It wouldn’t have taken a genius, this time last year, to have predicted that possibly the most combustible game of the following League Two season would be the match at Bloomfield Road between Blackpool and Leyton Orient. Both clubs are in a state of something approaching civil war between supporters and owners, and even on-the-pitch matters – Orient finished last season only one place below the play-off positions whilst Blackpool go into the final day of the season with an excellent chance of going one step further than the Os could manage last season – have only partially told the story of what has been going on behind the scenes at both clubs.
Recent events, however, have demonstrated perfectly that there don’t seem to be too many geniuses in the Football League at the moment, and so it was that, when the fixtures for the coming season were announced last summer, it was somewhat striking that these two clubs would be drawn to play each other on the last day of the season. It is understandable, in a sense, that the governing bodies should be nervous about this particular match, which will be played at 5.30 on Saturday afternoon. After all, protesting supporters got the last game of Blackpool’s 2014/15 Championship season against Huddersfield Town abandoned with a pitch invasion, whilst last weekend the last Football League match that will be played at Brisbane Road for at the very least one season was subjected to the farcical conclusion of being halted with six minutes to play because of a pitch invasion, before a convergence of the Football League, the club itself, and the police deliberately misled fans into believing that it had been abandoned before having the players re-emerge, almost two hours later, to play out a thoroughly disinterested-looking final few minutes in front of empty stands.
As previously reported here, the Football League subsequently issued a public statement apparently congratulating themselves for upholding the “integrity” of the game, a usage of which stretched the definition of that particular word some distance beyond breaking point. Now, it might have been hoped that, having made fools of themselves so publicly last weekend, the Football League might have paid some attention to the old adage that it is better to remain silent and be considered a fool that to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. Optimistic prognoses of how the Football League might react to anything, however, seem to have a habit of turning sour, and so it was that, on Monday, the League issued the following statement, which provided all onlookers with yet another opportunity to slap the palms of our hands against our foreheads in exasperation yet again:
The EFL has today supported a request from Blackpool FC to suspend ticket sales to Leyton Orient fans for Saturday’s final game of the Sky Bet League Two season. “The decision was taken following a number of concerns raised by Blackpool ahead of the match on Saturday, May 6. “The rationale for supporting this request is to allow sufficient time for a full review of the match day safety and security arrangements (and any options within these) against the certainty of knowing the specific number of tickets sold to date and in which areas of Bloomfield Road.
The EFL’s objective will always be to ensure that fans of both clubs are able to watch the match live, but in seeking to achieve this, we are required to consider all the contributing factors, to ensure that the safety of everyone at the game is not put at risk.
Blackpool’s concerns are not without foundation based on both the events that took place at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium on Saturday evening, and the fact that Blackpool themselves remain subject to a suspended charge following the failure to fulfill their Sky Bet Championship fixture against Huddersfield Town at Bloomfield Road on May 2, 2015. “The EFL Executive will consider all the matters on Tuesday and ensure that all the relevant parties are given the opportunity to contribute, including Leyton Orient and LOFT (Leyton Orient Fans Trust).
A further update will be provided at 6pm on Tuesday, May 2.
So, where to begin with this, then? Well, for one thing, there was the small matter of the fact that around 500 Orient supporters had already purchased tickets for this match. How would they be reimbursed? And what of others who might have already made travel arrangements, up to and including expensive train tickets and/or hotel rooms? We should also consider what this statement said about the priorities of the Football League. Not for the first time in just a couple of days, the governing body had come down on the side of the much-loathed owners of a football club whilst giving the distinct impression that it held supporter in little more than contempt. For those amongst us that have been keeping half an eye on the season long slap in the face that the EFL Trophy became, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. Twenty-four hours later, however, the Football League’s mood had changed again:
Following extensive discussions and representations made by relevant parties throughout the course of Tuesday, an agreement has been reached that delivers on the EFL’s objective to ensure both sets of spectators can attend the match live.
All remaining tickets sold to Leyton Orient Supporters between now and Saturday’s kick-off will be done so only on the basis that the purchaser is a current 2016-17 Season Ticket holder or a member of the Leyton Orient Fans Trust (Loft). All tickets sold prior to Monday’s suspension of sale remain valid.
We are delighted we have been able to find an amicable solution to this particular issue and would like to place on record our thanks to all those parties who have assisted the EFL in achieving the outcome.
So, in short, Leyton Orient supporters will be permitted to attend Saturday’s match, providing they are season ticket holders or members of LOFT (the Leyton Orient Fans Trust). In addition to this, the away ticket allocation for this match has been reduced from 1,700 to 1,000, and it is expected that security for this match will be extremely high. To call anything related to this particular story a “victory” feels somewhat counter-intuitive, but some degree of compromise may have turned out to be the only workable solution and the decision was cautiously – and with obvious caveats – welcomed by LOFT itself:
LOFT is pleased to note that common sense has prevailed at the EFL, in respect of yesterday’s suspension of ticket sales for Saturday’s match at Blackpool. It is unfortunate that this could not have been resolved between Blackpool FC and the EFL without causing O’s fans 24 hours of worry and anger.
LOFT would like to note that the conditions of eligibility for sale of further tickets to Leyton Orient supporters were not of our asking, nor indeed our suggestion. LOFT was not consulted about this, nor will we be divulging who is and isn’t a LOFT member (in line with our Data Protection Act obligations), nor do we take responsibility for any issues as a result of the EFL’s criteria for sale.
We feel that no restrictions beyond those which would ordinarily be in place for such a fixture are necessary, nor should it be necessary to restrict the number of tickets available to O’s supporters.
There may well not be a pitch invasion or a match abandonment at Bloomfield Road on Saturday afternoon, but it seems inconceivable that the atmosphere inside the ground will be anything but one of understandably ill-concealed fury. The Football League’s grand masterstroke over the last seven days has been to ensure that this anger will not be aimed at the wretched owners of Blackpool and Leyton Orient, but also at them. On Saturday, they pulled the wool over supporters’ eyes in the pursuit of some nebulous degree of “integrity”, which they deemed best served by having the players of Leyton Orient and Colchester United going through the motions for five minutes, almost two hours after the scheduled end of the match, in an empty stadium. On Monday they backed the Oystons, who seemed to be seeking to ban away supporters from attending the match in any capacity.
It’s difficult for us to believe that the Football League holds the supporters of its member clubs in contempt, but they sure as hell make a good job of making it feel that way, at times. Coming at the end of a season that has consisted of one public relations disaster after another, we might have hoped that they would seek to get through last of it without any further of incidences of tripping on their own shoelaces, but apparently even this turned out to be too much of a stretch. To describe the Football League under its current senior management as unfit for purpose is a bold claim, but if they keep setting up these open goals it feels increasingly difficult to avoid the urge to tap them in. Considering everything, it may not count for much, but at least Leyton Orient supporters can console themselves with the knowledge that they won’t have to deal with the Football League next season – providing, that is, they still still have a club to support. Blackpool supporters, meanwhile, will remain stuck in the middle with the Football League and the Oyston family. Clowns to the left of them jokers to the right, indeed.
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