Saturday’s game against Barnsley prompted mixed emotions for many Blackpool fans. For all that it was a creditable performance by the Seasiders against a decent Championship side, it also marked another record low attendance at Bloomfield Road (this time for a 3rd round FA Cup match) with visiting supporters outnumbering Pool fans by nearly 3 to 1.
Following on, Tuesday night’s Checkatrade Trophy defeat at home to against Wycombe Wanderers was played out in an almost empty stadium. The ‘official’ attendance figure of 766 beggared belief.
The sight of so many empty seats at Bloomfield Road is a sad reflection on how the club has been mismanaged for so long. It underlines the fact that the decision by thousands of Blackpool fans to stay away is not just a one off, and is not because we are playing in the bottom division. It is part of a determined, long term decision by genuine fans to campaign for real change at our club via the ethical boycott.
There were many positives to be taken from Saturday, not least the incredible solidarity shown by the away fans. Barnsley has suffered its own problems with owners over the years and the visiting Tykes proved to be both understanding of our plight and extremely supportive. A social media campaign prior to the game coupled with Blackpool Supporters’ Trust handing out ‘A Club And A Game In Crisis’ leaflets to visiting supporters explaining the background to the boycott proved extremely successful. The majority of Barnsley fans chose to give their custom to the local pubs, pie shops and chippies rather than purchase inside the stadium, as they were aware of the negative impact that the downturn at the club has had on the local economy.
There have been very few positives for Blackpool fans in recent times but the encouragement and unity shown by our Barnsley visitors indicates that there are silver linings to be found even in our particular cloud. Club rivalry seems almost irrelevant when the very future of a football club is at stake and this ‘coming together’ of fans from different clubs is extremely heartening. There is a great deal wrong with football governance in this country but fans at every club are beginning to realise that supporters need to speak up in unity for their stake in the game.
One Barnsley fan made the following comments after reading BST’s Crisis Club leaflet:
‘I already knew quite a lot about the situation at Blackpool FC and I am appalled by what has been allowed to happen, but seeing it written down has made me realise that football fans are sleepwalking. We know that there are problems but as long as your team are doing ok, it's too easy to ignore the bits we don't like. Someone has needed to make a stand, to say we're not just going to accept this anymore and it looks like you Blackpool fans have drawn the short straw. You need to win this battle, not just for yourselves but for every football fan. Your fight should really be our fight as well.’
The resolution to the situation at Blackpool FC has yet to be worked out, but what is vital is that Blackpool fans are placed at the heart of the club and are not only respected but actively involved in the decision making and direction that our club takes. Token gestures will not suffice. The loyalty that comes automatically from football club ‘customers’, the fan base, has been taken for granted too many times by too many owners. The assumption that we will accept any kind of behaviour because we just want to support our team means that some owners are complacent about fan involvement or, in our particular case, completely dismissive of the value of genuine engagement with all supporters.
The action that Blackpool fans are taking is being monitored by the football world and will have implications for the future direction of football clubs. Whoever owns Blackpool FC next will need to understand that in order for fans to return in numbers and to remain, the club needs to be viewed as a community asset and run for the benefit of the supporters and local people, not just for the owners. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no doubt that as other fans face issues at their own clubs there will be more of this kind of supporter-generated action. Blackpool fans are leading the way and our ultimate success will send a warning shot to owners of all football clubs that without fans, football really is nothing and you overlook such a large collective at your peril.
To close on a less contentious note, in 2018 a new academy school will open in South Shore, Blackpool, on the site of the old Arnold School. The current proposal is to call the new school ‘The Avenue Academy’ after a series of local streets, but there is an online petition underway to have it renamed ‘The Armfield Academy’.
Jimmy Armfield was a distinguished pupil at the old school, has been an inspiration to many and is a tireless ambassador for Blackpool. He is also our only living Freeman of the Borough. To name the new Academy after Jimmy Armfield would be both a fitting and a lasting tribute to the man who has given so much to the town. Public support is needed to put weight behind the proposal. Please add your support to the campaign by linking to the petition at the following: