Blackpool: The People’s Club

Way back in 1961, when a small Liverpool based group called The Beatles were busy trying to build their reputation, Johnny Hayes (a Fulham legend and a man described as “the greatest passer I’ve ever seen” by Pele), shattered the pay record in England by becoming the first footballer to be paid £100 a week. Even as late as 1971,  a well-permed Kevin Keegan, who had already established himself as one of the best players in England, was earning a basic £80 while playing for Shankly’s Liverpool.

Another Liverpool legend, Robbie Fowler, must’ve felt some solidarity with these men as it emerged last week that he had been offered a contract by Ian Holloway’s Blackpool that paid him the grand amount of £90 a week, topped up with £5000 if he finishes a full game. Of course, the chances of a just-about-in-shape 36 year old being on the pitch for an entire game, even in the championship, are about as high as Rangers winning an award for Business Ethics. Fowler considered the prospect of collecting a couple of fifty quid notes from the club office at the end of every week not being worth the effort and respectfully declined the contract.

Now, one way of looking at this bit of news is that this represents the lowest point in a career that has been heading downhill at an alarming rate. Fowler’s star has fallen pretty quickly- he’s gone from being the 4th highest scorer in the EPL era to being a quintessential journeyman at clubs like Perth Glory and Muangthong United, the latter being the last club where he held a contract. It was at this point where he started training with Blackpool and was presented with the contract.

Rather more importantly, this incident brings into focus the wage structure of Blackpool, which is a breath of fresh air in the world of English football. The management at Bloomfield Road deliberately eschews inflated wages and spending silly money on squads in favour of a stable, sustainable business model. Blackpool stubbornly refuse to pay any player more than 10,000£ a week, even when they got promoted to the Premiership last season. While they eventually got relegated after a brief dream run, such frugal expenditure has assured the club enormous long term stability- something that clubs of comparable size can only dream of (Bloomfield Road just seats 17,000, which in itself is an increase from the 12,000 capacity and just 3 permanent stands from its pre-EPL days). Considering its average turnover pre-EPL was around £7m, the EPL bonanza of £42m, with a surplus of £32m season, with parachute payments of £16m per season till 2012/13 will go a long way towards securing the club’s future.

Of course, not everything is rosy, with some fans being unhappy at the chairman, Karl Oyston, pocketing £11m of the profits rather than investing them in the club while others noting that the club has no other ambition apart from finding stability in the 2nd tier of English football. Still, it is something that certain top level clubs will envy- Portsmouth are in financial free fall after a few glorious seasons at the top, while others like Wigan and Bolton, with their enormous wage bills and debt coupled with relatively low support, will be dreading similar fates if they get relegated and cut off  from EPL revenues.

So, assuring the stability of the the club must be considered another feather in the cap of the manager, Ian Holloway- the man who guided Blackpool to the EPL via play-offs and gave them a memorable season at the top level, which included a double over Liverpool and away wins at Stoke and Sunderland. It was a fact that wasn’t lost on Fowler, who said via Twitter that his respect for Holloway actually increased during the negotiations even though they must’ve been pretty humiliating for him.

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