Pitch ‘invaders’ warned of club’s further legal action

Blackpool fans stage a protest and pitch invasion last May

Blackpool fans stage a protest and pitch invasion last May

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Blackpool football supporters’ groups have reacted with anger at the club’s owners decision to send out letters threatening legal action against up to 12 fans over a pitch invasion last May.

Around 150 fans poured on to the Bloomfield Road pitch on May 2 at the end of the disastrous Championship relegation season causing the game against Huddersfield Town to be abandoned.

The club was fined £50,000 by the FA which said it had failed to use due diligence and there were serious inadequacies in the planning for the protest given that there was strong intelligence that some fans might encroach upon the pitch.

Now 12 months on, itis believed up to 12 fans are being warned by the club’s solicitor that to avoid any legal action they should get together with the club and put forward financial offers of recompense to avoid expensive court action.

The club’s owners have already engaged in court proceedings against some fans who they say have libelled them.

The Gazette has seen one of the letters dated May 12 .

It states: “The reason for this letter is that there has been a recent decision in the courts in favour of Karl Oyston and Blackpool Football Club in respect of events which occurred in mid May 2015.

“The decision awarded substantial damages to the Claimants.

“That action was one of a series of actions relating to comments made by individuals and/or events that happened on or off the field/stadium.”

It goes on to say: “Hence, in order to avoid the club taking such action against you I propose there should be a meeting to air the position and for you to put forward any monetary proposals you may have to avoid the necessity of court proceedings which would be time consuming and expensive.”

It adds that if court action was taken an order for costs would be sought against the fans.

It says a “similar letter has been sent to the other “invaders” and that it would be useful if all the parties were present at the meeting.

But the fans groups say this latest threat was alarming and could only make the plight the club is facing worse.

It comes just days after the club released a statement saying it was keen to resolve off the field issues with fans.

Steven Smith, former spokesman for the Tangerine Knights supporters group, said: “It is disappointing and disgusting for the owners to have sent these letters out now, at the end of a terrible season in which they should be apologising to the fans.

“Instead of which they are widening the gulf between the supporters and the ownership.

“If anyone has received one of these letters they need to seek legal help.

“They also need to examine the underlying circumstances as to why the club were given the £50,000 fine.

“The need to make sure they do not respond to the club formally or informally with anything that could open them up to other things.”

He said many fans felt that the reason the club was fined was not for the pitch invasion itself but for the way in which the club chose to handle it.

He pointed out that in the FA’s report, which led to the fine, it was stated that “it was the policy of the police not to use force to remove people when they were exercising the freedom of speech where there was no violence.

“For that reason the police decided not to try to arrest or remove spectators from the pitch but rather to let the protest take place and to use only persuasion as means to get them to leave the pitch.”

And the report continued: “There was no proper planning as to what would happen in the event that there was a pitch incursion and how to remove people from the pitch.”

He said other fans had told him that they felt that certain individuals were being targeted now because they were vocal opponents of the owners of the club.

He said many of the fans were shocked by the action.

He said: “Many are supporters who were among the more vocal critics at the recent judgement day protest in Blackpool.

“I have spoken to one or two who have received these letters and they are all similar letters.

“The pitch invasion was a sporadic and improvised event. Once one or two people did it others just joined in.

“The protest outside the ground was organised and we had spoken to the police to warn them of the likelihood of something happening inside the ground – but it was not organised.

“The police allowed the protest on the pitch to continue and did not press charges because it was a peaceful protest and it was therefore allowable under human rights laws.”