There we were: a room of around 80 Blackpool supporters given free rein to ask questions to a brand-new owner of the club, an owner who spoke of top-class training facilities, five-year plans and £10m investments. And it was real life.
A fresh reality dawns across the Fylde Coast these days. With the arrival of lifelong fan, Hong Kong-based businessmen Simon Sadler, Blackpool Football Club sees a future where it belongs. Saddler talks passionately and knowledgeably about his five-year plan to create a community-centred training hub within the town, the likes of which the Seasiders could never have imagined. The current Squires Gate training cesspit has not seen an upgrade since the days of Stanley Matthews.
He speaks of a need for the club to reach Championship football again within a two year period and building a squad within that timeframe that will sustain the club’s place in that division for years to come. He speaks of matching the spending of the top five clubs within League One to give Blackpool every chance to reach the second tier of English football within the first year in charge under Terry McPhillips.
It is a wonderful time to be a Blackpool fan. You only have to look at the pitch as a metaphor for the progress this club is making in such a short space of time. It’s glowing. Usually, the Bloomfield Road turf looks fit for the Seaside with its divots and sand patches, but no more. Blackpool are about to become a proper professional football club for the first time in their history.
Sadler is an intelligent individual but he is also backed up by a highly experienced board. Michael Bollingbroke, the interim chairman, is on the Seaside after a long and successful stint as CEO of Internazionale and Ben Hatton is fresh off a spell as the COO at Manchester United. These are top-class operators in the footballing world who have well and truly bought into the Tangerine dream.
And with Sadler putting an emphasis on a professional structure, which starts with a director of football applying a philosophy that will follow from the academy to the first team, incorporating the use of data analytics and sports science throughout the whole process, it is acceptable for Blackpool fans to think they are living in an alternate universe. After all, it is bizarre that Blackpool are doing normal football things, and fans will celebrate the bare minimum these days given the past decades of ownership. Indeed, you only had to see the reaction to the new mowers for the pitch being purchased.
What is important to point out here, though, is that this is not the bare minimum. Fans would have marvelled in the bare minimum under the previous ownership, but this is so much more than that. This is the dream. This is the owner every football club wants; this is the ambition every football club wants; this is the plan every football club wants. Sadler, born and bred on the Fylde Coast, always dreamed of one day buying Blackpool with his best friend on the board – and now he has done it.
He is genuine, emotionally invested and, most importantly, doesn’t lose sight of the long-term structure needed to turn this club around. He hasn’t purchased the club he loves on a whim; he, with a large team of associates, has done hundreds of hours of due diligence to ensure he comes into Blackpool with every inch of uncertainty accounted for. Every crevice has been turned, and that is the sort of attitude you need to have to stick with this club.
It will take time and patience to get things off the ground, and Sadler talks in terms of decades for his plans to come to pass, but Blackpool have a path now, a custodian who cares, who sees a vision and the potential that this special place possesses. He sees how important the community is in all of this and how the club has a chance to change the fortunes and prosperity of a town languishing behind most in the United Kingdom when it comes to deprivation.
He understands that the club has to win back a generation of supporters who couldn’t or wouldn’t attend matches at Bloomfield Road under Oyston stewardship. He understands that football is a game of percentages and that any little inch you can use as an advantage over your counterparts has to be taken, hence his willingness to back analytics, sports science and a director of football.
He understands Blackpool Football club, he understands me and every other Blackpool supporter. And that is all we ever wanted.
By Sean McGinlay @seanjmcginlay