Football: Black balloons and bile on the sea-front

Supporters united in misery all washed up at Blackpool.
TWENTY MINUTES into a deeply mediocre match between two troubled teams, we were promised a small piece of football history. For the first time, the organisers claimed, supporters of rival clubs united by their various miseries were to join forces to demonstrate against the iniquities of the world. As befitted the current form of the two sides, as Stoke gained victory over Blackpool by a lone goal, it did not exactly go smoothly.

Of the predicted thousands of black balloons, many escaped before the match rather than being saved for the big moment. Even those kept in reserve showed little inclination to get airborne and lay there sadly on the pitch, glistening like so many black puddings in a butcher's window.

The minute's silence was not a roaring success either. So subdued is the atmosphere at Bloomfield Road these days that there was always a risk that no one would notice. In fact, the volume of noise increased noticeably as both sets of fans, depleted as they were by making this an all-ticket match with a noon kick-off, combined in a rendition of "Sack the board".

The Stoke defender, Larus Sigurdsson, almost wrecked what was left of the funereal mood by putting his side ahead with a header from a corner that just missed the target. As memorable demonstrations go, it was not exactly Grosvenor Square.

There is no doubt that disillusionment runs deep at both clubs, however. A tangerine-painted car parked conspicuously outside Bloomfield Road proclaimed in letters two feet high that the Oyston Family should relinquish control, claiming that 79 per cent of supporters surveyed wanted them to do so: if anything, that seems a conservative estimate.

The mood would not have been improved 13 minutes after the noisy silence when another corner from the left exposed Blackpool's marking, leaving Kyle Lightbourne to head in unopposed. Lightbourne's contribution was a reminder that, as a pounds 500,000 signing from Coventry under Brian Little's predecessor as manager, Chris Kamara, he remains Stoke's highest-profile acquisition.

That is the root of the dissatisfaction in the Potteries. City's supporters are convinced that more investment when they were on top of the table earlier this season would have put them well on their way to the First Division by now. As it is and despite yesterday's win, their fall from grace has been so precipitous that even a play-off place might be beyond them.

"Compared to Blackpool, we're in luxury," said Tim Gillimore, a Stoke supporter for 30 years who organised the protest. "But what's the point of the Britannia Stadium without a team that's good enough to go with it?"

Blackpool, 3-1 winners at Stoke in September, were reduced yesterday in the main to optimistic long-range shots, although they did have a little flurry mid-way through the second half that saw John Hills go close with a free-kick and Brett Ormerod have a shot pushed wide after a dangerous break.

After that, for all the perfectly audible sound of silence earlier, it was all quiet on the sea-front.