After three and a half years, of goals, highs, lows and quotes Ian Holloway relationship with Blackpool has ended.
It seemed like a match made in heaven. Ridiculed rent-a-quote manager takes over ridiculed football club with two stands, what could go wrong?
In the beginning, nothing. “We both look better in the dark,” was Ian Holloway’s metaphorical take on himself and the town. And as soon as he arrived his team started to look better on the pitch. Holloway the revelling underdog devised a 4-3-3 system built round Charlie Adam, that placed the alleged no-hopers in the Championship promotion mix, drawing astonishment and plaudits in equal measure.
Following a post-Christmas dip in form, Blackpool who under Holloway had already gained new found respectability took this to new heights when they opened the new Jimmy Armfield stand behind the goal. Meaning, yes. They now had three. With upwardly-mobile attendances Holloway’s collection of predominantly free transfers and loan players began a charge towards the play-offs with a 5-1 demolition of Swansea on the wet evening in March functioning as the catalyst of the run.
“Can you make the play offs?” a reporter asked.
“I can put high heels on and wear a wig.” Came the nonsensical reply.
At face value the comment was idiotic, looking deeper though it was ingenious. It was remarks like this that enabled Holloway’s overachieving players to continue to perform with minimal pressure on their shoulders, as their extravert extraordinaire of a manager would occupy so much attention.
Such an approach saw Blackpool sneak into the play-offs ironically at Swansea’s expense and then dispatch of much-fancied Nottingham Forest in a 6-4 aggregate semi-final victory that epitomised the attack-over-defence motto Holloway had sworn by since his appointment. Holloway had guided Blackpool to the richest game in football. The Championship Play-off final. Pristine facilities, 84,000 fans and an estimated £90 million prize awaiting the winner. Fair to say uncharted territory for Blackpool and indeed for Holloway, whose previous best league finish was 11th place in the Championship with QPR in 2006. Alas they were still at that stage the perfect couple.
In fact that day at Wembley married Ian Holloway to Blackpool Football Club history, for evermore. Behind twice to an expectant Cardiff City, Blackpool had the audacity to equalise almost instantly on both occasions and then to win the game!
“We’ll attack the Premier League!” Holloway declared at Blackpool’s victory parade along the promenade.
He was as good as his word.
If Wembley was the wedding day then Blackpool’s Premier League debut was the perfect honeymoon. Amid predictions that Holloway’s charges would be lucky to win a throw-in let alone a game his team recorded a bizarrely, brilliant 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on the opening day to temporarily go top of the Premier League (an image immortalised by the Sky+ of many a Blackpool fan.)
With a four sided stadium at last completed and wins at Newcastle, Liverpool, Stoke and Sunderland, complemented by home successes over West Brom and Wolves, by the end of 2010 Holloway and Blackpool were madly in love. Fans of rival teams looked on with envy as the happy couple strolled carefree through Premier League life.
But in 2011 for the first time in the relationship, complications arose. Defensive frailty became more prominent than attacking flair and the Premier League predators mercilessly tore into the suddenly fragile Blackpool side. Just three more wins followed albeit the notable scalps of Liverpool (again) and Tottenham, as well as local rivals Bolton. Although points became more scarce, admiration remained and Holloway’s refusal to switch from the buccaneering approach that delighted so many neutrals, meant that on the final day of the season football fans up and down the country were willing Blackpool to stay in the Premier League.
The second of two epic bouts with Manchester United ended in a 4-2 defeat and meant Holloway’s side were relegated. Ultimately he had failed in keeping Blackpool in the top flight, but if ever there was a relegated team to go down in Premier League folklore it was Ian Holloway’s. They recorded the biggest away win by any team that season, were involved in the highest scoring game of the season (a 5-3 reverse at Everton) and their 55 goals gave them the unwanted tag of being highest scoring relegated team in Premier League history.
Holloway had indulged Blackpool fans beyond their wildest dreams and produced the most exciting season since Mortensen, Matthews and Armfield had graced the Bloomfield Road turf in the 1950’s and won the adoration of many bystanders on route. The standing ovation from 75,000 spectators Holloway received as he and his dejected players trudged off the Old Trafford pitch, spoke volumes of the impact he and Blackpool had made during their Premier League journey.
They could not have been more heroic in failure.
Holloways two first thrill-a-minute seasons left Blackpool fans thereafter with the sort of feeling probably similar to that of Beyonce Knowles’ high school boyfriend. Enjoying the time with her now, but mindful that she will attract far too much attention to stick around forever.
So it was with Ian Holloway. After rebuilding a Premier League machine that had been stripped of its engine and acceleration in the Championship, and coming tantalisingly close to returning to the Premier League; losing out this time in the play-off final to West Ham, a game Blackpool dominated for long periods, it seemed almost inevitable Holloway would get itchy feet.
And despite a promising start to the 2012-2013 campaign the problems of prior campaigns reared their head again: defensive naivety, set-piece vulnerability and selection conundrums.
When the bright lights of London and the opportunity to become king at Crystal Palace, came calling, Holloway could not resist.
A few Blackpool fans may not forgive him, but no Blackpool fans will ever forget him.