As I look back on the last 12 months my thoughts are dominated by the ongoing upheaval in our lives caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and its damaging effect on our communities. This virus has taken many Seasiders from us and as I did in my June reflections, I wish to offer once again my condolences to those of you that have lost loved ones. As before, I am humbled by and grateful to the key workers who continue to resiliently provide us with the goods and services essential to our lives.
The coronavirus pandemic has also affected the running of our football club and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the club and hotel staff for their efforts this year. I am also grateful to the businesses that continue to support and sponsor the club, particularly during this most challenging of years.
Notwithstanding the difficult operating backdrop, the management team and I have continued with our goal of turning Blackpool into a modern and progressive football club. I believe that the foundations of future success are being laid by the build out this year across our three pillars of coaching, recruitment and the Academy.
In Neil Critchley we now have an excellent Head Coach who has assembled an experienced management team and has a young squad that, whilst still developing, shows all the signs of delivering the exciting, attacking play built on a solid defence that we all want to see.
I think that it is clear that our summer transfer window was executed in a much more focused and structured manner than the previous two windows of my tenure. After hours of debate, we took the calculated risk to act early against a very uncertain backdrop with no visibility as to if, let alone when, the season would start. We did this to give Critch a solid pre-season with as many of the key targets that he and the recruitment team had identified as was possible. We completed our transfer window as visibility as to the start of the season increased and as our other targets became available. The commitment of you, the fans, in purchasing season tickets was an integral part of this, the direct result of which was an increased player budget. Another critical appointment has been made here in John Stephenson: an experienced football man who now oversees our football operations. The introduction of John will only help to further improve our recruitment department. Using the right blend of data and eyeballs, we will continue to look for talent for Critch and the coaching team to develop.
The return of Ciaran Donnelly has had a positive impact throughout the Academy. This is evidenced by the recent upturn in the results of our Under-18’s that has seen them win their last five games. Hopefully the day will soon come when fans can watch them play at their new home at Stanley Park. It’s also particularly gratifying to have seen three Academy players in Brad Holmes, Rob Apter and Ewan Bange sign their first professional contracts. I hope that they all make it to become first team regulars and that many more Academy graduates follow suit in the years to come.
Now that we have the people in place to take the club forward, we clearly need an integrated training ground and base. Whilst progress has been slower than I initially anticipated, extensive work has been and continues to be done. We have visited approximately 30 existing training facilities and 37 prospective sites for our training ground have so far been identified. Of these, 17 have been visited and investigated and five are now under consideration. Each site comes with its own unique challenges and the final decision will be a considered one that will ultimately lead to us having a modern training facility that befits a club of our stature.
Much has been written recently about football needing a “circuit-breaker” and of the impact that the virus is having on the fixture list. Clearly health concerns should be of paramount importance but at times like this, the uplifting effects of football should not be understated. I would not go as far to say that we should keep football going at all costs, however the ability to follow and watch our club gives us a continued sense of belonging and something to look forward to during this most difficult and isolating of times. Whilst nothing can quite compare with physically attending a match, watching on iFollow is the next best available option and I hope that authorities do all they can to keep football going during the undoubtedly difficult weeks and months ahead. I look forward to the day that we can all safely return to a packed Bloomfield Road.
Football plays a part in the community beyond the physical act of playing and there is no better example of what can be achieved than the recent Xmas Fundraising that raised over £82,000 to provide gifts and support for under-privileged children in Blackpool and the surrounding areas. When I stepped up to buy the football club I was driven at least as much by my love for the town as I was by my love for football. The way that we all came together to fund this project has been one of the highlights of my custodianship and I hope that over the coming months and years the club continues to assert itself at the heart of the town. I would like to thank the BFC Community Trust for leading and managing this project in such a professional manner.
Another unique aspect of this year has been how extensively the fan/club relationship has been maintained digitally, be that through the purchase of replica kit via the online shop, watching the team on iFollow or via the various social media channels. We are currently working on several initiatives that will likely lead to a significant increase in digital media output from the club in 2021. I’ll also take this opportunity to say that most of us at the club, players included, follow BFC-related social media. Whilst I recognise that football is a game of opinions and emotions, I do feel that at times some of the comments levelled at players and staff can be a bit harsh and ultimately unhelpful. All of us at the club will make mistakes and will have days where we could have done better but players, fans and the club are united in that we all want success on the pitch and I assure you that everyone at the club is giving their all to achieve that.
Finally though, a massive and heartfelt thank you to you, the fans, for your support this year. So many of you have contributed in so many ways, be that volunteering at the stadium, buying club merchandise, committing to season tickets or purchasing match passes on iFollow. Every hour devoted to and every pound spent at the club is truly appreciated. I’m a fan like the rest of you and I bought the club because I wanted to ensure that future generations of parents would be able to take their kids to watch a match at their club, like my dad first did with me 43 years ago. I stepped up as custodian but I cannot do this alone and your ongoing support is vital to ensure that this club not only survives but it thrives.
Happy New Year!