Callum McFadden spoke to Nathan Fogg, the author of “How Not to Run a Football Club: Protests, Boycotts, Court Cases and the Story of How Blackpool Fans Fought to Save Their Club,” about his book, his history of supporting Blackpool, and more in an exclusive BTL interview.
What does Blackpool Football Club mean to you?
To me, it represents family and being with my dad and my brother going to games as a kid. I have a special connection with the club as a fan because we are a small club who were in the old division three when I started watching them. We aren’t Manchester United. It’s not very sexy. The club has always felt like our family’s own little thing.
It’s always felt like we do our own thing as Blackpool and you do not have to pay attention to us out with Blackpool as we aren’t often on Sky. None of my friends support Blackpool so when we win the Football League trophy at Wembley against Cambridge, it is not something you can fully brag about in the grand scheme of things in football.
You mentioned supporting the club in the old third division so I have to ask you about your experience of the Premier League under Ian Holloway. What was that era like as a fan?
It was a whirlwind. I remember when he was hired, he had a decent championship record but nothing too spectacular so I was not too sure about him. Then, he got to work and communicated with the fans and it was like love at first sight. He would be out in the local community, go to local cafes and do his press conferences with a bacon butty and a cup of tea. Blackpool is a working-class town and he just got it.
He wanted to play attacking, attractive football which we had not really seen at the club before so he needed the fans inside which he was able to do. To get us to the Premier League was unbelievable. So many clubs with many millions of pounds and we were there without a massive budget and with a squad of humble players. I was used to going to stadiums like Oldham and Carlisle and now we were going to Old Trafford and Anfield. It was surreal and like another world.
A lot of lower league fans don’t particularly like the Premier League as if can be seen as out of touch with the real game but it’s also a contradiction, as you are happy to be there when you get there. It did feel like our team was not meant to be there. I made sure that I went to as many games as possible because I was seventeen at the time and even then, I knew that it could be the only Premier League campaign that I would see in my lifetime.
What was the connection like between the players and fans?
You do connect to them because they would be active in the local community. We were like a squad of misfits in the kindest possible way because many of our team were let go and discarded by other clubs. In a way that’s what helped us get the players and keep them as we could pay them relatively low and say that our main selling point was giving them a chance to rehabilitate their careers.
A lot of players were with the club before Holloway joined and weren’t spectacular. Ian Evatt for example was asked to be a defender first and foremost before Ian came in then he developed into a ball-playing centre-back. It was great to see players like him, Keith Southern and Gary Taylor-Fletcher go on to hold their own in the Premier League. Holloway taught them how to play a different way. The heartbreaking thing is that we earned 39 points in the Premier League which would be enough to keep you up most seasons over the last twenty years and still went down. That was tough to take.
Finally, we have to discuss your new project and your book about a rough time in the history of Blackpool FC. The book is titled ‘How Not to Run a Football Club: Protests, Boycotts, Court Cases and the Story of How Blackpool Fans Fought to Save Their Club.’ It covers the difficult times under the Oyston ownership. What can readers expect from the book?
Owen Oyston was the owner of the club since 1988 and we did not have a lot of money so despite the fans unhappiness, it was easy for them to remain in charge. We were a bit tinpot, he was not putting his own money in but we were in League One so we were not alone in that. Getting into the Premier League changed all of that because we made £100 million for getting there and went back down to the Championship having spent only £2 million.
Our best players that year were free agents and Jason Puncheon who we loaned from Southampton who were in the lower leagues at the time. It was crazy. Then we thought, maybe they aren’t investing on the pitch because they are investing behind the scenes. Maybe we would see a new training ground and our facilities being improved. However, that never happened either.
The big turning point was when we saw that Owen Oyston had paid himself a substantial bonus of around £10 million that year in the Premier League which was more than we had spent in wages during that whole year. It kicked off between 2012 and 2015 between the fans and the ownership in a big way. The momentum of the protests and boycotts was so fierce that by 2016, there was almost a total boycott of the club by the fans.
We were against anyone who was not against the Oystons. We saw the team at that point as Oyston FC. We still had some hope that something might happen but when we were relegated to League One in 2016, it was worrying. We had no hope. Fans protested outside the ground before every game to keep the momentum going while many others stayed away altogether. It got so bad that some fans felt that going down to Non-League and starting again to get rid of the Oystons would be a better option.
It must have been strange for the players at that period of time but if you weren’t with us then you were against us was the attitude of the fanbase at that stage. I think that the book will be unlike any other football book that you have read before. I got some great access and I wanted to have a story on each page that would have your jaw drop. Even the most diehard Blackpool fans have told me that they’ve learned a lot from it which means a lot.
It was a mental time. Our kit man was a part-time taxi driver who was doing airport runs and then going into the ground to unload kits for £100 per week. Karl Oyston not paying for proper post-match meals for the players in the Premier League which meant the players had to eat warmed-up microwave meals on the coach back home after beating Liverpool at Anfield. It was bat sh*t crazy and is full of stories of war between fans and the club, stories that are hard to believe and how the fans got their club back after many years of bad feeling and isolation.
By: Callum McFadden / @Callum7McFadden
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Nathan Fogg Twitter