Blackpool’s FA Cup history tainted by division in the club
Devoted fans to mount familiar protest outside ground during FA cup clash with Arsenal
Owen Oyston (pictured at the back with the hat) was jailed for rape in 1996 and is currently bringing the club through a court battle. Photograph: Mark Robinson/Getty Images
The black-and-white newsreel footage will run once again. Stanley Matthews will dance one more time to the byline. There he will cross for Bill Perry to score the late, late winner. Once again Blackpool will lift the Cup and once again Stan Mortensen will be the punchline.
We may have moved into 2019 but, to so, so many, Blackpool in the FA Cup still means 1953.
Trailing 3-1 to Bolton with 20-odd minutes left, it looked like Matthews and his team in Tangerine were about to lose their third final in six years. The theme would again be of loss.
Then Mortensen scored two, to complete his hat-trick and Matthews, this 38-year-old phenomenon who did not eat on Mondays, set off one more time for goal. Blackpool did it; they came back. Their 4-3 triumph remains arguably the most famous FA Cup tie of them all. It became the very symbol of the competition. It was christened ‘The Matthews Final’.
The man himself disputed the description. The title of the relevant chapter of Matthews’ autobiography is called ‘The Mortensen Final’.
But the original stuck, so much so that when Mortensen died in 1991 the joke was it would be called ‘The Matthews Funeral’.
It was mournful humour and 28 years on, 66 from 1953, deceptive perspectives endure at Blackpool.
On Saturday the club will host Arsenal in a third round FA Cup game at Bloomfield Road that will have sepia imagery attached, memories of golden years. Sentiment will be draped around it. Blackpool may be in the third tier of English football but that only makes it all the more David-and-Goliath. And sure in ‘53, didn’t Blackpool beat Arsenal on the way to Wembley?
If this is how it is presented, it will be a false portrayal. Because not even the FA Cup third round can camouflage the broken club that is Blackpool 2019.
As Christine Seddon said from the town on Thursday: “My mother, Joan, went to the ‘53 final on the back of a motorbike all the way from Blackpool. She was a season ticket holder. She was a boycotter too. Bless her.”
Christine inherited the family tradition, attending her first match around 1970, stood on Bloomfield Road’s Kop. But on Saturday Christine will be standing in the car park opposite the main entrance as she and members of the Blackpool Supporters Trust have done for every home game since August 2015. Christine, too, is a boycotter.
To abandon hope with a football team is one thing, to abandon your seat is another altogether. That is a step up, the ultimate protest – not going, so that one day you will go again.
Fans such as Christine snapped – after many years of provocation – at the end of the 2014-15 season. Blackpool had won four of 46 Championship games and were relegated to League One, just four years after being in the Premier League under the effective, if sometimes psychedelic management of Ian Holloway.
The club’s owner, Owen Oyston, is the issue. Now 85, Oyston is a controversial local businessman, a flamboyant character who in 1996 was jailed for rape.
In some circles he would be deemed not a fit and proper person to own a football club, but not in the English Football League. Sam Allardyce was Blackpool manager at the time of Oyston’s sentencing. Allardyce would later tell the story of how he was sacked from prison.
Oyston had joined the failing club in late 1987 and along the way made Blackpool FC a family concern.
Hemmed in by that, an increasingly shabby stadium and low revenue, Blackpool mooched around the bottom two divisions until 2006 when a Latvian businessman, Valeri Belokon, invested in the club. Suddenly ‘Tangerine Dream’ headlines began to re-appear.
In May 2009 Holloway was appointed and in May 2010 Blackpool – with an average attendance of 8,600 – were in the Championship playoffs. They won them, beating Cardiff with goals from Charlie Adam, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Brett Ormerod. Wembley again.
That set up Blackpool’s near miracle Premier League season. Some sneered at their smallness, but little Blackpool beat Liverpool home and away, they beat Tottenham at Bloomfield Road. Adam and DJ Campbell starred.
Holloway’s impressive team won 39 points and the gnawing frustration for Blackpool fans is that in every season since, that number would have kept Blackpool up.
But in May 2011 the club went down. In 2012 Holloway left. By 2015 fans were invading the pitch to disrupt the last game of the season and in 2016 Blackpool were in League Two.
A fast, sad slide. Yet Oyston gripped on. When fans planned to protest by Mortensen’s statue outside the ground, the statue was suddenly, temporarily removed.
By 2017 Belokon and Oyston were in court. Belokon won. The judge decreed Oyston had “illegitimately stripped” the club of £26.7m and was ordered to pay it and £4.5m costs to Belokon. That was 14 months ago.
As it stands, Oyston has paid an estimated £10m of the fee stated. Belokon’s next move is to go back to court, possibly to appoint a receiver, possibly this month.
Not what it seems
Meanwhile, Oyston turns up at Bloomfield Road, while Blackpool diehards stand outside waiting for him to leave. The club is not what it seems.
Superficially, Tuesday’s 11,000 attendance was healthy. After all, Blackpool started the day eighth in League One.
The problem is, of those 11,000 supporters, 8,000 had travelled from Sunderland, while Seddon says the claim there were 3,000 home fans present is just that, a claim. “Farcical,” is the word she used for some of Blackpool’s crowd figures.
It is, Seddon says, a waste, because here is “a town with a lot of social difficulties. A well-run football club could make such an impact, boost the economy. It’s a lost opportunity.”
As if to underline her view, in the month of the Oyston-Belokon court case The Financial Times produced a long report on the state of the town and discovered “antidepressant prescription rates are among the highest in the country. Life expectancy, already the lowest in England, has recently started to fall. Doctors in places such as this have a private diagnosis for what ails some of their patients: ‘Shit Life Syndrome.’”
The article caused a stir, but not a huge one. “Apathy,” said Seddon. “There’s an idea old seaside resorts have had their day.”
She’s right in that, and yet there is Bournemouth. They were never Blackpool, they never had Mortensen and Matthews. They never had 1953.
Arsenal will win against a side that has scored once in its last five league games. The fans will be in the car park. Afterwards, when the ownership changes and the newsreel is back in storage, maybe the Blackpool FC they own will stage another comeback.