It’s thirty minutes into Blackpool’s First Division encounter with struggling Brentford and the Seasiders, unexpectedly, find themselves three goals down to the relegation threatened visitors.
It’s an atypical blip for Simon Grayson and his team, who have hauled themselves into promotion contention after a disastrous start to the season.
There are a number of jobs in football that are considered intense management challenges, such as making Leeds United or Wolverhampton Wanderers driving forces in the game again.
But what could be more daunting than the task of lifting Blackpool, one of England’s most famous clubs, back into the Championship, after spending nearly thirty years cast adrift from the domestic semi-elite?
The Cycle Of Doom…
What exactly does it take to break this cycle of doom and what are the influences that would stand in the way of such a breakthrough?
It’s not as if Blackpool are complete strangers to opportunity. Famously nailed on in 1995/96 under the leadership of Sam Allardyce, they went on to gift automatic promotion to Oxford United before blowing a two goal play-off lead to Bradford City.
When a club, as if embodying a self fulfilling prophecy, has become accustomed to underachievement, we should not be surprised that acts of self-sabotage reveal themselves when success, beckons. The fearful possibility of breakthrough will trigger all those habits, patterns and attitudes within the DNA of the organisation that are resistant to change.
It is notable that supporters are demanding that chairman Karl Oyston complete work on the half finished stadium. They sense the contradiction between the premise of championship football and a ground which suggests failure. The stadium acts as a symbol for a job less than half finished, it’s seemingly almost permanent incompleteness standing as a stark reminder of history destroyed and a future unobtainable. It is exactly this kind of contradiction which creates the environment in which self sabotage can ferment and breed.
Another indication that the club may not be fully geared to the prospect of a leap forward is the lack of signage around the ground. No logo bearing, proudly, the club name and badge over the main entrance. For a club to break out of the lower leagues into the championship, it has to think and act like a championship club in waiting.
To break a ‘stop situation’ takes more than just wishful thinking or unchannelled effort. It calls for what is known in sports psychology parlance as ‘breakthrough power’. Breakthrough power is an alignment of attitudes, intentions and behaviours all pointing in the same direction. It can be seen in the work Jose Mourinho has done in making Chelsea ready to accept success.
The Sports Psychology Summary…
Breakthough power calls for a breadth of vision that can encompass a bigger and better future. It calls for unification between the board and club management. It needs players who are accustomed to a culture of winning and who will not accept second best, who will serve as cultural leaders and lift the doubters up with them. It demands clear rules that lay out the behaviours that will and won’t be tolerated. And it calls for all the support systems to be set up for success.
But most importantly of all it demands a commitment. A commitment to ending years of sterility and underachievement. A commitment to restoring a club to the levels its heritage demands. For Blackpool and their no longer impassive faithful, it remains to be seen whether the collective desire to succeed is greater than the readiness to accept failure.