For the third time this season, the BST column has been written by a grassroots member of the Trust and focuses a fan’s-eye view on the human impact of the ethical boycott and the importance of away games in keeping that vital connection with the team:
As part of the concerted campaign to persuade the Oystons that we don’t want them involved in any part of our football club – that they should sell up and go - the vast majority of us have been involved in the ethical boycott which aims to break the cycle of owners exploiting the fans’ devotion to the club.
Over the last couple of seasons, gates at Bloomfield Road have plummeted despite a turnaround on the pitch, after a calamitous plunge down the Leagues. Unlike so many other commercial transactions, a supporter cannot just drop one team and start supporting another; it is not like switching supermarkets in protest at the price of a tin of beans. Cynical owners at many clubs have historically taken cynical advantage of fans’ loyalty to their club to maintain their income streams. Blackpool fans, led by the Supporters’ Trust have broken that cycle of exploitation by refusing to attend games or buy merchandise from the club shop; in so doing they have set an example to other supporters’ groups with a similar conundrum.
One unfortunate side effect of the ethical boycott is that a significant number of supporters feel a sense of disconnection from the team, as they simply haven’t seen them play, in some cases, for three or four seasons now. It is to be hoped that togetherness returns once a sale of the football club is concluded and the fans return en masse to Bloomfield Road.
To ensure that a connection remains when the owners finally leave, many ethical boycotters have maintained their allegiance to the current squad by going to away games only. The EFL’s finances are set up in such a way that home game gate receipts are kept by the home club. As a consequence, many Blackpool fans have been paying on the gate at away games or purchasing tickets directly from the away team ticket office in advance and not buying them via the Blackpool FC ticket office. This gives them the chance to see the team and keep the flame burning while still upholding the not-a-penny-more principle.
Interestingly, Gary Bowyer paid tribute to the away support after victory at Peterborough, saying it played a key part in getting the win. Saturday was the first chance for many to see the side after the announcement that the club was up for sale and there was a palpable change in the mood of the away fans, with vociferous support throughout, and a real belief that the ordeal the fans have been through was reaching a conclusion. It’s not too dramatic to say that having to stay away from Bloomfield Road has been agony for many, as the club plays a huge part in so many lives, giving the individual an identity and sense of belonging. Whatever their background, fans have a common sense of identity and pride as Blackpool fans. The club provided an opportunity to socialise with family and friends; exiles from the town made a pilgrimage back every couple of weeks; local businesses received a major boost to their income and the community was united in a common cause. As the Oystons have found to their cost, a football club is not the ground or a business, but the fans. Owners come and go but fans are in there for the long haul; ‘Blackpool ‘til I die’ means exactly that.
A large part of any team’s success is achieved by all associated with the club pulling together both on and off the field; to gain promotion last season with all that was going on in the background was a real tribute to Gary Bowyer and his backroom staff. It was satisfying to see that recognised in the award of the North West Manager of the Year from a shortlist including such luminaries as Jose Mourinho and Phil Parkinson.
The club is ostensibly up for sale and fans will be hoping for a quick resolution. A number of deadlines are approaching fast – 27th November for the Oystons to decide if they are going to appeal or not, 4th December for payment of the first £10 million to Valeri Belokon. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust might suggest that the away game at Shrewsbury on 16th December – pay on the gate of course - could be an opportunity for a significant show of solidarity with the team, a vocal reminder to the Oystons that we really do want them gone and a demonstration to any prospective new owners of the potential that exits in the fan base.
When change finally comes, it’s worth considering what a packed and supportive Bloomfield Road crowd would add to the mix. The team have certainly shown togetherness and resilience to date. If that attitude was combined with a return by the fans in good voice and the engendering of a ‘Fortress Bloomfield’ atmosphere, any new owners would be in a great position to bring the good times back. The last few years have taught us that the club has the potential to be at least a Championship side. With the right owners, working in conjunction with the fans represented by Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, why shouldn’t the team be back up at least a Division and this time, maintain that position?