Angry Blackpool supporters who protested outside the headquarters of the English Football League yesterday sent out a stark warning to the sport’s governing body: take action or we will be back.
Around 150 supporters braved the weather to descend on Preston to voice their dissatisfaction at what they consider the EFL’s lack of action over the running of their football club.
Those in attendance marched from the train station, down Fishergate towards EFL House where protesters then vented their anger with chants aimed at the EFL, its chief executive Shaun Harvey as well as Blackpool owner Owen Oyston.
Placards were also attached to the railings outside as a handful of EFL staff watched on from inside.
A spokesman from protest organisers the Tangerine Knights said: “Considering the weather and the fact it took place at 3pm, the turnout wasn’t bad at all. For people to give their time up is brilliant.
“Blackpool’s protests are always light-hearted, good natured and loud. We might not have had 1,000 people here, but it sounded like it.
“If we can get over 100 people turn out on a horrible day like this, just imagine what we could manage on a lovely sunny day in summer.
“We just hope they will talk to us and take note of what we’re saying. If they don’t, we will be back.”
Christine Seddon, chair of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, was among the speakers to address the protesters.
She told those in attendance: “It’s been left to Blackpool fans to do something about these issues. But this is just a start.
“Organisations like the EFL need to listen to the fans because without the fans, football is nothing. Just like Blackpool Football Club has found out in recent years.
“We need to take this movement forward - it isn’t just about Blackpool anymore, it’s about every football club.”
As part of their protest, Blackpool fans have also launched a petition calling on the government to introduce a regulator ensuring the “highest possible standards of governance for all clubs”.
The petition calling on reform of the EFL has gained more than 5,000 signatures in its first week.
Should the petition reach 10,000 signatures, the government will have to respond. A parliamentary debate will be held if it reaches 100,000.
Seddon added: “We really need to push on now. For all those who haven’t seen or signed the petition yet, I would urge you to do so.
“We need 100,000 signatures and we need to get this situation in front of parliament. The only way we are going to force real change is getting the government to act.
“Unfortunately the EFL are not able to deal with rogue owners - well that is totally unacceptable.
“The genie is out of the bottle now and it’s not going back in. It’s down to us to keep going, we will never give up.”
While the vast majority of those in attendance were Blackpool fans, there were also supporters representing the likes of Bradford City, Leeds United and AFC Wimbledon.
Miranda Livermore, a Bradford fan, made the long journey to Preston from York.
She said: “As soon as I saw this protest fitted in with my university timetable, I knew I was coming.
“I might be a Bradford fan but I’m a football fan first.
“What the EFL are doing, or rather are not doing, for the likes of Blackpool, Charlton, Coventry and Leyton Orient to name just a few, is not right and it’s got to change.”
Blackpool supporters wrote to the EFL back in December after the club’s owners, the Oystons, lost their High Court battle against former director Valeri Belokon.
The Oystons were ordered to pay Belokon £31.27m after it was found they had “illegitimately stripped” the football club following its promotion to the Premier League in 2010.
A High Court judge ruled Belokon had been unfairly prejudiced. The club was put up for sale just four days later but Owen Oyston remains in charge.
The EFL’s position is that it is a simply a competition regulator which can only operate within the bounds of rules provided by the clubs within it.
On Thursday, the EFL announced it will convene a meeting with Blackpool supporters later this month to discuss the ongoing situation at the football club.
An EFL Spokesman said: “The EFL acknowledges the right of those fans who chose to take part in the protest at EFL House.
“We appreciate the manner in which the group of supporters conducted themselves and, as per our announcement, we will now work on finalising the details of the meeting with representatives of the Blackpool fan groups which will take place later this month.”
Tim Fielding, honorary vice president of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, said: “Bearing in mind the conditions and the fact it’s a working day, it’s a fantastic turnout.
“Most people here have had to take the afternoon off work which just goes to show how strong our views are about what’s going on with the EFL and their lack of action.
“We are dealing with some pretty fundamental issues here. Not just for Blackpool fans, but fans of all clubs.
“They’ve repeatedly shown they are not fit for purpose. They’re not capable of regulating the game, so we want someone independent to come in and deal with that.
“It remains to be seen whether this meeting they’ve organised is just a bit of flannel.
“If they think we’re just going to go in there and listen to a load of platitudes, they’ve got another thing coming."