Photography by Shamil Tanna

Ian Holloway

Blackpool, 2009-2012

“Football is beautiful everywhere. You haven’t got to play it one way”

When Ian Holloway arrived at Blackpool in May 2009, almost an entire year had passed since he’d left his last job as manager of Leicester City.

Here, in this exclusive piece with The Coaches’ Voice, he explains how he used those 12 months to reassess his approach to management and work on a new philosophy of attacking football. He also discusses the way he implemented it at Blackpool, and how it resulted in the Seasiders’ fairytale promotion to the Premier League.

“My best mate is Gary Penrice – an absolute genius of a centre-forward who basically should have played for England. And me and him have known each other since we were seven and eight. I was eight, he was seven and he knows everything about me because we’ve been friends ever since then. So, he rang me up and said: “Ol, why don’t you just get back to being creative like you used to be?” He said: “Go and watch Swansea. Go and see how they play.” He said: “I’ve watched you lately and your team just defends. You’ve got your wingers defending.” He said: “Just go and have a look at them and come up with an attacking strategy. Do yourself a favour. Build. Be creative.

So luckily, I got some work for BBC doing some commentary on football. They sent me to watch Man United five times. And I went to watch Swansea three times and I was blown away. I had a right-winger coming back hitting a cross-field ball to a left full-back. And I’m thinking, what? How can they be that open? They had two centre-halves back there and the more I watched the more I got excited.

Gary was working for an agency at the time, so he was watching football all over the world. And what he said to me, he said: “England is an island, right?” And he said: “We can’t look over how anybody else is doing it. You know, we can’t look over their fence at our neighbour’s garden, whereas you’re in France and you can just nip over and see that football is just beautiful everywhere. You haven’t got to play it one way.” He said: “Just write your way of playing it. Make up what you want and as long as you know it, you can then go and coach that.” So anyway, I spent hours writing down: I move the ball to my right centre-half, get it back to my goalie, move it to my right-back, to my left-back to my…and I knew where I wanted everybody else, so I could coach that.

Then I went to Blackpool. I looked at their team that they had before I went to the interview. And they were pretty resolute, they had a good…I watched a couple of their games and they had Charlie Adam who they borrowed. I thought he was vital. They had DJ Campbell and I thought he was vital to what they were doing.

Well first off, I was fortunate that how I wanted to do it, I felt they could do it anyway. I really felt that the players that I’d seen play the previous season – and they finished 16th, I think. They had a really good defensive record. They didn’t score enough goals but they really…you know? The whole attitude was we’re doing well, we’re doing well. So, I just said: “Why is that doing well? Why can’t you set your…? Premier League, why can’t you?”

The beautiful thing was that they all responded to a system that suited every one of them. And the fans thought it was marvellous, because I talked them up. I talked how big the club was, how great it could be and I think the biggest thing I managed to get them to understand was: Stanley Matthews was all over the walls, you know? Morty [Stan Mortensen] was all over the walls. I said: “I want you to be famous, lads. Why can’t you be famous? Why can’t this group of Blackpool supporters remember you for the next 40, 50 years? Why has it got to be them all the time? Yes, they were brilliant, but why can’t you do something special? What’s stopping you doing that?”

I showed them Coach Carter, because I do believe that every one of us has an ability to shine, if we believe in it, and if we allow it. And you need all sorts of things to help you reach that goal because you can’t do it on your own. So, every one of them lads has more than made me proud over and over again.”

Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway

Former Blackpool manager Ian Holloway explains the tactics that saw his side defeat Cardiff City in the 2010 Championship playoff final and win promotion to the Premier League
Ian Holloway

Woof day

Former QPR manager Ian Holloway on starting his coaching career at Bristol Rovers and why his proudest day as a manager came during his time at the west London club
Lee Bowyer

Pass it on

Charlton Athletic manager Lee Bowyer on how his days as a player at Leeds United, Newcastle United and West Ham have helped shape his approach to coaching