Saturday evening saw the regular League 2 season come to a close as all 12 matches were played at the unusual time of 5:30 pm. One of those dozen fixtures saw Leyton Orient make the long trip to Blackpool, placing two of the nation’s most disgruntled fan bases in the same town.
Months in advance, supporters groups, largely the Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust (LOFT) Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (BST) and Blackpool’s ‘Tangerine Knights‘ had recognised the opportunity for a joint protest, inviting fans from around the country to show solidarity in the face of what they believe has been gross negligence from the English Football League (EFL).
Unfortunately for Orient, London’s second oldest club, their fate of relegation to non-league had been sealed before the weekend, ending an 112-year spell in the Football League. Since Francesco Becchetti’s 2014 take over the team has been in freefall, players and staff had recently been left unpaid and, most worryingly, the club faces a winding-up petition in June.
Blackpool fans, meanwhile, have been protesting against their owners, the Oyston family, for years now, and many of the issues are represented here. However, calls for change or help from the football authorities fall only on deaf ears. The Football Association (FA) claim the issues are out of their jurisdiction, and that the EFL are accountable, but the EFL and its Chief Executive Shaun Harvey, simply don’t want to know.
On the penultimate weekend of the season, many Orient fans showed their anger by invading the pitch in their match with Colchester United, forcing it to be ‘abandoned’ after 85 minutes. Yet, it wasn’t abandoned at all. League officials lied to supporters so that they would leave this pitch, and stadium, before finishing the match and later stating that doing so was vital to the ‘integrity’ of the competition.
Of course, as signs around it clearly indicate, encroaching onto the pitch is a criminal offence and supporters were right to be removed. Yet at that late stage in the match, with Colchester leading 3-1, the game didn’t need to be finished, the result should have been called, and further anger prevented.
The decision to finish the match, and the following statement, are symbolic of the void in understanding between those who love and cherish the game, and those who are meant to be custodians of it. As stated in their own rules:
“Any League Match which from any cause whatever falls short of 90 (ninety) minutes’ duration may be ordered to count as a completed fixture.”
So why create further problems by completing the fixture? This itself is almost a non-issue, in comparison to the severe mismanagement which continues to destroy historic clubs across the country, but it is one that certainly raises further questions over the organisation’s competence.
In Blackpool on Saturday, supporters from Orient, Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers, Brighton and Hove Albion, Leeds United, Portsmouth, Northampton Town, Wigan Athletic, Liverpool, Everton and many others, were in attendance to show unity against a common enemy.
Not all of the fans involved came from clubs in crisis either. Many of them do or have had their own serious problems, but all are wary of the damage being done to others and the effects it has on English Football as a whole; it was clear that there were no rivalries here.
Estimates say that around 6000 attended the march, making Blackpool’s third so-called ‘Judgement Day’ the biggest yet, flying in the face of club Chairman Karl Oyston, who recently claimed protesters were a ‘busted flush‘.
For sake of comparison, Saturday’s official attendance was 3,602, with an impressive 951 Orient fans. A picture of the fans in the stadium can be seen below. It is fairly clear that there are less than that number present. The game should have been important too, a Blackpool win (which they secured) guaranteeing them a place in the play-offs, yet look how empty the stadium is.
Here are the teams. pic.twitter.com/i9tPiIhiza
— Matt Scrafton (@matt_scrafton) May 6, 2017
Another tweet, again from Blackpool Gazette journalist Matt Scrafton, shows the surreal ‘lap of honour’ to an almost empty stadium.
One of the strangest lap of honours I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/S370pO8EnR
— Matt Scrafton (@matt_scrafton) May 6, 2017
That is the reaction to what could, under normal circumstances, be considered as a successful season. The sad fact is that most Blackpool fans will never return to their club until its current owners have been removed. Whilst down in London, Leyton Orient are forced to wait, yet to know if the club will even survive to participate in England’s fifth tier for the first time in over a century.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Joe Hamer