Simon Sadler has reflected on Blackpool’s incredible 2021 in a special New Year’s message to supporters.
The club’s custodian sat down with Tangerine TV to discuss the last 12 months in his now traditional New Year’s review.
But rather than release the message in written format, as he has done on previous occasions, Sadler was the special guest on the club’s ‘Sofa Talk’ feature.
Speaking to camera, Sadler discussed Blackpool’s run to the League One play-offs, the semi-final win against Oxford United and of course that memorable day at Wembley, when Neil Critchley’s side overcame Lincoln City to secure the club’s return to the Championship after a six-year absence.
Sadler comically revealed he even bought a dog not long after the play-off final and named it “Kenny” in tribute to Kenny Dougall, who was Blackpool’s hero with both goals on that day in May.
The club’s owner also discussed some of his standout moments of the year, Pool’s start to the Championship season, Critchley’s new contract and what lies ahead in 2022.
Here are some of his standout thoughts:
2021 summed up
“It’s just been great.
“Being involved in this football club is like being involved in a living, breathing soap opera, it really is.
“It’s like an ongoing episode of Eastenders or Coronation Street where there’s a cast of characters and at times I almost feel like one of the script writers. We could never have put this script together though.
“From where we started at the start of the 2019/20 season to where we ended up, it’s just been incredible.
“There have been so many moments along the way, so many bits that I enjoyed.
“Looking at it chronologically, I loved the West Brom FA Cup game. It’s always nice for a League One club to beat a Premier League club. Maxi (Chris Maxwell) even told me he’d be alright if it went to penalties because of his save percentage, so I felt quite confident going into that.
“The league run-in, we were thinking ‘are we going to do it?’ because we spent a lot of time around 12th-ish, didn’t we? But it seemed quite quickly that we popped into the top six.
“I even thought there could be a chance of automatic, but then we had those two 1-0 defeats to Rochdale and Shrewsbury. But we had those two Sunderland games which came up quite close to each other and all of a sudden we were there, we were in the play-offs.
“I remember feeling a bit nervy going into the Oxford game, thinking we only had a one-in-four chance, a 25 per cent chance that we’re going to make it.
“But after the start to that Oxford game, I thought we might have a chance here and that was just a phenomenal game. I loved it.
“To come back to Bloomfield Road and finally get some fans back in the ground and get it over the line to Wembley, it was great.
“By the time I got to Wembley, I was as cool as a cucumber. I felt we were going to do it.
“I bought myself a new tie and on the back of the tie was this bizarre little symbol in green and red with angel wings and my son pointed it out and told me it was an omen – we were definitely going to win.
“During the match, I’d look at it every now and then – like after Ollie Turton’s own goal – and think to myself we’ll be alright. And we got there.
“It was just an incredible moment and to go down on the pitch, just to look up and see all the fans, my name being sung – that was pretty incredible.
“You might dream of having your name sung in a stadium when you’re seven, eight or nine years old but when you get to 50 you know it’s unlikely to happen.
“But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I’m the owner/custodian of a football club, I’m walking on the pitch and people are singing my name. I’m getting soaked in champagne…it was weird.
“I celebrated by getting a dog and I called it Kenny – Kenny the pug. We have him to remind us of those two goals and that great day.”
The club’s progress
“When you think about it on a day-by-day basis, you often feel that nothing is happening and things are going slowly. But when you look back you think ‘wow’, we’ve done this much in a couple of years.
“It was a basket case, an absolute, absolute basket case. There were layers and layers of issues that had to be worked through.
“There were so many old legacy issues, there were ongoing problems going on everywhere that needed to be addressed. It took a real effort to work through them.
“I was very lucky that Ben Mansford agreed to join us and we also brought Brett (Gerrity) on board to really work through a lot of the problems.
“Those first few months were about putting a sensible structure in place that any sensible business needs and then trying to figure out how the football side operates, which is why Ben came in.
“Where we are now, everything ticks along. There is a lot of improvement in the academy already – we all want to see a lot of our own players brought through.
“There’s been a massive improvement in coaching with Neil Critchley and his team and John Stephenson and the recruitment team – I think we recruit pretty well now.
“Elsewhere, everywhere you go…the stadium is better, the shop is better, hopefully people are just getting a much improved experience.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work though because the foundations of this place were just a mess.”
Neil Critchley’s new contract
“I don’t think we could find anyone else of his calibre who is as committed as he is to this football club.
“It’s just incredible to think in his first full year of management he managed to get the club promoted.
“We had a cracking start to our time in the Championship. Yeah, we all know results over the past few weeks haven’t gone that well for us, but I’m really pleased with how this season is going and Neil is a fantastic man.
“What was really important for that appointment after we parted ways with Simon (Grayson) was to get somebody on board who really bought into and understood the whole project and the whole idea of developing players and bringing players through.
“He’s been great.
“Ben and I went to training before and had a good chat with him. He’s always very open and he tolerates my daft questions.
“He’s just a fantastic man and him and his team are doing a great job and he’s really passionate and really cares.
“He has so much integrity and that’s important to me, because we all know what came before. I want this football club to be known for doing the right things in the right way.
“We need the right sort of people around here and he’s one of them, so hopefully he’ll be with us for a long time.”
Plans for 2022
“Clearly the most important thing is to retain our status in the Championship, then we will just continue to build.
“In every window we’ll try and improve the squad, so we’ve got a couple of ideas for January which may or may not come off.
“I know I’ll have to mention the training ground, but I’m going to have to disappoint yet again I’m afraid and say we’re still waiting on legals. These things do take time, so please be patient. But when we can do it, we will do it properly.
“At some point we clearly need to address the issue with the East Stand. As Ben said recently, there are talks with the council but that will take time to resolve.
“A lot of it is just keep chugging along and doing what we’re doing. Recruitment has been good but hopefully we can keep getting better, hopefully we can continue to make the academy better.
“We’ve got the structure in place, it’s just a case of keep trying to improve day by day and we’ll see where we get to.”
Message to supporters
“I’m sure we all feel it when we’re out there, but to use Critch’s words, the way I feel when I’m in the stadium I barely feel when I’m anywhere else. It’s remarkable and a fantastic place to be.
“We’ve got a great set of fans and at times it’s really overwhelming just to be sat there, because it’s really uplifting.
“We’re all still struggling with Covid and there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, but we’re all giving each other an uplift when we’re together.
“That’s the thing, we’re all in this together. I’ve really enjoyed the last year and I’m really looking forward to the next year.
“My final message is Happy New Year and Up the Mighty Pool.”