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12th May 2012 - Placated in the Playoffs

I just had to scrap the last 962 words.

That’s because I’d typed a load of gibberish on Tuesday night about Blues’ last visit to the Championship Playoff Final a decade ago and how Darren Carter had coolly booked our passage into the land of milk and honey with a sweet left-footed pen – and further to that that we stood a great chance of getting back there on Wednesday if we…you can guess the rest.

Cheers Blackpool.

Actually, I can’t begrudge the Seasiders their 2nd such final in 3 seasons – they were the better side over the 180 minutes of the semi-finals and deserve to be there. The comeback that Blues put in from a seemingly hopeless position of 3-0 down on aggregate with half an hour to play was stirring stuff, but we’ve all used the ‘glorious failure’ thing rather a lot in the last 20 years of watching them either try to get in or stay in the Premier League…plus a year in the 3rd tier of course – but that was FUN. No really, it was!

I’ve had my run-ins with Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager, in the last 18 months or so, but after I interviewed him in the tunnel post-match at St Andrew’s I simply shook his hand and told him honestly how his players deserved it – he in turn thanked me and said the Blues’ fans response on the final whistle showed how much of a credit they were to the club.

And he was dead right. 4 years ago, fans were trying to get at David Sullivan in the directors box and terrifying his young kids in the process as Birmingham City dropped out of the Premier League on the final day at home to Blackburn. The atmosphere was all about certain (growing) factions wanting Messrs Sullivan & Gold out of the club – well, they got their wish…and now wonder what they wished for as our owner awaits trial in the Far East; our vastly experienced new Chief Exec lasted just a few months under the Carson Yeung regime before quitting due to a marginalised role; the one remaining member of the old board was awkwardly shifted away from a position of power to a life-presidency role that offered little clout in terms of decision making; and the general cloak & dagger approach to club developments and keeping supporters up to speed couldn’t be more different than the ‘Sky Sports News’ transparency of the ubiquitous Sullivan.

Let’s face it - he was on telly more than Colin Murray half the time. Now the only way you seem to get Peter Pannu in front of a TV camera is to watch Masterchef and squint a lot (think about it)

And so, against this background of uncertainty and financial muddle, the hastily cobbled together Blues squad that I’ve written about before on here came within an ace of the fabled £100m game at Wembley (I swear the estimated price on that game goes up each year like an unclaimed prize on a radio station mystery voice competition). 62 games of tension, drama and – in a radical shift from the McLeish era – goals were brought to an end by the Tangerine’s continuing dream. But as Chris Foy blew his whistle, whilst the away support in the Gil Merrick jumped all over one another in sheer exaltation and the Blues players sank to their knees, a round of applause started to ring around the other 3 stands. No booing, no catcalls, no attempts to fire verbal volleys at absent figureheads, not even any gallows humour which would’ve been ok with me anyway – just a generous show of appreciation to the squad and management at a job bloody well done.

That’s brilliant. A bit of realism from our supporters – whether it was purely a case of showing Chris Hughton a bit of love so he didn’t hop on the first Metro to the Hawthorns is open to question, but for the next few minutes the fans stayed, applauded the lads who themselves applauded back (some waving – waving goodbye?) and dejectedly trudged down the tunnel.

I also gather that after I interviewed him, Ian Holloway made his way to the boardroom, whereupon those representing Birmingham City immediately stood to applaud him for his team's effort, style and achievement. Quite right too - realism stretching into the corridors of power too it seems. So how realistic are the chances of our stylish and steadfast manager sticking around as Holloway has at Blackpool?

In my original draft for this here blog, I reckoned a 80% chance Hughton would stay if we won promotion and 20% if not. Well, here we are – not. And I see no real reason to review my percentage at the moment. It’s naïve to think that we won’t receive an approach for Chris in the summer. It’s then a case of his and the board’s resolve. I sense that Chris has no desire to be cast as a villain leaving a club ‘in the lurch’ and he’s well aware of the high regard in which the fans hold him.

In that 20%, I’m banking on his desire for a bit of continuity, preparing a 2nd season at the club and making adjustments based on out of contract and loan players leaving to make his squad that bit more effective at this level. But all the while there’s the 80% in the back of my mind that accounts for a club from elsewhere making an official approach and the board saying ‘give us £Xm and he’s yours’ regardless of what Chris himself thinks is best.

This will all play out whilst the hacks draw their knives for Hodgson’s England – maybe even before. Can’t imagine this summer will be any more fractious than last summer even if he’s not with us come pre-season. But until he’s sat in front of someone else’s club crest, I’ll grab onto that 20% with all my might. Because that’s what you do as a fan.

And it’s being a fan that attracts the keyboard warriors for all the wrong reasons at times. I’ve been accused over the years of many things pertaining to my passion for football – amongst other things, I’ve been harangued for supposedly being a West Ham, Derby County or Aston Villa (????!!!) season ticket holder, criticised for apparently sounding either too happy or too excited when reporting on goals at Villa Park, and most recently, being told that I’m not objective enough to report on the club I support, or the other clubs in my ‘patch’.

I swear I’ve covered this before, but I’m angry about this. How nice when your journalistic integrity is questioned by the brave and the bold of the information superhighway. Anyone who heard my updates on Blues/Blackpool on talkSPORT Wednesday night and wasn’t aware of my allegiance would be flipping hard pressed to know where my preferences lay.

Indeed, as I finished up sending the audio of my post-match interviews with Chris Hughton & Ian Holloway, my mobile phone rang and I answered - expecting it to be some Villa mate of mine somewhere going “YOU’RESHITTTTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” and simply hanging up. Which is fair enough coming from your mates, even if you clench your teeth whilst it happens.

But no. It was one of our talkSPORT ex-players turned pundits, who had heard the show including my regular updates and felt compelled to call and say how professional I’d been in what he imagined were trying circumstances for a Blues fan, and made it clear how unbiased I had sounded throughout. In amongst all the crap I get on Twitter from the resident knuckle draggers, such an endorsement from an International footballer meant more than he probably knew by making the call. I shan’t embarrass him by naming him – suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the next time we work together on the station…might even make him a coffee – if the kettle isn’t bust again. The last one in the kitchen had more boils than Lemmy.

So anyway, that cheered me up – then I was sent to watch Stevenage v Sheffield United on Friday night in the League One Playoff semis...*oof*

I could never get close to drafting 962 words describing that stinker if I’m here until blooming Christmas. As my old boss Tom Ross once described a game “Stevenage 0, Sheffield United 0 – no goals, no action, nothing. Stevenage 0 Sheffield United 0..."

Must look at the papers in the morning and see how the experienced hacks fill the column inches with that one…lots of luck guys :o)

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