Stacpoole To Blackpool

First of all, I must credit the title of this particular entry to Mark Leech, football photography veteran and Guardian of the Archive at Offside Sports Photography. When discussions were being held as to whereabouts I should go on the last day of the Sky Bet Championship season, Blackpool’s fixture with Huddersfield Town stood out a mile. The fact I’d been there and documented scenes of unrest less than a month earlier bore no relevance…a home game on the last day of the season would give the Tangerine fans the platform to express their feelings in the strongest possible way. As long as I could get to Old Trafford to cover Manchester United’s teatime game against West Bromwich Albion too, then we’d be good to go.

 

Offside's tweet
Offside’s tweet

 

Having spent the previous day at the golf in Lytham St. Annes, I returned to the Fylde Coast eagerly anticipating an eventful day brimming with discontent.

Soon after arriving, I headed straight for the press room to collect my match accreditation. Getting this out of the way early meant I could spend the rest of my time there concentrating on getting the pictures I needed. I returned to the car and armed myself with two cameras and a selection of lenses; the EF 24mm f/1.4 and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 II taking pride of place on the Canon EOS 1DX bodies. I slung my rucksack on to my back, locked the car and headed off to see what the locals had in store.

I made my way around the stadium, walking past the main entrance on the West side of the ground towards Bloomfield Road. I could hear plenty of chanting, so I followed the noise to find hundreds of fans spread across the road brandishing flags and banners, many in some sort of fancy dress, all united in their mission to dethrone the Blackpool Chairman, Karl Oyston, from his position in charge of their cherished football club…

 

Blackpool fans march along Bloomfield Road brandishing a huge banner of their club's crest
Blackpool fans march along Bloomfield Road brandishing a huge banner of their club’s crest

 

A Blackpool protester mocks the Oyston family's decision to sue one of their own fans for libel
A Blackpool protester mocks the Oyston family’s decision to sue one of their own fans for libel

 

A Blackpool protester mocks the Oyston family's decision to sue one of their own fans for libel
A Blackpool protester mocks the Oyston family’s decision to sue one of their own fans for libel

 

Blackpool fans display banners as they march in protest of the club's owners, the Oyston family
Blackpool fans display banners as they march in protest of the club’s owners, the Oyston family

 

Police stand by during the pre-match protests
Police stand by during the pre-match protests

 

A Blackpool fan wants Chairman Karl Oyston out of his club
A Blackpool fan wants Chairman Karl Oyston out of his club

 

Blackpool fans make their feelings known towards Karl Oyston
Blackpool fans make their feelings known towards Karl Oyston

 

A pallet of protest masks for sale
A pallet of protest masks for sale

 

As the match got under way, I spent the first 20 minutes or so holed up inside the press room underneath the away supporters’ stand sending an initial selection of pictures. It baffled me that photographers were out there shooting the game, as if it actually mattered. If they were contractually obliged to do so, then that’s one thing, but otherwise it didn’t make any sense. I’m not certain the world was waiting for action pictures from this game…the story was always going to revolve around events off the pitch.

I emerged halfway through the first half, my long lens still tucked away in the boot of my car. Half time came; I ventured over to see a fellow photographer, Barrington, to see what his take was on the whole day. The ground had gone fairly quiet during the 15-minute break, but before long the players were trotting out for the 2nd half, and the whistle had signalled the restart.

 

A general view of Blackpool's Bloomfield Road stadium...the calm before the storm
A general view of Blackpool’s half-empty Bloomfield Road stadium…the calm before the storm

 

Before the game, amongst the chaos outside the ground, I’d hear various murmurings relating to a planned pitch invasion during the match. Some people were suggesting half-time, some thought it might happen on the 53rd minute (an additional reference to Stan Mortensen’s 1953 heroics), but the most likely suggestion I heard was the 46th minute, just 60 seconds into the 2nd half, when no one would be expecting it. This made the most sense to me…the fans wanted to make the maximum impact, and would only be able to do that by catching the stewards and police off guard.

I readied myself on the side of the pitch close to the dugouts, as an eerie silence lingered around the stadium. Then the silence was broken by the sound of a siren coming from the south-east corner of the stadium, the corner where the more ‘hardened’ supporters were situated. It sounded like an air raid siren, piercing the disgruntled murmurings of conversation on this grey, miserable day in the Vegas of the north. And then suddenly, a herd of stampeding Blackpool fans charged down the steps from their seats at the back of the stand, rampaging over the ad boards and onto the pitch. Security personnel were helpless as dozens and dozens of angry supporters made their way towards the main stand, before venting their fury towards Chairman Karl Oyston, seated in the Directors’ Box above the tunnel.

As they came towards me, I shot a few quick frames before realising the true scale of the situation. I turned and made my way up into the stand, pitching up level with the halfway line, directly beneath the Directors’ Box where the chanting was being aimed. This allowed for a head-on view of proceedings, and provided me with a vantage point with which to illustrate the scale of the protest…

 

Blackpool fans invade the pitch early in the 2nd half to protest against the Oyston family
Blackpool fans invade the pitch early in the 2nd half to protest against the Oyston family

 

Blackpool fans invade the pitch early in the 2nd half to protest against the Oyston family
Blackpool fans invade the pitch early in the 2nd half to protest against the Oyston family

 

Having summarised the protests from high up, I came back down onto the pitch to capture tighter shots of individuals and their own messages. Ironically, having wandered around a steward came over to ask me to get off the pitch because I ‘wasn’t authorised to be on there.’ I didn’t think it was the time or the place to argue, he had enough to worry about, and it certainly wasn’t worth the hassle getting caught up with the rest of the protesters, regardless of whether or not I thought my accreditation could get me out of jail…

 

Blackpool fans invade the pitch early in the 2nd half to protest against the Oyston family
Blackpool fans invade the pitch early in the 2nd half to protest against the Oyston family

 

To the delight of the crowd, a man on a mobility scooter rode on from the corner of the ground to join in with proceedings. Having been asked to leave the pitch, I managed to capture a sequence of images from the sideline…

 

A man on a mobility scooter joins in with the protests
A man on a mobility scooter joins in with the protests

 

He pulled up on the halfway line and delivered his own message to the Oyston family…

 

A Blackpool fan on a mobility scooter rides onto the pitch to join in the protests against the Oyston family
A Blackpool fan on a mobility scooter rides onto the pitch to join in the protests against the Oyston family

 

I felt my work here was done. I’d captured the protests from a variety of angles, and I believe I’d summed up the feelings of the Blackpool supporters in my pictures. It’s sad to see a club with such loyal fans suffer like this, but it’s reassuring to witness such dedication to a cause. For many people in the area, Blackpool Football Club is their everything. The passion shown by the fans proves, at some levels, it still is the people’s game…

 

Tributes left at the plinth where the statue of former Blackpool player Stan Mortensen stood, on the 62nd anniversary of his famous FA Cup Final hat-trick, after the statue was removed by Blackpool FC for 'health & safety reasons'
Tributes left at the plinth where the statue of former Blackpool player Stan Mortensen stood, on the 62nd anniversary of his famous FA Cup Final hat-trick, after the statue was removed by Blackpool FC for ‘health & safety reasons’

 

Graffiti is daubed across a 'To Let' board from Oystons estate agency
Graffiti is daubed across a ‘To Let’ board from Oystons estate agency
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2 Comments Add yours

  1. bobby mack says:

    thank you for a great report on that game I was the chap on the mobility scooter they have banned me from bloomfield road and all the games, no letter ,or banning order given, they just tell me I am not getting in. I thought you had to get a banning letter I went on the park as a fire alarm went off I wonder if you could look into this. ps utmp

    1. Thanks a lot, Bobby. I’m really just at these events to document the goings-on, my professional views are certainly impartial, and my personal ones I keep to myself. The best thing you could do re. your banning order is to speak to the other fans that went onto the pitch that day, see what came of their actions, and find out what can be done to help your own situation. All the best.

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