It has been an interesting and unusual week. On Saturday several hundred Blackpool and Blackburn fans joined in demonstration outside Ewood Park against the poor custodianship of our clubs by the respective owners. At one point the statue of Jack Walker – rightly revered by fans for being a magnificent benefactor to Blackburn Rovers – was draped with Venkys Out and Oyston Out scarves and he looked very comfortable wearing them. Inside Ewood Park the Seasiders surrendered their Cup aspirations with a muted display in front of a three-quarters empty stadium.
Aspersions have been cast on the official attendance figure of 9,327 for the game and on Blackpool’s share (1,605) of that crowd. An image of the Darwen end photographed minutes before kick-off has been subjected to a forensic count by someone from the Open Data Institute and shows 844 supporters in the away end. Even allowing for some fans taking their seats late and for those enjoying corporate hospitality, it is hard to believe there were as many as 1,000 Blackpool fans inside Ewood Park.
That Saturday’s demonstration and mass-boycott was more noteworthy than the game itself was widely acknowledged by TV and radio pundits and national newspapers. It was successful in that it brought the issue of two clubs in crisis to a wider audience and to the attention of the Football Association. It was a credit to those demonstrating that the event passed off entirely peacefully and without any intimidation of fellow supporters. Lancashire police commended the protesting fans for their organisation and good behaviour.
It is still unusual and newsworthy for fans from rival clubs to unite in protest in this way, but it is a positive trend and one which will grow in the coming months as the campaign for better representation for all football supporters at all clubs gathers momentum.
On Tuesday night the transfer window closed with six players coming in and six leaving, including the departures of Redshaw and club captain Danny Pugh. On initial assessment it is hard to see how the changes have strengthened the squad for a promotion push. None of the signings has set the pulses racing and cynics are suggesting it was more an exercise in trimming the wage bill, but we must give Gary Bowyer time to make the changes tell. February will be a critical month, with seven league fixtures to be played in less than four weeks.
In the run-up to the FA Cup match, Blackpool FC’s chairman made a number of disparaging and misleading statements in radio interviews. Sad to say fake news and ‘post truth’ are in vogue at the moment, but Blackpool Supporters’ Trust prefers fact to fiction so this is an appropriate forum in which to correct a number of mistaken assertions.
The first is the charge levelled at BST that we have been guilty of abusive and inappropriate behaviour towards Blackpool fans who still attend games: “They just want to criticise, deride and abuse the proper fans who are coming into the ground.” This is quite ridiculous and ought to be retracted. The Trust’s charter and all of our public pronouncements have made two principles crystal clear: it is the individual supporter’s right to choose how to support the team and whether to go into games or not; and no fan should intimidate or be intimidated by another fan over the choice they make. The Trust asks everyone to remember and to abide by those principles (and not just BST members).
The second is the assertion that “We’ve done it before. We’ve built before and we’ll build again”. It is generally recognised that the real credit for the club’s rise to the Premier League goes to Valeri Belokon for his ambition and investment from 2006 onwards and then to Grayson and Holloway and their backroom staff for motivating the squad. Success came almost despite the Oystons and not many subscribe to the view that they have either the desire or the capability to fashion an ambitious and successful club by their own endeavours.
The third concerns disparaging references to the Trust’s ‘bid’ for the club: “they seem to think we should just walk away and leave the club in limbo” – not true; “[It] effectively detailed that we gave them the club, gave them all the club’s assets and gave them all the cash” – again not true. Such a distorted commentary calls into question whether the recipients of the proposal actually read the details properly, let alone understood them.
The fourth is the claim that dissatisfaction with and opposition to the current owners is “a busted flush”, seemingly based on the mistaken assumption that the half-dozen members of the BST committee who stand with the BST banner outside each home game constitute the ‘opposition’ in its entirety. That is merely the Trust’s moral presence on match days. It is our outdoor office and we are there for any Blackpool fan to come and talk with us, join the Trust, renew membership or just discuss the situation at the club.
The final one is the contention that “it’s a small number” of people who are boycotting the club. The ethical boycott is the protest – witness those thousands of empty seats week after week inside Bloomfield Road. It started four years ago and it grows season by season. A stadium which in recent times was full of enthusiastic, vocal fans now stands virtually silent on match days, a testament to the serious mismanagement of the club and disrespect for its supporters shown by the current custodians. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust will continue to work for regime change at Blackpool FC by all legitimate means and have in the planning stages a ‘pledge’ campaign. How many fans would be willing to come back to Bloomfield Road once there is a positive change of ownership? Soon you will be able to sign up to that proposition.