To play in the rain can be really tough; if you play in the mud, the snow or the ice it becomes a real physical challenge, but there is nothing worse than the wind. Well there is, windy conditions combined with the grass (?) of Bloomfield Road. The bad pitch combined with the wind made playing football almost an impossible challenge. Not only was it annoying but very difficult. You attempt to get the ball down to try to play it and then…the pitch is so bad that you can’t control the ball or make a good pass. However, amidst all this craziness we managed to win on Saturday against Brighton and it’s very difficult for me to write about Brighton as a rival…
But before that I must talk about us, Blackpool. Many things can be said about our team, you can talk about our limitations but we do deserve some credit because this is a group that, despite all the knock downs, gets up and keeps fighting. On Saturday we had another amazing surprise: we got to the changing room 2 hours before the game just to find out that Ishmael Miller’s shirt wasn’t there, we all looked at each other in confusion as we had assumed he was going to be in the first eleven and we suddenly found out that he wasn’t with us anymore. Miller is an important player, personality wise and historically and as it happens he won’t be with us anymore. Telford came out in his place and he showed that the youngsters in this team can be trusted, but the mood was strange as Big Ish’s departure made the changing room nervous. You read news articles like the one about Lewis, about unexpected departures, about new signings… a Russian roulette that we are not used to and that makes everything even harder. But that, at the same time, makes you feel proud that you kept going, we are at our limit but we are still alive.
You try even harder. You look at the sky and beg for the wind to stop, you look down and realise the pitch is also an enemy. But you look to the stands and you get energy as you discover that, despite everything, the fans are still with us. They support us and you know that, even if it is just for two hours, they put away their frustration and try to help us out. It’s simply amazing.
We won a very special game. Not just because of they are a rival (as this is a very personal matter) but because it was the week after what happened at Watford. It had been a very intense week which started with a very useful meeting. There weren’t any reproaches or accusations or long faces. We simply talked about the fact that it couldn’t happen again and we worked all week like hungry lions. I can assure you that I haven’t been that tired for many weeks. The intensity in the training sessions was really high, everybody was pushing themselves to the limit and it worked out well.
It wasn’t easy for me because, although I wanted these 3 points more than anybody, I knew that my rivals were also my friends. I have always been able to disconnect from what is happening around me once I get out onto the pitch but this time it was very special. Especially during today’s football as it seems players just play for money because our agents want to win 2 extra pounds somewhere else and you find yourself packing again without knowing whether it is the right choice or not.
I understood that my history with Brighton was real, special and unforgettable. I understood why, as the game approached, I had that funny feeling when I went to visit them at their hotel on Friday, and even more so on Saturday at Bloomfield Road. I heard those songs that once were mine and that my daughter keeps singing, I saw my “bro” Calde warming up on the side line, I saw Bruno, Greer, Caskey… I turned around so as not to look at them and focused on the Blackpool fans so as not to listen to the away ones. We won.
I was undoing my boots when Jamie O’Hara scored. We shall see who can deal with him now because he even counts the assists that he completes in the training sessions, so we are in for an interesting week! He deserves big congratulations, as despite not having a perfect day he stepped up and was brave enough to take a free kick which ended up going in superbly. I celebrated the goal with passion and crossed my fingers and spent a very long 10 minutes asking the referee to blow the whistle. How long that felt!
I felt sorry, I am sorry, for Brighton of course. I am not ashamed to say it out loud because that is how I feel. I enjoyed it there with Poyet and I learned lots with Oscar, but overall I found a big family that I can never forget. On Friday I went to their hotel and I was embarrassed by the sincere appreciation that everyone showed me. I managed to say hi to Gibbo, a very kind person who always stands by the players and who is a special friend. I spoke with the physio’s Wato and Anthony as if it had been yesterday when they took care of me. I hugged them, and I hugged Paul the photographer, and Joaquin and the guys from the media department. Of course I had a long chat with Calde and Bruno, as I did with all the other players. I had dinner with them as if we were still playing together and it confirmed something I already knew, we will be friends forever.
It wasn’t a great football game and when I replayed the game at night in my head, I realised we won because we had more faith and we fought harder. Sometimes people talk too much about tactics and strategy when something as simple as the commitment can make a huge difference. That and the quality, because Jamie’s free kick was pure quality. I had a tough game as every time I had the ball, Rohan Ince would come up to help the left back and that player has longer legs than Maria Sharapova (albeit uglier ones!). I tried to out run him but I didn’t manage so I tried my best to control the ball. I worked really hard looking for assists, passing and fighting. I was knackered when I got to the changing room. I gave everything and drove back home shattered but thinking that we are back on the right track.
I have explained how my happiness is also mixed with sadness for Brighton. I will explain. If you look at the table they still pretty low down and if you compare it with last year, the team is very different. Their football is very different and now I understand the huge job that both Poyet and Oscar did when they were there. I remember the 3rd of May in Nottingham when Leo Ulloa scored in the 92nd minute to give us the pass to the promotion playoff. It was an unforgettable feeling that will stay with me forever. I hope our mission to avoid relegation doesn’t mean that they will go down. I wish.
We need to keep going. We must now win away from home. We are the only team who hasn’t won an away game yet and we really need to win away from Bloomfield Road to let our rivals know that we are going to keep on fighting. We have shown in our home games that we are not an easy rival for anybody and although Norwich is currently fighting for the promotion positions we are obligated to try to scare them as the wounded lions we are. After that we will have Middlesbrough and Forest and these three games must make a difference.
Don’t count us out yet.