As the dust settles on yet another self-defeating prosecution, with the Oystons’ legal case against the Back Henry Street website being struck out, supporters of Blackpool Football Club are entitled to wonder when it will all end. Club President Valeri Belokon’s first suit against the Oystons’ goes before the judge this week and with a second, more weighty action being brought by Mr Belokon next summer, it appears the litigation will not end soon.
Unfortunately many of these columns (probably too many) focus on the politics and the off-field problems rather than on football. Time and again the unique issues impacting on Blackpool FC overshadow or displace commentary about the ordinary matters that usually occupy the followers of a football club – the quality of football, our position in the league, who is playing well and badly, how the manager could improve things and a thousand other simple but fascinating issues. This preoccupation with the latest choices and behaviours of the Oystons – something very few fans would generally have any interest in – defines and typifies the problems facing Blackpool FC. Even more sadly, Karl’s and Owen’s penchant for putting themselves centre stage is arguably the acme and limit of their success in football.
A professional football club is usually a source of excitement, hope, frustration and occasionally joy for its supporters. It is a form of theatre, removing us from the everyday and placing us in a situation where the amazing and seemingly impossible can happen – legends are created and fantasies become real.
Fans experience many emotions when following their team and often develop a bond with the club that remains throughout the years. The club is a thread weaving its way through our existence – an entertainment certainly, but something more in terms of the significance and meaning that it has for many of us. The club’s successes and failures become our own – we live in seasons rather than calendar years. It is, for many football fans, one of the defining relationships of our lives. Indeed, friendships are often born and sustained by our affinity to the football club. There are very few of us who will not have been helped, or helped someone, simply because they were a fellow Seasider.
It is all the more alarming, therefore, that the longest lasting and perhaps only real legacy that the Oystons are likely to leave at the club, as a mark of their revenge for our challenge to their poor custodianship, is a growing division between fans.
BSA and the FPG are made up of dedicated and well intentioned Blackpool fans. Their aspirations for the club are in many respects similar to those held by members of the Supporters’ Trust. But then there is a divide. The key difference is that BSA and the FPG still appear to believe there is viable club with the Oystons at the helm. The Trust considers they are misguided and mistaken in that belief. One has only to look at how BSA and the FPG in turn have been placed in the firing line by the Oystons, at least in part, to act as a human shield protecting the real culprits at Bloomfield Road from the level of responsibility they deserve. The creation of the FPG in particular was a patently cynical and divisive act but it is important to separate the culpability of those who originated it from the gullibility of those who fell for it in the mistaken belief that they could make a difference.
There is further evidence of a growing division when some supporters who choose to attend games are berated by those who are passionate about the need to boycott games. The poor quality of the Oystons’ custodianship of the club is once again central to this division. Thousands will never return until the Oystons have gone. Even many of the supporters who still go to Bloomfield Road would be happy to see the Oystons leave the club but they are not willing to sacrifice the pleasure of watching their team regardless of who owns the club and their right to make that choice has to be respected. However committed we might be to changing the situation at the club, attacking fellow fans gains us absolutely nothing and at the same time it plays directly into the hands of those who only seem to get pleasure from the distress of the supporters. By the same token, the antagonism between supporters must end if we are to avoid a future in which recrimination between fans is not the defining feature of supporting our club.
The club is now well beyond the point at which a mere improvement in the football can fix its problems. There have been too many casualties as our family, friends or fellow supporters find themselves facing prosecution, blame or attack of various types. It is vital that amongst all this we, the guardians of the club, act to ensure that we do not become unwitting colluders in these unprecedented attacks.
We are all Blackpool FC.