Fan groups speak out as Blackpool sue supporters

The pitch invasion in May last year
The pitch invasion in May last year
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The Football Supporters’ Federation has joined calls for Blackpool FC to drop plans to sue 10 supporters involved in a pitch protest.

As The Gazette reported on Tuesday, Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston has decided to push ahead with legal action against 10 supporters who were involved in the pitch invasion which resulted in the abandonment of the home fixture against Huddersfield in May 2015.

The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), which stands up for fans’ rights in England and Wales, said there are no positives to gain from any further legal action.

A spokesperson for the FSF said: “It’s a sad state of affairs when an owner of a football club thinks that suing its own fans is a worthy course of action.

“It’s totally unclear what legal action against the supporters involved will achieve for Blackpool FC, its standing in the footballing world or its long-term relationship with supporters.

“We stand with Blackpool fans and will continue to back the work of our affiliates at Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (BST) and other supporter organisations at the club.”

FSF chairman Malcolm Clarke offered his “moral support” to Blackpool fans after attending a BST meeting.

The latest developments come after Karl Oyston was asked to provide an update on legal action at his latest meeting with the Fans’ Progress Group (FPG).

He revealed 10 supporters had been identified and were due to be sent letters informing them of legal action.

The chairman also said that more supporters would receive letters confirming they remain banned from Bloomfield Road until they sign an acceptable behaviour agreement.

Oyston told The Gazette that this is not new legal action and that he was simply providing an update on previously reported proceedings.

He said: “The Huddersfield match had to be abandoned as a result of the actions of a small minority. As a club we are bound by certain obligations to the football authorities to prevent this sort of thing happening again.

“If it does, the sanctions will be far worse and the club could be docked points or forced to play behind closed doors.

“But I would like to stress there is absolutely no desire to take legal action against genuine fans.”

BST chairman Steve Rowland described the proposed legal action as “provocative” and “unnecessary”.

He said: “When Owen Oyston spoke publicly to fans at an open BST meeting in July, he acknowledged the damage done by the existing round of litigation and confirmed there would be no further cases brought against fans.

“Why the U-turn? It looks like yet another broken promise. The police stated in May 2015 that there was no case for criminal prosecution and the protest passed off peacefully. The club was fined by the FA for its own failings on the day and not because the protest took place.

“For the Oystons to select 10 of the 150 or so on the pitch looks to be highly subjective, even vindictive.

“One might ask what they are seeking to achieve here apart from wresting large sums of money out of fans who can ill afford to pay or to defend themselves.

“To many, such actions will be viewed as tantamount to bullying and will only further alienate the fan base. Maybe that is the intention.

“The pitch protest was a one-off, a peaceful act of civil disobedience, not a criminal act.

“Looking to impose ABOs on long-suffering fans is out of order and shows a complete misunderstanding of the situation and the purpose of ABOs.

“These actions against fans are divisive and inflammatory. Can anyone reasonably expect a future for the club while the Oystons appear intent on causing as much upset and distress as possible?”