After six years away, Blackpool FC is back in the Championship.
Following a 6-3 aggregate victory over Oxford United in the semifinals, Neil Critchley's side overcame a horrific start to the final to earn salvation at Wembley. Blackpool conceded the earliest goal ever scored in a League One Playoff Final through an own goal by Ollie Turton just 50 seconds into the game.
Turton's blushes would be spared by the most unlikely of heroes as teammate Kenny Dougall, who had scored two goals in his last 82 games, bagged a brace to secure playoff glory for Blackpool.
Blackpool was promoted from the Championship to the top flight in 2009-10, but immediately dropped back down after a 19th-placed finish. Things took a nosedive for the club following that campaign as poor management by the owners — the widely disliked Oyston family — saw Blackpool plagued with issues. A fifth-placed finish in 2011-12 provided false hope as the club would go on to finish 15th and 20th in the next two years.
Ahead of the 2014-15 campaign which saw Blackpool relegated to League One, 27 players departed the club in a mass exodus which left manager Jose Riga with just eight outfield players and no goalkeeper. The side that was eventually scraped together for the season's opening game had just four substitutes named of the seven permitted. Riga was sacked after just 15 games in charge of the team and replaced by Lee Clark.
Clark was at the helm as Blackpool's drop was confirmed with six games left to play. The team's final game of the season was abandoned after hundreds of supporters protested against the owners on the pitch. Blackpool fans would go on to boycott home matches for years and, after the club was relegated further to League Two in 2015-16, the supporters even stayed away as their club won the League Two playoff final the following season.
A 2017 court judgement ruled that primary owner Owen Oyston had "illegally stripped" the club of over $30 million — nearly half of which went to himself as a "director's salary" after Blackpool was promoted to the Premier League in 2010. As a result of that judgement, all his assets, including the club, were placed in the hands of receivers from whom Blackpool-born businessman Simon Sadler eventually bought the club in 2019.
Neil Critchley left his position as manager of Liverpool's under-23s side to coach the Seasiders in March of last year, just before the coronavirus struck. He would manage just two games before the season was ended with Blackpool in 13th place. Critchley's first full season in charge got off to a poor start as Blackpool was 18th after five games.
This was followed by a steady climb up the table which took the side to 12th by early February, from which point it lost only three games in the rest of the season. Blackpool won 13 games from February onwards and secured a playoff spot with a third-placed finish. It finished the season with the best defensive record in the division, conceding just 37 goals in 46 games.
Saturday saw Critchley's side cap off a remarkable season in suitable fashion. The 42-year-old could hardly have wished for a better first season in senior management. It was a special day for all involved as Blackpool secured a hard-earned promotion in front of adoring fans who, unlike in 2017, would not have missed this for the world.
THAT'S IT. WE ARE GOING UP!!!!!!!!!
— Blackpool FC (@BlackpoolFC) May 30, 2021