A Blackpool FC fan has had to pay £20,000 to the club over alleged defamatory online comments – posted to just a handful of people.
It follows a lengthy legal battle that started when pensioner Frank Knight posted remarks on his Facebook page – which yesterday showed he had just 36 friends on the social networking site.
He is the latest in a growing list of fans to have action taken against him by the club and its directors Karl and Owen Oyston.
The news has been met with widespread anger by supporters who criticised the Oystons for waging their campaign of legal action against their own customers.
But while a previous dispute was resolved when one fan agreed to pay £5,000 to the Blackpool FC Community Trust, Mr Knight will have to write a cheque for four times that amount and pay it directly to the club, he revealed as part of an apology he posted online yesterday.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr Knight said: “I now regret making these allegations.
I fully accept that they are false and I wish to sincerely apologise for them and also for the harm, distress and financial losses my comments have caused both BFC and the Oystons and I wish to unreservedly withdraw them
“I fully accept that they are false and I wish to sincerely apologise for them and also for the harm, distress and financial losses my comments have caused both BFC and the Oystons and I wish to unreservedly withdraw them.
“It has injured the reputation of the Oystons and has caused them considerable embarrassment and distress.”
The case against Mr Knight relates to allegations about the Oystons and the club posted in April last year.
In his apology, he acknowledged they were “grossly defamatory” and had damaged the Oystons’ reputation within the club and in the “football community in general”.
It comes after two fans – Stephen Sharpe and former Blackpool Supporters’ Trust chairman Tim Fielding – made similar apologies for comments made online.
Another fan, David Ragozzino, appeared in court earlier this year as part of an ongoing legal dispute with the club and the Oystons, while legal papers were served on fans’ forum Back Henry Street, in February. The club has endured a turbulent season, on and off the pitch, which has seen a variety of protests against the Oystons’ running of the club.
Most recently, a group of around 60 supporters marched outside Karl Oyston’s rural Lancashire home last weekend. On the pitch, a string of terrible performances saw Pool relegated to League One with six games of the season remaining.
The Seasiders are still on course to record the lowest ever points tally by a Championship club.
Following Mr Knight’s public apology, he was described by fans as a “passionate” supporter who has always had the club at heart.
In 2009, he helped unveil a plaque in memory of Kevin Olsson, the Pool fan who was murdered in 1974.
Mr Olsson was just 18 when he was stabbed on the terraces during a game between Blackpool and Bolton.
Mr Knight was among those who helped raise the money for the plaque, bearing the message “never forget”,which was installed outside Bloomfield Road.
Nobody at Blackpool FC was available for comment last night. However, speaking shortly after he revealed he had instructed lawyers to take action against fans, Karl Oyston said: “It’s my family I’m defending.”
He said he understood fans’ emotions were “running high” but said some of the comments had overstepped the mark.
He also said he had called in the police over threats made against his family.
Speaking to The Gazette in April 2014, he said: ““All I want to do is protect my father and sons and the rest of my family.
“It’s not right they have started involving other family members. It’s got to the point where I can’t let it pass any more.
Pool fans rally behind supporter
Supporters, who have widely condemned the decision to take legal action against fans, rallied around Mr Knight yesterday.
In one online forum, users were quick to defend him.
One, posting as Ragnarok, said: “Yet another real fan forced to pay a ridiculous sum of money under the threat of court action. I despair at this family.”
Posting as tangomonkey, another fan added: “Frank, I’m absolutely disgusted by this.
“I know that you, your wife and your boys all have BFC at heart.
“If you’ve said anything that could be seen as negative it’s only because you are a passionate fan that just wants to enjoy watching your club without all this going on.”
Luke Holden wrote on Facebook: “As someone who knows Frank very well I am absolutely gutted for him.
“All he has done for the club and this is how they treat him.
“They make take your money but they will never take your pride Frank. Keep your head up you have thousands supporting you.”
Another well-wisher wrote: “I know Frank and he is a great, great bloke. This makes me feel sick and totally disgusted.”