It’s an activity that plenty of football fans take for granted, but this Saturday many thousands of Blackpool fans will walk through the turnstiles of their home ground for the first time in years. It’s been a long time coming.
The long-suffering Blackpool faithful finally got the news they had been waiting for on 13th February, as the High Court ruled against their owners in their legal dispute with Valeri Belokon, and appointed receivers to facilitate payment of the £25m he was owed by the Oystons.
The full fanfare was put on hold until 25th February, however, when Owen Oyston and his daughter Natalie Christopher were finally removed as directors of the football club and its parent company by the court-appointed receiver. A new board, including a fan representative as an observer, were appointed.
The sense of relief was almost palpable, and plans began in earnest for this weekend’s homecoming for the club’s League One fixture against Southend United. For many fans, it’ll be the first time in over four seasons since they set foot in their home ground.
In their regular column in the Blackpool Gazette, the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust who have led the ongoing protests and boycott of the Oyston regime said: “We have a golden opportunity to go back as a united fan base in celebration of getting our club back and here is our chance to set the pattern for a brighter future as a community club.”
The trust had an “overwhelming response” to their request for volunteers in order to help get Bloomfield Road ready for the return of fans en-masse, with pictures of fans cleaning seats and getting the ground ready popping up all over social media, alongside well wishes of fans from across the footballing community.
The trust said: “Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is privileged to be sponsoring the matchball but has chosen to leave the accompanying hospitality table empty in symbolic tribute to those much-loved fans who never lived to see our glorious return to Bloomfield Road. There will also be a minute’s silence in their memory just before kick-off.
“If anybody ever doubted that the fan-base was waiting in numbers to return once the Oystons had gone, the frantic activity over the last several days to acquire tickets for tomorrow’s game proves those doubts unfounded.
“To the many thousands who over four seasons took a principled stand against seemingly unprincipled owners, thank you for your unwavering support in helping to bring this change about – and welcome home!”
A homecoming parade will run from Blackpool seafront to the ground from 1.30pm, and with a relatively small away contingent making the trip up from Essex, the 16,000 or so home fans expected to be in attendance will represent the largest number of home supporters at Bloomfield Road for more than 40 years.
Whatever the result on the pitch, welcome home Blackpool.