Blackpool Prepares For Judgement Day 2
Under normal circumstances, the relegation battle near the foot of League One between Blackpool and Fleetwood Town could be filed under the category of curious diversions. Two clubs separated by seven miles of Lancashire coastline – one a Premier League club as recently as 2011, the other only promoted into the Football League in 2012, both scrapping to avoid relegation into the basement division of the Football League – makes for an interesting enough internecine disagreement, and with two games of the season left to play either of these two clubs could yet fall through the League One trapdoor.
Last weekend, the two clubs played out a goalless draw at Fleetwood’s Highbury, a result that didn’t really do too many favours to either of them, but even those with only a cursory knowledge of the Football League this season will be all too aware of the fact that what goes on at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon has been of secondary importance to many of those that support Blackpool Football Club at the moment. Dislodging the dreadful Oyston family from the club has become the number one aim for supporters, as it has been for a very long time, and with there being few signs that the family is, despite the savage damage that has been done to its reputation in recent years, going to leave the club be at any point in the near future, it’s a battle that has only intensified over the last few months or so.
This weekend coming, Blackpool are at home against Wigan Athletic, whilst Fleetwood Town travel to the West Midlands on Bank Holiday Monday lunchtime. These are both tricky matches – Wigan Athletic are top of the table whilst Walsall are in third place and still in with a shout of claiming the second automatic promotion spot in the division – and, with there being a two point gap between the two teams and two games left to play, by Monday lunchtime Fleetwood Town might well know that a win at Walsall would relegate Blackpool. For Blackpool, then, a win from their match on Saturday could hardly be more important, but the build-up to it is barely even about football any more.
This time last year, Blackpool were already relegated from the Football League Championship. Their home match on the last day of the season against Huddersfield Town should have been a match of next to no circumstance, but instead it became one of the stories of the day, with large demonstrations and a match which was abandoned early in the second half following a pitch invasion by protesting supporters. The remainder of the game, which was goalless at the time of its abandonment, was never played out and the score was permitted to stand, but the club was fined £50,000 and ‘severely warned as to future conduct’ by the FA that summer.
That day had become known as “Judgement Day” on account of a now infamous comment from Karl Oyston on the matter of the condition of the club. “Judge us at the end of the season”, he said. Well, they did, and with the club now looking distinctly like it could be tumbling to a second successive relegation, they’re about to do so again. The Wigan match is Blackpool’s last home match of the season. And Judgement Day 2 is coming.
Three weeks ago, the match was brought forward by two and a half hours to a 12.30 kick-off after following discussions between Blackpool FC, Lancashire Police and Blackpool Council. This may have caused a problem for the Blackpool Supporters Trust and the pressure group Tangerine Knights, who had a march from the demonstration from the town centre to Bloomfield Road planned which was due to start at 1.00 on the same day, but instead the march has merely been brought forward instead, to start at 10.30 in the morning.
With Wigan being in a position to be able to secure promotion on Saturday, though, this isn’t the dead rubber match that the previous year’s match against Huddersfield Town had been. This match will have a large away support with concerns of their own at the top of the table and, whilst some of them may choose to see the bigger picture and show some support for the protest, they might well be forgiven for being more concerned with their own team’s fate.
The stakes for Blackpool FC are high. The club was threatened with a stadium ban if there was to be a repeat of the events of this time last year, and still further negative publicity for the club will come about in the eventuality that this should happen. The flip-side to this, however, is that it has been just about impossible to ignore protesting Blackpool supporters if one is a user of social media. Seldom have there been more effective pressure groups on Twitter or Facebook than Blackpool supporters have standing up for them at the moment, and “Oyston Out” scarves have been spotted at various matches across the country over the course of the season.
The Oystons, meanwhile, may have other things on their mind this week. Today at the High Court in London, High Court this week, their estranged president Valeri Belokon – the Latvian credited as being the catalyst behind the club’s rise through the divisions – filing a ‘claim for unfair prejudice’ against them. This claim may well prove to be the best chance that opponents of the family have of getting them out of the club once and for all, although the question of what sort of club will be left behind in the eventuality that they do finally get out for good.
And this question is surely one that should be vexing both the Football League and the Football Association, right now. We’ve long known that the incarnation of the Owners & Directors Test that has been employed by both bodies has been unsatisfactory for a considerable amount of time, and surely there can be no better example of the failures of what passes for the regulation of football clubs in this country than the fact that the Oystons can remain at Blackpool, suing their own supporters, frequently behaving like just dreadful, terrible people, and overseeing the club’s fall to rack and ruin without a whisper from the authorities themselves. Why aren’t the FA all over this? Why aren’t the Football League creating rules to disbar specifically this form of behaviour?
Feelings will be running high in Blackpool on Saturday, and we can all bet a pound to a penny that “loutish” behaviour rather than extraordinary frustration at the way that this football club is being run will be pushed extremely hard by the Oystons themselves, perhaps whether there is any disorder or not on the day. It is to be hoped, of course, that there isn’t any at the weekend, but if there is there will only be one group of people to blame for this, in a broad sense – the directors who have been allowed to run amok by the game’s authorities with impunity and could walk away from Bloomfield Road any time they wanted to, but choose to do otherwise. It already feels, however, that the supporters of Blackpool Football Club will not rest until they are all gone from the club, and for good.