West Ham or Blackpool in the playoff final: who do Sunderland supporters want to win? We’re strangely undecided about the Hammers, not much liking teams that put eight past us and then impose obscene ticket prices but admitting, as some of us do, that they’re the kind of club we’d go and watch if exiled in London. But Blackpool offer not only the shorter away trip, complete with seaside rock and candy floss, but the special factor: Kevin Phillips. Bill Taylor makes his choice …
If there was any justice in the world or, more specifically, in football, West Ham would already be bouncing back to the Premiership on the heels of Reading and Southampton.
The current Championship playoff system is inequitable at best. Here’s West Ham, sitting in third place only two points adrift of second, and Blackpool in fifth, 11 points behind the Hammers.
But come Saturday’s final match-up between the two, it could well be the Tangerines doing the big rebound. Fair or foul, the points differential has become irrelevant. It all hinges on one game.
And, fair or foul, I hope Blackpool pull it off. They’re certainly capable of it, especially given the Hammers’ penchant for snatching defeat (or five draws in a row) from the jaws of victory.
As one West Ham fan of my long-suffering acquaintance put it, “If we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.”
Even Steve Bruce at his worst rarely blamed Dame Fortune for Sunderland’s throwing away of games. He hid instead in a cocoon of disappointment, whence he spewed vituperation at the supporters.
Do we really need another London team with an unshakeable belief that it’s God’s will that they should be gracing the Premiership? Not in my book.
When Blackpool got there for last season, there was no bombast, no, “Finally, back wherewe belong”. They just knuckled down, got stuck in, worked like dogs and played a lot of energetic and – just as important – entertaining football. They conceded a lot of goals, too many ultimately, but I don’t recall them once playing for a single point.
And when they were relegated, I don’t remember hearing a single cry of, “What a swizz” or “We were robbed”. That’s a good attitude to have.
Besides, as Pete Sixsmith observed not too long ago, “Ian Holloway is as mad as the proverbial box of frogs”.
Football,the Premiership in particular, could do with more of that. Martin O’Neill wasn’t my first choice to take over from Steve Bruce and I’m not ashamed to admit I was wrong. I’m thrilled with what O’Neill has achieved and excited at the thought of what next season might bring.
But I wouldn’t have been unhappy had Holloway, as was rumoured at one point, cometo the SoL. The man is a great motivator.
As for Blackpool itself – “noted for fresh air and fun,” as Marriott Edgar observed– it’s every northern cliché rolled into one: gritty, hard-working, wryly humorous, not expecting anyone to do it any favours, etc etc. And it has a team to match.
In short, just like us. Though when I say “us”, I mean Mackems as a whole. I should probably exclude myself – before someone does it for me – because these days I’m an overweight, complacent Canadian. I can’t even remember where I left my “kiss me quick” cowboy hat.
(Meanwhile,of course, in a supreme feat of collective irony, Liverpool and the two Manchesters have turned themselves into southern clichés.)
West Ham, on the other hand, is arguably the last place God made and he didn’t bother finishing it. Blessed with a team that has delusions of adequacy and certainly noted for neither fresh air nor fun.
The club has some reasonable players: Mark Noble, good with long, raking passes and a decent marksman (also, I think, this squad’s longest-serving player); Robert Green who, when he’s not being red-carded (okay, fair play to him; he got off on appeal), has been known to stop a shot or two: Kevin Nolan; Ricardo Vaz Te; James Tomkins… though Tomkins can be a bit disaster-prone, too, as can Abdoulaye Faye, George McCartney (on loan from Sunderland but preferably never to be returned) and Winston Reid. This is not a bullet proof defence.
But the team has, I believe, narrowly the best away record in the Championship (they’re much shakier at Upton Park but being in east London will do that to you) and have clobbered Blackpool twice this season, 4-0 and 4-1. There’s no doubt they’ll start Saturday’s game as favourites.
I think that’ll count against them. Blackpool will come out with nothing to lose and the impetus to end the season with a bang.
Hollowaytold the BBC last week that after his side’s relegation and all the players he subsequently lost, “I would have said this was a dead duck, but it wasn’t. We don’t lie down. We keep going and try to do it in a decent way.”
One of the players Holloway lost was David Vaughan, who came to the SoL and has done some useful work for the Cats. We’ll draw a veil over the goal he scored in Everton’s favour to put us out of the FA Cup…
And one of the players Holloway gained was our own (I don’t think there’s a Mackem who would think of him in any other way) Kevin Phillips.
In 40 appearances for Blackpool this season, he’s scored 17 goals. He’s getting onin years and he doesn’t play the full 90 minutes but he’s a great one for coming off the bench in the closing stages to save a game.
That could easily happen on Saturday with a team trying to do it “in a decent way”taking on a team that believes it has a pre-ordained right to a place in the upper echelon.
I’m looking forward to seeing Phillips back at the Stadium of Light. Even if he is wearing an orange shirt.