Not heads, not tails; in London we got stuck in the middle. We were winning, we nearly lost and we ended drawing in a very strange match. We are still bottom of the table but we haven’t lost in 4 games and we keep slowly adding points, 6 from 12, and we are looking at the future with higher hopes.
I say “we” because I am Blackpool. I have been on the bench, getting cold for the last 3 games. I haven’t played a single minute and it is a strange situation that I cannot get used to. “The day you don’t get pissed off for not playing, is the day that had you better quit”, Rijkaard told me once while training with Barca. I was young then and from time to time some Barca B players trained with the first team.
Despite what some people might think Rijkaard was a very demanding guy. He was demanding with Ronaldinho and with Orlandi, he never made distinctions between the stars of the changing room and the youngsters who thought they were going to conquer the world.
During my time at Barca I learned a lot and when, years later, I saw Guardiola’s team, I thought and still do, that Pep massively improved what Rijkaard had started. The combination football, the speed, the passing game, the cover play, the supporting strikers…Everything!
I learned about all that and I am proud, even though my name is in small letters in Barca’s history, of having been part of that team. Now it’s all part of my past but I remember a lot about what Rijkaard told me. I get very upset when I don’t play but I am Blackpool.
I am saying this because on Thursdays we normally get the mail and I got a letter that threw me. It gave me contradictory thoughts but helped me a lot. For some reason I had it in my mind that I wasn’t going to play against Charlton and my mood wasn’t the best. Let’s see what they tell you now, I thought when I opened the letter and it ended up being a direct punch to my heart.
Often they ask you for a signed photograph or something like that but this time it was something different. Eddie Scott is a Blackpool fan who was telling me that he had been following the team for more than 40 years, in the good and in the bad times and who always travelled with the team. He had read my column a few weeks ago in which I was apologising for not having saluted the fans at the end of a defeat against Reading. He reminded me that, for the fans, it means a lot, a simple salute at the end of the game, despite the fact we may be feeling frustrated or the angry after the defeat. He is right, the fans feel the colours that we defend and sometimes the players are selfish by principle. That letter made me think and I really appreciate the fact that Eddie spent some time to tell me his story and to show me his support.
On Friday I spent some time talking to my friend in Barcelona who is a Wimbledon fan and he’s excited because they were drawn against Liverpool in the FA Cup. He likes football stories and he was talking to me about when Blackpool won the cup in 1953. They beat Bolton by 3 goals from Mortensen in the last minutes of the game. He explained to me who Mortensen was and he told me about Jimmy Armfield, Stanley Matthews, to who that final was dedicated, and about the intimate character of many clubs in England which makes all the Eddie Scotts deserving of our attention. That’s why I suffered so much in London. I am not sure if Eddie was at The Valley but I can assure you that when Steve scored in the 89th minute I got a high!! Those who were on the stands deserved it more than anybody.
It has been a special week in many aspects. It started with the video calendar that the team organises with the players singing Christmas carols and answering fans questions with their Christmas jumpers on. Basically making a fool of ourselves but looking human in front of the little ones. We ended the week with a visit to the Victoria Hospital in Blackpool.
My version of Merry Christmas was one to remember. People can’t say I don’t try to sing well and put on a good face. The hospital is another matter. To be able to put a smile on the children’s faces is its own reward, because it really breaks your heart to see so many little boys and girls going through something they should never have to go through. We do it in Blackpool and we did it in Brighton and Swansea. I have never made an excuse not to attend the hospital visit although it is a hard thing to do, but it’s something you have to experience to realise how lucky you are.
In Brighton, we even used to go into the local schools from time to time to take some lessons with the children…And Orlandi was the happiest chap in the world. At The Amex, on a game days, I would meet more than one child I had shared those lessons with, and there was a special connection. Seeing the expression of happiness on their faces is priceless!
I am writing this while I’m putting my shoes and hat on. Today is Sunday (yesterday when you read this) and I have to go and be Father Christmas! I am really looking forward to celebrating Christmas because last year Norah kept saying that Father Santa was ugly and we couldn’t make her change her mind. It has been a tough year trying to make her like Santa and it looks like Laura and I have managed. We tried everything, even the ‘you had better behave or Santa won’t get you anything,’ but she would look at you with a face that said ‘I don’t want that ugly man to bring me anything.’ But we have succeeded, challenge completed!!
One more week and one more game gone. On Saturday we will play at home against Bournemouth. First against bottom, a good test. Four years ago they were promoted from League 2 and Blackpool was promoted to the Premiership. I was playing in Bloomfield Road with Swansea that season. We lost 5-1. Nothing else to add. You have to admire how Bournemouth has grown as they beat Cardiff 5-3 on Saturday and they have been undefeated in 12 games. I am very envious, but it is also good motivation after our latest results. I say we because as I told you, I am Blackpool. But if I was just speaking for myself, I can only use my work to show the coach that I am there, ready and upset because I am not happy just being on the bench. Rijkaard showed me how to rebel in the tough times and the tougher the situation is the harder you have to train. My pride won’t allow me to think or to act in any other way.
Translated by Alfons Vinent.