 points (promoted in play-offs)
2007-08Championship19th, 54 points
2008-09Championship16th, 56 points
2009-10Championship6th, 70 points (promoted in play-offs)
2010-11Premier League19th, 39 points (relegated by a point)
2011-12Championship5th, 75 points (lost in play-off final)
2012-13Championship15th, 59 points
2013-14Championship20th, 46 points

Blackpool's promotion back in 2010 was so unexpected that it even caught the players by surprise.

Achieved on the lowest wage bill in the Championship, it was witnessed by one of the smallest average attendances in the division and masterminded at a dilapidated training ground still in use since the days of the legendary Stanley Matthews.

After beating Cardiff City 3-2 in the play-off final to clinch a top-flight place for the first time since 1971, striker Brett Ormerod said: "It feels like we have landed on the moon without a space rocket or a helmet."

Gary Taylor-Fletcher
Gary Taylor-Fletcher scores during a Premier League season in which Blackpool finished one point from safety

The starting XI at Wembley contained a defender bought from Mansfield for £5,000, several players regarded as surplus to requirements at previous clubs and two loan signings.

Even the manager had a touch of the bargain basement about him. Prior to arriving at Bloomfield Road that summer, Ian Holloway had been unable to get a job for a year following his sacking by Leicester.

For a deprived town in a part of Lancashire, having a club in the Premier League was the perfect fillip. More than 70,000 people - half the population - lined Blackpool Promenade to salute the promotion-winners.

Holloway said: "It's not just our lives we're trying to change, it's everybody in the town. Everybody will prosper."

But it hasn't happened. Holloway left for Crystal Palace in November 2012, his replacement Michael Appleton didn't last long and, after an encouraging start, Paul Ince failed. Former Rangers and Scotland captain Barry Ferguson took over briefly but couldn't halt the slide.

Blackpool legend Jimmy Armfield
"It is no good to jumping to conclusions. We need to give it time to settle down and then see what happens. That Premier League season put the club on its feet financially, now it's up to the club to get on with it."

Jose Riga, a 56-year-old Belgian who impressed at Charlton last season, has been hired to try and turn things around.

But he has not spoken to the media and there have been reports - denied by the club - suggesting he might even quit.

Oyston gets a lot of the blame for the unrest, with the criticism always the same: Why hasn't some of the Premier League cash been spent?

"I don't think I'll dignify what a lot of people say about my stewardship of the club with a response," Oyston replies.

"The Championship is a £1bn in debt.external-link £1bn. 24 clubs. It lost £240m last year. It doesn't take a genius to work out that isn't sustainable. It's not rational, it's not sensible.

Blackpool FC fans
Blackpool's fans are frustrated at what they view as a lack of investment by chairman Karl Oyston

"If any club allows itself to be pressured or harangued into making decisions that could effectively destroy the whole future of the club, then they deserve all they get. I will never be one of those people."

Oyston says he has run the club the same way for the last 15 years and that such a frugal approach got them to the Premier League.

"We're only one good season from going back up," he added.

As it stands, the chances of that happening this year appear slim, not least because to succeed you need players.

Matt Gilks
Player of the season Matt Gilks is one of 27 who have departed Blackpool over the summer

The exodus since last season has been astonishing - and it has only got worse.

Player of the year Matt Gilks has joined Burnley, while up-and-coming youngster Harrison McGahey is poised to drop a division to sign for Sheffield United.

Of the eight players under contract, there is one midfielder and no goalkeeper.

"Up until very recently, this club was in League One and Two for 30 years, so I never understand the angst among fans and I don't think it ever helps," Oyston argues.

"We've been absolutely inundated with the offer of players. By the time this season starts, we will have a full squad and hopefully a good team, rather than a team that will struggle because we panicked and signed the first thing that came our way.

"It is about getting things right, not doing it quickly."

Blackpool have several players on trial and have their first pre-season friendly at Penrith on Saturday, but they are expected to make signings over the next few days.

To help with that, the club have - at Riga's request - cancelled next week's training trip to Spain.

Whatever the chairman might say, the new signings can't come quickly enough for the fans of the Seasiders.