The Return: Fan-tastic?

After retiring from writing a few years ago I’ve decided to blog again. It might be a fleeting appearance, but such a seismic event makes it feel like the right time to put something down on paper. Here’s the first part of two rambles as I come to terms with the last few years. Part II will follow in the next few days.
Last Saturday I broke my 1,771 day boycott of Blackpool FC. In that time, I had stopped caring and stopped writing about the team. I had found other ways to fill my time. Upon making a decision to stop supporting, something I loved doing so much, my life had filled up with lots of other wonderful things to do. However, to stop being a fan wasn’t an easy decision, but it had been growing within me for some time.
It is well publicised now, but even prior to my final game it was clear that the club I knew as Blackpool FC had died. Over the years, many things had made it hard to continue to believe in the club and the erosion in the club’s ‘reason to believe’ made the decision easier for me than it might have been for others. The way that the previous regime consistently failed to plan for the long term benefit of the club and community always blighted my view of the club. The failure to back Ian Holloway in the transfer market after relegation from the Premier League. The failure to back Ian Holloway in the winter transfer window in the Premier League. Small, but well thought through decisions may have propped up the previous regime. However, they really didn’t care, their plan was exactly that, their plan, not ours (as fans).
Therefore, when I left Bloomfield Road on the 3 May 2014 I knew I was done. I watched that summer as it was clear that a charade was being played out. I couldn’t stomach the Riga Revolution and each week that went by I switched off a little bit more. That played out until the point where I really didn’t talk about football, people I’ve met over the last few year didn’t even know I enjoyed watching football. I just moved on. My life as a football fan ended.
When I cast my mind back to the past I realise that there’s a key distinction that both the Oyston family and the wider footballing world seems to miss very often. They treat people as numbers, as customers, but this focus is entirely short term. We aren’t going to watch a stage production or a film for instance, we are fans. Fanatics. This is a different mindset. As a football club, if you can leverage the power of a fan then you’re on to a winner, not that football clubs are a massive money spinner. You should never own a football club if you want to make lots of money but if you want to give a group of people a reason to believe, to bring them together, with a shared purpose and allow them to create wonderful memories which are shared with their loved ones, not just in this lifetime, but beyond. Then you should own a football club.
What happens when you’re a fan and your club treats you as a customer (with additional contempt) as the Oyston family did, then the dynamic becomes nothing short of toxic. It made the whole process of turning up for matches a totally futile experience. It was great to share some time with my dad, but we could always find other things to do. But my fandom didn’t just stop after the 0-3 defeat to Charlton in 2014. That wasn’t even the final straw. For me, the final straw came when we saw the class of 2010 drift out of the club being offered pitiful contracts. It was clear that the previous regime had no soul, no understanding of the connection between fan and player and more importantly they missed a key point about continuity and legacy.
In being away from the football club for so long it really became apparent to me that there are bigger things in life and football faded in to the background. I was prepared to never step foot in Bloomfield Road again and it really didn’t matter to me. I had stopped talking about ‘them’, perhaps it’s because I’m so bloody minded about these things, or perhaps because I had ceased to be a fan, or perhaps I’ve never been a fan. Don’t real fans turn up in all weathers, anywhere, anytime, anyhow and at any cost? I’d argue not. Those are key components, but for me, real fans retain core principles that allow them to step back at any point. Otherwise, fanaticism turns in to blind faith. Once the reason to believe has gone, then everything has gone.
And that is where Blackpool have a great opportunity now. A new dawn, a new reason to believe. Fresh perspectives, a sense of belonging returns. For me, I went on Saturday and I enjoyed it immensely. However, I have a different life now, the thoughts of a three hour round trip on a Tuesday evening doesn’t fill me with the joy that it used to. The thought of going back to being a fan seems a lot to commit to. I’ve become ill over the last few years and that means that my energy levels aren’t what they were. If I still lived in the area then it could be an easier decision. And then it brings me back to the question. Am I really a fan? Was I ever really a fan? Does it matter how you define yourself? What the Oyston family did was to seek to divide and rule over the fan base and force people in to drawing lines and to justify their support of the football club. But if the fans were something that the Oyston family sought to destroy then they certainly contributed to that in me and to not be a fan now is to concede to them and that’s not something I’m willing to do. To be a fan is to cement the victory and that’s where I stand. Of course I’m a fan, a fan of the Mighty Tangerines. I’ll find my way back, we always do, it might take time and as the reason to believe is restored, so am I. Up the Pool!
A moment to remember for a life time
Part II will be posted next week.