I PHONED up Brett Ormerod yesterday for a newspaper article. Once we’d managed to overcome a dodgy mobile phone signal, he was happy to chat to me about Blackpool’s promotion to the Premier League.
“To be honest, it’s only just starting to sink in what we’ve achieved,” he said, as he prepared to go on an open-top bus ride along Blackpool Promenade with his team-mates to greet 60,000 happy fans. That’s still impressive progress, Brett, because I don’t think it’s sunk in with the rest of the country yet.
Three days on, it still feels extraordinary to be typing Blackpool and Premier League in the same sentence. Friends of mine who don’t really follow football have been saying things along the lines of: “I thought they were in the lower divisions.”
Even to me, someone who has seen Blackpool a dozen times over the last three seasons as they have established themselves in the Championship, their promotion seems to have come out of nowhere.
I watched them beat Peterborough pretty comfortably at Bloomfield Road in September, a victory which lifted them to sixth in the Championship, their highest league position for 32 years.
But my first thought after that game was not that this might be the start of a promotion challenge. Instead, it was to think back to the 1977/78 season, when they had been a top-six Second Division side at the turn of the year, only to collapse during the second half of the season and get relegated.
Even a month ago, when they beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 to give themselves an outside chance of reaching the play-offs – if they kept on picking up points and other results went their way – I didn’t really think they would go up.
Ormerod spoke yesterday about the belief in the squad that made promotion possible. He also used the word “unbelievable” quite a lot. That was completely understandable. Blackpool’s self-belief has left a lot of us in disbelief.
Blackpool’s fans will always remember this moment. There was a lovely piece by Steve Canavan in the Blackpool Gazette yesterday, in which he imagined the 2010 squad being paraded before the Bloomfield Road crowd at a game 50 years from now. The point was that this is history in the making.
Cardiff fans may be excused (I could understand if they are thoroughly sick of reading about Blackpool and fairytales right now), but perhaps the rest of us should remember this moment too. We may not see anything quite like it ever again.
The increase in parachute payments to teams relegated from the Premier League are about to come into force. Previously, clubs have received £24million over two years following relegation, which was due to have gone up to £32m under the old rules. Instead, the payments will go up to £48m over four years – £16m a season for the first two years, £8m a season for the next two.
That should reduce the likelihood of relegated clubs going into the kind of meltdown that Leeds endured a few seasons ago. On the flip side, it will give also relegated Premier League clubs an increased financial advantage over their Championship rivals. We may see an increase in the number of relegated clubs bouncing back quickly, meaning that fewer newbies get the chance to break through.
It would be a shame if the top of the Championship effectively became a closed shop, particularly at a time when the play-offs have provided such a raft of great stories. Blackpool’s triumph meant that, for the third year running, a team was promoted via the play-offs who had never played in the Premier League before. (In Hull’s case, the top flight full stop.)
One of the great attractions of the English league system is that, in theory, anyone can make it to the top flight. Wimbledon went from being non-leaguers to FA Cup winners in 11 years, a rise that remains one of football’s greatest stories – even if some of what followed was rather messy. Blackpool’s achievement runs it close, though, as they have gone from the fourth tier to the first in nine years.
The Seasiders will be the 44th team to play in the Premier League, a statistic that suggests the top flight is still open to gatecrashers. Staying there, though, is rather more difficult than getting there.
Of the 22 teams previously promoted to the top flight since the play-offs were introduced in 1987, 14 have gone straight back down again. Another two – 2000 winners Ipswich and 2008 victors Hull – have lasted only two seasons before relegation.
The record for top-flight survival after a play-off triumph rests with Bolton, nine years and counting after going up in 2001. That year also saw Blackburn and Fulham go up. All three of those promoted teams survived relegation the following year – the only time in Premier League history that has happened. The odds are not in Blackpool’s favour.
Manager Ian Holloway has acknowledged that they will be favourites to go down next season. But the fact that they have gone up gives them a great chance to build Premier League foundations. For any other team hoping to repeat that fairytale, it’s probably going to be even harder.