Three Blackpool fans have narrowly escaped jail terms after admitting threatening behaviour likely to put victims in fear of violence when they stormed the directors’ box during a pitch invasion.
Hatred between fans and a football club’s owners culminated in a furious hoard of supporters storming the directors box, a court heard.
What happened was appalling. There were innocent guests in that boxDistrict Judge Rod Ross
The battle of Bloomfield Road broke out after relegated Blackpool FC’s game against Huddersfield Town was abandoned after 48 minutes at nil-nil when 1,000 Blackpool supporters invaded the pitch at the end of last season.
But matters turned nasty when a splinter group of masked men climbed over seats in the main stand, their objective to take over the private box being used by club owners the Oyston family and their guests.
Video footage of what happened was shown to District Judge Rod Ross, sitting at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court, where three men admitted threatening behaviour likely to put victims in fear of violence.
One of the trio is a successful company director and father of two who lives in a £750,000 mansion.
Pam Smith, prosecuting, said that there had been a series of protests about the way the then-Championship club was being run, attracting up to 1,500 fans at a time.
On the day of the game, 1,000 fans marched on the ground in protest at the Oyston’s stewardship of the club, the court was told.
But it was inside the ground after kick-off that some fans started trouble.
The game started peacefully but police intelligence had warned that smoke bombs would be used to set off fire alarms to signify a pitch invasion.
The referee Mick Russell was made aware of the threat and when the invasion happened, took off the players and later abandoned the match.
The prosecutor told the court: “It was then an influx of other fans went for the director’s box. Coins were thrown at the large glass window and the Oystons had to go inside.The fans were making a sustained effort to break the glass and push their way in through the door.
“The window was clearly bowing and ground security staff were hold the door from the inside.”
“The box was being surrounded.”
“The Oystons and others were then taken from the box and locked for their own safety inside the Presidential Suite as police moved in.”
In a statement read to the court, wife of club chairman Karl Oyston, Victoria Oyston, said: “It was chaotic. I tried to calm people down. I panicked and felt sick and it was getting seriously out of control.”
Mrs Oyston added: “Missiles were being thrown .They wanted to break down the large pane of glass at the front of the box and get in.”
The court heard that as a result of press publicity – the release of CCTV images – some people were arrested and others handed themselves in.
Packaging company boss, 46–year-old Richard Grant Eccles, who lives on Clifton Drive South, St Annes, Lancs handed himself in and told police in a statement read to the court: “I just got caught up in it. I had gone to the game with my father I do not drink alcohol or take drugs.
“Karl’s son Sam Oyston was there giving the crowd the Vs. He was provoking the crowd.”
Defending all three men in the dock, Dylan Bradshaw described a tidal wave of resentment between the club’s fans and the current owners.
He said: “However what happened that day was threatening but there was mitigation. At one stage, one of the officers policing the game, PC Greg Laidlaw, had to ask Karl Oyston to back away from the directors’ box.”
The lawyer said: “He was telling Karl Oyston to move away and get out of the box. He had been gesturing with a finger at the fans as if to say come on in.
“It suggests not everyone in that box was frightened or alarmed and his action indicated to my clients that Mr Oyston was ‘up for it’.
“I have have spoken to police to have investigated what went on – some have season tickets for Blackpool and they tell me they can understand the resentment but not the actions.”
Sentencing the three – Eccles, father-of-two Jay Forey, 34, of Westmoreland Avenue, Blackpool, and Christian Rivas-Shorrock, 31, of Ascot Road, Blackpool – the judge told them that people had felt extremely intimidated at what was a serious act of public disorder.
He added:”Why would you go to a match with a mask – only to avoid being identified.
“What happened was appalling.
“There were innocent guests in that box. Had I been there I would have been terrified.”
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.
Another adult and a 15-year-old youth have been previously sentenced for their roles in the incident on May 2, 2015.