At 3pm on Saturday, Ian Holloway will settle into his place at pitch side and soak in the atmosphere of a half empty DW Stadium. He will look out onto the messy Wigan turf and see a string of Championship players plugging away on a pitch suited for rugby league. Holloway will look around and take a deep breath in and produce a broad, bubbly smile. For Holloway, this is home. He has spent 28 years in football (13 as a manager) dreaming of being able to stand on the touchline as a Premier League manager and on August 14, Holloway’s dream will become reality.
What he did last year begs belief. Holloway took a team of sub-average players and produced some mind-blowing attacking football, only failing to score in six games out of forty six. Holloway hired a squad made up of free transfers, loans and one marquee signing of £500,000 in Charlie Adam and unified them beautifully. He made the English press stand up and think that Holloway can actually manage teams successfully and is not just some Gloucestershire goofball who gives out iconic, yet idiotic, quotes and is only good for maintaining survival.
The 47-year-old has already said he will not change his ethos to attack and he will still set up his team to play free-flowing football against any opposition. Holloway said: “You won’t ever in my life in the Premier League – however long that may be – catch me standing toe to toe with someone as a boxer and just covering my face.”
‘Ollie’ also added: “I want to go to these big clubs and give them a good game but, whatever the score line, I’ll still be buzzing when we leave because I’m proud of my lads’ efforts.” The Kingswood-born gaffer has no fear. He will happily stand up against anybody and give out as much as he receives. Critics, including this writer, believe that Blackpool will not get into double figures and will perform worse than Derby County did in their ill-fated eleven point embarrassment in the 2007/08 season. Holloway has, however, jokingly, succumbed to the daunting challenge his team faces and said: “I was fuming at first when people said we wouldn’t get 10 points. But when I got the fixture list I said, ‘My God, where are we going to get 10 points from?’ The truth is I can’t wait for the challenge. I’ve nothing to lose and that suits me better than having everything to lose.”
Frustration is starting to overcome Holloway, as he attempts to assemble a squad capable of challenging in the Premier League this season. He has a transfer list of around 40 players, he admits, but is having difficulty with the sudden trajectory of prices since Blackpool became a Premier League team. He exclaimed: “I feel like I’m a fella who was selling the Big Issue last week with my dog sat by me looking pretty hungry and I just picked up a winning Lottery ticket.” Producing another quote like that makes people laugh, but underneath the jovial exterior, you can see the annoyance from Holloway.
He has been used to scrimping, and saving for players, and carefully and astutely picking his targets, but with the Premier League status and money that is closely associated with Premier League teams, Holloway cannot bargain anymore. The former QPR boss expects to have a few signings wrapped up in time for the first game with Mlada Boleslav midfielder Ludovic Sylvestre’s agent claiming his client is having a medical at Blackpool today. Other players rumoured with Blackpool are powerful striker Marlon Harewood and free agent Robert Koren.
Holloway has problems though. He has one scout, Billy Dearden, on his books and works with a backroom staff of four or five full time workers. Holloway recently sent Dearden to Hungary and it was the first time Dearden had ever been abroad, which shows the lack of experience within the Seasiders. Also, Holloway only has 17 players in his first team and will need to either draft in 8 new faces or bring up players from the youth team.
So, when Saturday comes, Holloway will be animated and lively as always from start to finish against Wigan, urging his boys on, feeling everything and through all the pain, heartache or triumph, he will still be in love with football and in love that he has a place at English football’s top table. However good or bad Ian Holloway’s season is going, he will always be buoyant and play his team with no fear. The rest of the Premier League cannot wait to see what happens at Bloomfield Road and neither can we.