The last time supporters met with the owners/directors of Blackpool FC (not counting those cosmetic box-ticking exercises involving the so-called Fans’ Progress Group) was when Owen Oyston accepted an invitation to attend a BST open meeting at the Hilton Hotel in July 2016. He had agreed to meet in public forum for the first time in twenty years ostensibly to answer questions submitted in advance about his family’s running of the club, the disposition of Blackpool FC funds, the disastrous fall into the bottom division and the even more disastrous tactic of pursuing litigation against fans. Over 500 fans turned up to listen and heard nothing but evasion and platitudes. They left that forum angry and frustrated.
Fast-forward nearly three years and on Wednesday evening the interim board of Blackpool FC convened the first proper fans’ forum of the new era, as 50 representatives from across the various supporter groups made constructive suggestions regarding the match day experience we are all in a position to enjoy again. Suddenly we have a different, more positive perspective and so here is the last of three columns given over to our ‘grass-roots’ members’ reaction to Blackpool being Back…
Perspective….a word I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. The dictionary definition is ‘a particular attitude towards, or way of regarding something; a point of view’. Yes indeed, a point of view - we’ve heard a lot of those over the last four to five years haven’t we? From ‘NAPM’ to ‘Supporting the team not the regime’ and covering every possible angle and argument in between; feelings of anger, upset and despondency on the one hand to a shrug of the shoulders on the other. I won’t dwell on the rights and wrongs of the situation – that has been endlessly debated on every social media platform - but what damage has been done and is it repairable? Where are we now? What are the lessons of this whole debacle?
We have seen the incredible ‘dam burst’ of emotion and goodwill since the Court-appointed Receiver arrived but until new owners are found, is our club a phoenix rising from the flames or just a pile of ashes? Yes, there are many negatives – the aforementioned division of the fan base; an enormous amount of neglect to be put right in terms of the stadium and our infamous training ground; the team is nowhere near good enough to be challenging for promotion and having a realistic chance of then staying up (I say that with all due respect to the tremendous job Gary Bowyer and Terry McPhillips have done in impossible circumstances).
That said, it was the damage done to the spirit of football, the generational link that is the DNA of any club that really concerned me. We went from seeing parks full of kids in tangerine shirts eight years ago to virtually none now. People found other things to do – shopping, golf, family outings, DIY, you name it. I lost interest deliberately as I could not actually want my team to do well because that would only benefit the Oystons. I even stopped listening to the radio – eventually I hadn’t a clue who the players were – the opposition’s or ours! How awful was that?
However, March 9th filled me with reason to believe that there is hope. Bloomfield Road packed to the rafters with families – three generations in our case – and friends meeting again like they used to on a Saturday afternoon, smiles on their faces, football on their minds once more. I am pleased to say that I personally did not witness any unpleasantness between Blackpool fans. I really believe – admittedly despite sometimes feeling the opposite – we have to draw a line in the sand and, to use the well-worn term ‘move on’. The team needs supporting by a very vocal 12th man which means us all being positive and trying to motivate the players to make that last ditch tackle, win that ball, make that run. Sometimes the crowd can make a difference – but only if we are all together, regardless of where in the stadium we sit, regardless of which fans’ groups we might be affiliated to. We are all Seasiders aren’t we? Recriminations are counterproductive.
Off the field we await new owners with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Apparently the club goes ‘up for sale’ on Monday. New owners will have quite a task rebuilding the infrastructure, staffing levels, systems and facilities quite apart from investing in new players, a training ground and the support needed to run a League One football club. It won’t happen overnight, possibly not next season or even the season after; but we are now taking the first tentative steps back to fulfilling our potential – in my view as a decent Championship club – and everybody pulling together is a huge change from the downward spiral of decline and decay we have become accustomed to. Could this be, dare I say it….optimism? Perspective eh?
At Wednesday’s fans’ forum the interim board called for us to prove in the most tangible way to any prospective new owners just what great potential there is at Blackpool Football Club. So for Saturday and every remaining home game, bring your friends and family, let’s fill Bloomfield Road, make it a cauldron of noise and ‘back the boys’ – I never thought I’d be using that expression again! Blackpool are back. Come on you Pool.