When some fans are considering taking their football club’s owners to court (or vice-versa), you know all hell has broken loose.
Blackpool suffered their worst defeat in terms of goals conceded on Saturday, which would have been met with anger and fury by fans at any other club, but not at Blackpool. There was nothing more than a collective shrug of the shoulders and a quick discussion about the humiliation of playing against Fleetwood Town next season.
Last weekend was probably the best weekend in the FA Cup, from a neutral perspective, for a long time, and a BBC poll revealed that the majority of football fans believe Bradford City’s win at Chelsea on Saturday was the biggest FA Cup shock ever. Fellow Premier League sides Manchester City, Southampton, Tottenham and Swansea also crashed out to mark a beautiful weekend of English cup football.
However, with every ying, there’s a yang. While it won’t be acknowledged, as it is unofficial and perhaps a little exaggerated to say the least, many Blackpool fans, myself included, believe that Saturday underlined the club’s downfall – for an indefinite number of years.
How, I hear you ask? Allow me to explain.
Blackpool Gazette journalist Will Watt published a striking article on Monday highlighting how every basic element of a decent football club has essentially disintegrated at Bloomfield Road. It wasn’t necessarily about the club’s inevitable relegation, the unacceptable playing surface or the calamitous performances week-in week-out – it highlighted that Blackpool FC are losing an entire generation of supporters.
Almost five years ago, the Seasiders beat Cardiff 3-2 in the 2010 Championship play-off final to provide Blackpool fans with the most memorable day that they are likely to have during their time of supporting the club. Fans, both young and old, wore Tangerine shirts proudly on a day-to-day basis, as the minnows crossed swords with the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal – a sight that hadn’t been witnessed since the early 1970s.
It was the club’s best and only opportunity to become not just a Premier League club, but an ‘established’ Premier League club. Instead, Blackpool were relegated by a sole point. “Ten points, we’ll only get ten points” was the chant humorously sung by fans throughout the season, in relation to a pundit claiming that Blackpool would fail to tally more than ten points. They needed four times that amount to survive and missed out by just one. It was quite incredible that they achieved 39, but they deserved every single one and should have had more.
Take Swansea, for example. A club on the brink of falling out of the Football League a decade ago, yet they now find themselves in the big-time. Unlike Blackpool, they spent money to survive. Since working their way up, they have lifted a League Cup and reached the last 32 of the Europa League, encountering Valencia, Malmo and Napoli along the way. The financial and moral rewards were far superior for Huw Jenkins than for the Oystons, who foolishly decided not to abide by the phrase ‘spend money to make money’. But while it is their loss, it is also Blackpool’s loss.
Was it all just a big one-off roller-coaster? Was it a novelty that was never going to last? It didn’t have to be, but it was made to be by the greed of two men – Karl and Owen Oyston.
Every starting 11 so far this season, no matter who, have looked either disinterested or simply not good enough. Fans are quick to blame the players in what is a instinctive, knee-jerk reaction, but it’s not the players fault that they aren’t up to the standards required to compete in the Championship.
Blackpool have only two players on their books whose contracts expire post summer 2015. Just think about that. Liverpool are panicking over Raheem Sterling leaving in the summer, whereas Blackpool will only have two players left and will have to rebuild their entire squad – again. The Oystons’ inability to manage a Football Club is no longer incompetent, irresponsible or down-right short-sighted, it’s criminal.
Fans are being sued, Bloomfield Road’s hostility knows no boundaries and supporters only attend because they’ve either already paid for their season tickets and are desperately attempting to salvage some value for money, or it’s simply part of their routine. Whatever the reason, it’s more of a painful chore than a delight to watch Blackpool play. Waves of seats previously occupied by passionate fans are deserted, those who do attend sit in subdued silence and the outcome on the pitch is usually the same. Sniffer dogs and aggressive stewards lie in wait for locals who may consider bringing in banners or even sitting in a different seat. Supporters – both young and old – are viewed as nothing more than customers, rather than valued members of both the club and the community.
This season, fans have been banned or forcibly removed from the ground for sitting in different seats, despite rows upon rows remaining forlorn. An unpleasant experience awaits fans each week and it has driven thousands of supporters to spend their Saturdays elsewhere.
Over a month ago, Karl Oyston was at the centre of a text scandal when he labelled a fan a ‘retard’ and told him to ‘enjoy his special day out’. The FA rightly claimed they would investigate the incident. However, few expect any action from the Football League as Oyston himself is, somehow, a board member. The Football Association have a tendency to take their time with investigations, but this is beyond a joke. If Blackpool were in the Premier League, it is likely that Karl Oyston would have been removed from his position a long time ago. Blackpool’s status, particularly in terms of their league position, makes the situation less of a priority. A sad reality.
Last week, Blackpool were initially awarded £2.3 million in a belated tribunal for Tom Ince, paid by Hull City. After reading social media comments and speaking to fans, I can’t recall a single person who seriously believed that the money would be spent on improving the club. A unanimous cry of ‘we won’t be seeing that money then’ was heard from the ‘Pool faithful, with many recalling the disappearing money made through Charlie Adam, Brett Ormerod and Matt Phillips.
Not only is Oyston quick to scupper as much of the player fees as possible, he is also interested in off-loading any promising youth players for personal gain and seems only willing to offer academy players insulting contracts. There seems to be no firm interest in retaining the few remaining rays of light at the club, with the owners instead preferring to sell them off for profit – again, it’s criminal, disrespectful and insulting.
£90 million was the reward for Blackpool’s play-off victory, while an additional £15 million has been made from player transfer fees. Excluding player wages, stadium management (or lack of) and a couple of minuscule loan fees, Blackpool have had millions to spend on players during the post play-off final years and yet goalkeeper Joe Lewis – arguably Blackpool’s best player this season – was sent back to parent-club Cardiff over the weekend as he was ‘too costly’. A keeper, second choice at Cardiff, looking for first-team football, who likely wasn’t too financially demanding and has almost single-handed salvaged Blackpool a consolation 17 points this season, has been sent back for being ‘too costly’, just five years after Blackpool won a Championship play-off final and also reached Wembley for a second time two years later.
It is quite literally the deliberate dismantling of a unique football club and the Oystons appear to be revelling in the fame, goading the supporters and treating the club – a valued part of the Fylde Coast community – like a piece of muck on the base of their shoe. How can this be allowed to happen?
As Will Watt mentioned, Karl Oyston claimed that he would ensure Blackpool never endure another season like the last, when the Seasiders evaded relegation by the skin of their teeth, with the promise of huge improvements. This, like many other claims, has proven to be false and Blackpool are far worse off than they could ever have expected to be.
A proportionate amount of Blackpool fans said that they bought a season ticket last summer due to a promised ‘Riga Revolution’ – a season ticket advertisement tagline linked to former manager Jose Riga, and the apparent reincarnation of the playing side that we were supposed to behold. Blackpool began their season with a 2-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest, with yet more loans and free transfers. Of that side, only four of those players were still around for Saturday’s 7-2 defeat at Vicarage Road. The rest have, of course, been replaced with yet more loans and free transfers.
I attended the game against Wolverhampton the week before, as I felt the need to see the on-going destruction for myself, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Wolves ran out 2-0 winners and my thoughts on the way home were that there is no chance of a miraculous recovery. Wolves were very poor on the day and any other side would have nicked a win at Molineux. All 11 players weren’t up to it and didn’t look bothered. Their time at the club is short, so why should they care? I and 500 other Seasiders sat in the isolated crow’s nest of the Stan Cullis stand muted, with feelings of obligation, rather than yearning to follow our team. The highlight of my day was seeing Sir Jack Hayward – a legend at Wolverhampton – being given an excellent send-off by the home faithful and the humorous walk through Molineux subway among hundreds of Wolves fans chanting in delight about the result.
It’s not just the fans who have this train of thought about the playing side, as shown by these quotes from winger Andrea Orlandi’s blog:
“They looked like a well oiled machine and we were a bunch of blokes who didn’t know each other and got together to kick the ball around. We were looking at each other without seeing each other, we were running around like headless chickens and we were humiliated.”
“There was a moment in which I thought – I could fake an injury, get substituted and run away from this craziness. But immediately I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that without feeling ashamed of myself when I looked in the mirror. I felt ashamed of myself anyway.”
Orlandi’s honesty concerning Blackpool in just a few months has hugely surpassed the honesty shown by Karl Oyston throughout his entire 15 year reign.
Oyston has previously insisted that he would step down from his position if he felt that his position was untenable. Since then, he has abused and mocked fans and forced the playing staff into a position where they would consider feigning an injury to escape playing for the club. I don’t know how much lower this car crash of a club could possibly sink.
A protest has been organised for Blackpool’s home tie with Brighton on Saturday in an attempt to pile on the pressure. A demonstration outside Bloomfield Road at 14:30 has been assembled and a good turn-out is expected. Blackpool Supporters Trust are also holding a meeting pre-match.
A huge sense of dread continues to hang over the club’s fans at present. They have seemingly come to terms with how this season will inevitably end, and the fact that away trips to Crewe, Oldham, Fleetwood and possibly Preston North End, are imminent. However, the real concern is whether the Oystons will stick around. If they do, I can only imagine the new depths that they would plunge this club down to – a possible relegation to League Two is murmured on the odd occasion and no one has challenged such a fate.
The downward spiral doesn’t appear likely to stall any time soon, and it could get a whole lot worse over the next few months.
Put football first.