By Brian Sears
24 May 2010
Blackpool are setting new standards for ‘small fish in big ponds’ as they ascend to the Premier League. Their ground capacity will be the smallest of any of the 44 clubs to have been members of that top division, and their average following this season at Bloomfield Road of 8,611 is the smallest fan base ever to be ushered into the Premier League.
The next lowest average crowd that followed a promotion season to the Premier League was in 1992-93, when Swindon’s following in the old (second tier) First Division at the County Ground was 10,715. Not until now has the average gate for a club winning promotion to the Premier League numbered in only four figures.
Blackpool now make it a surprisingly large number of 18 clubs that in the post-war period of 65 seasons will have known life in the fourth tier of English football as well as in the Premier League. Next season five of those clubs will be feasting at the top table together: Blackpool, Bolton, Fulham, Wigan and Wolves.
As recently as 1982-83, Blackpool sank to 21st place in the old (old) Fourth Division, three places away from the wooden spoon position. Their average following that year was 3,002, and in our “roller coaster” graphic below, we plot the positions by season in the table and the crowds in orange.
The last time Blackpool gained a higher league position than their sixth in the 2009-10 Championship was when they finished fifth in the second tier in 1976-77 – 33 seasons ago. And the last time they had a place in the top division was six seasons before that, in 1970-71.
The big test now, of course, is for Blackpool to survive their first Premier League season and keep that status. By reaching the Premier League they have become the first club to win through the play-offs at each of the three levels; into the third tier, second tier and PL (aka Promised Land, aka Premier League).
But of the 23 sides promoted to the Premier League by winning the play-offs since 1987, a whopping 14 have sunk straight back into Football League waters. This fate has befallen five of the last seven play-off winners, including Burnley.
And yet! And yet! Just nine short years ago, Ipswich finished as high as fifth in the Premier League having got their via the play-offs, and 17 years ago Blackburn finished fourth after coming up via the play-offs.
Play-off winners enjoy better fortune in the lower leagues. Only two of the 23 teams promoted to Championship level have known immediate relegation, while two sides, Manchester City and Notts County, have enjoyed consecutive promotions. And from the current League One level, Gillingham are but the fourth side to have been immediately relegated back to the basement.
Blackpool should gain some comfort that in their three previous play-off promotions (albeit to a lower status than they now enjoy) that have always survived the next season at their elevated level.