Turned out protesting again! That’s a spin on the northern catchphrase ‘turned out nice again’, for here in sunny, funny Blackpool we’re two months into a new football season with the same old problem unresolved: our club is still in the grip of the House of Oyston and fans are still boycotting in their thousands for a fourth year in a row – surely unprecedented in English football. Barely 1,000 paying punters went through the turnstiles to watch League One Blackpool’s 2-0 Carabao Cup win over Championship side QPR. We will also be boycotting the 4th round tie away to Arsenal – but it shouldn’t have to be like this!
We had hoped we might be Oyston-free by the time this season kicked off, back inside in numbers, supporting the team in tangerine, with new owners and a brighter future opening up.
Expectations had been raised last November - when a High Court Judge confirmed what we all knew, that the Oystons were guilty of ‘illegitimate stripping of assets’ from our football club - that regime change at Blackpool FC would follow apace, either via the football authorities stepping in to sort out the impropriety or by the swingeing £31.2m award against the Oystons making a deal with minority shareholder Valeri Belokon the obvious solution.
Nearly a year down the line, neither of those things has happened yet, though there have been some other farcical goings on behind the scenes. Owner Owen Oyston sacked his son Karl as Chairman of the club only to appoint daughter Natalie in his place. Karl’s son Sam was even CEO for a few brief weeks until he was axed as well. Blackpool FC currently has no CEO and the woman who runs the ticket office is doubling as the SLO. Oh, and manager Gary Bowyer quit last month so his number two has been appointed in his place.
Owen Oyston – on the sex offenders register with an unspent conviction which means he has failed both the EPL’s and the EFL’s Owners & Directors tests - is still controlling Blackpool FC, hanging on dog-in-the-manger fashion, in effect holding Blackpool FC to ransom as his personal plaything while he continues to preside over the managed decline of a club that had every right to deserve more of its owners and of the legacy which hard-won promotion to the Premier League brought back in 2010.
The EPL conceded they let fans down when they failed to remove Oyston in 2010; the EFL wrings its hands and tries to argue that their Fit & Proper test cannot be applied retrospectively. That is just not true.
As a consequence, Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, now in its fifth year, has begun this season as it ended the last one – at the forefront of the fight for positive change, maintaining the ethical boycott and ready to work with new owners as soon as regime change happens.
Part of my summer reading was Simon Critchley’s excellent book ‘What We Think About When We Think About Football’. I’ve pulled a couple of quotes from it:
“The reason why football is so important to so many of us is precisely because of the experience of association at its heart and the vivid sense of community that it provides” and “Here is perhaps the most basic and profound contradiction in football: its form is association, socialism, the sociability and collective action of players and fans and yet its material substrate is money: dirty money, often from highly questionable, under-scrutinized sources.”
The whole point of the Supporters’ Trust is surely to embody that association and camaraderie, the community of a club’s football family of fans striving by all legitimate means to ensure their football club is run in as ethical and community-minded way as is possible for the benefit of the supporters and the whole town or city - and not just as a business venture for its owners.
When the fans are let down by the FA and the Leagues as we have been at Blackpool (and Charlton, Coventry, Hull, Leyton Orient and others have been recently), who can we turn to?
We now have no faith in the football authorities’ ability to reform themselves and step up to the challenge of proper governance. We are advocating government intervention. We believe external regulation will be required, an independent licensing body with statutory powers.
England is one of only five countries in UEFA not to have such an independent body overseeing the ethical running of the game; Andorra, Gibraltar and Montenegro are three of the others! As the campaign to achieve such change gathers momentum, please seriously consider giving it your support. Every football club is only one rogue owner away from the mess we are in. Tomorrow it could be your club. As stated earlier, it shouldn’t have to be like this!
In the meantime, we continue ‘in exile’ depriving ourselves of the chance to see our team play. We will be protesting outside the ground again on Saturday. The ethical boycott means that most of us will not set foot inside Bloomfield Road until the Oystons have left the club completely after thirty years of hurt. Only then will Blackpool start to resemble a normal club again. That day can’t come soon enough.
Written by Steve Rowland, Blackpool Supporters Trust