They always say never go back. They warned him. The memories of 13 years ago still lingered like the aroma of tangerine perfume, igniting every sense from that bygone era. But it still feels like yesterday and if you squint, they look the same. Throw a potential return of Charlie Adam into the mix and who could resist? Okay, that’s either where the metaphor falls down or I’ve stumbled into some worrying subconscious desires, but the story remains the same: Simon Grayson’s summer romance has inevitably turned into Blackpool winter heartbreak.
Anyone would be tempted to go back to the scene of one of their greatest triumphs, but the writing was perhaps on the wall from the moment play-off and Premier League hero Adam chose the bright lights of Berkshire and Reading over a League One switch from Stoke City. This was to be no repeat of the glory days from a decade past.
It is also imperative to remember that 13 years is a long time in football. Blackpool have been to the Premier League and back all the way to the EFL’s basement division before setting up in League One, while Grayson enjoyed success at Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Preston North End before struggling in front of the Netflix cameras at Sunderland and a brief, entirely failed spell at League Two Bradford City.
Blackpool, renewed by the vigour of new ownership and no more Oystons at the club, may resemble something of their former selves with the fans back onside, but Grayson had lost more than his hair in the years he had been away.
And yet, it had been going relatively swimmingly beside the seaside but their legs, like a swan’s, were flapping in a panic while giving the impression of serenity. A run of just one win in a dozen games has seen the Tangerines drop to mid-table with few signs of a turnaround evident.
In some ways, Grayson was a victim of Blackpool’s off-the-pitch successes. Any of Gary Bowyer’s shortcomings saw blame shifted to former owner Karl Oyston; Grayson has not been afforded such luxury. It is too soon to tell just how successful Simon Sadler will be at the top of the Blackpool tower of hierarchy, but he at least appears to want the best for the club. Dismissing Grayson is proof of that. As was hiring the League One play-off manager for a second spell despite some fan opposition.
January was the month where it unravelled. To say their winter window was something of a mess would be an understatement. No fewer than eight signings were made, ranging from summer departure Marc Bola back on loan from Middlesbrough to a host of players without any or much senior football under their belts – right-back Teddy Howe from Reading and Leicester City’s Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall chief among them.
Meanwhile, there was discontent already rearing its head from the summer with new boy Ben Tollitt joining Macclesfield Town on a permanent deal just six months after arriving and being given little to no chance to impress.
All of this would be almost forgivable of course, if results were going the way of the Seasiders, but Tuesday night’s despairing defeat at home to Gillingham summed up Grayson’s second tenure to a tee. It started so well, reminiscent of the good ol’ times. Then it started to go awry with the Gills turning the tide before a 90th-minute equaliser looked to have preserved the hosts.
It was most fitting that snatching defeat from the jaws of something that looked like being a success put paid to Grayson’s second spell at the helm. If Blackpool are to move forward, it is now imperative they stop looking back.