How much do we love football? We have just witnessed two insanely brilliant nights in a row of Champions League semi-finals, meaning that an English team will be crowned European Champions on June 1st, ending five years of Spanish dominance. Regardless of club allegiances – and we are all first and foremost Blackpool supporters, right? – there was something utterly compelling about the performances by Liverpool and Spurs, the tireless self-belief of the players, the passion of the fans, the sheer drama as both games unfolded, the outpouring of emotion at the end.
Do you remember when games involving Blackpool generated similar scenes of high drama and passion? We all have our favourite memories. It’s less than a decade since those phenomenal play-off semi-finals against Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City, our play-off final victory at Wembley and a league double over the afore-mentioned Liverpool. That’s what we’ve been missing these last few seasons as we’ve boycotted to help hasten the departure of the Oystons. That’s what we want to experience at our club again.
This column, the last one of the season, typically reviews the footballing year just ended, but on this occasion will be looking primarily forward and not backwards.
2018/19 can be summed up in one paragraph, like this: Gary Bowyer resigned after one game in charge, his deputy Terry McPhillips stepped up and the squad did enough to ensure a safe mid-table finish. On February 13th a Receiver was appointed by the High Court and the Oystons were duly dismissed from the board of Blackpool FC after thirty years. Finally on 9th March 16,000 fans packed into Bloomfield Road for an emotional homecoming Saturday, the day we got our club back. The interim board negotiated the two months to the end of the season on a shoestring budget, for the ‘cupboard had been left bare’ by the Oystons, a damning euphemism if ever there was one, and the EFL sensibly decided not to impose a 12 point deduction.
Bolton Wanderers look to have been less lucky, relegated from the Championship, going into administration and facing a 12 point penalty at the start of next season if they even survive that far – for the threat of liquidation still hangs over their heads. Spare a thought for their fans, and for those of Notts County, the oldest professional football club in the world (formed in 1862) and one of 12 founders of the Football League in 1888, relegated from that league after a tenure of 130 years. Who knows, they could even be replaced by AFC Fylde if the Coasters win the National League play-off final at Wembley tomorrow. It just reinforces the fact that our football clubs, cherished social enterprises and community organisations, are largely at the mercy of their owners (for good and for bad) and the competition organisers and regulators need to do a better job of making sure those owners are fit for purpose.
The good news for Blackpool fans is that we are now virtually Oyston-free and can look forward to developments at Bloomfield Road with a sense of excitement and anticipation for the first time in years. But make no mistake about the size of the task ahead. The interim board has ‘inherited’ a club that was to all intents broken. They are basically having to resurrect it, literally from the ground upwards, to make it a reasonably attractive proposition for the Court Appointed Receiver to sell.
The closed season, therefore, will start to see not so much a transition as a transformation at Blackpool FC. Everything needs rebuilding, from the training ground and the Bloomfield Road pitch through the academy system, the managerial set-up, the squad. It’s a new start that lies ahead – new owners, new infrastructure, new staff, new kit, new sponsors, new ambitions. The only real constant, as at any great club, is the fan base, and we need to play our part now in helping to fund the transformation by purchasing our season tickets over the next couple of months.
The deadline for bids for the club is next week, but there will follow a period of assessment and due diligence while the CAR and his team ensure they have the best solution possible, not only for Mr Belokon but for Blackpool FC as well. Despite what has been said, it is not simply a case that the club will go to the highest bidder regardless. That whole process could take another month or two and, in fairness to all involved, it has got to be done right. So the reality is that we might not have new owners in place before high summer.
In the meantime, the interim board needs to invest in sorting out the pitch, to make it a surface on which to play attractive, passing football; on the East Stand, to make it fit to house away supporters from August onwards; on very basic improvements at the training ground. They cannot wait for investment from new owners to embark on those items of work. They need upfront revenue from season ticket sales in May and June. The payment plan should be available soon. Supporters groups met with the club recently and agreed to help promote a target of 10,000 season ticket sales over the summer. The bottom line is your club needs you. We’ve got it back, now let’s help in its transformation so that we can look forward to next season with a greater sense of expectation than for many years past.
We are Blackpool FC. Have a great summer – and that’s a wrap.