The long, drawn out battle for a brighter, more ethical future for Blackpool FC was bound to cause some dissension among supporters. Such friction is an inevitable consequence of struggles the world over to oppose wrong behaviour and to change the status quo.
In Blackpool’s case, the struggle has taken the form of prolonged opposition to the Oyston family for putting its own self-interests far too much to the fore in its custodianship of Blackpool FC and showing scant regard for the fans’ feelings in the process.
Emotions continue to run high on all sides after five years of unrest and one of the saddest consequences of the ongoing saga is the fact that genuine football fans have been put in a situation where they are having to make difficult choices relating to how they support their team. A quick analysis of how different sections of the fan base have reacted to the circumstances serves to make the grounds for dissension clear.
The majority of Blackpool fans have taken the decision to support the ethical boycott in varying degrees. It is a financial strategy based on principled opposition to the behaviour of the owners. For some, that means not a penny more of their money going into the club until the Oystons have gone. For others it means only watching away games and not purchasing those tickets via Blackpool FC. For still others it means only buying tickets to watch home games but no other merchandise. The fact that so few attended the play-off final at Wembley in May and so few go to Bloomfield Road these days is all the evidence that it needed that the boycott is having a profound and sustained effect.
While the fact of withdrawing their custom impacts the revenue the club gets, it also impacts hard on the fans who are boycotting. Most of them have a life-long allegiance to Blackpool FC (reference Brian’s testimony last week) but their emotional connection with the club has been mothballed; they are sacrificing the pleasure of going to Bloomfield Road because they are trying to achieve something better for the long-term – an Oyston-free club.
Then there are the couple of thousand fans who still pay go to Bloomfield Road, swelled by the hundreds of complimentary tickets. Most of those still going through the turnstiles don’t approve of the Oystons either. They are just not prepared to miss watching their team because of it, which is entirely their prerogative.
Thirdly, there is a small group of fans who state quite openly that they are perfectly happy for the owners to do exactly what they want with the club; (even if that means winding it up and selling Bloomfield Road for development?)
All football clubs have supporters from across the spectrum; life-long die-hard fans, the family groups, the followers of success, the part timers, the occasional visitors. Football matches attract people for a whole variety of reasons and we need to recognise this and accept it.
It is inevitable that there are those among the boycotters who see the fans who still go to home games as somehow betraying the cause: their presence endorses a regime that has only prioritised its own interests and sued its own fans; and any kind of success for the team means that the owners are less likely to leave.
It is also inevitable that some of those who have bought season tickets see the boycotters as having precipitated a great deal of unrest at the club and having let the team down by not going and getting behind them at every game.
All of this is obvious enough, if regrettable. It’s been going on for a few seasons and people’s positions are not likely to change significantly while the current situation prevails.
The challenge for us as a fan base is how we manage these dissensions, particularly as and when the situation alters in light of the imminent court ruling and potential changes in the way the club is managed.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust has always stated publicly – and does so again here – that it aspires to represent all Blackpool fans. As such, it implicitly accepts each fan’s right as a matter of conscience to decide how to support their team. By extension, BST does not condone insulting or aggressive behaviour towards those who still choose to attend matches and it is perfectly legitimate to be a member of the Trust and to go to home games.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust also implicitly accepts the existence of and the reasons for dissensions between supporters but insists that these must be understood, tolerated and respected, difficult though that might be for some people in the circumstances. Debate and disagreement are healthy democratic activities; abuse and bullying are not. However strong our own beliefs may be that the path we have chosen is the right one, we need to remain civil and respectful to each other. It should always be remembered that more unites us - Blackpool FC - than divides us and a united fan base is going to be key to re-establishing a vibrant community club in the town.
We will need to put past problems behind us and come together, without recriminations, for the good of our club. Did every Blackpool fan like each other before all this started? New owners will need to be convinced that Blackpool fans will return in numbers and in unity. That means those who have continued to attend home games should not be subject to abuse. As a group of supporters and just as human beings, we are better than that. By a similar token, those who have made a very real sacrifice by boycotting for several seasons should not suffer loss of continuity. The Trust will lobby new owners to ensure that season ticket status for boycotters will be restored as if the intervening years had not happened and that anyone wishing to purchase their original seat will be able to do so. We will also be pressing for the management to respect the aims of BST’s supporters’ manifesto (details to be published shortly).
When the long, drawn-out battle is finally over and the day comes for us all to return, we should remember what Winston Churchill famously said: In war - resolution; in defeat - defiance; in victory – magnanimity; in peace - good will.