Friday, July 19, 2024

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Blackpool FC Savour Life Without Oystons

Simon Sadler (via Blackpool Gazette)

As Bury & Macclesfield reel from effective expulsion from the Football League, at least one bastion of its Northern heartland has something to cheer after a long road back from abuse at the hands of those entrusted to run it. Beaten to within an inch of its life & ridden roughshod like a seaside donkey- Simon Sadler’s takeover at Blackpool has given the Tangerines hope for a better future after the Oystons exited via the back door. 



Where Shakers & Silkmen alike have just cause perhaps to look wistfully towards Bloomfield Road & ponder what might have been, it's worth considering just what can happen when the League does the right thing & steps in to protect its members…


For it was they who ruled against a potentially ruinous points deduction on April 11th of last year, following receivership as enforced by the High Court after a dispute between ex- director Valeri Belokon, who was owed £25 million, & Owen Oyston. The first green shoots of recovery coming when he was strong-armed off the board at the end of that February, assets including Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Limited, the company through which he owned the famous old club itself, discharged.


In something of a slippery move, he had earlier relieved son Karl of his role as chairman & handed it to his daughter, Natalie Christopher, a mere two weeks after appointing her to the boardroom in February of 2018. A mere token gesture against a backdrop of increasingly fraught protest from the stands against the man who had bought the club for a nominal £1, after the collapse of a plan by the previous board of directors to make a tidy £35 million profit from selling off Bloomfield Road to a supermarket chain in 1986… in retrospect, a portent of things to come?


Within ten years of assuming control Owen Oyston would be convicted of rape against a sixteen year old girl, given a six year sentence but released after serving exactly three years & six months. This following a third place finish in Division Two for the men in orange under Sam Allardyce, who was sacked not long after they’d lost 3-0 in the play- off second leg against Bradford- who of course would also come to know the sting of financial instability following a massive overspend after promotion to the Premier League.


Gary Megson came in to replace Big Sam, lasting only one season & finishing seventh before in turn being replaced by Nigel Worthington. The downward curve continued with 12th & 14th place finishes in each of his own two seasons before resignation near the end of 1999-2000.


Budgetary concerns would cast a pall over the reign of successor Steve McMahon, who led them back to the Second Division in his first full campaign as well as Football League Trophy victories in 2002, a 4-1 win over Cambridge at the Millennium Stadium, followed just two years later by a 2-0 triumph over Southend at the temporary Welsh Wembley. Games which must have had the older generation dreaming of big days out at the real London one- although Stanley Matthews was sadly not around to see either having died in February 2000 after playing 428 games for the club between 1947- ’61.


The fondest remembered of those being when he helped etch Blackpool’s name onto the 1953 FA Cup! A hat-trick from fellow club legend Stan Mortensen helped snatch it from under Bolton’s noses in dramatic fashion & ensuring one side of Lancashire made the long trek back north from London in far higher spirits than the other!


In the years since, it has inevitably & understandably been held up as one of the all-time great cup finals, as it should be after years of also being used as a sepia-tinged symbol of just how sullied the shirt Stan once wore had become. But even that success was hard fought, coming as it did after losses to Manchester United & Newcastle on the biggest of domestic stages in 1948 & ’51 respectively.


The next time they would be wandering down Wembley Way would come far later, the 2009-10 Championship play-off final against Cardiff a similarly close-fought affair. The Seasiders winning 3-2 & in the process becoming a potential pub quiz sports round answer. The question being which club was the first to be promoted through all three divisions of the Football League through the play- off system? 


Amazingly they banked more than that year’s Champions League winners in its wake, startling given the current perceived apathy towards the plight of the COVID-19 affected Football League clubs on the part of its upstart bigger brother- Sky coverage contributing to a £90 million payday on the pier while the big European winners took home £36 million- how much of that went towards the promotion parade along the promenade two days after the final goes unrecorded!


The man who got them to the promised land of the Premier League, Ian Holloway, would use the occasion to admit it was his most unbelievable moment in football & no doubt had the Pleasure Beach in mind when he added it was the best ride of his life & that he didn’t want to go home, mercifully not while sporting a Kiss Me Quick hat!


Like many a fleeting holiday romance, though, it couldn’t last, their stay in the Premier League ending exactly a year after promotion had been sealed. It started so well, with an away win at fellow Lancastrians & current financial stragglers Wigan on the opening day of the 2010-11 season ensuring they spent a few giddy hours at the head of the top table before it all rapidly headed downhill. A fine for fielding what was seen as a weakened team for a game against Aston Villa, led Holloway to threaten to resign should the £25,000 penalty be upheld in January of 2011. 



By May the same year, it was all over- Manchester United winning 4-2 on the final day to condemn Blackpool to the Championship to begin a decline which would reach its apex with a slump into League One after the abandonment of their final Championship home game against Huddersfield in May of 2015. Protests against the owners spilled over onto the Bloomfield Road pitch- a state of affairs arguably only soothed when Sadler rode to the rescue in June of last year, his 96.2% stake spelling the end of a drawn-out stand-off between the previous board & fans. 


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