The unlikely appearance of Blackpool in tonight’s F.A. Youth Cup semi-final acts as a neat counterweight to the manifold off-field issues that have become the ultimate ruination of the first team’s prospects, which have included a fall from the Premier League to League Two in the space of five years.
Now at a stage in the competition that affords the four semi-finalists warranted coverage, the otherwise parlous state at Bloomfield Road neatly segues into the achievements, against all odds, by John Murphy’s youth side who’ve continued the fine groundwork laid by previous coach and former Blackpool player Ciaran Donnelly.
Despite the stellar achievements of Murphy’s charges there will tonight be a mere fraction of the crowd that could otherwise be expected at FY1, with the NAPM – Not A Penny More – stance adhered to by the overwhelming majority of Blackpool’s supporters set to hold firm. Although there have been many calls for fans to break the boycott, of which some undoubtedly will, the policy of depriving the club of as much supporter revenue as possible until the Oyston family have completely left the building still applies, even for games of this magnitude. Calls to make the fixture free for all attendees, and not just season-ticket holders have been ignored, although the club may want the empty stands to portray the fans’ actions in a negative light rather than open the gates, gratis, to all and sundry. There though could be financial obligations, even to the monied Arsenal, tonight’s opponents, to which Blackpool are obligated to honour.
Greater achievements garner greater exposure, thus ensuring the unusual situation at Blackpool leading up to the biggest fixture in the youth players’ careers has attracted the southern-based press, with the usual inaccuracies that comes from those not at the sharp end of the everyday problems on the Fylde Coast. The attached BBC article does though demonstrate some in-depth research and quotes a noted Blackpool fan who’s done much work at the coalface whilst himself facing litigation from the Oyston family. The saddest part, from Blackpool’s point of view, is that its youth players are in effect playing for futures elsewhere. With no defined, organic structure acting as a conduit between the youth and first teams, players deemed ready for the next step but not sufficiently polished for the pell-mell of life in League One could, and probably will, be cherry-picked by teams further up the ladder; although the irony that many of the youth squad were landed by Blackpool only once they’d been released by larger sides shouldn’t be overlooked.
Notwithstanding an honourable mention for Colchester United, defeated by Arsenal at the quarter-final stage, the big story of lost potential at Blackpool, both at first and youth team levels is just the latest example of mismanagement under the auspices of the current, much maligned regime. Although a great achievement secured against all the odds, the very fact it has occurred despite of, not because of caring and knowledgeable custodians of the former Lancashire giant is a footballing tragedy in itself. Only if an astute new owner can ride to the club’s rescue sooner rather than later will there be any chance of the current youth team becoming a long-term asset to Blackpool. Coach John Murphy could also be lost to the club, similar to his predecessor Donnelly.
If this high watermark for the club, during a time of otherwise slim pickings, cannot be developed for its betterment the onerous rebuilding of Blackpool F.C. top to bottom will become that much more harder once the club has been extricated from Owen Oyston’s grasp. Those attending tonight, while mindful of the considerable accomplishment of reaching the final four, should ponder whether the run to the semi-finals will in the end be remembered as nothing but a Pyrrhic, hollow achievement.