GAZETTE OPINION - Another Wembley win, but it felt strange and empty

It will have strained every sinew of every one of those boycotting Blackpool fans not to attend Wembley.

Tuesday, 30th May 2017, 11:26 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:49 pm
Blackpool manager Gary Bowyer lifts the trophy at Wembley. Owen Oyston is visible in the bottom left

To not support their team at the home of football would have been an unimaginable prospect, a totally alien situation, a few years ago.

But we all know what has happened since. It’s been a quite spectacular demise from the heady days under Ian Holloway when fans were taken on the journey of their lives.

Despite the level of opposition to the Oyston regime, it would still have been a gut-wrenching choice for many not to make the pilgrimage to Wembley.

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For many of those that did attend, it may have been similarly difficult with the memories of recent seas of tangerine still fresh, and knowing how their attendance will have gone down with many back home.

One stayaway fan admitted he shed a tear when he saw block after block of empty seats in the Pool end on TV, from the comfort of his own living room.

“How has it come to this? That’s Karl’s legacy, right there,” he text. It was hard not to be moved by the sight which greeted us.

One of the saddest outcomes of this whole farce has been fans being pitted against each other for the choice they make. In recent weeks it has become nasty, with some classless comments.

The 79-year-old father of a friend was verbally abused and threatened when he walked into Bloomfield Road for the play-off semi final by a stayaway fan who turned up just to have a go at those who didn’t share his view.

While they argue that fans who still go, thus putting money into the pockets of the Oystons, are part of the problem and are strengthening the regime, we live in a free world. They shouldn’t be abused for their choice. And nor should those accused of betraying the players by staying away be lambasted for their own decision.

Fans should be united, not be embroiled in a feud that does few any favours.

But it’s worth noting that often those who shout the loudest have the least to contribute.

So what happens now?

Karl Oyston has claimed many fans will return when they start winning games and the protests will peter out once they realise he’s not for budging. The events of recent weeks suggest otherwise. A busted flush it appears not.

The ‘Not a Penny More’ #NAPM movement has now been absorbed into public consciousness. It has made a major impact in recent weeks in front of global cameras. As a result, thousand watched at home - the atmosphere in pubs across the Fylde coast when Brad Potts scored early was peculiar, uncertain, restrained as fans struggled to balance their emotions. But it still matters, they still care. Boy, do they care.

But you don’t sue your own fans (whatever the provocation), change your car registration plate to OY51 OUT, stand next to ‘cash cow’ banners, goad fans, tell a supporter to enjoy his ‘special needs day out’, remove statues of club legends and break promise after promise over the training ground and then expect fans to return.

So what will change next season? Not a lot – attendances may go up, but that would be largely due to bigger travelling support from visiting League One clubs.

But it doesn’t matter if Blackpool steamroller through the divisions into the promised land. Those disgusted by the regime won’t return until it is over. It’s non-negotiable. They won’t step foot back in Bloomfield Road until the ‘stain of the Oystons is scrubbed clean’, as one fan put it. Memories last longer than one game at Wembley. The success of Gary Bowyer and his team is even more remarkable against this toxic backdrop.

Until the Oystons step aside, the next chapter will never be able to begin. Few have been despised as much.

This is a wonderful opportunity for a moneybags millionaire looking to step into football club ownership - a club with an incredible history and a vociferous and dedicated fan base which is desperate to make up for lost time. A lost generation which deserves better.

This should have been a day to savour as Blackpool became the most successful team in play-off history. But for many it felt empty, soulless and a symbol of what can happen when the reign of those in charge becomes so divisive.

Andy Sykes