The Play-Offs. Scourge of fans who suffer in them, or the best way to gain promotion depending on your point of view. I’ve suffered 2 penalty shoot-out heartaches as a Bluenose in play-off semi-finals, but also seen young Darren Carter score from 12 yards at Cardiff’s Millenium to send Blues into the Premiership at Norwich’s expense in 2002. They’re batty, unpredictable and a right old tinder-box of emotions. So going to report on play-off games as a neutral is just fabulous.
That was my job on Tuesday after hot-footing it up from London to Nottingham. I’d covered on the talkSPORT breakfast show alongside Mickey Quinn until 10am, having driven through the night with my DRESSED TO KILL bandmate Gary from seeing KISS in Manchester on the Monday night – in full costume and make up as well if you please…it got us noticed from the moment we arrived at the MEN Arena, and then the ensuing hour of photos in the arena’s concourse, followed by a huge roar from the crowd as they noticed the 4 of us take our seats at the side of the stage…which was exactly the intention!!
Anyway, back to Tuesday and a quick shower and shave upon arriving home before heading for the City Ground to watch Nottingham Forest take on Blackpool in a semi-final second leg tie, with Blackpool 2-1 up from the 1st leg. Even by the standards of games I’ve seen before at this stage of the season, what unfolded on the night was simply extraordinary. Forest quickly cancelled out the visitors’ lead and held a 1-0 until after half time where things went, frankly, mental.
Blackpool equalised, only for Forest to get a second, leaving the scores tied on aggregate once again. Cue a 3-goal blitz from Blackpool inside 15 minutes to send the Seasiders through past most pundits’ favourites for promotion leaving all of us in the press box open-mouthed with shock. After all this wasn’t really meant to happen – Forest hadn’t so much as conceded a goal here in 8 games before this one. Blackpool simply swarmed forward, and I was pleased for DJ Campbell getting a hat-trick, a former Blues player who never really got his chance under us at Premier League level for whatever reason. Maybe the Championship is his level.
On nights like this, your concentration as a reporter for talkSPORT has to be at tip-top levels, making sure you give out the score correctly to the listeners as well as the aggregate score - I also had to remind everyone regularly that, unlike European ties, away goals do not count at any stage in the play-offs, even after extra time.
It was my first ever chance to interview Ian Holloway, Blackpool’s charismatic manager, straight after the final whistle, and as always he gave a great interview, full of soundbites and good humour, but not at the expense of good footballing content. It’s abundantly clear how much he loves the game and loves being the underdog too I imagine. I wish him well in the Play-Off final against another manager I’ve interviewed many times during his spell at Wolves in Cardiff’s Dave Jones. Either manager would be a welcome addition to the Premier League, though I suspect the media would love to see Ollie pit his wits against Sir Alex and Arsene in the dugout - and in the post-match press conferences too!