BST column: The day Blackpool’s football club and community joined together
Oyston-free home games at Bloomfield Road… they’re a bit like buses. You wait four years for one and then along come two in four days.
Oh, but it’s brilliant to be back inside Bloomfield Road again supporting the team in tangerine.
While we’re getting to grips with the enormity of the change and sizing up the new challenges and opportunities it presents, we’re handing the BST column over for the next couple of weeks to a few of our members to share their thoughts on what this return means to them. We’re sure they speak for many of us. Here’s the first…
The joyous celebrations that accompanied attendance at Bloomfield Road on Saturday, March 9 will live long in the memory of all who were there.
It was a game and an occasion that, in its own way, was as momentous and important as any in the long and illustrious history of our famous club.
The anticipation and excitement were palpable. Even the heady days of the Premier League could not stand comparison to the pre-match atmosphere.
An enormous crowd was buoyed by the sunshine that had suddenly dispersed the rainclouds which had been hanging over the town for several days preceding the game.
It is unlikely that a downpour of biblical proportions would have dampened the enthusiasm of this crowd.
Around the ground, along the concourses and in the stands, people greeted each other with smiles, handshakes, hugs and even tears.
The stadium resembled nothing so much as an airport arrivals lounge, where long-lost relatives and friends greet each other with genuine warmth and appreciation.
The queues for the gates were populated by good-natured fans bedecked in tangerine of various hues and the still familiar click of the automated turnstiles gave entrance to a sight as astonishing as it was heart-warming.
Bloomfield Road, for too long the focus of the battle for the club’s future, was once again what it was always meant to be – the spiritual home of all Blackpool fans and a place where we might come together to simply watch, cheer (and berate) our football club.
The stands were packed, the crowd in full voice and the ground once more belonged to the supporters.
Amidst this outpouring of vindication, passion, exuberance and relief, there lingered a sadness for all that we had missed and all that might have been were it not for the arrogance, greed and almost pathological behaviour of our erstwhile owners.
The darkest and most tumultuous period in our history was finally being brought to a close. Every single Blackpool fan had made sacrifices and choices they should never have had to make.
Whether they chose to boycott games for their love of the club or stick with the team for their love of the club, each fan did what they could for the betterment of Blackpool FC and Saturday was a triumph for every single one of us.
No-one escaped unscathed, but the wounds that each of us have could begin to heal on Saturday.
The mythical Premier League legacy has exercised the minds of many Blackpool fans since that fateful year spent in the top tier.
It was one of the main areas of discontent leading to the formation of various supporters’ groups, such as Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, the Tangerine Knights and the Muckers.
On Saturday, the supporters of Blackpool FC were celebrating not just their affinity to the club but also – perhaps more than ever – their pride in the town, their sense of place in the community and the extraordinary part that they had played in developments as the true guardians of our football club.
The unexpected and true Premier League legacy is a group of supporters who truly understand just how important and powerful they can be.
Whether this is facing seemingly insurmountable odds against odious owners or neglect by the sport’s governing bodies, there is no force that our love and passion for our football club cannot overcome.
This is not to lessen the role played by Valeri Belokon and just as importantly the British legal system, but the actions of ordinary fans were what bound the whole together.
The response of the fans on Saturday, attending in bigger numbers than for perhaps 40 years, underlined the relevance the club has to its community.
A unique precedent has been set by Blackpool fans, a call to arms for all supporters in all professional sports as the teams we support appear more and more distant from the communities that spawned them.
On Saturday, Blackpool fans showed what professional sport can be, a means by which a community expresses, defines and celebrates its actuality and its potential.
It was a display of passionate loyalty that ought to be attractive to potential owners, while at the same time sending the message that no more rogue behaviour will be tolerated here.