POOL CRISIS: ‘Truce’ call to save Blackpool FC

Blackpool fans stage a protest and pitch invasion against the running of the club by the Oyston family

Blackpool fans stage a protest and pitch invasion against the running of the club by the Oyston family

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A leading councillor today called for a truce between football fans and the owner of Blackpool Football Club.

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, has warned the ongoing dispute is damaging the town as a whole.

He is writing to the Sports Minister Tracey Crouch and the FA calling on them to intervene before “we lose our historic club forever”.

Supporters claim the club, which has toppled from the Premier League to League One, has been badly run.

Blackpool Supporters Trust (BST) wants the Oyston family to step down from running the club, but an appeal last week asking Blackpool Council to formally intervene fell on deaf ears.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said town hall leaders “could not take sides”.

Coun Williams, who met with members of BST on Tuesday, said: “These issues and problems between BST and BFC have gone on for far too long with seemingly no hope for an early resolution.

“I do not condone any of the vile and disgraceful emails that have been exchanged and I am saddened, but can understand why the club owners have taken court action against certain individuals.

“I also don’t try to pretend that I am aware of all the details that have both kickstarted or continue to feed the arguments.

“What I do know is the situation is damaging the town and that’s my main concern.

“Away supporters may be avoiding games in Blackpool, potential visitors could choose other resorts, even capital investors may be dissuaded from bringing much needed development into a town where it is desperately needed due to the high level of negative publicity this situation is attracting.”

He added: “Every conflict has to end with conversation and negotiation, and as there doesn’t seem to be any headway being made to this end, I am today writing to the Minister for Sport and also the FA to request them to intervene and

mediate between the supporters and the club to bring about a middle ground solution, either with an official ruling or by a working partnership that will deliver an agreed policy on the best interests and future for the club.

“Unless the FA agrees to become involved this dispute could continue indefinitely with the potential result being that we lose our historic club forever.

“I will in addition be writing to the chairman of BFC and also BST with a request that as a gesture of goodwill and intent they agree to honour a period of no action, whether that action is civil or publicly demonstrative until the FA responds to my request.”

Coun Williams concluded: “Just as important how can we expect 11 young men to turn out every week and give their hearts and passion to a club struggling to regain its prestige when this dark cloud hangs over every game?”

Andy Higgins, who addressed the council last week on behalf of BST which wants a change of ownership at the club, said he feared the situation had gone too far for a reconciliation.

He told The Gazette: “We met with Coun Williams on Tuesday, and he said it would be a good idea for a truce.

“In principle, that is a good idea and we appreciate any assistance from any public body that gets involved.

“But we have been trying relentlessly for two years to get some kind of dialogue with the club but we haven’t got anywhere.

“For a lot of fans because of the litigation, it has gone too far for there to be a chance of reconciliation.

“We need the footballing authorities to intervene because it is such a seriouse case at Blackpool.”

He added BST, which is due to hold a meeting of its members on Saturday, would carry on petitioning councillors and “working away down all these legitimate channels.”

Relations between fans and BFC chairman Karl Oyston have soured partly as a result of a number of incidents.

Karl Oyston became embroiled in a text messsage scandal in which he aimed the word ‘retard’ at a fan, in a vicious exchange of views in December 2014. He received a fine and ban from the FA.

Fans protests were stepped up with marches to the ground and some choosing to target the Oyston family at their home.

Last week Mark Rushton was jailed for 26 weeks after being found guilty of threatening behaviour after a league match against Huddersfield Town had to be abandoned last season.

Fan Andy Grice, who received a £20,000 payout and an apology from the Mr Oyston’s son Sam over damaging comments made on social media, said things had gone too far for a truce.

He said: “The first time a fan was sued or they took a lot of money off them, that was the watershed.

“We don’t want this conflict. We would much rather be supporting our team but we can’t while Karl Oyston is in charge.”

Mr Grice said the situation was damaging to other businesses in the town.

He said: “I’ve talked to some businesses on Lytham Road who say they are 80 per cent down.

“It’s things like the chippies or paper shops who might have made £300 on match day but if Karl Oyston keeps isolating supporters, there will be less and less going to the games and so less trade for businesses around the ground.”

Official attendances are down to 6,000, including those who bought season tickets two seasons ago.

Karl Oyston did not respond to a request for a comment.

But the club does have a Fans’ Progress Group (FPG) which last met in December.

According to the club’s website, the FPG is “part of the club’s commitment to facilitate two-way consultations with supporters”.

Its chairman was invited to the last board meeting held at Bloomfield Road.

The club webside adds: “The club encourages all supporters and supporter groups to utilise the FPG as a way and means of suggesting improvement and change where needed.

“The FPG is committed in its work to facilitate improved relations and dialogue between club and supporters and can be contacted via email - fansprogressgroup@outlook.com.”

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said he was trying to get a debate in Parliament.

He said: “I think the Blackpool Supporters Trust are leading a good campaign and are constantly highlighting the plight of the club on behalf of the many fans in the town and beyond.

“I am on a weekly basis applying for a debate in Parliament.

“This process has so far been unsuccessful as it is down to the luck of the draw, but I will keep going on applying.

“I have met with the trust recently and have agreed a number of actions to keep the pressure on.

“I will be writing in strong terms to the FA and I do keep raising this issue with the Sports Minister.

“The club is part of the fabric of our town and it is indeed right that local politicians work with the trust, fans and anyone who is supportive of the club to address the situation the club finds itself in.”

The FA did not respond to a request for a comment.

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