The WhatsApp group between Ian Evatt and the players and staff who helped Blackpool to their improbable Premier League dream could make interesting reading later today.
Exactly 13 years ago, Ian Holloway’s side sat comfortably in mid-table above the likes of Fulham, West Ham and Wolves having already beaten Wigan, Newcastle United and Liverpool in their own backyard.
A team described by the Bolton boss as “misfits” had somehow found their way to the top table on a tiny playing budget and by the end of the year sat eighth. The fact they also had three games in hand on some of the teams around them was down to the number of postponements at Bloomfield Road, hinting at the underlying lack of investment that would signal the club’s eventual decline.
Despite gaining popularity for their attack-minded football, the underdog story did not have a happy ending and the Tangerines’ stay in the Premier League lasted just one season.
Defeat against Sam Allardyce’s West Ham a year later denied them an immediate return and set in place a chain of events and poor decisions that would leave Blackpool playing in League Two just five years later.
The Oyston family, who had owned the club since the late eighties, found itself increasingly at odds with the fanbase, and several years of bitter courtroom battles, protests and mass boycotts finally forced a sale to local businessman Simon Sadler in June 2019.
This afternoon Evatt will lead a team out as manager against Blackpool for the first time since he left a decade ago as the longest-serving member of a squad that still keeps in touch.
“We all stay in contact, including the gaffer, and we still all support each other, and that is because we created something magical,” Evatt told The Bolton News.
“I think the budget we had would probably now sit in the middle of League One, maybe even bottom half. And that got us into the Premier League. I don’t think that will ever happen again.
“But, as with everything, when you have some success sometimes it brings its own problems, and it certainly did that for Blackpool.”
Evatt played more than 250 times for the Tangerines, with goalkeeper coach Matt Gilks adding another 200 games. Others, like Alex Baptiste, Nathan Delfouneso, have also played a part in Bolton’s own revival over the last few years.
All played under the Oyston reign, which is still creating headlines and aftershocks to this day.
“It was mad, it was crazy, but we achieved some special things, and they (the owners) were a part of it. I have respect for that,” said Evatt, looking back on his former employers.
“Obviously, there were a lot of problems and issues, which I understood, and what the fans were saying.
“We speak about legacies and making sure that when you do achieve something really special you have something to show for it. I feel like the fans there feel hard done by that after all that hard work and success in that period, there wasn’t a new training facility, or a stadium upgrade, there wasn’t the investment in the squad to enable it to continue to challenge at the top end of the Championship and the Premier League.
“These things eventually come to a head, and it did, but it is great to see them on a more stable platform now and doing well.”
Evatt looked back on the seasons immediately after Premier League relegation and felt that the squad Holloway had built was too quickly disassembled.
“I think the whole group felt like it had been written off too early,” he said. “The investment had dried up a bit and people were moved on, the whole thing was broken up. For me, I think that was a mistake.”
Blackpool will bring a full contingent of 4,000-plus away fans this afternoon at the Toughsheet, with more than 22,000 expected around a busy stadium.
The chances of both sets of fans singing his name?
“I’m not sure about that,” Evatt grinned. “But I’d like to think there is a lot of respect there, there certainly is from my side.
“But we know what football is like and what emotion football brings. I’m the manager of Bolton Wanderers, which is one of their rivals, and they know they are a direct competitor this season and that we’ll do all we can to take three points from them.
“I am really glad they have more stability, which is obviously important. The relationship between the previous ownership group and the club had completely burst, and understandably so, I guess, but I will always have fond memories of that place and will always look over with an admiring glance.
“I will always have an enormous amount of respect for that club and the things we achieved together.
“But that was then and this is now, and this is kind of a second life for me, being a manager. It will always have a sentimental value for me because I think the world of the club and its supporters but I am the manager of Bolton Wanderers, I love my job and I love this football club equally. And it means the world to us to try and get three points in any game, so it will on Saturday too.”