Jose Riga was inevitably sacked by Blackpool as the on-going debacle finally came to an end. However, although this battle at the club is over, the war, as far as the supporters are concerned, is still on-going.
Seasiders took to social media to speak their minds on the current chaos. Just as his tenure began, Riga is still well-backed, and it is clear whose side the fans have taken.
The heat on the stove has been on for a while now, but only in the last 18 months have the flames really started to rise. The club has become divided in a dispute between the fans, and for the last four months, Riga and Karl Oyston, Blackpool’s current chairman. To state that Oyston isn’t favoured by the Tangerine faithful would be a certain contender for understatement of the year. Some would go as far as to argue that the Blackpool chairman makes Newcastle’s Mike Ashley, or Cardiff’s Vincent Tan look unusually appealing.
Concerning Riga’s managerial position, many have been debating whether he would resign for a number of months now. Riga was brought in from Charlton Athletic in early June, with the club advertising their new season ticket campaign with the slogan ‘The Riga Revolution’. Exact figures are unconfirmed, but it is believed that 8,000 season tickets were sold, with 4,000 taking up the option of purchasing a two-year deal for a reduced price. However, last Tuesday’s home fixture against Derby saw the lowest home attendance since before the Premier League days. Although the club announced that attendance was a little over 11,000, photographs from the match showed no more than 8,000 home and away supporters, suggesting the Seasiders have begun voting with their feet.
Blackpool suffered their eleventh defeat of the season in a 3-0 defeat to Reading on Saturday, and fans seem to have acknowledged that the club are due for an early relegation to League One. Although, despite the abysmal start to the season, fans were determined to back the Belgian Riga, as he spoke out against the lack of support he was getting from the club’s owners.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust chairman Tim Fielding has said, “Riga can hold his head high.”
He added, “The situation we are in is a reflection of the recruitment policy in the summer.
“Not only are we struggling to stay up, we are also struggling to reach the record low points total.
“With the squad which is there at the moment, although there are some good guys who are clearly committed, there isn’t the spark which is needed.”
The former Standard Liege boss was widely backed by Blackpool supporters after the previous season, during which they were overseen by Paul Ince and Barry Ferguson, who’s tenures were difficult to say the least. His support was increased – if it wasn’t large enough already – when Oyston approached then Burton Albion boss Gary Rowett in September – while Riga was still in charge at Bloomfield Road. It was a disrespectful and unprofessional move by Oyston, who, at the time, angrily accused Riga of being unprofessional for apparently taking a week off to visit his native Belgium.
In the summer, up until as late as August, Blackpool had only registered eight players, and despite bringing in a flurry of players, they were unable to fill the bench for their first fixture against Nottingham Forest, instead bringing in two youth players to make up the seven. The lack of squad numbers meant that Riga only had one pre-season friendly, a 4-0 win at lowly Penrith, as the club had to cancel their tour of La Manga in Spain. A lack of quality players has been the main issue surrounding the Oyston’s reign. The squad is clearly not good enough to compete in such a gruelling league, and after just one win in fifteen games, it would take a miracle to escape the almost inevitable drop down to the third tier.
Despite the achievement of reaching the Premier League earning the Lancashire club an enormous cash injection, it is blatantly clear that the financial resources were barely applied to the football side of the club, with unproven players and loans keeping the club running to a bare minimum. This has resulted in a series of (understandable) protests by fans, the most recent coming on Sky Sports in the game against Cardiff, where the club ran out eventual 1-0 victors.
To make matters worse, former boss Paul Ince was sacked following Blackpool’s 2-0 defeat to then bottom side Barnsley back in January, reportedly via text message. Unconfirmed reports claim that the same method has been used for Riga’s dismissal. If these reports prove to be true, it not only shows what a dishonourable chairman Karl Oyston is, but that his cowardly tactics know no boundaries.
Back in September, Riga’s assistant Bart De Roover told the BBC that he left the club after complaining about the evidently poor facilities and treatment by the club, adding that he had ‘worked unpaid’ and was not on a contract. Oyston reacted by slyly saying that he belonged in the ‘Belgium’s second tier’; a remark that De Roover has since responded to, claiming that he has never been so poorly treated by a football club.
Despite Riga overseeing Blackpool’s worst ever run of form, he was up creek without a paddle, and his firm stance against the shameful Oyston regime sees him leave with his dignify intact, and he will be admired by many fans for years to come.
So where does this leave Blackpool? Most fans have already written off the club’s chances of survival and instead dedicating it to fighting back against the tyrannical owners.
Former Birmingham City manager Lee Clark, who is ironically being replaced by Gary Rowett, is odds-on to take charge at Blackpool, which, judging by his record in the West Midlands, fails to get many people’s spirits up. At this current time, there are no planned demonstrations but you can bet your bottom dollar that the Blackpool faithful will find a way to make themselves heard. Despite Blackpool’s owners playing down the situation, the message has been conveyed not just nationwide, but internationally.
Karl Oyston spoke to talkSPORT on Monday evening, as he has done on many other occasions, but provided little other than playing down the prospect of a fan takeover by club president and minor shareholder, Valeri Belokon, who recently claimed that he is planning on taking the Oystons to court and is looking to become a majority shareholder – a possibility Seasiders have welcomed with open arms. When asked about the club’s finances and bringing in Riga, Oyston stated that he was ‘head of the company’ – a quote that sums up Oyston as chairman; he sees the club as nothing more than a cash cow, he simply does not view the club in the same way as the thousands of passionate fans and he doesn’t care just how deep he has sunk the knife into the supporters, either.
Oyston blamed Riga for the players he brought in and the squad he assembled, when in truth, the Belgian had very little to work with – and Riga isn’t the first to speak out about this. The man who guided the Fylde coast club to the top flight, Ian Holloway, claimed that Blackpool’s Premier League legacy was ‘some new sprinklers’, while former Blackpool stalwarts have also spoken out against the chaotic functioning of the club over the summer.
Blackpool face Ipswich Town at Bloomfield Road on Saturday, where there is to be an understandably low attendance, yet those who do attend are expected to offer plenty of support for former boss Riga and club president Belekon.
A run of just four wins since November 2013 has left the club in tatters, and the future of the club now appears to lie in a lower league.