Blackpool Exclusive: Ian Holloway on working with Karl Oyston, being fined by the Premier League and almost signing Jamie Vardy
The Sack Race caught up with Ian Holloway to talk all things Blackpool. From play-off ecstasy to play-off heartbreak, life as a Premier League manager, relegation, and what it was really like to work under Karl Oyston.
But first, here's how the Blackpool job originally came about back in the summer of 2009...
After leaving Leicester City I constructed a plan about what I would do if, and when, I got my next job. I spoke to a good friend of mine who told me to go and be creative; to work out a way of attacking, rather than just defending.
After looking back at my stints over the past few years I’d realised that I’d become more scared of losing, rather than designing a way to win games. So I worked out what system I wanted to play, and what sort of team I needed.
The Blackpool job then became available in May 2009 following the departure of Tony Parkes. I asked my agent to get me an interview because when I looked at their defensive structure and the players they had, I really thought that I could go there and make an impact.
Unfortunately their chairman, Karl Oyston, rang me himself and told me directly: “I’m not picking you, but good luck for the future.” I rang him back and said: “How dare you say that, give me a chance!”
The following day I went to meet Oyston in person. In preparation, I’d looked at what the fans had been saying, and compiled a list of questions which I put forward to him, and to be honest he answered them all brilliantly.
He then told me: “I’m looking for someone who can keep us in the Championship. I don’t care what you do or how you play, just don’t get us relegated. I’ll give you very little money so don’t moan about it.” That was it really, and it all went from there.
It’s a good job I rang him back!
Within a year Holloway had become the first ever Blackpool manager to win promotion to the Premier League. But, after beating Cardiff City 3-2 in that dramatic Championship 2009/10 play-off final there were rumours flying around that Holloway was going to resign due to a contract dispute…
I had three bonuses written into my contract: I had a bonus for keeping Blackpool in the Championship, I had a bonus for getting the club into the play-offs, and I had a bonus for winning the play-offs. But after winning promotion Oyston only paid me one of those.
He said: “I’m not paying you three bonuses. If your agent hasn’t written your contract well enough, and I can beat you, then that’s your fault.” Unfortunately there was a lot of money that he didn’t pay me. I was supposed to take 5% of the money I made from selling players - but I never made a penny!
There was truth to the resignation reports at the time.
Right from the start Oyston refused to deal with my agent. I had to make sure that every word was right because Oyston would have had a way of reneging on it if it wasn’t actually right. Charlie Adam sued him because he was owed the same bonuses, won but it cost him all the money that he earned to take him to court.
The contract was written in a way that if I got promoted to the Premier League, which we did, I was allowed to renegotiate my contract. Before the contract expired Blackpool had to of sent me a letter to let me know whether they were taking up the option for another year.
I was waiting for them to negotiate a contract with me, but then my wife told me that Blackpool hadn’t informed me that they were taking up the option. They had to have done that within six months of my contract expiring so technically I was working for them at the end of the season - after we got promoted - when I was trying to get new players signed on, but I hadn’t been told about my contract. They had breached that contract.
But when I tried to negotiate, Oyston said: “Well that’s it we’ve finished because I’ve tried to renegotiate, we can’t come to an agreement, so you’ll have to work on what you were on last year.”
I told him to look at Clause 23a, which stated that they had to send me a letter so he’s in breach of contract, which meant it was was null and void. I could have just walked out of the door for nothing.
Oyston then had to renegotiate properly. Was I happy with the new deal I got? No, because we had an argument and he went back on it and he took it to less than it was.
The fact is, he was brilliant at doing deals. He always said he should be my agent, because he’s better than all the other agents, and he was. Oyston would pride himself on how clever he was, and he would word things in such a way that there was always a loophole, which he would always exploit. If me and my agent were good enough we would never have signed it with a loophole.
I have no issue with that in the end because I probably did best under Oyston than I’ve ever done because I never felt threatened in any way. I trusted what he said. He would always say it how it was: blunt and brutal. That’s how our relationship was, that’s how we got on. He was ‘bad cop’ and I was ‘good cop’.
I’ll always remember it as a good time in my career, whichever club I’ve left I’ve never fought with the owners. I never have and I never will.
Unfortunately the fans have gone against me a little bit - I would have never stayed away from the ground because I wouldn’t have let any one person stop me from following my football club, but that was their choice. Some of the fans would then bully the other fans who still wanted to go, which I didn’t agree with. At the end of the day I’m absolutely delighted for them that they’ve got their club back now.
Holloway’s first ever Premier League game was a thumping 4-0 victory away to Wigan, which propelled Blackpool to the top of the table…
It was obviously great to be top of the Premier League but it was only for a few hours as Chelsea then thrashed Aston Villa 6-0!
That game was supposed to be a home game but our ground wasn’t legally viable. To be honest the 4-0 scoreline was a bit of a freak result. We got two goals against the run of play, Wigan came back out and battered us for a bit. We shut up shop, weathered the storm, scored a third, then and a fourth.
I looked at my assistant Steve Thompson and we were just laughing! We caught them on the hot that day, it was absolutely amazing.
During that Premier League season Ian Holloway was fined for fielding a ‘weakened team’ against Aston Villa in November 2010. Again, there were reports that he was going to resign...
Every player I picked for that particular game was in my allocated 25-man squad. It’s not like I suddenly brought in new players.
Who were they - the Premier League - to deem that it was a weakened side? I should have been allowed to play any of those 25 players anytime I like. I didn’t understand at the time and I still don’t understand to this day.
It just doesn’t make sense to me - maybe I’m stupid? How can they fine me £25,000 for a manager’s decision, it’s outrageous. Luckily Karl Oyston paid it. At the time I was never really going to resign but I felt so angry. I was absolutely seething at the rules, it just didn’t make sense to me, and still doesn’t.
I think it was the Premier League’s way of telling me - in a very arrogant way - that my squad wasn’t good enough. I still am grossly offended at how someone can sit their and judge from a distance that I haven't done my job properly.
It’s absurd, nonsensical, and outrageous.
Managers change their squads all the time and they didn’t get fined. I was the only one who was fined. My lads underneath my first team were doing so well in training. I used to put them up against the first-team regularly, and they would win. If I’d have started Charlie Adam against Aston Villa - he was a substitute - they wouldn’t have fined me. That’s my opinion on it.
In the end, Blackpool were relegated back down to the Championship. That summer they lost a number of pivotal players, but still managed to finish 5th the following season, before they heartbreakingly lost to Sam Allardyce’s West Ham in the Championship play-off final following an 87th minute winner from Ricardo Vaz Te...
That summer we lost three of our best players. Charlie Adam went to Liverpool, DJ Campbell to QPR, and David Vaughan to Sunderland. I had to build a new team. I added Barry Ferguson and Kevin Phillips from Birmingham.
In the end my new team was almost as good as my old one, we reached the play-off final where we didn’t deserve to lose the game. First-half we weren’t very good but second-half we should have won the game. It was a tough one to take.
A few months into the 2011/12 season Holloway left Blackpool and signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with Crystal Palace, with whom he’d go on to lead up to the Premier League...
At that time the relationship between Karl Oyston and I became increasingly difficult. He became more and more stubborn, and I felt that for Blackpool to grow we needed to do certain things, which he wasn’t doing. In the end he probably got what he wanted which was to sell me anyway.
Have I ever been asked to go back for a second spell? No. Would I go back? No. I’ll tell you why, when you’re a grandfather you don’t want to move far away from your family. I’m at a different stage of my life now, and I want to be around for my grandchildren. Life is all about timing.
Best Blackpool game...
The play-off final was my best game in charge of Blackpool when we twice came from behind to beat Cardiff 3-2. I’ll never forget it. My team refused to give in. I was so proud of every single one of them.
The best performance was probably away to Nottingham Forest (4-3), my lads were absolutely phenomenal. Birmingham City in the second-leg of the play-off semi-final to get to Wembley was also pretty special.
Best Blackpool player...
That’s unfair, there was too many. It really was a group effort. Obviously a lot of the plaudits went to Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell, and quite rightly so. They both took us to a different level.
My favourite of the lot though was Brett Ormerod.
He should have his own TV show - topics of the day with Brett Ormerod. He never changed no matter what he did, I absolutely loved him. What a dude. I would have given him a soapbox and listened to him for days and days and days. There has never been a more down to earth, better man on this planet then Brett.
Players you came close to signing...
I could have signed Medhi Benatia for £200k. I flew over to France on an icy night, it was awful. We had a contract for a £4000-a-week figure, as he was running out of contract at his club [Clermont Foot]. The only problem was that Udinese were after him as well.
I watched him and he was brilliant, but Karl Oyston didn’t believe Udinese would offer him a four-year deal. So we lost him to Udinese on a free transfer - the rest is history. He’s since won the Bundesliga twice, Serie A twice, and scored in a Champions League semi-final.
Benatia was definitely coming to us if Karl had said yes!
I also wanted to buy Jamie Vardy but Oyston didn’t think that he was worth that much. When he was at Fleetwood we were in for him, as were Leicester, but they beat us to his signature for £1.6million. We had money at that time. It was when we could have sold Charlie Adam for £6m but we didn’t.
Micky Mellon was the manager of Fleetwood then, and he told me that Vardy was going to play for England. So I told Oyston. We played them in the cup and beat them 5-1 and he scored the goal. But the money went to a ridiculous level. To be fair he made a decent choice in the end! He’s been sensational and a lot of that is down to Mellon, who is a fantastic manager.