One of the highlights – perhaps the highlight – of this season has been the extraordinary FA Cup run by Blackpool FC’s youth team. A semi-final triumph over Arsenal at the Emirates stadium may have eluded them, but then it’s nearly 60 years since the senior side last won away against the Gunners!
The youth team’s victories over West Ham, Southampton, Ipswich and Blackburn, three of them away from home, were surely in that fine Blackpool tradition of team work, togetherness and self-belief overcoming supposedly superior opposition. John Murphy and his squad of young Seasiders deserve our sincere congratulations for what they have achieved. Let’s hope that many of these promising youth players will continue to feature in tangerine at senior level in seasons to come, once Blackpool FC enters a new era under owners prepared to invest and build for future success by nurturing young talents as opposed to cashing in on them at the earliest opportunity.
The first team’s last-gasp victory against Fleetwood Town on Saturday effectively secured League One football for the Seasiders next season – when Sunderland (probably) and Accrington Stanley (definitely) will be visitors to Bloomfield Road. Surprisingly the ground was nearly half-full as a result of the thousands of free tickets given out to school children and their parents, a gesture likely to be repeated for the final home game against Shrewsbury. It has minimal effect on the ongoing impact of the ethical boycott – which remains firm until the Oystons sell the club which is losing in excess of £2 million per season – for free tickets will never convert into season ticket sales in the current environment. The silver lining is that for a very young generation that has not really developed a loyalty to their home town club, such days at Bloomfield Road might spark an affiliation that can be built on once we have owners that we are happy with.
Fans of the afore-mentioned Accrington Stanley are currently very happy with their owner, Andy Holt. He is a man who appears to value the community aspect of football as well as having a good understanding of the game and the supporters. There were joyous scenes at the Wham Stadium on Tuesday night as Stanley won promotion to the third tier for the first time in their history.
Holt has demonstrated that putting football first and accepting the responsibility that comes with owning a community asset can be a recipe for success. Promotion to League One is an incredible achievement and for those who are weary of the cynicism and financial greed associated with modern day football, Accrington Stanley are showing that grass roots, community minded football clubs still exist and can be successful. In fact they include among their fan base long time Manchester City supporters who have grown uncomfortable with the somewhat soulless experience of the Etihad Stadium on match days and are now rediscovering the excitement of a community connection at a smaller club.
Accrington’s story cannot fail to resonate with Blackpool fans, for our success on the pitch in 2010/11 led to us being labelled ‘a breath of fresh air’ amid the financial giants of the Premier League. Then, as now, football fans around the country respond positively to the fairy tale of a ‘little club’ doing well in spite of all obstacles and it is no wonder that Accrington, like Blackpool before them, are becoming something of a nation’s favourite second club.
When Blackpool Supporters’ Trust was developing its draft ‘manifesto’ for how fans would like their club to be run in future, the draft was sent out to a number of club chairmen and their feedback was invited. Andy Holt was one of the first (and one of the few) to reply with constructive comments.
Sadly for Blackpool fans, our fairy tale turned out to be a horror story worthy of the Brothers Grimm. Whilst on the surface it appeared that Blackpool was well run and financially stable, it has now been proven that this was not the case and the magnificent efforts of the manager, the team and fans working together served only to benefit the Oystons and was the start of a dramatic decline unprecedented in English League football. Accrington are fortunate to have an owner who truly understands what it means to put football first, to recognise that fans are the lifeblood of any club and that to be truly successful – not just financially but as a whole – the club must be treated as a social enterprise with a responsibility to the community and not just as a business. BST wishes Andy Holt and Accrington Stanley all the best for next season (except when they are playing Blackpool of course).
April 28th sees the last home game of the season for Blackpool and unlike the previous three years there are no plans for another Judgment Day protest. Justice Marcus Smith delivered the best possible judgment on the Oystons in a London court last November. The majority of Blackpool fans simply will not return to Bloomfield Road until the Oystons have gone. Therefore the sooner Owen Oyston makes a realistic effort to sell the club the better. In the meantime, BST will continue our regular and dignified vigil outside the West Stand until the day comes when we can return to our beloved club. We invite football fans and the people of the local community to come and stand with us on Saturday 28th April to reinforce the point that we will not give up on our campaign for regime change, for new owners who will restore integrity, ambition and good times at Bloomfield Road.