Where were you on May 27th 2007? May 22nd 2010? May 19th 2012? For somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 Blackpool supporters the answer of course is Wembley, cheering on the Seasiders.
Compare and contrast to May 28th 2017. Fewer than 6,000 Blackpool fans were in the national stadium for the club’s biggest game in five years, fewer even than marched on Judgement Day 3. The ethical boycott, the main expression of opposition to the Oystons’ tenure at Blackpool FC, was clearly demonstrated for the footballing world at large to see. You can’t really argue with an 80% stay-away – hardly a “busted flush”, more the culmination of the defining protest of the season and proof, if it were needed, that it will take much more than a run of good results for the fans to come back.
For those thousands of fans watching the game on television in pubs and clubs in Blackpool and around the world – it should never be forgotten that Blackpool’s support is truly international – it was gratifying to see the team rise to the occasion and win promotion back to League One. It makes Blackpool FC a more attractive proposition for the right investor, once the likely outcome of the upcoming Belokon court case becomes apparent.
The chairman of Blackpool FC made the usual predictable utterances in the aftermath of Sunday’s game. Leaving aside the petty side-swipes at the Supporters’ Trust, it is worth picking up on a few of the comments he made.
Unsurprisingly he favours the fans who are “interested in football rather than politics”, meaning those who go on giving his family’s running of the club its uncritical support. There is even a sub-text there that supporters who are interested in the politics of football, in the ethics of the game, those who take a principled stand against the poor custodianship of the club they love by boycotting are somehow not true fans. Of course as with so much other propaganda from the owners, nothing could be further from the truth. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust was formed by true fans with the intention of being constructively critical of the owners of our club and of holding them to account to run Blackpool FC in the best interests of the supporters and the community – not just in the best interests of the owners. All of that is in direct accord with the government’s proposals for a greater supporter engagement and stake-holding in the significant strategic decisions made at football clubs but it appears to be anathema to Blackpool’s chairman.
He also claimed he’d like to see the club “higher up the league”, but history has shown that he has no plan for achieving that end. There is no ‘project’ at Blackpool FC other than trying to get as far as possible on as few resources as possible and hoping to get lucky. It is no coincidence that Blackpool under the Oystons has only ever progressed via the play-offs, barely scraping through. The chairman doesn’t buy into the concept of putting football first. It’s just business to him and the modus operandi has almost always been one of minimising expenditure while trying to maximise profit. The only exception occurred with the arrival of Valeri Belokon. If ever the club does get lucky (as it did in 2010), the ultimate consequence is that the Oyston business empire benefits, not Blackpool Football Club. The refusal to invest for sustained success and the subsequent squandering of the legacy of 2010 was the catalyst for what became the ethical boycott and the impending High Court battle with Belokon. Litigation against supporters for criticism of what were widely perceived as cynical and unethical practices only intensified the opposition and probably made reconciliation between the owners and the majority of the fan base impossible to achieve. The view of most supporters is that if the club moves higher up the league, history will merely repeat itself and the owners, rather than the club, will reap the benefit. That is not something the supporters are willing to endorse and so the ethical boycott will continue, regardless of the team’s promotion to League One.
He claimed once more that there is no one out there interested in buying the club. Everybody knows that again is just not true, but two things need to happen. One is that the Oystons have to be prepared to agree a fair market price for the football club and the stadium. The other, as mentioned above, is that there needs to be resolution to the claims being brought against the Oystons by the minority shareholder, Valeri Belokon. The two may even be inter-connected. Karl Oyston did say in an interview this week that he’d “be delighted to consider” a bid when it is put to the board. He may not have long to wait. A negotiated exit of the Oystons from anything to do with Blackpool Football Club is the fervent wish of the majority of supporters, whether they are boycotting or not.
In the meantime, the Trust reiterates its congratulations and thanks to Gary Bowyer and all the players who wore the tangerine jersey this season for achieving promotion back to League One.
Thanks also to all the members of Blackpool Supporters Trust for your support of the cause and to everyone who has been reading and responding to these columns over the last 42 weeks.
Let us hope the close season is a positive one in terms of regime change at Bloomfield Road. We could all do with a fresh start.