Last week someone asked me “Why do you tweet about Blackpool FC so much?”. I gave them my usual answer.
I tweet about Blackpool to tell the story of what happened after the 2010/11 season in the top division and how it hurt me, my family and the place I call home. I also tweet to give publicity to the facts and to help Blackpool fans change the ownership of their club. I believe that no football fan should go to or spend money with Blackpool football club for any reason. An ethical boycott can help make change happen.
For many people who don’t follow football closely that one season in the top division may be where the story ended. People might have thought that the natural order of things was back in place as Blackpool dropped down the divisions. They’d be wrong. There’s another story.
The Oyston family have controlled a majority ownership in Blackpool football club since 1987. There have been many incidents during the time they have owned the club. I am going to focus on incidents after that promotion.
I have to be very careful with what I write and make sure I link to clear sources. The Oystons have taken legal action against fans. At least one fan has successfully threatened legal action in return. A businessman, Valeri Belokon, who owns 25% of the club is taking legal action. I understand that there are multiple ongoing legal actions between the Oystons and fans of Blackpool football club. We all have to be very careful with what we write.
Being in the top division in the UK can be financially lucrative due to money from television deals. Even if the team is relegated they will receive so-called ‘parachute payments’ over the next few years. In the season Blackpool were promoted the extra income the club would receive even if they were immediately relegated was estimated to be £90m. I thought about what that money would mean to Blackpool. What the extra visitors and investment would do to help improve the club and the town. It was an astonishing opportunity.
In the year that Blackpool got promoted the club paid an £11m salary to Owen Oyston. The club got relegated.
In that year the club also paid money to buy land off the owners and loaned money to other companies controlled by the Oystons. The club’s financial accounts show that by 2013/2014 the club had outstanding loans of £27.7m to these other companies.
In July 2014 the club had to cancel a pre-season tour as it only had 8 players. The team struggled. The season ended with relegation to the third division and a game that was abandoned following a pitch invasion.
During that season the club’s chairman, Karl Oyston, was discovered to have exchanged abusive text messages with a fan. Reading the text messages is a good way to get the measure of the man. During that season Karl Oyston sat on the board of one of English football’s governing bodies, the Football League.
In the last few years over 1500 Blackpool fans have joined the Blackpool Supporters Trust. The Oyston family took legal action against the chairman of the trust. The trust is run democratically and has tried to buy the club. If that bid had been successful then Blackpool would have joined a growing movement of fan-owned clubs. Clubs that put football first and are connected to their community.
The Blackpool Supporters Trust bid to buy the club was structured in a way that would have written off the loans from the football club to other companies owned by the Oyston family. It would have allowed those companies to keep the money that had been generated by the football club. The Oyston family have refused to negotiate. The Blackpool Supporters Trust have answered all the questions that had been asked of them.
This isn’t about a sense of entitlement and a belief that money can buy success. During most of the years that I’ve supported Blackpool they weren’t the most successful of clubs.
Blackpool won a couple of football league trophies and had some great and baffling moments. But apart from a brief trip to the bottom division Blackpool were mostly bumbling along in the third until strange things started to happen. First promotion to the second division where relegation was narrowly avoided for a couple of years before a relatively small amout of external investment came into the club from Valeri Belokon. Money that helped buy Charlie Adam. Then a miracle occurred: in 2010 Blackpool beat Cardiff at Wembley and got promoted to the top division.
Most of my family were with me at Wembley. As we walked back to my flat in South London draped in tangerine and carrying flags we were applauded by the drinkers outside the local pubs. I expect there were similar scenes up and down the country as over 30,000 Blackpool fans made their way home.
I was born and raised just outside Blackpool. My family still live there. I’ve been to many games over the years. I’ve also followed many more games by watching text updates on the internet and shouting along from afar. Over the last 20 years I’ve spent chunks of time working abroad and living a long way away. Those updates and that football club (ok, and my family…) were part of my link to home. Sport can be part of what connects you to your home. It is for me.
Blackpool is not a glamorous team but neither is it a glamorous town. I enjoyed living and growing up there but for many people it has a reputation as a place you visit for the Pleasure Beach, stag nights, hen parties and a donkey ride on the beach. Blackpool has pockets of extreme poverty. But I saw something both on that day at Wembley and in the couple of years that followed.
I saw more and more people being proud of coming from Blackpool and I saw more people understanding what I meant when I said “I’m from Blackpool”.
I no longer had to qualify it with “the seaside town in Lancashire, up the coast from Liverpool or left and up from Manchester”. People would nod and go “oh, isn’t that the place with the football team?”. “Yeah”, I’d say, “we’re the small town that beat world-famous football club Liverpool home and away :)”. The town and population of Blackpool, one of the most deprived towns in the UK, was more widely known and was walking tall. That was good for the place and the people
Now the team are a laughing stock whilst Jeremy Clarkson claims that people in Blackpool’s bedsits are ‘enthusiastic users of heroin and Stella Artois’. Clarkson’s wrong by the way, there’s far cheaper ways to get drunk than Stella.
It hurts to not go to games. To see the damage and pain (both financial and emotional) the last few years have caused to the club and to the thousands of people in Blackpool who want to see change at the club. They each have their own story. Some will be similar to mine. Some will be wildly different.
The club is part of my link to my community and the place I come from. I tried going to see a football team near where I currently live but it was a bit too posh for my tastes (there was no Bovril or pies!) and I also spent most of the match checking the Blackpool score. To be honest I was checking the score in the hope that Blackpool would lose and a couple more fans would stop going.
With new ownership we can get some hope back. Maybe build a training ground that joins the club with the community and helps the town grow. Maybe a team that we can get behind and go on another crazy trip through the football divisions. I don’t mind if that trip is up the football league or down but I do want that trip to be with people that I believe in, trust and that I want to shout and sing along with. I want that trip to be with a football club that I can be proud of. One that makes me walk tall rather than feel ashamed. My tangerine scarves, shirt and the flag we carried home from Wembley are waiting for that moment.
Neither I nor my family go to Blackpool games any more. We will not put any more of our money, time and goodwill into the club whilst it is owned by the Oystons.
Two years ago we decided that was the best way we could help change the owners of the club. The support has to dwindle. The revenues have to shrink and keep on shrinking. There has to be no financial reason for the Oyston family to want to own the club. That will encourage them to leave. That’s the right outcome.
Thousands of people have made the same decision: “Not A Penny More” (#NAPM).
I sometimes give a really short answer when asked why I tweet about Blackpool FC: because it hurts and I want that hurt to go away.
You can help me and thousands of Blackpool fans by sharing the facts and spreading the message of an ethical boycott that can make change happen.