Struggling traders around Blackpool FC’s Bloomfield Road ground have today lifted the lid on how the club’s fall from grace has “massively hit” their businesses.
The ongoing row between various supporters’ groups and the club’s owners, the Oyston family, has seen attendances plummet by more than half since the days of the Premier League.
Fans have been campaigning for the Oystons to sell the club and have written to the fans of opposing teams, urging them to back their campaign.
A week after The Gazette reported how Conservative councillor Tony Williams had called for a truce fearing the ongoing situation was starting to affect the town, we asked traders how they were affected by the downturn in spectators.
The drop in numbers and feeling of gloom has brought problems for pubs, takeaways and corner shops in areas such as Lytham Road and Central Drive near to the ground, cutting the takings for already hard-pressed high streets businesses and pubs.
Traders have said the fans are not to blame and appealed for the situation to be sorted out as soon as possible.
People round here have been devastated. The number of supporters has gone from more than 12,000 down to 3,000 and fewer. In here we have something like 30 supporters before the match, it used to be three times that number and more.Craig Mason, manager at the New Albert pub in Lytham Road
Alan Farrington, owner of the Jolly Haddock on Central Drive, said: “It has had a massive effect. Over the past three years takings have nose-dived to about 50 per cent of what they used to be on match days.
“I have had this shop for 10 years this Saturday, and when I took over they were in the same division but things were nowhere near as bad. People did not have that bad feeling then. I have seen grown men in tears about the state of the club.
“Then, many of the supporters were happy in that division because they could see the club would go back up and there wasn’t all the anger.
“I have been with the supporters all the way to the Premier League when things were very busy. Now the number of people saying they are going to watch Fleetwood instead is shocking.
“I have built the business up selling quality fish and food and this is now very worrying. I know many of the other businesses that area open on match days around here have said the same that takings are massively down.”
While the club’s home form has improved of late, the crowd was only 6,842 for Saturday’s 1-0 home win against Gillingham. But that attendance figure included season ticket holders, many of whom have chosen to stay away. Observers say the real number could be as low as 3,000.
Our photographer was on Lytham Road at 2.30pm on Saturday and there was a distinct lack of fans compared to previous seasons so close to kick-off.
Craig Mason, manager at the New Albert pub in Lytham Road, said the troubles at the club were having a huge effect on many businesses close to the ground.
He said: “People round here have been devastated. The number of supporters has gone from more than 12,000 down to 3,000 and fewer. In here we have something like 30 supporters before the match, it used to be three times that number and more.
“It is a real shame. Football is about community. Most of the clubs in this country were founded by community-minded people wanting to get together and enjoy the game. What is happening here is the opposite of that.
“My dad Malcolm used to organise away trips for the supporters groups. When I was 12, 13 I used to take telephone calls. It was busy then and that was when the team was not doing particularly well.
“It is not like that now. I used to be the manager at the Litten Tree and we used to get loads of fans going in there.
“The away fans used to love coming here and always said Blackpool were their second team because they loved the trip up here.
“Now pubs across the town have been hit by the drop down the leagues and the stay-away by home fans. It is bad for everyone’s business to have this situation. The club is being ruined and so is many people’s business.”
Zafan Iqbal, from J and M News on Central Drive, who came from Germany to run the business 18 months ago, said he hoped that things would get better for the club quickly.
He said: “We have all noticed business is down because there are not as many fans. Thousands less. I did not see the good days but it is bad to see so many unhappy faces. I hope things get better soon.”
Sharon Taylor, from Frenchie’s Caribbean Takeaway in Lytham Road, had only opened her new restaurant two weeks ago.
She said: “Obviously we haven’t really noticed a difference but all the other businesses round here are talking about it. I researched the best place to open a Caribbean takeaway and thought that being near to the football ground would help my family by bringing in extra business.
“We have had a few fans come in for jerk chicken and chips or chicken wings but not too many.
“I hope things improve soon for everyone’s sake.”
Duty manager Duncan Woods, at the Dunes Pub in Lytham Road, said he wished the trouble could be brought to an end.
He said: “A lot of the people we used to see regularly before matches just don’t come in any more. Takings are down.
“The bad feeling that has been generated does not help our town. A lot of people have lost that feel-good factor.”
Alison Cross, at the Quick Quid Bakery, said there had been a huge drop in the number of fans popping in for a snack before the games.
She said: “Everyone round here has noticed the difference. We used to get lots of fans coming in for pies because they are cheaper here than in the ground.
“But we don’t get any now. It is very worrying because the match day is an important boost to some people’s business.”
Christine Seddon, from the Blackpool Supporters Trust, said she sympathised with the traders.
She said: “We have massive support throughout the country for our campaign and many away fans are committed to not spending money in the ground.
“We have written to the travelling supporters and asked them to spend their money in the local pubs and shops.
“We have been encouraging them to support the local businesses. I understand how they must feel and it must be worrying.
“When we were in the Premier League it was a wonderful opportunity to the whole town.
“The owners could have helped feed that TV money into the local economy but they chose to keep it in their pockets. It was an opportunity lost.
2006/07 - 6,876 (Won League One play off final)
2007/08 - 8,860
2008/09 - 7,842
2009/10 - 8,611 (Won Championship play off final)
2010/11 - 15,779 (Premier League Season)
2011/12 - 12,764
2013/14 - 14,216
2014/15 - 10,928
2015/16 so far - 6,691