Blackpool. Mention it to any British person and they imagine ‘kiss me quick’ hats, donkey rides along the beach and its famous tower. But now people are once again linking football to the famous seaside resort.
Like the place, the town’s professional football club hit its peak in the decade following the Second World War with Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Bill Perry shining for the Tangerines as they reached three FA Cup finals, famously winning it in 1953 after finishing as runners-up to Manchester United in 1948 and Newcastle United three years later.
Blackpool have never reached those glory days again and lost their top-tier status in 1967, before being promoted two seasons later but relegated a year after that. They also appointed 20 different managers as they yo-yoed between the bottom three professional divisions until Ian Holloway was asked to assume the Bloomfield Road hot-seat in May 2009.
“I love Blackpool,” he said on his appointment. “We're very similar - we both look better in the dark! While we might not be the wealthiest club around, there are solid foundations in place that make the future look very bright – tangerine in fact!”
While there was no criticism of Holloway’s enthusiasm, people certainly questioned how far he could take them, especially when considering the club’s limited resources. Blackpool’s record transfer fee was £275,000 paid to Millwall in 1996 for striker Chris Malkin, which was broken by Holloway when he paid £225,000 more to bring Charlie Adam from Rangers on the eve of the new season.
The midfielder’s influence helped the Seasiders to sixth spot, enough to take them into the play-offs. After beating Nottingham Forest in the semi-final, they met Cardiff City at Wembley on 22 May, winning 3-2 and ending their 39-year absence from the top division.
From then on, the club set about preparing for life in the top-flight, with many things left to the last minute. With stadium redevelopment a necessity to meet Premier League standards - floodlighting, media and medical facilities, and the dug-outs all needed to be improved - four out of Blackpool’s first five fixtures were scheduled to be played away.
Following rumours, later denied, that Holloway was on the verge of quitting, the club signed six players with just 72 hours before the start of the new season: Chris Basham, Craig Cathcart, Elliot Grandin, Marlon Harewood, Malaury Martin and Ludovic Sylvestre all arrived for a combined fee of £2.25m.
All bar Martin were in Holloway’s 16-man squad for the match against Wigan Athletic – and not even the most diehard member of the Tangerine Army could have predicted what would follow. A first-half opener from Gary Taylor-Fletcher was followed by two from Harewood. Alex Baptiste's bizarre goal in the second period completed a 4-0 rout, leaving Holloway to reflect on the sight of his team starring down at the rest of the league last Saturday evening.
"I will take a photograph of the table and then retire," he joked. "It has been a horrible summer and I am quite worn out. This is quite a scary place to be. But I'm so proud of these boys. We’ve only had two training sessions and I had to introduce everybody to each other, but we all pulled together."
Chelsea's 6-0 win over West Bromwich Albion may have pushed Blackpool off the summit, but there is no doubting what was the most notable result of the opening weekend of the 2010/11 Premier League. Even club legend Jimmy Armfield, a member of England’s squad for the 1966 FIFA World Cup™, was taken aback.
"If someone had asked me ten years ago, I would have said it was impossible for Blackpool to enjoy those times (the days of the 1950s) again," he said. "We were in the bottom division for half a century, getting crowds of 2,000.
"Wigan was an opportunity to get points on the board because they are a town team, as we are. But I never expected anything like that. People should never underestimate Ian Holloway. He might be regarded as a good talker but he has a knack of getting the best out of players, which we are going to need because one good result does not make a season."
Although Israeli international Dekel Keinan signed in midweek, Blackpool were rocked by the news that chairman Karl Oyston vacated his position, moving to become Acting Chief Executive. On the pitch, it doesn’t get any easier for Holloway and his team as a trip to Arsenal is looming on Saturday. Despite the win over Wigan, he simply hopes that his team “don't get embarrassed."
It should come as no surprise that Blackpool also has the tallest rollercoaster in the UK - The Big One - which is visible from their Bloomfield Road ground. Early days suggests that there will be plenty of ups and downs for the Tangerines this season, but will the ride end with a sense of exhilaration or anti-climax?