Black­pool’s tan­ger­ine dream now a nightmare:

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - Front Page - Michael Walker

The black-and-white news­reel footage will run once again. Stan­ley Matthews will dance one more time to the by­line. There he will cross for Bill Perry to score the late, late win­ner. Once again Black­pool will lift the Cup and once again Stan Mortensen will be the punch­line.

We may have moved into 2019 but, to so, so many, Black­pool in the FA Cup still means 1953.

Trail­ing 3-1 to Bolton with 20-odd min­utes left, it looked like Matthews and his team in Tan­ger­ine were about to lose their third fi­nal in six years. The theme would again be of loss.

Then Mortensen scored two, to com­plete his hat-trick and Matthews, this 38-year-old phe­nom­e­non who did not eat on Mon­days, set off one more time for goal. Black­pool did it; they came back. Their 4-3 tri­umph re­mains ar­guably the most fa­mous FA Cup tie of them all. It be­came the very symbol of the com­pe­ti­tion. It was chris­tened ‘The Matthews Fi­nal’.

The man him­self dis­puted the de­scrip­tion. The ti­tle of the rel­e­vant chap­ter of Matthews’ au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is called ‘The Mortensen Fi­nal’.

But the orig­i­nal stuck, so much so that when Mortensen died in 1991 the joke was it would be called ‘The Matthews Fu­neral’.

It was mourn­ful hu­mour and 28 years on, 66 from 1953, de­cep­tive per­spec­tives en­dure at Black­pool.

To­day the club will host Arse­nal in a third round FA Cup game at Bloom­field Road that will have sepia im­agery at­tached, mem­o­ries of golden years. Sen­ti­ment will be draped around it. Black­pool may be in the third tier of English foot­ball but that only makes it all the more David-and-Go­liath. And sure in ‘53, didn’t Black­pool beat Arse­nal on the way to Wem­b­ley?

If this is how it is pre­sented, it will be a false por­trayal. Be­cause not even the FA Cup third round can cam­ou­flage the bro­ken club that is Black­pool 2019.

As Chris­tine Sed­don said from the town on Thurs­day: “My mother, Joan, went to the ‘53 fi­nal on the back of a mo­tor­bike all the way from Black­pool. She was a sea­son ticket holder. She was a boy­cotter too. Bless her.”

Chris­tine in­her­ited the fam­ily tra­di­tion, at­tend­ing her first match around 1970, stood on Bloom­field Road’s Kop. But to­day Chris­tine will be stand­ing in the car park op­po­site the main en­trance as she and mem­bers of the Black­pool Sup­port­ers Trust have done for ev­ery home game since Au­gust 2015. Chris­tine, too, is a boy­cotter.

To aban­don hope with a foot­ball team is one thing, to aban­don your seat is an­other al­to­gether. That is a step up, the ul­ti­mate protest – not go­ing, so that one day you will go again.

Provo­ca­tion

Fans such as Chris­tine snapped – af­ter many years of provo­ca­tion – at the end of the 2014-15 sea­son. Black­pool had won four of 46 Cham­pi­onship games and were rel­e­gated to League One, just four years af­ter be­ing in the Premier League un­der the ef­fec­tive, if some­times psy­che­delic man­age­ment of Ian Hol­loway.

The club’s owner, Owen Oys­ton, is the is­sue. Now 85, Oys­ton is a con­tro­ver­sial lo­cal busi­ness­man, a flam­boy­ant char­ac­ter who in 1996 was jailed for rape.

In some cir­cles he would be deemed not a fit and proper per­son to own a foot­ball club, but not in the English Foot­ball League. Sam Al­lardyce was Black­pool man­ager at the time of Oys­ton’s sen­tenc­ing. Al­lardyce would later tell the story of how he was sacked from prison.

Oys­ton had joined the fail­ing club in late 1987 and along the way made Black­pool FC a fam­ily con­cern.

Hemmed in by that, an in­creas­ingly shabby sta­dium and low rev­enue, Black­pool mooched around the bot­tom two di­vi­sions un­til 2006 when a Lat­vian busi­ness­man, Valeri Belokon, in­vested in the club. Sud­denly ‘Tan­ger­ine Dream’ head­lines be­gan to re-ap­pear.

In May 2009 Hol­loway was ap­pointed and in May 2010 Black­pool – with an av­er­age at­ten­dance of 8,600 – were in the Cham­pi­onship play­offs. They won them, beat­ing Cardiff with goals from Char­lie Adam, Gary Tay­lor-Fletcher and Brett Ormerod. Wem­b­ley again.

Near mir­a­cle

That set up Black­pool’s near mir­a­cle Premier League sea­son. Some sneered at their small­ness, but lit­tle Black­pool beat Liver­pool home and away, they beat Tot­ten­ham at Bloom­field Road. Adam and DJ Camp­bell starred.

Hol­loway’s im­pres­sive team won 39 points and the gnaw­ing frus­tra­tion for Black­pool fans is that in ev­ery sea­son since, that num­ber would have kept Black­pool up.

But in May 2011 the club went down. In 2012 Hol­loway left. By 2015 fans were in­vad­ing the pitch to dis­rupt the last game of the sea­son and in 2016 Black­pool were in League Two.

A fast, sad slide. Yet Oys­ton gripped on. When fans planned to protest by Mortensen’s statue out­side the ground, the statue was sud­denly, tem­po­rar­ily re­moved.

By 2017 Belokon and Oys­ton were in court. Belokon won. The judge de­creed Oys­ton had “il­le­git­i­mately stripped” the club of £26.7m and was or­dered to pay it and £4.5m costs to Belokon. That was 14 months ago.

As it stands, Oys­ton has paid an es­ti­mated £10m of the fee stated. Belokon’s next move is to go back to court, pos­si­bly to ap­point a re­ceiver, pos­si­bly this month.

Not what it seems

Mean­while, Oys­ton turns up at Bloom­field Road, while Black­pool diehards stand out­side wait­ing for him to leave. The club is not what it seems.

Su­per­fi­cially, Tues­day’s 11,000 at­ten­dance was healthy. Af­ter all, Black­pool started the day eighth in League One.

The prob­lem is, of those 11,000 sup­port­ers, 8,000 had trav­elled from Sun­der­land, while Sed­don says the claim there were 3,000 home fans present is just that, a claim. “Far­ci­cal,” is the word she used for some of Black­pool’s crowd fig­ures.

It is, Sed­don says, a waste, be­cause here is “a town with a lot of so­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. A well-run foot­ball club could make such an im­pact, boost the economy. It’s a lost op­por­tu­nity.”

As if to un­der­line her view, in the month of the Oys­ton-Belokon court case the Fi­nan­cial Times pro­duced a long re­port on the state of the town and dis­cov­ered “an­tide­pres­sant pre­scrip­tion rates are among the high­est in the coun­try. Life ex­pectancy, al­ready the low­est in Eng­land, has re­cently started to fall. Doc­tors in places such as this have a pri­vate di­ag­no­sis for what ails some of their pa­tients: ‘Shit Life Syn­drome.’”

The ar­ti­cle caused a stir, but not a huge one. “Ap­a­thy,” said Sed­don. “There’s an idea old sea­side re­sorts have had their day.”

She’s right in that, and yet there is Bournemouth. They were never Black­pool, they never had Mortensen and Matthews. They never had 1953.

Arse­nal will win against a side that has scored once in its last five league games. The fans will be in the car park. Af­ter­wards, when the own­er­ship changes and the news­reel is back in stor­age, maybe the Black­pool FC they own will stage an­other come­back.

‘‘ The club’s owner, Owen Oys­ton, is the is­sue. Now 85, Oys­ton is a con­tro­ver­sial lo­cal busi­ness­man, a flam­boy­ant char­ac­ter who in 1996 was jailed for rape. In some cir­cles he would be deemed not a fit and proper per­son to own a foot­ball club

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: GETTY IM­AGES

Sun­der­land fans take up half the seat­ing in­side Bloom­field Road dur­ing League One en­counter on New Year’s Day. In­set: Black­pool owner Owen Oys­ton who was jailed for rape in 1996 and is cur­rently bring­ing the club through a court bat­tle.

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