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23rd Sep 2019

How Blackpool fans boycotted their way to victory

Simon Lloyd

For four years, Blackpool fans stayed away from their beloved club in a bid to starve the club’s owners of their money and force them out.

Ask Tony Wilkinson to choose his happiest memory as a Blackpool supporter and he will offer two.

The first: beneath the Wembley arch in 2010, where he witnessed the club he’d first watched as a five-year-old claim promotion to the Premier League with victory in the Championship play-off final.

The second came as recently as March. Not in a football stadium, but on a bench – yards from the foot of Blackpool Tower.

Hours before the Seasiders hosted Southend United at Bloomfield Road, Wilkinson, Deputy Chairman of the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, had joined other fans as they prepared to march towards the ground in unison. It was the first home fixture since the departure of Owen Oyston, Blackpool’s widely unpopular owner of 30 years, and with that, the end of the longest fan boycott in the history of English football.

The march had been hastily arranged. Unable to gauge how many were in attendance, Wilkinson climbed up on to a bench to gain a better vantage point as the crowds began to leave the Tower, heading south down the famous promenade.

“I’ll never forget that moment,” he recalls. “It was a beautiful day as it was, barely a cloud in the sky. But that sight – a sea of tangerine and white moving down the prom in the sunshine – will stay with me forever.

“Everything felt worth it. The boycott was over, we were finally going home and it meant so, so much to so many people.”

The 2006 arrival of Valeri Belokon was the catalyst for Blackpool’s unexpected ascent to the Premier League. The Latvian businessman injected much-needed funds into the club after securing a 20% stake from the Oystons – personally covering the cost of Charlie Adam’s arrival from Rangers and paying for badly needed refurbishments at Bloomfield Road.

“I remember saying to the people I was with at Wembley that the Premier League was going to change the club,” Wilkinson says, recalling the play-off final. “But we still had this doubt in our minds that they wouldn’t invest the money.”

Blackpool’s stay in the top flight proved to be short-lived, succumbing to relegation at the end of the 2010/11 season. On-field disappointment was compounded by a feeling from supporters that the club had failed to build on promotion by significantly developing the playing squad and infrastructure.

Fans regularly protested against the ownership in the four years that followed, joining forces to form the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust in 2014.