Blackpool FC and the importance of free speech

Blackpool FC and the importance of free speech

Recent legal action by the Oyston family against a number of Blackpool fans has prompted this article by OVF editor Rob Fielding.

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What is the Football Matters series?

This site isn’t just about Port Vale. We recognise that we are also part of several wider networks. For instance, two immediately spring to mind – many of us are Potteries folk and/or exiles and we’re part of the lower league football fraternity.

It’s because of the latter group that we are running this occasional series. We will never forget the help and support of other clubs when Port Vale was in crisis and as a way of repaying that debt we want to highlight clubs who have hit the headlines. Some will be for good reasons but many of these features will highlight controversies and wrongdoings at other clubs.

It’s our own attempt to bring them a little bit more publicity which will hopefully go a small way to helping them resolve their problems.[/box]

Football forums such as ours on OVF are always going to be a bone of contention.

There are some who feel that some posters can “go too far”, that accusations can be made without recourse to the facts and that overreaction can be the order of the day.

We would sincerely hope that the Oyston family are simply using the legal process to correctly defend their name against lies…

It’s probably true that no forum is perfect but many, such as (we hope) OVF, are responsibly run. Here at OVF Towers, we have rules to prevent things like threats of violence and libellous content. Those in turn cause some fans to scream “censorship” at us – but as recent events at Blackpool show, it’s often a good thing to be cautious.

This week, Blackpool owners the Oyston family served papers on fans forum Back Henry Street over (as the BBC reports) “six alleged defamatory comments which were made in 2014.” It follows similar legal action by the Oystons against two other supporters who had also posted comments online and legal action that is pending against the head of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust.

It is anyone’s legal right, of course, to protect themselves legally against lies. That’s what the libel laws are for, after all.

But what concerns this site is a statement from Back Henry Street following the news of the court orders. It states that “Back Henry Street will forever champion the freedom of thought and expression in discussion of Blackpool Football Club”.

All football fans should back that message.

We would sincerely hope that the Oyston family are simply using the legal process to correctly defend their name against lies and that their actions are not to try and prevent free speech by using financial and legal pressure to silence any dissenting fans and websites.

It’s your right to defend yourself legally but after reading the various Blackpool forums, it’s clear that many fans are enraged by the decision. Perhaps the Oystons should read one of the posts on Back Henry Street and re-consider their legal action? It reads “A football club exists and prospers due to the support of its fan-base.”

We hope the situation at Blackpool resolves itself soon. We fear it will not…

We hope the situation at Blackpool resolves itself soon. We fear it will not. But again, perhaps Blackpool fans ought to take notice of what happened at Port Vale in 2012. The club lost the support of the fans. And once that happened there was only one winner. It took time, it was fraught and there were many rough periods along the way. But ultimately the fans won out. The owners went into administration and the fans carried the club through a turbulent period and into new, better ownership.

At the time of our troubles, Valiants Against Racism former-chair Steve Bradbury made a comment that not only echoes the one on Back Henry Street but one that all football owners would do well to take note of.

It was simply that “a club with no fans is a club with no heart.”

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More information

We send out best wishes to the Blackpool fans. We hope that they know the wider football family is aware of events at their football club. For more information from Back Henry Street plus links to petitions and donations to fund the website’s defence, you can visit:

http://www.backhenrystreet.co.uk/forum-2.html

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