So, the trio of demoted sides is known: next season, we’re going to West Ham, Birmingham and Blackpool.
Ah, Blackpool. Plucky, brave, heroic Blackpool, everyone’s favourite underdogs, the side the media loves to patronise, managed by wacky japester and all-round character Ian Holloway. But despite this seemingly limitless array of qualities, the Seasiders have still been relegated in their first Premier League season – unlike City in 2008/9, it’s worth noting.
Let’s be clear from the outset. This isn’t intended to denigrate Blackpool. Quite the reverse – their elevation to the Premier League via a win at Wembley was a pleasing tale of overdue success, and the grinding predictability of the top flight would have been leavened substantially by them staying up. Like Burnley the season before, it’s a pity that ultimately they couldn’t stay the course after their stirring play-off success, but money talks.
We also should avoid the trap of sounding small, bitter and paranoid about the media. There’s enough stupidity in football without us adding to it. Yet…am I alone in contrasting the press’ coverage of Blackpool’s doomed battle with our actually successful one? Phil Brown and Ian Holloway are both eccentric individuals, but one is adored and one is reviled. Blackpool came from nowhere to go up, played attacking football and were universally willed to succeed; City similarly came from nowhere to reach the top flight, took the division on but managed to stay up…and appeared to be resented for it.
No easy answers suggest themselves. I have heard it suggested that City’s survival was unwelcome because it was at Newcastle’s expense. Perhaps, but I doubt it. Newcastle are liked by the media and the wider footballing world to an extent out of proportion to their likeability, but there has to be more to it. Was it because of Phil Brown? Possibly…he lurched from aimable clown to devil incarnate in a single afternoon in Manchester, for reasons still unknown. Lazy commentators still attribute THAT team-talk to our collapse in form, and haven’t let a widespread refutation of that by ex-players,or the fact City were already losing games sway them from an “A happened, then B happened, so A must have caused B” analysis.
That still doesn’t ring true, though. But what else can it be? Blackpool’s no more or less glamorous a place than Hull. Neither club had troubled the Premier League’s élite before. Ah, wait…when City got up, we DID trouble that élite. In our four trips to the then Sky Sports Amazing Incredible Big Four, only Man U beat us. Just. City weren’t just making up the numbers, they did actual harm to the favoured ones. Arsenal’s title challenge never recovered from losing to City, while Phil Scolari was sacked after drawing at Stamford Bridge against the Tigers. That really did put a few noses out of joint. But then again Blackpool won at Liverpool…
Pass. All that really remains is that while Blackpool were broadly expected to go down, City were forecast to do something altogether worse: “a Derby”. That prediction didn’t last past the first week of October 2008 – did the embarrassment of the punditocracy play a part?
Who knows. It may well just be one of those things that defies obvious explanation. It still doesn’t seem entirely right that Ian Holloway will be applauded (deservedly) for his achievements, whereas greater achievements received much less credit. Such is life. Perhaps I do sound bitter after all. Hard luck in not emulating City, Blackpool. See you next season…