This is a redrafted version of an article that was published by SixStars in The 1887 magazine sold at the Judgement Day 2 protest march in April 2016. More than 3000 fans marched. The march was organised by the Blackpool Supporters Trust and the Tangerine Knights.
It may seem like there’s a long way to go for Blackpool fans, but we should be proud of what we have achieved
The Oyston family have taken legal action against fans. Abused them. Taunted them. A fan was jailed. An unknown, but large, number of fans are banned from Bloomfield Road. Thousands of fans are boycotting and refusing to go back until the Oystons go. We’re not paying any more. I’m one of those thousands. More legal actions are on the way against more fans.
Protesting, like thousands of fans did at Judgement Day 2, takes time and effort. Boycotting your football club is hard: it hurts. Being on the end of legal action is horrendous. It can damage your job, your relationships, your life.
We all have doubts
Sometimes it’s hard to see if the boycotts and protests are achieving anything. Perhaps the Oystons will never leave?
After all the bid to buy the club by the Blackpool Supporters Trust was rejected, the Oystons refused to even negotiate a price. The club denied a recent bid even happened. The leader of the town council, Simon Blackburn, said the council “cannot take sides”. He is curiously silent on a matter that affects so many of the people he represents.
The Oystons have a long history in Blackpool and seem to want to cling on like a particularly unpleasant leech sucking blood out of its victim. Sometimes it can feel like failure is inevitable. That the club will sink and that no one will stand together with the fans and stand up for the club, the community and the town.
Perhaps we have to get behind the team despite the owners? Maybe a cheap season ticket offer will be available? Perhaps there’ll be some new players? Perhaps they’ll win a few games?
Many Blackpool fans will have had these nagging questions going around their head. We all have doubts.
We should ignore them.
We should ignore our doubts because the protests are working
I think the Blackpool fans have achieved something. The protests and boycotts are making a difference. You can tell by the reactions of the Oyston family. The protests and boycotts affect them. They reacted by taunting fans. They reacted by taking legal action against people trying to change the ownership of the club. They reacted by spending a tiny amount of the £90m Premiership windfall, just part of the millions that has gone into the club over the last few years, to buy some players. That must have hurt. Owen Oyston even attended an open meeting of fans for the first time in three decades.
But the protests also work by influencing other people. Crowd numbers have dropped to levels not seen since the late 1980s/early 1990s. Visiting fans spend less in the ground. Thousands of previous season ticket holders are boycotting the club. Ex-players and managers have spoken out. The opposition leader of the town council and the local MPs have called for action. The Oystons, and their disgraceful management of the club, regularly feature in the national press. There is the looming spectre of a court case from Valeri Belokon who owns 25% of the club.
Players don’t want to come to the club and supporters don’t want to go to matches. This makes it harder for the Oystons to keep hold of the club. Despite the tangled finances the club becomes less useful to the Oystons and possibly even damaging to their other businesses. More people now know how badly the Oystons run their businesses and treat people.
Perhaps as that court date approaches the Oystons might choose to approach the Blackpool Supporters Trust and start talking about a price to let them get out?
This doesn’t mean that we can expect a quick exit by the Oystons or that it will be an easy life afterwards. It took nine years after Wimbledon was stolen before its fans had a club back in the football league whilst eleven years after they were formed FC United Manchester have not made it into the league and there is unrest between fans in the stands and those in the boardroom. Some fan-owned clubs will face the same difficulties as ones owned by individuals like the Oystons. The grass is not always greener. We always need to scrutinise those in power whether the times are good or bad.
But we should take heart, the protests are working and getting the Oystons out will make the club and Blackpool a better place.
We won’t give up, no matter how long it takes
There’s another reasons we won’t give up.
Many of the people marching and boycotting have faced legal action from the Oystons or are banned from the club. Other people have been abused by the Oystons, whether directly or indirectly given the Oystons’ utterly unpleasant comments about people with special needs. Even if some of us give into our doubts then these people can’t go back unless the Oystons go. We should never forget, and I cannot forgive, the Oystons and the way they have treated our fellow fans.
We are not just protesting for ourselves, we are protesting for other people. Blackpool fans are standing together, calling for the Oystons to go and for new owners who put football first.
We should be proud of our boycotts, our protests and of the work the Trust have done to show how a new democratic and fan-owned Blackpool FC could be run. We are fans. We stand together. We are a community. And we won’t give up, no matter how long it takes.