A Seasiders fan found guilty of trying to storm the directors’ box during an angry protest at Blackpool Football Club has insisted: “The Oyston family has brought most of what’s happened on themselves.”
Mark Rushton, 24, was convicted along with Neil Holden, 40, of threatening behaviour after they attempted to get to the Oyston family and their guests during a match at Bloomfield Road on May 2.
Rushton, of Riversway, Marton, will be sentenced next month after a court heard he was part of the group of men involved in the ‘Judgment Day’ protest which forced the abandonment of the fixture against Huddersfield Town. But just minutes after being convicted yesterday by Blackpool Magistrates, Rushton – who the court heard was masked during the disorder – told The Gazette: “During the last 18 months, the behaviour of the Oyston family at the club has brought most of what’s happened on themselves,” before being walked away by his solicitor.
Holden, 40, of Marton Drive, who was told to be quiet by court officials after several outbursts, said as he was convicted: “It’s an absolute joke.
“I’m not a criminal.”
Both men denied the offence.
District Judge Jeff Brailsford said he was ‘entirely satisfied’ that the masked man seen climbing into the box and rattling the door was Rushton.
The judge said Holden’s actions had been ‘entirely stupid’ and added: “It’s vulgar. It’s unacceptable.”
Around a dozen Blackpool fans were in court to hear the verdict, which they met with shock. They chanted ‘Oyston Out’ as they departed the court room.
It follows explosive evidence during the morning session at Blackpool Magistrates where a police sergeant told the hearing he twice had to tell chairman Karl Oyston to keep away from the windows and stop what he called ‘beckoning and enticing’ the fans.
Sgt Greg Laidlaw said: “I was sent to the box because the crowd had surged forward towards it after the match had been abandoned because of a pitch invasion.
“Being the only police in the box I had cause to fear for my own safety. It unnerved me.
“I was the only barrier between those inside the box and those outside.
“The windows were bowing. There was pushing kicking and spitting by those outside. I was 100 per cent frightened.”
The sergeant called up reinforcements – six more officers arrived and formed a barrier outside the directors’ box as fans moved away from the scene.
Victoria Oyston, Karl Oyston’s wife, had previously told the hearing that she felt “intimidated and sick” during the incident and told how her family had received death threats.
Giving evidence, Holden told the court he had been on a pre-match protest march outside the ground and joined in when fans went onto the pitch.
He said: “It was Judgement Day – the end of the season when Karl Oyston said he should be judged.
“We protested against the stewardship and ownership of the club to draw attention to what was going on and draw it to the attention of a wider audience and the FA.
“We wanted to protest at a lack of investment and lack of respect to the fans.”
He denied inciting anyone at the match although he did admit acting as a “plonker” by making rude gestures.
He admitted going onto the balcony where he said he was almost hit by a bottle which was thrown by another fan.
Holden said the arrival of fans at the directors’ box was to put an “Oyston Out” banner up and he refuted it was pre-planned violence.
Holden added: “I did point at Karl Oyston but when I was asked to move by police I did.”
At the end of the hearing Rushton also admitted criminal damage to an evidence collector’s video camera worth £199 during an incident at Accrington Stanley in July last year.
Holden, who admitted his behaviour on the day had been stupid, was told by the judge: “It went far beyond that - you were second onto the director’s balcony. You say it was a peaceful protest but something stirred into wholly darker action.”
That day has been called Judgement Day by Blackpool FC fans angered by the side’s demise into relegation from the Championship, which they blamed on a lack of investment and poor management.
A pitch invasion early in the second half was followed by the referee abandoning the match, leading to a £50,000 fine for the club.
Peter Stringfellow, defending both Rushton and Holden, said in the case of Holden his client did get animated in the crowd because he objected to being filmed by ground security staff.
“What happened that day was a response to what Karl Oyston said - ‘judge me in May’”, he said.
“The protest was the fans’ response to that.
“Mr Holden did join the protest on the centre circle. It is of course illegal to go on the pitch unless it is part of an evacuation procedure and the fire alarms had gone off.
“The police appear to have allowed fans to drift towards the players’ tunnel and when they moved towards the source of their protest – the club chairman – he followed.
“What happened was all over in 90 seconds and during it he tried to stop the man in the mask attempting to open the box door.”
Their convictions follow guilty pleas entered by three other Blackpool fans involved in the same protest.
Dad-of-two Richard Grant Eccles, 46, of Clifton Drive South, St Annes, Jay Forey, 34, of Westmoreland Avenue, Blackpool, also a dad of two, and Christian Rivas-Shorrock, 31, of Ascot Road, Blackpool, admitted threatening behaviour likely to put victims in fear of violence last month.
Each was given a an eight-week jail term suspended for two years, 200 hours’ unpaid work for the community, and a three-year football banning order. They must each pay £280 costs.
Rushton and Holden will be sentenced on February 1.