I have to admit I’ve been looking forward to writing this particular column for quite some months! Tomorrow has been dubbed Homecoming Saturday for Blackpool fans. It’s likely that Bloomfield Road is going to be filled to capacity for the first time in five years (April 2014 against Burnley in the Championship to be precise). Given Southend United’s modest away allocation, the stadium will certainly contain more Seasiders than have been seen at a home game in over four decades, since the days of the old ground in fact (December 1977 when Bolton Wanderers were the Christmas fixture).
If anybody ever doubted that the Oyston dynasty would eventually be toppled, last Sunday’s Observer put it quite succinctly: ‘And now, after ….perhaps the most brilliantly orchestrated and devoted fan protest there has been in English football, his time is up.’ The removal of the Oyston business hoardings inside the ground this week was greeted with loud cheers. And if anybody ever doubted that the fan base was waiting in numbers to return once the Oystons had gone, the frantic activity over the last several days to acquire tickets for tomorrow’s game proves those doubts unfounded.
Therefore, to the many thousands who over four seasons took a principled stand against seemingly unprincipled owners, thank you for your unwavering support in helping to bring this change about – and welcome home!
It’s going to be emotional. As well as being a momentous day in the club’s history, one on which the fans get their club back and the club gets its fans back (and how brilliant that is), tomorrow will be a bitter-sweet occasion for many of us who have lost fellow Seasiders in the years of exile. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is privileged to be sponsoring the match day ball, but has chosen to leave the accompanying hospitality table empty in symbolic tribute to those much-loved fans who never lived to see our glorious return to Bloomfield Road. There will also be a minute’s silence in their memory just before kick-off.
As it is primarily a day of celebration, we hope that as many of you as possible will decide to be part of the party that starts at the Comedy Carpet at 1pm and parades along the promenade to the ground, setting off from opposite the tower at 1.30. Blackpool Are Back scarves will be on sale along with other tangerine merchandise. A number of Blackpool’s ex-players have agreed to come and walk at the front of the parade. In addition, we promised you jelly and ice-cream and Notariannis will be selling their famous scoops in celebration of the event, with all profits going to charity. What the homecoming parade needs is all of you to create the noise and colour, so come in your thousands, children included; wear as much tangerine as possible, paint your faces, wear fancy dress, bring your banners – whatever ideas you have to get thirty years of hurt out of your systems and make this a happy and colourful spectacle. The national media will be covering the event, so let’s make it a true carnival homecoming and show the world that Blackpool Are Back!
With so much to fit into the afternoon, it is important that fans get to their seats in good time. Once inside the stadium, everybody will have a clean seat to sit on in a sold-out Bloomfield Road. Many of those seats had not been occupied in four seasons and they were in a frightful state. Huge thanks go to the army of volunteer supporters who worked their way around all 15,000 seats in five days this week to make sure they were fit for use and thanks to the club for providing refreshments. We would like to request that everyone who attends the game on Saturday takes their rubbish home after the game. This will help enormously as the club has to prepare for another game on Tuesday evening. The volunteers will be needed again, so even if you can’t come down to help, you can play a part by leaving your seat area as clean and tidy as possible as you leave.
Praise must go to the staff of the club who have worked for so long in such difficult circumstances, both during the Oyston years and in the last hectic week and a half. Everything we have seen of the state of the stadium and the working conditions of those staff just reinforces what was always believed to be the case - that the club succeeded in spite of and not because of the Oystons.
Final proof of that came in discussions with Blackpool Council this week when agreeing details of tomorrow’s celebration parade, for it transpired that back in May 2010 upon winning that play-off final at Wembley, the owners had no interest in and no plans for celebrating the club’s fantastic achievement and were certainly not going to be spending a penny of their own money on any such event. If the Council hadn’t organised it all, nothing would have happened.
Everyone connected with the club feels unshackled, and even though the possibility of a 12 point deduction still hovers (the EFL having deferred its decision this week as it seeks more information from the board), there is a huge sense of euphoria and positivity around the place which should help in the months ahead. Last week’s column likened Bloomfield Road to a theatre of war, and the state of the decay and disconnect the Oystons have left behind is frankly quite shocking. However, the war is over and their departure offers us all a new start.
It is to be hoped that as a fans’ organisation we will be able to engage constructively with the interim board and ultimately with the new owners in the task of rebuilding Blackpool FC as a happy and successful community club again. This situation presents us all with a unique opportunity to take our club forward. Blackpool supporters are an incredible bunch and just as our collective actions and determination have helped to free the club, so we can now contribute to the rebuilding of the club and the community it serves. We would welcome every supporter being a part of that process.
And so our love affair with the team in tangerine can resume its proper form once again – ‘Bringing on back the good times/ Living on air/ So glad that you’re there.’ Come on the Pool. There’s a winning streak waiting to be built. Blackpool tower may even glow in the club’s colours tonight. ‘Sweet Tangerine, good times never seemed so good.’