BST column: Blackpool’s chance to be unified

Blackpool's FA Cup tie will be decided at Bloomfield Road
Blackpool's FA Cup tie will be decided at Bloomfield Road

It was posted on Twitter this week that: “Had the fans stuck together properly the Oystons would have gone by now.”

This was against the backdrop of Blackpool supporters exercising themselves mightily on social media over the possibility of an FA Cup third-round tie at home to Arsenal, always assuming the Seasiders see off Solihull Moors in the replay.

The potential visit of a Premier League side to Bloomfield Road is always likely to throw into sharp relief the divisions between those who still go to home games regardless and those who have been steadfastly boycotting for several painful years in a row.

Given all that has been laid bare in the public domain since November 2017 about the cynical mismanagement of our football club by the owners, and given the fact the Oystons are still in situ despite almost universal condemnation, the level of frustration on the part of those who have been calling it right for five years at least ought to be understandable.

In normal circumstances we would all be flocking to Bloomfield Road to cheer on the team against Solihull Moors and then, hopefully, against Arsenal – but these are not normal circumstances.

The situation at Blackpool FC is unique and complex. Blackpool fans have been justifiably angry for a very long time about what has happened to our club at the hands of the owners.

The extreme nature of what has unfolded since that Premier League season, the ‘illegitimate stripping’ of assets followed by the threat of legal action against fans who were later proved to have been speaking the truth, has indeed created a very toxic problem and one that will only ultimately be resolved by the departure of the Oystons from our football club.

As a supporters’ trust, BST has been pressing by all legitimate means to bring about that regime change. The ethical boycott/not-a-penny-more campaign is part of the process and such collective action is the most powerful weapon that fans have at their disposal.

Until there is regime change, the power of supporters can only be moral and economic, the withholding of our custom.

Those who think it is not an effective measure are mistaken. Those who claim it harms the club are missing the point; asset-stripping millions of pounds, refusing to invest in infrastructure, presiding over managed decline and threatening legal action against fans are what has harmed the club.

Whether a total boycott would have forced the Oystons out is hypothetical. It was always the blunt part of a two-pronged process; the other, sharper and more telling prong being the legal challenge pursued in the High Court by Valeri Belokon and even that appears to be taking overly long to bring the intransigent owners to the realisation that the game is up.

In the meantime, although it is clear that the ‘family’ of Blackpool fans is struggling in adversity to keep it all together, we should never lose sight of what we all have in common – a passionate love of Blackpool Football Club; just as we should not lose sight now of what the real enemy and greatest obstacle to a bright future for our club is.

The fact that the football authorities have not acted to resolve the unacceptable tenure of the majority owners at Blackpool is a shocking indictment of the governing bodies but it is all the more reason why we as supporters need to stand firm and demand change.

Our energies should not be dissipated in infighting and as a supporters’ trust we cannot condone the bullying of fans by fellow fans.

What we can do is call for unity in trying to achieve what should be a common goal – to deliver an unequivocal and unmistakable message to the Oystons, the EFL, the FA and everybody who cares for Blackpool – the club and the town – that this unacceptable situation needs sorting out.

The FA Cup replay on Tuesday, December 18 and live on BT Sport could be viewed as an opportunity for all fans to unite and make a point by totally boycotting the game. An empty ground would be big news.

The football authorities don’t like anything that publicly undermines the integrity of their competitions or their profile. A fanbase that to a man and woman stayed away in protest at the continued tenure of a discredited owner – whom the EFL and FA should have banned under their own governance rules – would have to be dealt with rather than ignored.

Of course, the Trust has always maintained it is an individual’s right to choose whether to attend matches or not and that position will not change – but just consider how powerful a total boycott could be on December 18 and ask yourself if it is not a sacrifice worth making to miss one game in a show of unity with the campaign to rid our club of the Oystons? BST can do no more than make that call.