Saturday will go down in history as a momentous day for Blackpool Football Club, as thousands of boycotting fans return following the removal of Owen Oyston as owner.
The Seasiders face Southend United in their first home game since receivers took control of the club after a ruling in the High Court.
With approximately 11,500 tickets already sold and continuing queues at the club shop as of Monday afternoon, Saturday is set to be “a real celebration” according to Tim Fielding, Director at Blackpool Football Club and Honorary Vice-President of Blackpool Supporters Trust.
He said: “We’re reasonably confident that there’ll be a sell-out, or as close to sell-out as it’s possible to be.
“There’s nothing a fan can do that pulls at the heart strings more than staying away from watching your own football team. A lot of Blackpool fans have done that over an extended period of time.”
But the effects of the boycott, where thousands of Pool fans stayed away refusing to bankroll the previous Oyston regime, have not been felt exclusively by the fans. Mr Fielding says the local community has also suffered greatly.
He said: “It’s been very hard on the local community, particularly on local businesses, over this period. Where they were dependent on their matchday income every other Saturday to help balance the books, that’s been denied to them.
“Football clubs are at the heart of their community. Once we get beyond these first two games, we’re looking at re-establishing a lot of those links through the community trust, through the Supporters Trust and all working together in a positive way that hasn’t really been possible during this struggle that’s been going on between the fans and the owners.”
As if to emphasise the point, volunteers turned out at Bloomfield Road on Monday to clean the stadium ahead of the big day at the weekend.
Mr Fielding said: “It’s all about re-establishing some pride in the club. It’s given fans an opportunity to reconnect with the club when there’s been this extended period where they’ve effectively had to close that part of their life down.”
Saturday’s return represents a hard-fought victory for Blackpool supporters. After highly charged and drawn out protests against the Oyston regime, the emotion of many fans in response to this outcome is apparent.
Seasiders fan Andy Grice is one of thousands who will return to Bloomfield Road for Saturday’s game after staying away for the duration of the boycott. When asked for his overriding emotion in light of recent events, his answer was clear.
He said: “Extreme joy. Just extreme joy and relief. It’s an unbelievable emotion after having fought so hard. A lot of us maybe did some wrong things along the way but not out of malice, out of just the will to get our club back and we’ve now got it back and we couldn’t be more delighted.”
Andy is also expecting and looking forward to an “electric” atmosphere inside the ground come kick-off at the weekend.
He said: ” Everyone just can’t wait for Saturday. There’s excitement in the town and excitement on people’s faces. It’s going to be awesome – one of the best days of my life.”
The club was placed in the hands of court-appointed receivers after Oyston failed to pay back £25m he owed to former president Valeri Belokon.
The EFL could deduct the club 12 points following the receivership.