BAPTISTE PROMOTED TO PREMIERSHIP - INTERVIEW HERE
22 May 2010
Former Stags defender Alex Baptiste was promoted to the Premiership with Blackpool at Wembley on Saturday. He speaks to Stagsnet's Steve Fleming on the pitch after the game. Listen here
For an earlier interview with Alex Baptiste, click here.
Former Stag John-Baptiste relishing shot at big time
Evening Post, June 01, 2010
IT seems only fitting that Alex John-Baptiste should reach the promised land of the English Premier League with Blackpool, famed for its seaside attractions.
From the moment he made his debut for Mansfield Town at the tender age of 17, the central defender stood head and shoulders above his peers, much like the north-west town's huge tower.
Since then, John-Baptiste has experienced so many ups and downs it is hard not to compare his journey with the Pleasure Beach's famous 'Big One' roller coaster.
By the start of last season, John-Baptiste was taking orders from extrovert boss Ian Holloway, whose words of wisdom have been as colourful and illuminating as the promenade lights.
And the Bloomfield Road pitch, where the Tangerines have enjoyed much of their success en route to Wembley, play-off success and promotion to the top flight, has often resembled the nearby beach.
Unmistakably, John-Baptiste and Blackpool share the intrinsic feature of the underdog tag.
Just as the Seasiders have made an unlikely and largely unnoticed, step-by-step rise, so the unsung 24-year-old has inched his way towards the big-time.
From here, it will be more prawn sandwiches in executive lounges than fish and chip suppers on the tram; Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba rather than Kelvin Langmead and Luke Rodgers.
But John-Baptiste simply cannot wait. He said: "To do as well as we have done with Blackpool is just amazing. It's been a long season and to end it the way we did at Wembley is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.
"When we walked out, the atmosphere was amazing.
"People moan about the pitch but most of our lads thought it was okay – that's probably because it was a lot better than the one we are used to playing on at home!
"The whole stadium and experience was memorable and to win, with the prize at stake, was an unbelievable feeling.
"I lost in a play-off final (with Mansfield against Huddersfield at the Millennium Stadium in 2004) so I know it's not nice to fall at the final hurdle.
"But now we will be able to test ourselves against the best players in the world week in, week out – and that's what I'm looking forward to the most."
John-Baptiste has already made more than 250 senior appearances and has been a first-team regular under Holloway.
But there is no guarantee it will remain that way as Blackpool will, inevitably, look to strengthen their squad over the summer.
John-Baptiste – who signed a three-year extension to his contract in January – is just hoping to get an opportunity.
He said: "Will I get a chance? I would like to think so. I wasn't in the team when I first went to Blackpool and had to wait to get in.
"The team has been on an unbelievable run and people have doubted not just the team but myself, both having come from the lower leagues.
"We were favourites to go down from the Championship last season, so nothing is different.
"I want to test myself against the best strikers, but not particularly Rooney or anyone else specific.
"Playing at the grounds of the big four will obviously be something to particularly look forward to. Playing at the Emirates, being a new ground, would be fantastic."
As a former pupil at All Saints School, Mansfield, it was no surprise to John-Baptiste that he came under fire from several friends prior to Blackpool's play-off semi-final second leg against Forest.
But after Blackpool ran out 6-4 winners on aggregate – winning 4-3 at the City Ground – the player is poised to exact his revenge.
"They were a special two games for me, even though I didn't play very well in the second leg," said John-Baptiste.
"I had a trial with Forest at the age of eight and made the cut, but my mum felt it would be better if I played locally, which is how I ended up at Mansfield.
"But Forest was the first club I went to see with my uncle, a season ticket holder.
"A lot of the mates I grew up with were Forest fans and they were texting me before saying they were going to win.
"It will be nice to see them – and give them some stick back!"
John-Baptiste is hoping to come across an old Stags colleague in the Premier League next season – winger Liam Lawrence.
The Republic of Ireland international scored the winner against Paraguay last week, but is expected to leave Stoke City this summer in search of first-team football.
The mention of Lawrence is a reminder of the time when they, along with Bobby Hassell (now Barnsley), Leeroy Willamson (Sheffield United), Jake Buxton (Derby) and Craig Disley (Shrewsbury), came through the same Mansfield team together.
They were part of the Stags side to lose that League Two play-off decider on penalties to Huddersfield at Cardiff.
John-Baptiste said: "I played against Liam last year in the Carling Cup. He's a quality player and it would be great to come up against him.
"It is good to see so many of those players doing well in the game. Bucko was the first to text me after the Forest game to say well done and I still see Leeroy all the time.
"That was a great Stags team to play in, a brilliant experience, and to get to the play-off final was a different class.
"All the people from my time at Mansfield have left, but I still look out for their results – my mum and uncle have still got season tickets.
"I live about 20 minutes from Blackpool now, so I don't get to go that much but I did see them draw 0-0 with Kettering last season."
It is a sign of Blackpool's meteoric rise and Mansfield's ignominious fall that the last meeting of the two club's was John-Baptiste's second game in the Football League.
That League One encounter, as recently as April 2003, saw the Stags earn a creditable 3-3 draw, but they went down at the end of the campaign.
By the end of 2007-2008, Mansfield were heading out of the Football League – and John-Baptiste was on his way to Bloomfield Road.
"I remember that game at Blackpool, my first away game, when they scored in the last minute after Andy White had looked like scoring the winner," he said.
"With the side we had, a little bit more luck here and there, things could have panned out differently.
"The roles could have been reversed and Mansfield could have gone on to bigger and better things."
As it turned out, John-Baptiste has had to move away from his home patch to fulfil his ambitions.
Now he'll be doing all in his power to ensure Blackpool's dream isn't washed up like a sandcastle in the tide.
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