‘I will cry when I watch my team again’

Image copyright Huw Evans picture agency
Image caption Blackpool fans began their celebration party on Tuesday at Accrington

After a boycott lasting four years and more than 200 games, thousands of Blackpool fans will flock to Bloomfield Road later on Saturday.

The last time postman Peter Platt, 56, entered the stadium was for his wedding reception four years ago.

Since then he’s stayed away, working on Saturdays and listening to matches on the radio, as part of an unprecedented mass protest at the way the Oyston family ran the club.

The Not A Penny More campaign saw the Seasiders playing before meagre crowds as thousands of fans stayed away.

A judge ended the Oyston tenure last month when he appointed a receiver to recover £25m owed by Owen Oyston to former Blackpool director Valeri Belokon.

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“The fans had to endure the long and bitter court battle between Oyston and Belokon,” says Peter.

“The wheels of justice are a slow process and at times it felt like it would never end and we would never get back to watching Blackpool at Bloomfield Road.”

Image copyright Peter Platt
Image caption Peter Platt’s last time at Bloomfield Road was on his wedding day four years ago

But he will be joining fans at a near sell-out this weekend to see the team – currently on the verge of the League One play-offs – take on Southend United.

Fans wanted to be sure no money taken at the turnstiles would go to Oyston, 85, and they have now been given this assurance by the receiver.

A symbol of the regime change was the recent removal from inside the ground of the signs advertising the estate agency business that made Oyston’s fortune.

“I’m so happy to be back watching footy,” says a delighted Peter, who has bought a season ticket for the last six home matches of the season.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The boycott continued even when Blackpool played Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup in January

The cause of the boycott dates back to the team’s tumultuous 2010-11 season in the Premier League, when their brand of attacking football saw the Seasiders become many fans’ “favourite other Premier League team”.

The £90m parachute payment the club received on relegation should have been game-changing but supporters complained it was never reinvested, leaving “a pitch resembling the Somme” and a training ground that had changed little since the 1950s heyday of Blackpool legend Sir Stanley Matthews.

When accounts showed Oyston – who was convicted of rape and jailed for six years in 1996 – received an £11m payout, outraged fans’ complaints were brusquely rebuffed by his son Karl, the club chairman.

As chairman, the younger Oyston was censured by the FA for remarks he made to supporters containing abusive terms about disability. He himself sued disgruntled fans for libel over their online comments.

When the stadium resembled a mausoleum on match-days, the outspoken chairman called the boycott a “busted flush”.

Image copyright Damian Feeney
Image caption Fr Damian Feeney saw the boycott as a moral stand

Anglican clergyman Fr Damian Feeney used to travel more than 200 miles to matches from Oxford – often collecting his son in Lancashire on the way.

His personal boycott began five years ago after a dismal 1-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth, at which point the theology lecturer decided turning the other cheek was not an option.

“This wasn’t just a football issue,” he explains. “It was a community issue, a moral issue.

“I am so glad and proud that we have prevailed, after a series of injustices to make you weep.”

Image copyright PA
Image caption Owen Oyston has been involved in a long-running legal battle over money owed to a Latvian businessman

Not every fan joined the boycott.

One, who did not want to be named, said: “I never stopped going. My best friend and I wanted to support the lads, not Oyston.”

She added: “I feel sad for the old man [Owen Oyston] as he is getting a lot of the blame for everything and it’s not really his fault – it was Karl as well.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The stadium, which holds about 16,000, could be sold out for the first time since the club’s 2010-11 season in the Premier League

Some of those who did not observe the boycott were called “scabs” on online forums.

However, supporters like Peter Platt, who has friends who have kept attending matches, have been more forgiving.

“We had the arguments but at no point was I ever going to fall out with them,” he says.

“One thing you learn when you hit 50 is that life is too short to fall out over something as trivial as football.

“Each to their own, and I feel justified with my actions and a little bit smug, as I believe I hold the moral high ground and in a small way helped rid the club of the owners.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fans kept their protests going for four years

“I will cry when I enter Bloomfield Road,” says supporter Dean Williamson.

“I have pined to be back for four years, but I would have taken my stance to the grave.”

He says that his four-year-old daughter is also desperate to attend.

“She knows all the chants and has repeatedly asked to be taken to games, but it has been very difficult to explain to a child why we cannot go,” says Dean.

The fans will mark their return to Bloomfield Road with a procession from the promenade near Blackpool Tower before kick-off. The warm-up came on Tuesday when more than 1,800 travelled to see their beloved Seasiders beat Accrington Stanley.

The pubs in Blackpool are now having special promotions on match-days – and a fancy dress shop is even offering each fan a free tangerine-coloured item of clothing to wear in the celebration parade.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bobby Mack says Blackpool is buzzing now the boycott is over

Leading the way will be Bobby Mack, 64, who became a poster-boy for the protests.

Fans chanted “there’s only one Brian Potter”, in a reference to Peter Kay’s wheelchair-user comedy creation in the Channel 4 series Phoenix Nights, when Bobby led a pitch invasion riding his mobility scooter in 2015. The images went viral.

“It was mad – I couldn’t believe it,” says the Scot, who became an adopted fan when he moved to Lancashire from Ayr 25 years ago.

Bobby joined the action after reading the remarks that landed Karl Oyston in hot water with the FA.

“I’m glad we did it but now I am really looking forward to returning,” says the fan, whose lifetime ban for the pitch invasion has been lifted by the new management at the club.

“I was at the head of the queue to buy tickets for the Southend game,” he says.

This week the seats that were empty for so long were cleaned by an army of volunteers – the same fans who had stayed away from matches.

The club may be under temporary management until a buyer can be found, but there is a major change of mood in the community, according to Bobby.

“The whole town is buzzing,” he says.

“It’s like when we got into the Premier League.”

Coverage of Blackpool v Southend United is available on BBC Radio Lancashire from 13:55 GMT on Saturday,

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Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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