Kevin Phillips, with 275 career goals and counting, is intent on one last tour of the Premier League. Blackpool's penalty-area master turns 39 on 25 July when he hopes pre-season will be a countdown to the club's second campaign – his ninth – in the top flight. West Ham United stand before Ian Holloway's quick-passing unit in Saturday's Championship play-off final at Wembley, where two years ago they defeated Cardiff City 3-2 to enter English football's elite for the first time since 1971.
Phillips's eight-club career took him into the big league with Sunderland, Southampton, Aston Villa and Birmingham City, with whom he was relegated last season. Did he think those times were over? "A lot of people thought my days were gone altogether. But I've never given up, and the most important person in all this, who never gave up on me, was the manager Ian Holloway. I'd like to think I've repaid him this year," he says of a haul of 16 league goals in 38 appearances.
Over Blackpool's two encounters this season with Sam Allardyce's men, 8-1 was the aggregate victory for West Ham. But Phillips believes that in a sudden-death match, with the £90m golden ticket at stake inside a packed national stadium, these results will count for nothing.
"We're a different proposition to what we were in those games," he says. "You hear all this talk in the media about how we needn't turn up because they're clear favourites to win and that suits us. History shows it's who performs on the day and if you don't freeze or bottle it then generally you win it. I'm sure there'll be 30,000 going down – they tell me it was a cracking atmosphere two years ago, and it'll be the same again on Saturday."
Manchester City's last-gasp 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers that sealed their Premier League title proved the top flight's pre-eminence to this gnarled veteran. "It's the place to be and what happened on Sunday eclipsed everything," he says. "It was incredible. It wouldn't happen in other leagues. It's incredible what comes with being in the Premier League, not just on the pitch for the club but in terms of the boost to local businesses."
By taking Blackpool to the brink of an instant return to the playground of City, Manchester United, Chelsea et al, Holloway has illustrated what a fine manager he is.
"It's always difficult for a team that's been relegated to bounce back straight away," Phillips says. "When I saw the players the manager was trying to sign I certainly believed we had a great chance. He added a lot of players in the summer – youngsters, youth and pace – to the team. He also kept hold of key players despite losing Charlie [Adam], DJ [Campbell] and Vaughany [David Vaughan] who were key last year."
Eleven players departed for a £10.2m yield while 14 were recruited at zero cost. Of these, Thomas Ince, son of Paul, and Matt Phillips provide the supply line to Phillips and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, the first-choice striker in Blackpool's 4-2-3-1 formation.
"As a centre-forward to have two flying wingers putting in crosses like they do – it's a dream come true. They've taken a bit of time to settle in, Matty had to go on loan [at Sheffield United] and get game time and Tom has had to be patient. It might have been a bit kamikaze at times going forward because they left themselves open at the back. One of the things we've done this season is to become more solid at the back."
Whatever happens at Wembley, Phillips will be back at Bloomfield Road. "The club have got a 12-month option and they've already taken that up so come what may next season I'll be playing for Blackpool. If it was to be in the Premier League that would be fantastic.
"By the time next season kicks off I'll be 39, and if it was in the Premier League I would pretty much call it a day at the end of next year and look to move on to other things. I certainly think I could score goals in that league."