Perhaps the most important element of any football club is its fanbase, without which they would cease to exist. With that in mind, we were eager to find out more about the various supporters groups at Blackpool FC – who they are, their purpose, what makes them tick and how they respond to any criticism they receive.
Kicking off our series of interviews with a number of Blackpool’s supporters groups, we begin with one of the regional groups who bring together fans not living in the Blackpool area. The chairman of Yorkshire Seasiders, Phil Corbett, took time out to answer our questions…
Measured Progress: Can you perhaps start by giving the readers a brief overview of who Yorkshire Seasiders are and what it is you do?
Yorkshire Seasiders: We exist to give a chance for supporters of Blackpool in Yorkshire, whether exiles or natives, to get together on occasion to talk about football and also organise travel to both home and away games, to the mutual benefit of all.
MP: You’ve recently celebrated 10 years as a supporters group. Has it been difficult to get to this point and how has the group changed during that time?
YS: We originally started off with the realisation from seeing the occasional ‘Pool mini-kit and scarf in cars going to games that we were not alone in supporting Blackpool, and after a message on AVFTT posted by Wilf Brooks, we got together in a bar near Huddersfield. From that initial meeting, we’ve now grown to a loose-knit community of around 100, mainly connected through the internet and by email, but also with regular minibuses organised to away games, or car shares to the more far flung games.
There hasn’t really been a time when we thought it wasn’t going to keep going, probably helped by the success on-field through the decade, which has maintained interest and kept the numbers up. Ironically, the difficulty in getting tickets for the Premier League season made it more difficult to arrange transport, especially with the late switching of games for TV.
MP: Have there been any particular highlights or memorable moments for Yorkshire Seasiders during the past 10 years that stand out?
YS: The highlights in terms of numbers in attendance have obviously been the two trips to Wembley when we’ve taken two coaches on each occasion. I think the Cardiff game will live in all our memories as one of the outstanding moments.
Leaving that aside, our first ever organised minibus trip was to Peterborough in November 2003. That game also saw the unveiling of our flag which has been many games since, including overseas on England trips and Blackpool pre-season tours.
More recently, a highlight of our annual programme is the summer Ale Trail trip from Leeds in the direction of Huddersfield. We plan it around the time of the fixtures to give us an opportunity to plan the season ahead and get back into the football spirit.
MP: How many members do you currently have, and of those how many would you term as active? Have your numbers continued to grow during the group’s 10 years in existence, or did relegation from the Premier League have an adverse effect in this area?
YS: From an initial six at the opening meeting, we now have around 100 people in contact through the mailing list, of whom maybe 30 or so we see on a regular basis on the bus trips. The Premier League didn’t really give us a boost in membership, as the peak was probably when we were planning the Wembley trips, especially second time round, when we obtained tickets for 131 people as a block. We find that each autumn we get fresh members as the various universities in the area draw in new people from the Blackpool area. Obviously, some drop off as they graduate, but the overall number remains fairly constant.
MP: One service you provide for exiled Blackpool fans is away travel. How is this operated and how many matches do you expect to provide transport to this season?
YS: We usually take a 17 seater minibus to most games which are not easily accessible via train, with the Midlands teams usually selling out. London games usually involve taking the train. We try and publicise the train times that the bulk of us are travelling on.
For the remainder of the games, the mailing service means that any spare places in cars are taken up, saving money for all concerned through sharing petrol costs. Buses are subsidised through the funds we raise from Yorkshire Seasiders merchandise, giving us very competitive rates, increasing the take-up. For instance, we try and restrict the price to around £10 per head.
MP: In the past, Yorkshire Seasiders received a regular mention in the matchday programme as part of sponsoring a player, but in recent seasons this no longer appears to be the case – what was the reasoning behind this decision?
YS: On promotion to the Premier League the costs for sponsoring a player became prohibitive and even when prices were reduced on relegation, we came to a decision at a meeting that the monies we raised would be better spent on making access to games a priority, hence the decision to offer reduced, subsidised prices for travel.
MP: In other links to the club, it was common for Yorkshire Seasiders to present their player of the season award at the end of season event. However, this past season no formal presentation appeared to be made. What reason did the club give for doing this?
YS: Because this season’s awards were made during the 60th Anniversary Gala Dinner, a decision was made by the club to condense the award aspect of the evening. We were still able to present Tom Ince with his award from us. We present the annual shield along with a permanent trophy for the recipient. My understanding is that the format will revert to its usual one next season, with due prominence of our award in the ceremony. We are the only exile supporters club who present such an award.
MP: What relationships do Yorkshire Seasiders have with other fans groups? Are they any formal links or has a decision been made to be as independent as possible with no political agenda?
YS: Although we have informal links with BSA, SISA and BASIL, we have consciously made a decision to not affiliate to any other organisation, as we prefer to make our own decisions and make our own standpoint. Because of the loose nature of the Yorkshire Seasiders we have also made a conscious decision not to take a political standpoint as the membership has no single viewpoint, with the full spectrum of views aired at our meetings.
MP: Finally, what do you think (or hope) Paul Ince and his squad can achieve this season?
YS: Ince has impressed me in the time he has been at the club, through the way he initially steadied a rapidly freefalling club and then took us to safety with relative comfort. I think he can make us competitive in the division with the proviso that he is given the support he needs to get in the players he needs. At time of writing [Editor: 14th July], the normal method of business is applied and we have only secured a couple of centre halves. We clearly have need for about five or six more players; who comes in will make or potentially break our season.
We would like to thank Phil Corbett and Yorkshire Seasiders for their willing participation in this project. Anyone who wishes to join or contact Yorkshire Seasiders can get in touch with them in the following ways: