A police sergeant told how he provided the thinnest of blue lines when he stood between the owners of Blackpool Football Club and a mob of fans.
Fans of Blackpool FC scaled the main stand at Bloomfield Road and surrounded the directors box on what was dubbed the ‘Judgement Day’ protest last season.
The windows were bowing. There was pushing kicking and spitting by those outside. I was 100 per cent frightenedSgt Greg Laidlaw
District Judge Jeff Brailsford, sitting at Blackpool Magistrates Court, has already heard about an 18-month war of attrition between the club owners – the Oyston family – and its fans which has culminated in claims by the Oystons that they have suffered death threats.
Fans invading the pitch in the club’s final home game of the season, against Huddersfield, forced the abandonment of the match, leading to a £50,000 fine for the club.
A group of fans then turned their attention to the directors’ box.
Yesterday, Victoria Oyston – wife of club chairman Karl – told how she feared for the safety of guests as a group of fans climbed up to the directors’ box.
Today, Sgt Greg Laidlaw told the court how he found himself the only officer in the club directors’ box when it came under attack with the Oystons and their guests inside.
Sgt Laidlaw told the court he twice had tell chairman Karl Oyston to keep away from the windows and stop what he called ‘beckoning and enticing’ the fans outside.
The sergeant said: “I was sent to the box because the crowd has 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 un-nerved 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.
Before the court, charged with threatening behaviour, are driver and father-of-three Neil Holden, 40, of Marton Drive ,Blackpool and Mark Rushton, 24, of Riversway, Blackpool.
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 match although he did admit acting as a “plonker” by making rude gestures.
He said he had been a life-long fan of the club but now only attended a few matches.
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.
He told the court he thought the surge up the stand was probably caused by fans seeing Karl Oyston’s son Sam allegedly arguing with fans.
Holden added: “I did point at Karl Oyston but when I was asked to move by police I did .”