Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Not going out: the Mighty vs Swansea/WBA




It's dark and cold. What is? The universe? My heart? No, this time of year.... It's particularly dark when you don't have the (flood)light of football to lift your spirits either.

I've been locked indoors being surprisingly ill. Either there's actually something to this 'covid' thing or I'm just a melty melt. Either way, my life has mostly been dealing with people from track and trace who talk really slowly and ask the same questions as last time they rang and woke you up or trying ineffectually to work from home.

Like last year's lockdown, but in a minature personal form, the one bit of shape to my 10 day house arrest has been the football.

Swansea, I probably wasn't going to anyway so that wasn't so bad. It was a dire game as well which softened the blow. We did well in stopping them playing but not very well in playing ourselves until the end when we played quite well for a bit. Keshi is becoming a legend for his ridiculous ability to make goals happen. He found a catflap sized gap in a crowded box, then put the ball into it, on the volley, with curve and spin. He's just filthy, he's a veritable pool shark of a footballer.

Other things that I took from the game include such observations that their scorer looked a bit like a baddie in a film about space soldiers in the future and that I still don't get the fuss about Russell Martin. Swansea (and MK Dons) prior to that apparently play good football but everytime I've seen them, they've been about as exciting as I find the idea of listening to Adele bang on about getting divorced.

It wasn't the best game of football ever in terms of lifting me out of the fug I was in. Luckily, the West Brom match was ace and for a minute there, I forgot I was living in a dystopia.

WBA are on my list of teams that aren't Blackpool that I don't mind. They seem to be absolutely at the point where small and big intersect. They've got loads of noisy fans and a decent history but if you popped back or forward in time and discovered they were in any of the top 3 leagues, you wouldn't be surprised. There's a certain swagger to them but also a certain homeliness. Also throstles. Everyone loves a throstle.

There were no goals but there was frankly ridiculous double save to deny the goal machine and then Keshi. There was also the frankly heartbreaking moment when Gary Goals had a diving header blocked late on. I might have died on the spot had he scored that, but I'd have died happy and I could have had 'killed by the ridiculous beauty of a Gary Madine diving header" on my tombstone. Which would be grand. We did ok, but the excellent Keshi aside, our real heroes were defensive.

We had chances but we conceded a lot of possession and played with our back against the wall for quite long periods. West Brom played fast, almost a bit too fast and I can't help thinking that as intense as their play was, it was very one paced. Their manager had the air of a villain from a Disney channel original drama, stalking the touchline and scowling in a really long quilted jacket. He gave off abusive ringmaster vibes, as if he might be about to whip someone if they stopped running very hard for even a split second.

Jimmy Husband's doubters were once plentiful. Last night, he was playing in his third best position and was immense. Again. Jimmy is class. End of. He's an even better left back than he is a centre half as well.

One privilege of watching on TV was the close up of him having his head bandaged and him removing it from the ear the physio kept insisting on wrapping it over. Loop over ear. Jimmy removes. Next layer over ear. Jimmy removes. Repeat. I might make an animated infinitely repeating gif of it. I feel it could be hypnotic. I don't know why I'd need to hypnotize myself or anyone else but it would be better than facing reality.

Jordan Gabriel as usual gave everything despite having a bit of a torrid time due to Josh Bowler being about as effective in the tackle as damp tissue paper. I like Josh though. It's easy to moan that he's not Neil Bishop and wor Neil had plenty of games where he was shite at dribbling past players like they weren't there so it equals itself out. It is a bit frustrating when he replaces doing useful stuff with waving and throwing his hands in the air, but he's mad good when he's good and it is what it is.

Marv made several frankly wonderful interceptions with one piece of tracking back in particular where he found himself wrong side and got back to make the block anyway acting a perfect demonstration of how defending is as skillful as attacking really.

Reece James had an excellent game at left back. He looks to me a bit like he's actually an old fella with a zimmer frame, all bony hunched shoulders and bowed knees, like one of those mad ancient blokes who don't seem to age and are still playing for a Sunday league team in their 70s. Despite appearances, it's becoming increasingly clear he's actually a nippy and combative young man with a good touch and a nice delivery. Which is handy.

We haven't won for a few games now but we've fought for everything in those games. We've had a run of decent opponents and stood up to them. We will continue to do so. We spoiled at Swansea and gave WBA a decent game. We're still way ahead of where I thought we might be and we still haven't really been shown up particularly by anyone.

The world is still our oyster and anything is still possible. 

Onward.




Saturday, November 20, 2021

The evolution of Neil Critchley



About a year or so ago, I wrote a smart arsed piece of shite blogging about the questions I had for Neil Critchley. I 'hilariously' imagined meeting him at a cafe in the Cheshire Oaks retail centre, where I hit him with the sort of interrogation that suggested I knew an awful lot about stuff and things.

I am, after all, responsible for such football achievements as writing a blog where I imagined someone's nan on the phone to Nathan Delfouneso worrying about whether Teddy Howe was underfed or not and if he could benefit from a good portion of Jam Roly Poly.

My qualifications to question Critch, were, it seemed at the time, impeccable. 

In other words, I was convinced, this was red hot soccer analysis. 

In retrospect, that blog looks a bit silly cos who the fuck am I to question Neil 'he does what he wants' Critchley? In my defence, at the time, the impish, twinkly eyed tactical wizard seemed a little bit more like a lost garden gnome than the puckish promotion winner he would prove to be. I wasn't to know that, what at the time, manifested itself as a an incredible dedication to coaching the team to pass sideways and not much else would prove to be the foundations of something really special. We'd barely uttered the phrase 'masterclass' yet. 

I'm a football fan. For all the reason and sensible comment. I want to win. Ideally now.

(C'MON POOL! FOR FUCK'S SAKE GET INTO THEM!) 

We weren't winning. Critch wasn't really impressing me. It wasn't just that we weren't winning, it was that we weren't playing particularly inspiring football, we didn't seem to really understand what the division was about. We were making odd decisions. 

His early interviews were polite but his words seemed so carefully measured as to resemble bits of machine cut flat pack furniture. Put a few sentences like 'We'll be expecting a challenge' 'the lads have been great in training' and 'we've done a lot of things right' together and you've assembled yourself a football manager being interviewed. Glue it all together with some long pauses and pop in a few looks into the middle distance and it's a build-your-own Neil Critchley.  

At no point did I ever dislike Critch. It's just it was difficult to actively like the fella initially. He gave so little away. He was, at first, just a little bit, well, underwhelming. Him and Mike Garrity watched on impassively as we flapped and flopped our way through a run of defeats and comical mishaps. Full backs in the middle of defence! Bez! Ollie Super Seven Soccer Star Sarkic! Ipswich ripping us to bits in a matter of minutes! Gillingham flicking our ears and making us cry! (and so on) 

All of this was greeted with a kind of impassive calm that fostered a doubt. Surely we need someone to kick arses. Someone to snarl and growl and shake things up. Not someone to tell us after the game that we had good possession and the group is great. Possession isn't wins Neil! If the group is so fucking great, why do we keep losing? C'mon man! 

All the while though, it felt like, despite the somewhat timid manner, there was something else to this lad. I couldn't put my finger on it but the closest I could get to was the fact that no matter how badly it was going, and how bland the words seemed at times, every week, in the interview before the game, his eyes twinkled with a kind of excitement. His talking might not have lit any fires, but that twinkle was a spark of something. Always next week, always next Saturday. No matter what. 

Gradually, slowly, beautifully, we've seen that little glimmer infuse his whole personality. Gone is the little fella in a body warmer watching mutely as we get mown down by the big lads on the other team. He's vanished. Gone. Forever. Instead, there's a quietly burning wee man who will explode into life if anything goes against us. There's a diminutive figure who points and yells where to play the ball and the players actually listen to him and play it where he says. There's the little bloke who when we win seems to share the moment with everyone, the clenched fist to the crowd, the players hugged close to him, words for everyone, words you can see really mean something. The body warmer that used to give him the air of a bloke stood on the hard shoulder waiting for the AA now carries the aura of some kind of chainmail vest worn by a dwarven warrior. 

There's a stubbly chin and sense of going toe to toe with anyone. What initially came across as impassive, we now recognise as a self belief like no other. If it didn't work this week, we'll just make it work the next. What initially seemed to be intransigence and unwillingness to change has become an uncanny ability to not change when everyone else would and in turn, to swap it about when everyone else would change it and get results by doing so. Critchley is a master of showing a bit more patience than fans have, of giving a tactic or a player that little bit extra time. Fans see bravery as making sweeping changes (and he can and does do that) but sometimes, the boldest thing to do is hold your ground and trust in yourself. 

A fella who seemed at first, out of his depth, a kids coach failing to get through to men, has got serious respect from serious characters like Gary Madine and Richard Keogh. The cuddle he shared with Keogh after a victory was one of the most moving pieces of blokish mutual respect I've ever seen. Madine says he's taught him how to play football properly. Chris Maxwell clearly loves Critch like a good dog loves a good owner. I think Maxi would probably do anything Critch asked of him without questioning it for a second. 

Where once it seemed that he didn't really know what he wanted, now, we just assume that if his plan isn't instantly explicable, that there's some kind of impish tactical mastery going on that mere mortals like us don't understand. Where once he seemed tentative, he now talks passionately. The beauty is, that passion retains self control. To hear him speaking about Blackpool, about us, about the atmosphere, to see that he 'gets' how much it means to people, that he feels the same things we do makes him special. Managers can say 'the fans were great' and then trot off home, but Critch really says it. He says it over and again. He's impassioned. He tells the SKY cameras that we've got the best atmosphere in football and he means it. We get louder every time he does it because he's a good man. A carefully spoken man. A man not given to just running his mouth and saying whatever comes into his mind. What I first took to be a kind of caution or, dare I say it, dullness, now comes across as respect for the people he's addressing - he'll take the time to say exactly what he has to say, with precision. What at first were strange pauses, where he looked to be staring into the middle distance at nothing, now come across as moments of authority where he's looking beyond the immediate. He'll answer in his own time. 

He's talked about what the club is and what it means and now, he's put that in black and white - he's signed on the line. He's pledged to be here and to take us further. He's made us feel like there's no limit. He's given us a team that will never let us down, will leave nothing out there. A team that might not win every game but with a wave of noise behind them everywhere we go seem to feed on the belief we have. I've had some of the best feelings of my life this year. I've never really felt like the fans and the team and club have celebrated as one like this when we've won before. 

Football is fucking ridiculous. It's a stupid thing to get so het up about. Underneath it all I still don't really know who Neil Critchley is but I feel like he knows exactly what football is. He seems to keep it entirely in perspective, he seems to keep it all on an even keel. He brings a kind of measured, controlled intensity that shows no sign of wavering. He never seems fatigued or stressed. He just seems resolute. He seems to believe in absolutes and simplicity. You practice the right things, you work hard when it's time to train, you take care over the game plan and you give it your best. That's as much as I really know about him. 

The greats make things simple. When you read about Pep, it's the endless rondos in training that made Barcelona what it was. One exercise, repeated ad infinitum. Clough was a kaleidoscopic character, a complex and contradictory person but his coaching was really straightforward. Liverpool were build on a three word mantra - pass and move. 

Critchley may not become 'a great' but he has the manner of someone who is captivated by his mission. He seems at one with his purpose, at one with the club. There's no edge to him, just a steely determination to do the best job he possibly can. That's what is so deeply lovable about him. He's just there to do the level best he can. It's not an ego trip, it's just the basic understanding that a football club means a lot to the people who follow it and therefore you owe it to them to give of your best. 

I can't ever have King Billy usurped, his position on the throne is eternal, his dark mahogany, smooth as stout north east tones are the sound of the ultimate human being in my mind, but little Neil has a lot in common with him. He's a man with principles, a man who seems to be able to bring the best out of others, a man who seems to care about the people around him, a man who seems to be loved by the people around him. A man with dignity who believes others should share that dignity with him. A manager who never makes excuses or forgets what his job is and never forgets (where many others do) that football is only there because idiots turn up and cheer it on. A man who improves players and maybe even improves people. It's about context - Billy spun silk from the fewest of threads, Critch has turned base metal into gold. They're both magnificent. We needn't rank them above or below each other. 

In his recent interview, he spoke beautifully and my favourite phrase in it was when he mentioned that we'd had 'a bit of success' so far. That's Crich encapsulated - he exudes a modesty about his own achievements - some managers would still be living off that promotion in 2 years time. At the same time, he has a tremendous ambition - a play off win, is, to him, merely the start of things. 'A bit' of something. Few people can show such ambition without it making them look pretty ugly. 

Critch wears it bloody well. He shares the credit with everyone, he's keen to cite the players, the staff, the board and the people who it's all for - us - at every turn. A victory is never celebrated with the word 'I' - it's always explained with the use of 'we' - it's a collective we, not a royal one. He's got enough ego to believe in what he does, but enough humility to understand he's part of something bigger. For me, the question of what role Caderwood played in the turn around is a moot point - it was Critchley who took on board whatever advice Calderwood gave and Critchley who continues to listen to his entire team now Colin has gone. All he sees is the job - all he has around him is people who want him to succeed and he knows how to use them. 

Lads and lasses of tangerine persuasion... 

Five more years. (FIVE!) (5!) (F.I.V.E) 1.2.3.4.5! FIVE!!!!! 

I actually cannot believe it. 

ONWARD

utmp

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Sunday, November 7, 2021

After match aftermath

I don't often write like this so bear with me please. I'm going to try and keep it to the point. If you read the blog, you'll know, that's not really my preferred style so it could be a challenge. You can find the actual football stuff I'd prefer to write about here

The policing at Bloomfield Road has been an issue bubbling under for some time. There's several strands to it but I want to focus on three major issues. 


1) The post match plan against Preston was appalling. Put simply, fans were sent away from the ground to meet each other in an unpoliced area. This isn't heresay or rumour, this was my own experience. My lad has been to lots of away games and for the only time since I've taken him to football, I felt in a potentially unsafe situation. I didn't witness any actual violence or suffer any physical ill effects, but it was clear the threat was present and indeed, according to videos, at that self same flash point, trouble did occur, not long after I'd left it. 

My issue is not that trouble happened. I appreciate as someone who has attended football matches for more than 3 decades, that sometimes trouble happens and a small number of people may be actively seeking it. Usually it happens away from fans who are only there to enjoy the game, the elderly, kids etc. Having herded fans en masse, together, to meet (without warning) the opposition fans (who were in the same situation and many of whom expressed the same incredulity at the arrangements) was a bizarre decision at best. 

2) Communication has been poor. In the aftermath of that game, the Police issued a statement seemingly suggesting that the comments received were little more than moaning about having to walk a bit further. The main thrust of the post was celebrating how well they'd managed the situation.

Having read many comments from supporters (and offered my own), I would say that the ratio of comments complaining about the plan itself and the issue raised above outweighed those about the extra walking by at least 10 to 1. The response gave no indication of taking on board the feedback offered by supporters, even though it directly related to public order and safety. This seems at best, disappointing.

Supporters are frequently urged to behave responsibly and to listen to the instructions given to them (and do) and yet, the police don't seem to see this as a two way street. Fans are merely there to obey and be herded and they, the police are thus above mistakes. We all make errors. It is human. A uniform is no insurance against fallibility. 

What also is also contributory is that the plans aren't communicated before they happen. Fans are simply met by a roadblock and ordered to head in a particular direction. No announcements are made, no reasons given. Just orders. 

It is not the fault of officers on the ground but frustrations are vented at them because they've been left with the job of not only policing but also explaining the plan in the heat of the moment. This inflames a situation that is already challenging. I do not envy a police officer positioned in between two sets of supporters and I sympathise with them bearing the weight of justifying orders given from afar. 

3) The plan has shown no consistency at all. The Preston game, the Stoke game and the QPR game have all been completely different in approach which means that supporters do not know what to expect. Whilst this may seem a small point to the police, people attend football games with infirmities, disabilities and conditions like autism. Routine and access is important to some. Children attend games who can be easily frightened. Across three games, supporters have been herded up a road into away fans, then allowed to walk freely (with away fans able to intimidate etc) then penned in a small area and refused to be allowed to leave the environs of the stadium freely.  

As pointed out above, a lack of communication compounds the issue. This is, to my eye, also putting these officers into an unfair situation. No routine develops. They are put under pressure with fans who want to know what, where and why.

I'm not interested in writing a blog about policing at large or commenting on anything other than this situation. This is not a politically motivated statement. This is something that directly affects me and other supporters. I am only writing this because 

a) I believe the situation is potentially dangerous - In addition to the 23/10 local derby concerns, on 6/11 the crowds outside the South Stand were tightly packed and had someone (an elderly person, a child perhaps) tripped and fallen, the situation could have been extremely unpleasant. This isn't hyperbole. This is a concern widely felt by reasonable football supporters. 

b) I believe this can impact on the growth of the club. After a long period of stagnation and turmoil, the club is firmly on the up. It is being run well and becoming something for the people of Blackpool to be proud of. It has huge potential to grow further and stimulate the area around it. Would a new supporter or someone taking their child to their first match have felt that being penned in outside the stadium for a length of time with snarling dogs and stone faced police scanning them suspiciously was an experience they wish to repeat? 

Effectively criminalising people because they have attended a football match is unacceptable. It should not be the case that the tremendous experience of attending a game comes with a counter experience such as this. It also has to be said that these are home fans. It is becoming increasingly surreal to learn that I am expected to be penned in a tight area or diverted away from a usual route instead of away support being kept in the ground for 10 minutes. If the police have intelligence that lead them to believe trouble is likely, I accept that they have the right and duty to attempt to prevent it. 

However, doing this by kettling people on a street, forcing them through a narrow path or into unpoliced flashpoints they wouldn't otherwise encounter is a very odd way of 'protecting' them. As an away fan (and this isn't about home vs away fans, though it has to be said, it seems logical to focus resources on the significantly smaller body of away support), I would rather remain in a ground for a short period of time (a well lit place with facilities) than be unnecessarily penned and corralled on a dark street with uneven surfaces and moving crowds.

We've heard that the police 'can't' keep fans in the stadium, but it seems they 'can' keep them penned in aggressively on the public highway. I'm no legal expert, but I can't really see a distinction. In fact, the latter seems worse than the former in terms of the issues I raise above. 

In short, the club pays the policing bill and the issues around the exit from the stadium are undermining the potential for the club to grow. I think it needs addressing by the club and whilst I recognise the club may not have the power to make an instant impact to the situation by themselves, I think it would be well received by supporters to hear the club acknowledging a need for discussion and change. To simply hear they are seeking clarifications or review would be very positive. We all enjoy the updates the club make and the quality of the media offering, but all the slick marketing in the world will be undone if the experience of leaving the ground remains as it is. The 'hardcore' may put up with it and attempt to mediate the situation themselves, but the new supporters the club is working hard to attract will not. 

With regards to the police, a similar rule applies. I sympathise with the difficulty of policing football matches but in 30 years of attending games at Bloomfield Road (and many other venues in England and Scotland) I have rarely experienced the issues described, particularly when attending the game as a home fan. It is genuinely strange and needs addressing with some urgency because there is a real danger the police will lose consent and/or a serious issue will occur. This is the only reason to write this. I have no wider axe to grind. The success of the club is a success for the town and if the town is doing well, the job of policing is made easier. 

I don't know the underlying reasons for this situation and whilst the conclusions below may be inaccurate, they are only conclusions available to us in lieu of meaningful open dialogue in the public realm. We can only therefore guess that 

a) the situation is badly managed 
b) there is a desire (for reasons I cannot fathom) to actively disrupt the experience of football supporters or football itself in Blackpool. A kind of strange provocation or a display of power. 
c) a combination of both exists. 

I would very much like to believe that the answer is actually

d) - something else that is not understood fully and can be resolved through working together

Unless we see a proper dialogue with the club, supporters and the police aiming at creating a better solution than the current disruptive policing approach bingo it is natural that supporters will use the evidence of their own eyes and experiences to form one of the first 3 conclusions

Policing is not easy, only a fool would suggest it is - but listening is. Fans will listen to reason and the situation has been demonstrably unreasonable.

Will the authorities do us the same courtesy? 
.
If you don't hear from me again, the dogs have got me


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Saturday, November 6, 2021

I'm claiming a victory: the Mighty vs Queens Park Rangers


Our push to European glory 2024 suffered a minor blip on Tuesday but as the below diagrams illustrate, there's a thin line between victory and defeat. The performance wasn't all that different to the Sheffield United game, aside from Keshi's effort went in and Jerry/Sonny's didn't. As the sagest of pundits (i.e. all of them) say in a knowing voice - "Fine margins" 



In fact, if they really fancy themselves as top notch analysts, they'll stretch to "Fine margins at this level" which doesn't make any sense because at any given level you are at, the teams will be matched as they're also at the same level and thus the margin of difference between teams won't alter at different levels. 'Levels' is some bullshit people twat on about on telly getting paid for. We're at this level, we're of this level and we're equal to who we play because they're at this level too. Our players have 'stepped up' and all of that shite. I've got that off my chest now. I feel lighter. 

I don't have any prescient feeling at all about this game. If the weather keeps up, it will be challenge in itself. I'm sad not have the chance to see Richard Keogh sweep his rain drenched hair across his head, but looking forward to everything else. Jimmy must play at left back and someone else come into the middle. It's ok in an emergency but we've got 5 centre backs at the club and we don't need to play a left back there, not least because that left back is very good at playing left back. Will Dan Grettarson be the new Jordan Thorniley, banished to the dreaded and mysterious 'Bez Lubala/Ollie Sarkic/Joe Nuttall void' or will he make a triumphant return today? Is Callum Connolly simply the third choice right back and the fella who comes on with 6 minutes to go in midfield? Is Ollie Casey a thing? 

It could be a classic night under the lights or a cold windy mess. The beauty of the whole chaotic beast is finding out what happens next... 

--- 


Critch obviously picks Jimmy at CB. He does what the fuck he wants. He also picks Dale, Bowler and Keshi in a sexy as fuck midfield three behind the man, the myth, the legend that is Gary Goals Gaz Maz Goal Machine Madine. 

I really like this line up. I don't like Jimmy at centre back, but I'm always excited to see something new so Reece James playing his actual position at LB will keep me from worrying to much about Jimmy not playing his. I feel like this is a team to get at the opposition and when you are attacking, you don't need to defend. 

The atmosphere is good. I naturally balk at any changes to kick off time to accommodate Sky TV. Football is ours, not theirs and they can fuck off and take their squarials and their Gary Nevilles with them but it has to be said, there's a certain buzz in the air. We're on show. A minutes impeccable silence is observed. I sometimes flippantly use the phrase 'louder than war' to describe Bloomfield and the noise we make but nothing can be as loud as the death and horror invoked by the bugle call. 


--- 

Pool are on it from the off. We're snappy, sharp and everything we weren't against Stoke, winning the second ball, looking to find space, moving it crisply and playing with some verve. 

We even manage to take a good corner. It's whipped from the left, flicked on and Kenny Dougall storms in and crashes it home. YESSSSSSSSSSSS! 

NO! What? Eh? How? Why? Who? It seems like 30 seconds has elapsed before anyone realises it isn't a goal. I have no idea why it isn't a goal. My phone buzzes and my mate has sent me a still of what looks like a goal plus a knowing comment about how I bet I wish we had VAR (ha ha ha). I hate VAR. VAR is deathray bullshit. It's soul eating shite. And yet... 

Let's get the ref out of the way first. The team deserves not to have the rest of the blog be punctuated by my fury at his ineptitude. Refs have a hard job. This lad was, to use a technical term, fucking shite. So was the linesman on at least one side. Fucking shite is kind. My 10 year old suggested 'corrupt' as an alternative to foul language. I'll go with the profanity but you do wonder sometimes...

We keep playing. Dale has got a lovely trick where he flicks the ball up and spins past players with it. He's like a little whirlwind. Keshi is loving being in the middle and Bowler is revelling in their defence having to worry about other players aside from him. Gary is trotting about in the middle playing the role of nucleus to the charged electrons around him. It's a delight to behold. 

QPR have a little spell. They knock it about a little bit. They look quite handy if you let them play but we're doing a good job of not doing. That is, until one of them comes inside, kind of out of nowhere, cuts across the box and launches a wicked curling effort that Grimshaw has no chance with. It smacks the post with a taut clang and hits the back of the net. It's a superb finish. It's a horrible papercut of a goal that happens without you fully being aware of it then stings long after it happens. 

We keep playing. Dougall is at his best tonight, finding that tiny space to play it in a crowded middle, making the tackles and disrupting their possession. Wintle is an able foil. Around them we play. James and Gabriel get forward. Marvin and Jimmy sit in and tidy up. Everything is good. Except the scoreline. 

There's another ball from wide. Marvin sliding onto a Madine knock down. It's bundled away via the post. Bowler drills through on the right. Dale torments his man on the left. James skids it in, it's hacked away. Marvin pulls some incredible skill out in the box. to keep an attack alive. He's a central defender and he's dropping his shoulder and spinning, laying it wide. That's how we're playing. That's how we play more of less the whole half. 

Madine wins a header. The referee books him for winning it. 

QPR break a few times. That's about as much as you can say about them. We're either knocking it about probing and shaping attacks or we're attacking. The whistle is greeted by a hail of boos for the referee. They're deserved. 

--- 

It's been good. Aside from the referee. More of this but without the misfortune please. 

--- 


QPR start quite well but their pressure only lasts a few minutes and yields one effort. Keshi gets absolutely scythed down. Poleaxed. The referee reaches for the obligatory yellow. He books someone for just about every whistle, regardless of the incident. Shoot a player (yellow) accidentally brush a sleeve (yellow.) I hate to say this, but Keshi gets up too quickly. It's a horrendous challenge. 

I'm losing my head a bit. I'm losing my voice a bit too, even in the genteel surroundings of the south stand, the noise is swelling around me. This is one of those nights where the game could last forever and I wouldn't mind. The singing rolls around the stands, the fireworks cast a magic spell above them. For every flat, turgid, bad tempered game you've been too, where a grumpy crowd shivered and grumbled their way through a tepid match that never got going, there's a night like this, where it's sheer, unadulterated magic to be there. 

Gabriel has been outstanding. He's been at his marauding best, playing full back centre back and right wing all at once and doing it well. He's gone again and this time, Husband spots him with a long raking pass. Gabriel controls superbly, goes inside his defender, suddenly he's in, he pokes it past the keeper who takes his legs. 

PENALTY!!! We probably won't get it with this jester of a referee. YES!!! HE'S GIVEN IT. 
Shit it's a red card! It must be. Gabriel was about to tuck it into an empty net, the keeper was on the floor, he'd sold himself totally. We were going to score. That's a red card. Don't bottle it. Don't bottle it. Don't bottle it. 

FOR FUCKS SAKE YOU BOTTLING TWAT YOU FUCKING BOTTLED IT. FUCK OFF. FUCK OFF. FUCK OFF. 


Big Gaz places it down. Big Gaz, steps back. Big Gaz is calm. Around him swirls a storm of nerves. Big Gaz is beyond such things. He strolls in. He strokes it in the bottom corner... YES!!!! 

A goal is a goal but a Gary goal is a goal and a little bit more. Madine is cool as fuck as everyone leaps on him. He was done, finished, an injury liability and all that, but here he is. Slotting it home. It's the least we deserve. 

Lets go and win this. A ball over the top. Keshi races away, but it's just a touch too wide and we can't get players up to him so far advanced is he. Madine coaxes it down from the sky, shimmies inside and cracks an effort wide. Bowler and Gabriel just cause nightmares for their full back. Bowler runs round him, then loses the ball, so Gabriel picks it up and runs round him instead. Gabriel cuts inside and throws some incredible skills, before just over running it. Gabriel again goes inside then wins a corner except the lineman doesn't give it because, well, because it's like that. They run it out of play and he doesn't give a throw. Because it's like he's not really watching the game as intently as I am which is odd cos I'm no getting paid to do so and am further away than him by quite a distance.  

The game goes a little bit flat for a few minutes. I'm worried about us tiring. Critch channels that worry and sends on Carey and withdraws Dale, he's done pretty well for me but Carey excites the hell out of me too. He's not been on long when he fluffs a moment. There's a little groan of frustration. Get behind him. Get behind him! Have we sent a kid into a moment he's overawed by? Get behind him! 

Have we fuck sent him on to be overawed. He gets it. He gives it, he gets it back. Look at the space he's just made, stuttering forward, then back peddling, finding the optimum angle and the most freedom he could in that little square of pitch. One touch, a half turn, he's set, he's cracked it. It pings against the post, it makes the same high tensile 'ding' sound their goal did, but it takes the wrong turn this time, bouncing into the boards behind the goal. 

Mitchell comes on for Bowler. Demi draws fouls. Another booking. Demi crosses one outrageously well with his wrong foot that's arcing towards a far post tangerine but is scuffed away from him. Time is running down, but Pool keep going. 

One more chance. We deserve it. One more chance. That's all we ask. We're on the left. We're crossing, it's come off someone and Madine is coming in. He must score. The Goal Machine, at the far post. It's what he does. Somehow the keeper flicks out a palm and turns it away. It's one of those saves that Maxwell makes. He shouldn't be on the pitch. Maybe Madine was slightly hesitant or caught a little flat footed, I don't know, but I know for certain that their keeper shouldn't have been in goals to save that. So close. That was the moment. 

They go up the other end. There's a horror show as they shoot from distance, it's the sort of effort that's from far enough out that you have time, in your minds eye, to see it going in and feel a taste of the horror of an undeserved cruel winner for the opposition before your actual real eyes transmit the truth to your brain. (it went over the top)  

--- 


I have nothing critical to say about any of our players. We could have won that 3-1 and no one could have complained about it in the slightest. From Madine backwards, the attacking was superb from everyone. Every single player was on the front foot but with patience and control, not manic play. There was movement, balance, intelligence, individual skill, teamwork, bodies on the line and anything else you'd want to see. In some ways, that was one of the most enjoyable performances I've seen under Critchley (the final result aside.) 

The ground was fucking sensational again. It's the highlight of my life at the moment to be there. Whatever that may say about my life, I don't care. It's hair on the back of your neck stuff. It's just pure support. It's something hard to put into words. These players give everything, so we give everything. There's pride. This is Blackpool. There isn't always pride in everything here. Sometimes it's all a bit cut and run and no one gives a fuck about i being any good. But this is something to be so very proud of. This is the opposite of what at times Blackpool can be or has been like. This is solid foundations, hard work and respect given. This just feels special. It is special. 

QPR looked like they might be quite good on another day. I don't think they were bad today at all. We just bossed the game. It feels weird in that I'm writing as if they lost. They didn't, they got a point, but they got away with it, it was stolen from us, not so much by them, but by the officials. It feels for all the world like we won that match and I don't care, I am saying we did. If the ref and linesman can make it up and the police do what the fuck they want after the game*, then I'm having that as a 3-1 victory. 

Onwards. 

utmp  

*summat on that tomorrow. Don't want to be some self important cunt writing shit cos like I matter and my opinion is worth anything in particular cos I don't and it isn't but it's got to be said and I've held off saying it assuming naively that it would get sorted and if anything, it's been a new level of shit and it's potentially dangerous. Update: I wrote it. Read it here

Let the game be the game though. That's why we're here.


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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

At least it wasn't 0-7: The Mighty vs Stoke


Winter is here. Sort of. Autumn is a funny idea for a season. I don't really understand it. It's kind of in between summer and winter and lasts about three weeks. It's a grand night though. If there was a textbook for the weather, this would bethe definition under the heading "the ideal weather for playing a football match at night, round about bonfire night"

There's a smoky cold in the air. I'm nostalgic for when you could smoke tabs in the ground. Not cos I want one but because I want to smell the fag smoke, rising up from a terrace, the clouds giving the shafts of floodlight white presence as they slowly away across the pitch.

We can't touch the past in anything but memory though and sad as that is, we've not got much to be damp eyed about. Critch was so happy we won at Sheffield United, he apparently shed a tear but that's different to sadness. Why is it the same physical reaction though? Bodies are mental. Anyway... We're going well. Tonight is an interesting one. I keep expecting us to throw in a howler of a performance just to keep us grounded. I'm really not sure how I feel. Stoke are kind of 'meh' in my head. So we can win. But Huddersfield were the distilled essence of 'meh' in my pre match perception of that match and they dismantled us like a psychopathic surgeon, scoring three and seeming really quite disinterested as they did it. 

So yeah, it could go either way. Hows that for insight?


---

Gary is out, Carey is in. Obviously, no Madine makes me want to turn round and go home but there's an enticing prospect of 90 minutes of Carey in the offing. I love Madine's blend of old school tradition and clever play but I also have been so impressed with Carey's potential. It is potential, and potential is only an idea of promise, not a guarantee of impact, but I can't wait to see how the fluid attack we saw against Reading tries to unpick their backline. 


Pool put on early pressure. A lovely cushioned touch from Carey matches a couple of simply brilliant touches from Keogh. His interplay with fellow defenders is so ridiculously precise. Maybe he could play no 10? No. Really. Ok. Maybe not. But could he though? Imagine it. He'd be so happy. Carey fizzes on right, wriggling between a couple but doesn't make it through a third. 

Jerry muscles in on the right. He pulls it back. Carey hits it, it's blocked. Was that handball? It drops back to Sonny who smacks it into the side netting. Aaargh! That was really good chance, it came quickly and he snatched at it. Heads up. C'mon! 

Pool look good. Stoke are mostly notable for a) having a player who looks like an 80s heavy metal star. b) the fact Steve Fletcher look less like a tramp than last time I saw him and c) fouls. 

There's a long pause. I don't really question why, I'm just enjoying soaking up the occasion until I see everyone's second favourite tangerine no26 slowly walking off. Stoke have a spell, a couple of attacks and one lashed just wide as we regroup with Jimmy 'if he plays left back we generally win' Husband now clearly not playing left back and Garbutt on their instead.  

Keshi plays an outrageous ball over the top, Jerry takes it well, sets and puts it just past the post. It just seemed to be the wrong side for him. Again, close, again a good chance. We're doing ok.  

More fouls, more cards. Demi gets chopped down at least three times. Keshi gets mangled as he looks to break through. Iron Maiden (their left back) passes it out of play. Then he gets a yellow too. He has fantastic hair though. It's Robin Van der Laan-esque. (one for the kids that) 

A cross after a lovely move is just a fraction behind Jerry. It's a moment when you wish Jezza was Gaz as he heads it straight up in the air because he's not quite big enough Keshi tries to pick up the pieces. It comes back in. Keshi darts. Keshi gets clattered in the box. No foul.

More bookings. More passing it about and probing. Some booing and aggro from Stoke. Half time. 

--- 

We've been better side. It's a catch 22 that sans Madine we have mobility but less presence up front. We've moved well to make chances - with a bit more presence we might have taken them but without the mobility we wouldn't have made them. 

We've lost our second favourite no 26 but our first favourite no 26 comes out and tells us how great everything is. It really is good too. Charlie speaks well as he often does. Imagine being good at football AND good at talking. 

Then halftime gets weird as someone asks someone else to marry them. Bit risky that. They say yes. Thank fuck. There's some muted applause. Some people really are miserable aren't they? Charlie AND a wedding and they've barely looked up. I wonder if Critch has tear in his eye. 

---


Iron Maiden has gone off. That's a shame. Demi cuts inside and shoots it's deflected into the keepers hands. They have a free kick to the far post nodded back and then smuggled wide by some desperate intervention. They play a little football on the edge of the box, Fletcher knocks it through, there's a ball right across the 6 yard line and we escape. That's more than they did in the first half. They've improved. 

They make three chances down the middle. Marv tidies up two, Gabriel the other. There's a brilliant bit where they sing Delilah and it competes with us expressing that We're the only team in football, in tangerine and white. It's really good. It goes on for ages. I love football crowds. I really do. Carey lifts a superb ball. Yates is in. We've sung them through! It's offside. Of course it is. Allez, Allez, Allez. 

We're really struggling to play out. They cottoned on to us at some point and are pressing much higher. We're really looking a bit lost for ideas. So Critch chucks Big Gaz on so we can go over the top. I might have left Jerry on to be honest. Madine can win it but he's best with Jerry about. Where is Owen Dale though? What's he done to be glued to the bench. Is he glued to the bench? Do they have to take a seat to away grounds with him stuck to it. If so, why select him? Pick Bez instead, just because it would warm our hearts. 

Grimshaw kicks it out of play to derision from Stoke fans. They take the throw and chest it straight out of play. It's such a high quality league.... Derision from us. We go forward, then back. Gaz wins a header. Madine has made a bit of a difference and we're not under as much pressure now. We're up the middle, Keshi is involved, he goes down as he slips it through, Now Gary's going round the keeper but then a flag goes up. 

Stoke hit ball over the top from a free kick, we're hurtling back cos it looks like we've not picked what they're up to quick enough. Madine is the further back which says something might not have gone to plan. It's turned against the post. It bounces out. Fletcher can't miss. It hits him and goes in. Fucking hell.  

Bowler comes on. He has a run and lashes a shot. A corner. Garbutt's ball is horrible. 

Madine has a penalty shout. It's the other end of the ground, so I've no idea but Gary is very cross. Very cross indeed. At full time he's still very cross about it. So, therefore it's a penalty for me. Obviously. (I haven't a clue)

It just feels like we're not getting back into this. We turn into a long ball side who also pass it back and forth for a bit for no obvious reason before hitting it long at Gary who is marshalled by a literal giant. He's good is Madine but not that good that we can just knock it to him and leave it at that. 

The atmosphere is a little turbulent. 

Marvin makes a terrifying attempt to turn away from his man and loses it on the edge of the box. Gabriel saves the day. Garbutt goes down. Bowler carries on. He goes a mile. He really needs a pass. No one is there. He gets a corner. Carey drifts it. Husband darts in but it's read and cleared. 

Madine wins it. Carey skates across, finds an angle. He shoots! Blocked. Fucking hell. But it falls to Wintle, there's a space, he has to hit it. He hits it! He hits the corner flag. 

--- 

Stoke were actually a bit like Huddersfield. The stopped us getting any rhythm and worked out how to play us and did us in the second half. The fella behind me kept shouting 'these are shit' and I know what he meant, even if I didn't quite think they were that bad. What they were good at was limiting us and whilst I thought we'd got a real chance at half time with 5 of their players on yellows, O'Neil really did a good job in switching it about and getting them in our faces higher up the pitch. 

Losing Keogh was a blow, not just cos Crazy Uncle Richard went off but because the topknot magic left back was at centre half where he's not as good and frankly, Garbutt was off the pace. Husband isn't an amazing crosser, but what he does is drive forward aggressively and play nice football with the players around him. Garbutt seemed sluggish and that imbalanced us. He highlighted what Jimmy gives us and I really don't want to see us wasting our best full back at centre half when we've got other centre halves who are decent at the club as twin aggression on the flanks is one of our best assets and keeps us high up the pitch when it's working. It didn't work today. 

Sonny is still potential. There were flashes of real class and the fact he missed a chance would be forgotten in another game where more came along but there were also glimmers of how young he is in football terms at this level. He'll be fine though, another day he'll sizzle instead of flicker and his delivery at set pieces was better than Garbutt or Wintle. I just want to know what Owen Dale has done or not done... It's a mystery. We lacked spark in the second half and from the limited sample we've, he's an absolute tinderbox of a player. 

It is what it is. It was flat and we struggled at times. We never really got the front 4 moving in the second half. However, other teams tonight conceded 7 (seven) and we've had chances to win and lost by one. Stoke are very gnarly. They know what they're doing. Their manager is canny. We've had an amazing little run of games and incredible experiences and tonight we fell short. It's going to happen sometimes. If we won all the games like this, then the last few weeks wouldn't have felt like it did because we'd be Man City and we'd be ringing the radio moaning about not winning 3-0 well enough and do we want that? 

Onwards. 

utmp

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