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There’s Trouble by the Sea for Blackpool

The seaside town of Blackpool is known for rock, rollercoasters and raucous nights out.  However, the football side of the town has been left to rot. The Tangerine Dream led by Ian Holloway in 2010 has become a nightmare in 2016.

The biggest problem they face is the ownership. Managers have come and gone, but the owners have stayed put and show no sign of budging. Blackpool Football Club is now in League Two and currently, sit 8th in the league standings; this is no place for a team of their history.

The question you will find yourself asking is why are the fans so irate? Ask any Blackpool fan and the answer will always be “The Oystons”. The Oystons’ first involvement with Blackpool came in 1987 when Owen Oyston bought a significant stake in the club which led to him becoming the owner in 1988 and saved the club from becoming non-existent.

Owen invested in the stadium, Bloomfield Road, but his time at Blackpool has been surrounded with scandals rather than adulation. He was convicted of rape and sentenced to six years in jail, serving just three years and six months. Owen had lost his credibility with most fans; this meant it was left to his son Karl to take over the football club in 1999.

How Blackpool have fared since Karl took charge?

Karl Oyston, the third Oyston family member to control Blackpool F.C, after his mother, inherited the club amidst “Oyston Out” protests as the fans did not want the family involved with this traditional club anymore.

Blackpool enjoyed highs and lows, much like their famous rollercoasters at the Pleasure Beach, in the following years with relegation to Division 3 (League 2) in 2000/01, promotion the next year, another promotion this time to the Championship in 2007/08 and the highest of highs, promotion to the Premier League in 2009/10.

This is where Blackpool fans feel things should have been solidified, aiming to make the club known to the football world again. Except in 2016, they are known to the football world again but not for the attacking style of play that Ian Holloway brought to the Seaside but for the “toxic environment” that surrounds Bloomfield Road, as Karl Oyston described it.

Blackpool F.C have dropped three divisions in the space of 7 seasons and are in the same situation they were in over 15 years ago. But Karl Oyston is adamant that the club is in a better place now than the last time they were in League 2.

Blackpool fans have found themselves in a battle with Karl Oyston since his arrival, but the anger certainly escalated in the 2012/13 season when they lost their influential manager Ian Holloway following what is rumoured to be a dispute with Karl.

Michael Appleton replaced Holloway but jumped the ship only two months later. Finally, Paul Ince was appointed in a bid to save Blackpool from relegation just one year after they had made the Championship playoff final!

Karl’s conduct

The list is practically endless for the antagonistic actions that Karl Oyston has done during his tenure at Blackpool.

Karl posed with demonstration banners “Oyston’s cash cow” apart from registering OY51 OUT” as a number plate of to his Land Rover.  He also gave Owen, his father, an estimated £23 million pay-out following the club’s promotion to the Premier League and brought in a tennis racket in the game when Blackpool fans decided to protest against the ownership by throwing tennis balls onto the pitch.

Karl Oyston has lied continuously to fans as they try to understand how the club is being run. He also lied about investment in the stadium as Blackpool previously had a temporary stand with no roof and had no South stand for nine years.

Karl also promised that a new training ground would be built ever since former manager Ian Holloway described the existing facility as a “hellhole”. Nothing has happened nor does it look like anything will happen with the shack at Squires Gate.

These incidents are nothing compared to the Oyston family suing their fans for libel claims. There have been several high court cases against the Blackpool fans for “abuse” against the Oystons. Some would argue that the abuse has been antagonised by a man who seems to enjoy the hatred thrown at him.

For example asking his son Sam Oyston “Shall we get a selfie?” as the Blackpool fans invaded the Bloomfield Road pitch in protest about how their club was being run, following relegation to League One. In these instances, fans have been forced to pay up to £30,000 in damages to the Oystons as it creates more a divide between the owners and the fans.

High profile celebrities such as Russell Brand, Rachel Riley and Jason Manford have spoken against the Oystons. Manford was forced to issue an apology to avoid a lawsuit against him.

What the Blackpool fans have done to try and stop the Oystons?

During the 2014/15 season, it felt like there was a different protest every week, as the fans’ discontent seemed to have reached a new height ever since the Oystons took over. Blackpool held a funeral style march to indicate that the club was dead, fans staged a flash mob on the comedy carpet to show that the club was a joke. They also held protests in the stadium including a walk out of the stadium on 53rd minute against Cardiff (the game was shown live on Sky).

Since then, there has been NAPM (Not a Penny More) in which of where most fans have refused to give the family any more money, whether that is through the purchase of match tickets, products from the club shop or boycotting any event held at Bloomfield Road.

The NAPM movement has led to fans staying away from Bloomfield Road. Blackpool have only opened two stands in recent weeks, and attendances have dropped to just over a 1,000 (including away supporters) from 17,000 in 2010/11, showing that the fans are not interested in the club while the Oyston family are in charge.

With Blackpool fans staying away from Bloomfield Road they have had to find some way to watch football on a Saturday afternoon. Some fans will travel away but will only pay on the gate. However, other fans have decided to follow other clubs such as AFC Fylde, AFC Blackpool and rivals Fleetwood, who have leapfrogged Blackpool since their reformation in 2002. However, there is still an obvious love for Blackpool from all fans despite the current situation.

Blackpool fans are making a real conscious effort to remove this cancerous family from the club and have been able to unite with other fans around the country in the act of solidarity against owners who are ravaging clubs around the country.

Clubs such as Charlton, Leeds and Blackburn have supported fan’s efforts to remove the owners.

Blackpool supporters also had two judgment day protests against the owners and how they are ruining the club that they love. These have attracted a lot of media attention and have raised the profile of the problem surrounding the club.

How has the situation affected the playing side?

The answer to this is pretty obvious, terribly. As stated, Blackpool have dropped three divisions in seven seasons and have had eight different managers since Ian Holloway. The fast attacking football which wowed the Premier League has all but disappeared as Blackpool have fought against relegation since 2012/13 season; succumbing to back to back relegations in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

The team have lacked cohesion in previous seasons especially in the 2014/15 where they had two different managers (Jose Riga and Lee Clark) and 56 different players.

Blackpool did not win a single away fixture that season. However, this season under Gary Bowyer, Blackpool is in 8th place and looking to build that cohesion, which they have lacked in recent seasons under Lee Clark and Neil McDonald.

Bowyer has brought in a lot of new players himself but has managed to make the team gel especially in the 4-0 demolition of Notts County and the 4-1 destruction of Newport County. However, the on-going issues will not go away with a few decent performances on the pitch.

What can be done to resolve the situation?

There was a time when Blackpool fans were willing to listen to the regime and try to reason with the Oyston family but that time has long disappeared. This was all but confirmed earlier this year when Owen Oyston held a Q & A with the fans, only to be heckled every time he preached his delusion about the situation.

There has long been a discussion about fans taking over the club, but since Oyston family own the stadium, they will remain associated with the club in one way or the other.

A more realistic option arose in 2015 when club President Valeri Belokon wanted to buy the club outright. The Latvian has been involved with the club since he bought shares back in 2008 and was integral to Blackpool’s promotion to the Premier League.

Belokon invested substantially in the transfer fund meaning that Blackpool could sign star players such as Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell, who is a club record signing.

The Latvian also helped in the redevelopment of the stadium as Blackpool finally built the South Stand. However, the relationship between Belokon and the Oystons has broken down as Belokon, famous for his tangerine suit, has not attended a Blackpool game in several years.

Belokon claims the Oyston family are ruining the club by not wanting to sell as the Tangerine side falls into the abyss despite no apparent financial problems at the club. President Belokon stated he wanted to buy the club with a local investor to bring Blackpool back to their former glory, but nothing has come to fruition as of yet.

With the Oyston family unwilling to sell the club due to what can only be described as stubbornness, Blackpool will continue to tumble down the leagues.

Blackpool, the one-time F.A Cup winners, are left wondering what might have been if the Oyston family were not in charge of Blackpool.

Attendances are at an all-time low, even when Blackpool were in this division in 2000/01, and the discontent is clear to see from the fans as they feel the club’s misfortunes are affecting the seaside town.

So, it looks like nothing will budge the Oyston family from Blackpool for now, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Blackpool supporters will not stop their protests until the insidious family are gone. One thing is sure; there will not be a single seat available at Bloomfield Road when the Oyston family have finally left the helm.

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