By Joe Davies
It is a rare thing in football that an away support outnumbers the home fans in a stadium. As I failed to establish the chant ‘Woah Lacazette-y, Aubameyang’ (to the tune of Black Betty), it occurred to me that without a home chorus to contend with the incentive for away fans to stand up and sing is dampened somewhat. While Gooners have been criticised for their lack of home atmosphere since the ‘Highbury Library’ days, you really could hear your own voice echo as Arsenal beat Blackpool 3-0 at Bloomfield Road. The magic of the FA Cup this was not.
Blackpool were relegated from the Premier League on the 22nd of May 2011, exactly a year after they had gained promotion. After a season that had seen Ian Holloway’s side beat Liverpool both home and away, led by talisman Charlie Adam, as well as a £27,000 fine from the FA for fielding a weakened team against Aston Villa in November, the seaside club crashed out of England’s top flight on the final day of the season. In the following campaign they reached the Championship play-offs despite losing Adam, but by 2014 they found themselves finishing 20th in the league with three managers leaving the club along the way. In the summer prior to the 2014-15 season, Blackpool lost 27 of their first-team players, and were left with only eight outfield players and no goalkeeper two weeks before the season started. Two successive relegations followed with numerous more managerial sackings, before they eventually returned to League 1 via the play-offs in 2017.
Off the pitch, things were even worse. Since Owen Oyston bought The Tangerines for just £1 in 1986, the club has arguably been one of the worst run institutions of British football. The first wave of fan protests began in the mid-nineties, after Oyston was convicted and jailed for the rape and sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl, seeing his wife Vicki Oyston step down from her position as chairwoman, which she took over while her husband served three years in prison. In the years since, the club has seen such ridiculousness as Charlie Adam and three other players having to take the club to court to receive their survival bonuses in 2010, and former manager Gary Bowyer, who quit after one game with the club, being forced to pay for training facilities in Preston, after Blackpool’s became unusable. Long-term chairman Karl Oysten, son of Owen, was charged by the FA in 2015 for calling a fan a “retard”, and his sons Sam and George Oyston regularly wind up protesting fans via social media.
Sam Oyston, son of @BlackpoolFC Chairman Karl Oyston, has paid a fan 20k in damages after comments he made about him on social media.
— BBC Lancashire (@BBCLancashire) May 12, 2015
However more than any of the many Oystons’ off-pitch scandals, Blackpool fans feel most let down by the club’s refusal to invest in their side. I talked to a bouncer at a pub next to Bloomfield Road who told me:
“Since we gone down, the whole club’s gone down the sh*tter. The owner’s been pocketing all the money and we ain’t bought no players.”
The atmosphere on game day was less of outright anger at the Oystons, and certainly not one of competitive optimism in anticipation of a #cupset, but more of a pained acceptance that this was a club with absolutely no intention of acting in the fans’ interests. Rather than receiving the normal banter one normally becomes accustomed to at local pubs on away-days, Arsenal fans found themselves to be the only ones in Blackpool’s deserted watering holes.
What few fans do still go to games do so out of habit, as a waiter at Blackpool’s Bank Bar and Grill told me.
“I don’t know why they go,” he said.
“Everyone in Blackpool knows this is what is going on, but they’re stuck in their ways when they’ve been going for 40 years.”
The Blackpool boycott feels like less one of passion and outrage, which it may have been back in 2015 when fans first started it, and more one of disinterest at the current state of affairs at the club. While the Oystons continue drag the eventual sale of the club through court proceeding with Valeri Belokon, whoever ends up in charge may well find it difficult enticing fans back to Bloomfield Road in the future.
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