This is Armfield

IAN Holloway isn’t getting over-excited about Blackpool’s impressive start to the Championship season, so I won’t either. But I’m pleased to see he’s doing well, even if the fans of one or two of his former clubs probably aren’t.

It’s easy to get carried away by a run of half-a-dozen results, good or bad. When Ricky Sbragia took over from Roy Keane as manager of Sunderland last November – initially on a caretaker basis – he was hailed as a breath of fresh air on the basis of a couple of big wins over West Brom and Hull. By the end of last season, Sbragia had the look of a man waiting to be replaced.

So when Holloway reacted to Blackpool’s surprisingly lofty position in the Championship by telling people not to get carried away – or as he put it: “Chill out, have a sandwich, enjoy yourself” – he’s probably got a point.

Holloway is still capable of coming out with memorable quotes, but I get the impression he has made an effort to tone down his act since being appointed manager at Bloomfield Road in the summer. He cut a remarkably sober figure when appearing on the BBC’s Football League Show on the opening weekend of the season. And while he can still give interviews at 200 words per minute, they read a lot more sensibly than some of those he was giving towards the end of his time at Leicester.

I watched a few Leicester games when Holloway was in charge at the Walkers Stadium, when a squad who might reasonably have hoped to make a Championship play-off challenge somehow got relegated to League One.

I saw Holloway discuss Steve Backley’s performances on ITV’s Dancing On Ice after a convincing win over Norwich. I saw him discuss, after a particularly frustrating defeat at Sheffield United, how the only two people who ever called him Ian – rather than Ollie – were his wife and his mother. And I saw him gamely try to play down the moment, during a horribly nervy draw at home to a Colchester side they should have beaten easily, when a fan was able to run all the way across the pitch, to within a few yards of the Leicester dugout, and hurl abuse in Holloway’s direction.

Managing Leicester didn’t look like much fun for Ian Holloway. When he was sacked following relegation, I wondered if he would come back into management. After a year out of the game, he did.

So far, he’s doing well – although it could be argued that he is still in his honeymoon period. Or as he put it: “We’re 100 yards into a marathon, and we’re 50 yards ahead of where everyone thought we would be.”

Nothing wrong with making a good start, though. And life hasn’t been this sunny at Blackpool for more than 30 years. The team is doing well, and they’re even smartening the ground up.

The last time I visited Bloomfield Road, a couple of seasons ago, it was only half-finished. “We’ve only got two stands,” was the regular chant from the home fans, in recognition of the fact that one side of the ground housed temporary seating and one end was nothing but a car park.

Now they can chant: “We’ve almost got three stands.” Where the car park once was, a structure which will be known as the Jimmy Armfield Stand is springing up.

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Blackpool have not tried to pick out Armfield’s face in the seating, as Preston did with Tom Finney and Alan Kelly in dedicated stands at Deepdale. Instead, the Seasiders have used white seats to show the name ‘Armfield’. Because my eyesight is not what it once was, I initially read it as ‘Anfield’.

Perhaps if a few visiting teams make the same mistake, Bloomfield Road might become a really intimidating venue. A ‘This Is Armfield’ sign in the tunnel might help.

The home fans certainly make plenty of noise. Bloomfield Road does not lack for atmosphere. Or a drummer. Every home game is played to a thumping drum beat. Put that atmosphere together with a team who are not afraid to play football, under a manager who perhaps has a point to prove, and you get a team unbeaten at home this season.

They beat Peterborough comfortably this afternoon. While Blackpool have had a great start, Posh haven’t. They’ve been playing well, by all accounts, but had been unable to convert those performances into wins until beating Reading last Saturday.

Peterborough have come a long way very quickly under Darren Ferguson – two promotions in two seasons – and it’s tempting to wonder if that progress is starting to catch up with them. The bulk of his squad have come from the lower divisions or the non-league scene. At the moment, they look like a very good League One side playing in the Championship.

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They didn’t help themselves by leaving Blackpool captain Jason Euell unmarked to head in Stephen Crainey’s cross inside three minutes. It was a much happier day for Euell than he’d had on Tuesday, when he suffered racist abuse during a Carling Cup defeat at Stoke.

Euell’s programme notes for today’s game were diplomatic (“There is no place for racism in football or society” and “I have now left the incident in the hands of Stoke Football Club and the Staffordshire Police Force”) but he had every right to be angry about the abuse he faced at the Britannia Stadium.

The captain’s goal was almost cancelled out by Peterborough striker Craig Mackail-Smith straight away, but keeper Paul Rachubka was quickly off his line to block. And in no time, Blackpool were two up.

Hameur Bouazza’s route to Bloomfield Road has been a very strange one. Out of favour at Fulham last season, he went to Birmingham on loan and helped them win promotion to the Premier League, before joining Turkish club Sivasspor – only to leave after less than a week.

His stated reason for coming back to England was that he couldn’t settle in Turkey, which begs that question: Was it so bad that you had to leave after one game? Not that I’m in any position to mock. I once moved out of a flatshare after four days, and that was only in Withington.

Bouazza pitched up at Blackpool at the start of this month, and scored his first goal for them in the 11th minute today. It was a brilliant goal too, as he nutmegged Peterborough left-back Tom Williams almost on the by-line before steering a shot into the top corner from what looked an impossible angle.

Charlie Adam and Ben Burgess missed chances to add further goals for Blackpool in the second half. George Boyd came closest to pulling one back for Peterborough, but the game fizzled out.

Ferguson, who is not a manager given to glossing over poor performances, described his team’s start as “suicidal”. He added: “We lost two awful goals early on, and it was a mountain to climb after that. If we continue in that vein, it’s going to be a long season.”

Holloway also talked of a long season, in terms of trying to stop anyone from getting carried away at Blackpool’s early success. He’s right to be cautious. Blackpool climbed to fifth in the Championship after today’s win. The last time they were as high as that was in December 1977. And that season ended in relegation. Ollie’s marathon has a long way to run yet.

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2 Responses to This is Armfield

  1. Chris Lofthouse says:

    Linked to this from AVFTT.
    Nice article – you pitch your fine fair words just right. Mostly I think mainstream journos are lazy scum (Miners strke and national press lies have set me with this attitude – and now Megrahi) but this is a nicely balanced article.
    We’re not getting carried away – I remember 1977 and was there for Mickey Walsh’s goal of the season in 75. So 30-odd effin years and we gonna enjoy it. We are a passionate support and Hoggy the drummer adds that boom boom tribal element which is fast dissappearing as people treat football more like the poncy theatre. Come to one of our away dos! There’s a few BASIL (Blackpool supporters in London) who follow the POOL ‘darn sarf’ and we have a great crack. Palace is next one for me. UP THE POOL! BTW: which is your team?

  2. mikewhalley says:

    Thanks for the kind comments, Chris. There are good journalists and bad journalists out there (I’ve been both at various points in my career). I just hope you don’t think we’re all as bad as each other, because we genuinely aren’t.

    My team is Stockport County, but various members of my family all supported different clubs when I was young, so I ended up watching several sides as I was growing up. Which is fine – but it has left me with an awful lot of results to look out for!

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