Tuesday, 21 January 2014

An Open Letter to Blackpool Supporters

Blackpudlians are a resolute and determined bunch not easily put off by challenge or difficulty. If treated with respect and dignity, we are loyal, supportive and accepting – when patronised, insulted and taken for granted we are more likely to respond with what might best be described as constructive criticism – we are not a group that suffers fools or foolishness gladly – we do not have that luxury.

Blackpool FC’s greatest successes have come when playing a brand of football that most matches the town’s identity – a brash, imaginative style that makes the most of what might otherwise be regarded as largely unpromising circumstances. Who would have thought that the grey Irish seas, the possibility of foul weather throughout Summer and a wind that cuts right through visitors and locals alike would ever provide the perfect situation for a holiday destination?  The famous Blackpool sides of the 1950s’s were renowned for their pure, free flowing football and attracted huge gates wherever they played because of their fabulous style as well as their commitment to all that was good about the game. Again, under Grayson and Holloway – the town’s identity as a bastion of fun, joy and pleasure was affirmed by its football club. During these times the club and its supporters were united in a common purpose and there was a sense of hope and optimism within the club that spread itself throughout the town.

The football that Paul Ince’s team have played this season has been just about as far from that heady ideal as it is possible to get. A play style that suggests fear of defeat is now more of a driving factor than the possibility of victory. Instead of football that allows players freedom of expression, they are imprisoned in a system that requires them to sacrifice displays of their talent and technique in order to achieve some of the most dour and joyless football seen at Bloomfield Road for decades. This is, to most fans, absolutely mystifying. If the system proves successful then a certain amount of pragmatism is acceptable, as it was at the beginning of the season. However, when this system proves to be both unattractive to watch and is also failing to get results, then any merits it was initially thought to have, must now be considered disappeared entirely.

The manager’s persistence with this unsuccessful methodology, in the face of obvious and persistent failure, is an important contributing factor to his having lost the support of Blackpool fans. Equally important has been the negativity inherent in most of his public statements along with his seeming inability to take responsibility for his circumstances. When we lose, it is the fault of the match officials, the fixture list, the quality of the players at his disposal, the supporters’ not providing enough backing of the type he requires or just plain bad luck. Some of these suggestions may have merit but the absence of his willingness to take responsibility is startlingly clear. It is easy to regard Mr Ince as arrogant, and his attempts to tell some of the most supportive and best-informed fans in the country that their responses to what they see on the pitch are unwarranted, when he has clearly misinterpreted the crowd's disappointment with his choices as disapproval of the players, is both ill-advised and counter-productive.

Where Mr Ince does gain sympathy is in regards to not having the necessary resources at his disposal to properly develop his squad. If he retains support at all, it is largely because the fans recognise that he, as with his predecessors in the post of Blackpool manager, has received minimal financial support from the Chairman, Karl Oyston. Simon Grayson and Ian Holloway both benefited from money that was made available by Valeri Belokon, the club’s President, to secure bigger and better squads. As soon as Belokon ceased to plough his money into the club, and despite the enormous Premier League wealth, the investment in the football side of the business shrivelled to almost nothing. The owners helped themselves to an astonishing dividend, unparalleled in world football. Mr Oyston, who has expressed his disdain for football chairman, football agents, football players and football fans removed inordinate sums from the game for which he has such unabashed contempt and from which his family have benefited so greatly. His stance on many financial approaches to the professional game has great support among the Blackpool faithful but far more money is 'leaving the game' by entering the pockets of our owners than was ever likely to be paid to greedy agents and avaricious players.

It seems reasonable to assume that the decade long delay in our club’s own plans to replace Squires Gate has occurred for no other reason than to maximise the profit that the owners are able to make when their plans do come to fruition. Fleetwood who have recently announces a new training complex are perhaps at the other end of the scale when making risk/reward decisions but again a better balance must be possible, one in which the business side of the football club is more in harmony with our footballing endeavours. Similarly, the loan system, which Blackpool have made regular use of over the last ten years, can be an effective means of getting players who would otherwise be out of our price range to play for the club. However, it has increasingly become a core part of our strategy to rely on loan players rather than as a means of supplementing a core squad. The departure of six loan players in a short space of time leaving an impossibly threadbare squad has revealed the shortcomings of such a strategy - a situation that occurred previously when Simon Grayson left the club.

Mr Oyston is a man who describes his own customers as peculiar and a mob when in fact, he has, when it comes to football finances, some of the most knowledgeable and well-informed supporters in the country. His insistence in constantly talking about the club in fiscal terms has encouraged many of the club’s supporters to pay much closer attention to the finances of the club. We are likely amongst the most realistic and undemanding supporters in the UK when it comes to club finances and Karl Oyston should take some credit for that. However, we understand other basic notions relating to business and not just that it should remain in the black at all costs. The balance between investment in the squad and ensuring that the owners are properly rewarded for their risks and effort have long since passed the point of proper balance and this will continue to have a negative effect on the success of the football club. It is no coincidence that Blackpool are the only club to have been promoted from the fourth tier to the Premier Division via the play-offs, financially we refuse to compete with clubs that are challenging at the top of the various divisions. In such circumstances, it appears that our best, perhaps only hope for promotion, is through the play-offs.
Mr Oyston has spoken, in his time with the club, a great deal more about financial management than he has about football matters. He has made it clear that his primary concern is the wellbeing of his business. That financial profitability is the main focus of the club and the well-being of the owners is paramount.

The mark of a true leader is someone who is prepared to sacrifice his own desires for the greater good. What we have at Blackpool are two people who appear prepared to sacrifice the hopes and dreams of everyone else in order to satisfy their own vision. Our football club, our town and its supporters deserve far better than this and we at SISA will do all that we can to help bring the plight of our football club to greater attention.

SISA will often disagree with the choices and decisions that the owners make but that does not make us a mob of anti-Oystonites. SISA will express the opinions of our members forthrightly and publicly. We are a pro-Blackpool group with the express aim of maintaining an independent voice for Blackpool supporters. We will attempt to hold those who own, manage and represent our club to account, be it employees bringing the club into disrepute with ill-disciplined or errant behaviour, owners for relieving the business of inordinate amounts of wealth or anyone else whose actions hinder the development and success of the football club that we support. We intend to form a Trust and trust is a word that has real meaning for us - we must be able to represent as broad a body of opinion as is possible and intend to remain responsible to our members, the people of the town and all supporters of our great club.

We invite all Blackpool fans to ‘blow the whistle’ on the chronic lack of investment in the club. Volunteers will be handing out whistles outside the ground prior to the Doncaster game on January 25th. We will be asking fans to blow their whistles in the 53rd minute of the game for a period of 60 seconds. This is in no way a reflection on the players who, when Saturday comes, remain our footballing heroes - we will continue to provide the team with unstinting support whatever the circumstances. We, as Blackpool fans and patrons of the club request that the owners reinvest in the players and the infrastructure of the club, a greater proportion of the money earned by the football team and largely provided by us, its’ paying customers. We will continue to convey this message to the owners for as long as it might take.

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