Blackpool’s Ongoing Towering Inferno
Over the course of the last few weeks, it had started to look as though the shambolic season that Blackpool Football Club has endured was starting to show signs of promise, on the pitch, at least. Wins against relegation rivals Crewe Alexandra and Doncaster Rovers had dragged the team to within touching distance of safety, and a home win against Southend United a week ago on Saturday had even allowed the club a week with its head above the dotted line that marks relegation to League Two in just a few weeks time.
Last weekend, however, the wheels fell off the wagon somewhat. Not only did they lose at home – not an especially rare event at Bloomfield Road this season – but they did so against Colchester United, another club that is fighting tooth and nail to avoid the drop. And this wasn’t all, either. Wins for Chesterfield and Oldham Athletic – two of the other teams now engaged in a battle to effectively avoid one relegation place, with Doncaster Rovers, Crewe Alexandra and Colchester United all looking as if they may be doomed at this late stage in the season – meant that Blackpool dropped back into the relegation places, having played at least one more game than everybody else near the bottom of the table.
Performances on the pitch, however, have emphatically not been the story of this season for Blackpool Football Club. Over the course of the last couple of seasons ago, the name of this club has become a byword for dreadful football club ownership and the inevitable fan protest that will start to emerge in the case chronic mismanagement. Vast numbers of supporters have been boycotting Blackpool FC all season, with reported attendances – which are required to show all season ticket holders as having attended, whether they did or not – presenting a very different version of what is going on at the club on Saturday afternoons to what photographs from inside Bloomfield Road were indicating, that very, very few people were still bothering with this team any more.
Those who are still trying to crowbar the dreadful Oyston family out of the club received another small setback last week with confirmation that their next large-scale protest against the owners would have to be brought forward after kick-off for the club’s final home league match of the season against Wigan Athletic at the end of this month had its kick-off time brought forward from three o’clock to half-past midday, following talks between Blackpool FC, Lancashire Police and Blackpool Council. With a march to the ground from the town centre having been planned to start at one o’clock, it has been necessary to bring forward the march to start at 10.30 in the morning, which may well have an effect on the number of people that turn out for it.
Jumpiness on the part of the authorities might be somewhat understandable, when we consider what happened at Bloomfield Road on the last day of last season. With Blackpool already relegated from the Championship and their opposition that day, Huddersfield Town, already safely positioned in sixteenth place in the table, around two thousand Blackpool supporters protested outside the ground before the match, and three minutes into the second half of the match a pitch invasion with the score still tied at nil-nil led to the abandonment. The Football League later determined that there was no need to play the remaining forty-two minutes of the two clubs’ seasons, which in itself didn’t say very much for the state of the club’s season in an overall sense.
But what happens next, for Blackpool Football Club? Might this summer finally be the one during which the loathsome Oystons finally decide that this ailing football club is causing their quality of life far greater issues than could ever be compensated for by whatever rewards they are getting for still being involved at the club. Premier League parachute payments ended with the end of last season at the end of their four years of propping the club up. For the record, the club made £10,131,541 in parachute payments during their last season before expiry. What might have happened to this money is just about anybody’s guess.
On top of this, the two year season tickets that were sold by the club are now reaching the end of their life-spans. It was noted last year that, whilst the club had sold 3,800 of these season tickets two years ago, sales of season tickets last summer were down into the low hundreds. It is understood the discrepancy between the number of people who purchased these season tickets and the number of people actually turning out at Bloomfield Road this season that is the biggest cause of the clear discrepancy between reported attendance figures and estimates of those that actually have been going to matches there.
If the matter of who was buying season tickets might not necessarily have been a big deal for the club last summer – £10m in parachute payment money is a fairly soft cushion to be landing on in League One – then the club might well come to regret its treatment of supporters in recent years at leisure, from now on. A poll on the Blackpool Gazette’s website last month asking the club’s supporters whether they will be renewing for next season reached over a thousand signatures, and of those people 91% stated that they wouldn’t and 4% stated that they hadn’t decided yet whether they would or not. That made for just 5% of those who completed the poll stating that they would be renewing for next season.
Such polls are far from scientific, of course, and are self-selective by their very nature. Such numbers are, however, practically impossible to spin in a positive way and they only reinforce the likelihood that there are now most likely thousands of Blackpool supporters who will not return to Bloomfield Road while the Oyston family retains control over the club. The only rational reason for the family to still be interested in the club is widely assumed to be financial, and this probably informs the rationale behind why some Blackpool supporters have a somewhat sanguine attitude towards the possibility of relegation to League Two at the end of this season. If the club becomes less profitable, so the reasoning goes, the likelihood of the Oystons finally leaving the club gets a little more likely. Until then, this battle of attrition is not going to go away, and it may yet get more problematic for the club’s owners again, come the end of this season.
Blackpool Supporters Trust is fund-raising for supporters who have been sued by the owners of the club. You can support them by clicking here (and giving them some money.)
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