“Where’s the cash gone?”
It is a question repeatedly asked over the last few years – ever since Blackpool’s Premier League dream turned into a nightmare for many fans.
From the darlings of English football’s top flight to the bottom of the Championship in just three years.
A summer beset with problems; three points in the first 10 games this season; and repeated allegations the club’s owners do not care and are happy to “trouser” the cash at the expense of the team and its loyal fans.
Tonight, in a live televised match against Cardiff City, many are expected to again show their anger at the Oyston regime and call for the family to sell up.
Pool won an estimated £90m-plus windfall when they were promoted to the Premier League in 2010.
But fans say little – if anything – has been invested back into the team since relegation back to the Championship.
Accounts over the last two years show loans paid from the club to a number of Oyston-owned companies.
This has led some fans to claim the cash has been siphoned off, misappropriated, for the benefit of the Oyston family – a claim the Pool owner strongly denies.
It comes as Oyston confirmed the club is now taking legal action against “five individuals for defamation”.
In his first interview on football matters for years, Oyston said his family had “always defended the right of the supporters” to “criticise the club and ourselves” even if “it has often been painful and, in our view, often unjustified”.
He said: “We are pleased the Blackpool fans are so passionate and dedicated they want to make their views known. We know that they want the same as us – success on the pitch.”
But he hit back at those who have accused the club’s owners of being thieves.
Stating that “certain individuals” had “crossed the line demarcating acceptable criticism”, Oyston said: “It’s simply not true we have asset stripped or misappropriated football generated funds.
“If those responsible for these allegations had examined the accounts of the football group they would have seen we had been building up substantial assets to strengthen and secure the football club over 27 years, protecting the club from debt and producing revenue income and more recently substantial profits for the football group.
“We are one of the few clubs in the football world that have no debts and are in profit.”
Asked about the £90m the club got from its time in the Premier League and the subsequent ‘parachute payments’ after they were relegated, Oyston said £47.6m had been spent (between 2010-13) on players’ wages, bonuses and transfer fees.
In 2011 he was paid £11m as a director – in lieu of the money he had put into the club since taking over in 1987.
He added that £23.7m – often quoted as the cash siphoned off to other companies – was used to pay for the development of the stands, units within the stands and hotels.
He said much of the rest has gone on maintenance of the ground and paying stewards and other staff’s wages over the period.
Oyston said when he took over the club in 1987 it owed creditors £827,000 and had losses of £77,000 on the balance sheet. Its net assets (the total assets minus total outside liabilities) were listed as - £42,000.
In May 2013, the last declared figures, Oyston says the club’s net assets were £25m.
Oyston said before achieving Premier League status three years ago he never took a salary, a dividend or consultancy payment from the club over a period of 24 years.
Detailing his investment over the years, he said when he took control in 1987 he immediately loaned the club £160,000 to cover bills that needed paying within 12 months. Within seven months the loan had risen to £600,000.
In 1990, he bought into the parent company of the club formerly Blackpool FC Properties Ltd, which changed its name to Segesta, for £1.34m. At the end of May 2000 he put in a further £4.1m bringing his total investment to £5.5m.
Another Oyston company, Zabaxe Ltd, also loaned money to the club (£944, 652) as well as the time and services of its staff free of charge for such things as accountants, solicitors, architects, secretaries advisors and other staff.
In 2000/01 football season the Oyston family sold the company which published Lancashire Life magazine and, from the proceeds, used £6.5m to lever in £2.5m of further funding from the Football Foundation and used this £9m to build the North, North West and West stands. He said revenue from those stands flows directly back into the club.
He said: “That was my own money and I set aside millions of pounds in profits from those magazines to fund a club most professional advisers said could never pay me back.”
He said that in 2006 Valeri Belokon bought 20 per cent of the shares of the club for £1.8m and then he together with Oyston financed the building of the South and South West corner stands. More money was needed to finish these off.
And he added he has made a series of other loans to the club in May 2001 to September 2002 of £125,000, in February 2005 of £200,000, in March 2006, £150,000, in May 2006, £60,000, and in March 2009 of £100,000.
He said: “I have poured into what had been a bankrupt and derelict club, millions of pounds, from my own money, and also from interest-free loans from my own companies, not just to keep the football club afloat but also to build much of what you see in the modern Blackpool Football Club stadium today.”
Over the claims the Oystons took out £23.7m from the club to give to other Oyston companies, he said that money was used by the companies for the funding, finishing and fitting out of the stands and units within them as the ground was being redeveloped. Also it was used to buy the Travelodge hotel on Bloomfield Road (see below).
He explained: “Blackpool FC Ltd couldn’t have financed the stands and paid to finish them off. That money went to Segesta and was then used through various other companies to carry out the work. We had to have separate construction companies to do it.
“Part was also used to repay loans made to the football group by Oyston Group companies interest free at a time when no-one else would lend money to the football group and without which they could not have continued.
“Therefore of the £23.7m loaned to Segesta by Blackpool FC, £22.8m has been used to benefit the football group and produce revenue to both BFC Limited and its parent company Segesta.”
He said a £640,000 loan from Blackpool FC Ltd to Blackpool FC Hotel was used to develop the south stand hotel and was being repaid.
All these decisions, he said, would mean the club will survive on its own two feet for years to come. Oyston added: “The avowed intention of the directors is to return to the top flight and to have the passionate support of all the fans again. I recognise all this effort and investment over this long journey with Blackpool FC and its parent company will have little or no impact on the fans.
“I know what happens on the pitch is what the fans are really concerned about and it is always my concern too and that is why I have dedicated my money, time and energy to this project because I’m a lifelong supporter.”
‘I am not happy about where we are – but we can get it right’
Owen Oyston says he is still a fan – and the club’s position in the League hurts him as much as it does those on the terraces.
Although admitting the club’s directors – led by his son Karl – had “made mistakes” he said they would not waver from the strategy of financial security and “modest” spending.
The club currently languishes at the bottom of the Championship but Oyston, who made his fortune from property and media businesses, said he was convinced the squad put together hastily as the season started was good enough to stay up.
In fact, he is not – amazingly given the team’s worst ever start to a season – ruling out a charge up the League.
This comes after weeks of turmoil. Chairman Karl Oyston offered the manger’s job to Burton boss Gary Rowett while current boss Jose Riga was still in the post. The Seasiders have picked up just three points from their first 10 League games.
This, together with years of frustration from fans, has led to tonight’s planned protests in front of the Sky Sports cameras for the Championship game with Cardiff.
Oyston said: “I’m absolutely not happy about where we are at the moment.
“We are having the worst run we have ever had. Every club goes through bad patches but these can be turned around.
“I honestly think this set of players are good players, almost as good as when we made it to the Premier League, and things will improve.
“I was at Middlesbrough on Tuesday and there were a group of die-hard Blackpool fans there who saw their team play really well against a tough opponent who could have been at the top of the division if they had won.
“Our team played well and were unlucky not to win. I think they could reach the play-offs.
“They are on a £5.5m bonus between them if they get promoted so the incentive is there.”
Asked if the club’s problems – they had just eight players 10 days before the season started – was due to a cut in the budget for players and transfers, Oyston said there was never any fixed budget but the club simply bought the players they thought they needed.
He said: “It was a very difficult pre-season. We simply had not anticipated how badly the team was going to do last season when we were almost relegated and we wanted to get rid of the players who were not performing for the club.
“That’s why we had so few but we ended up signing more than almost anyone else in the country.
“We did not want to pay the inflated prices at the start of the transfer window. So we made offers to players and let them go away to think about it. Many found other clubs but many came back to us.
“You cannot simply throw money at a team or you end up in big trouble.
“Out footballing philosophy is that e pay a modest basic wage but a higher appearance fee. The players don’t like it at first but it encourages them to be better players. They have to train and perform well for the club so the manager will pick them.
“We have had cases in the past where players were on something like £8,000 a week and quite happy to just turn up for training and did not care if they played well or not.”
Oyston said the club’s recruitment policy – heavily criticised by fans –did not necessarily mean they missed out on the best players in the summer transfer period saying that some good players who did not accept Blackpool’s terms had still not found a club even now.
Asked why the club did not spend more on players Oyston said: “If you look at some clubs and the money they have spent and seen the mess they have got into. Take Bolton, they have debts of something like £160m, look at what happened at Leeds, even Manchester United have huge borrowings against the club and if something went wrong they could be in big trouble.
“You can’t just throw money away. We don’t want that mess. We want to look after the club and not be stupid and profligate.”
Oyston was keen to stress he is still a fan.
He said: “I have been a Blackpool fan since I was a boy.
“My parents bought a boarding house on Wellington Road – 400m away from the club – and my two elder brothers used to take me to the games. The roar of the crowd drew me in and I have loved them ever since.
“So I understand the fans feelings. I’m pleased they are so passionate and dedicated and want to make their feelings known.
“We all want success on the pitch. The directors have made mistakes and they have learned from them.
“ Our aim is to return to the top flight and we want the fans to at least support the players and get behind them.
“I believe this team will turn things around.”
Oyston said allegations he had made a fortune out of the deal to build a Travelodge hotel near the club were wrong.
He said: “I paid Segesta £650,000 for the land there. That land I already owned in effect as I had bought the club so I actually paid twice. I did not need to but I did because at the time the club needed £650,000 to pay off bills related to the building work in the North stand.”
He said he then funded the building of the hotel from his own fortune, arranged a transfer of land to allow the club a frontage onto Seasiders Way, and then had the finished hotel valued. The £6.5m hotel was then sold to the club to provide it with an annual rent of £531,000.
“The club could not have got a bank loan for this because the banks are unwilling to lend to football clubs, and especially to a club with the poor track record it had from before I bought it. That was part of the reason we changed the parent company’s name to Segesta. Anything with ‘football’ in it and the banks would look unfavourably on it.
“After the sale the profit was £337,134 but in real terms I made nothing because I lost the annual interest on £650,000 and there was the cost of planning applications and negotiations and the sheer man hours put in.”
Supporters Association response
Blackpool fans today said major questions remain unanswered from club bosses.
Chairman of Blackpool Supporters’ Association Glenn Bowley (pictured) said: “We can talk about money, we can talk about the club having money in the bank but the bottom line is the football team is bottom of the division.
“For the last two years it has failed to perform.
“That is due to a lack of investment in the team. Unless investment is made in the team in terms of short and long-term signings, we will get relegated.
“The football team is struggling and investment has to be made.”
He also questioned Mr Oyston’s assessment of the club’s current situation.
“To talk of making the play-offs is not even optimistic,” he added, “it’s a bit ludicrous, if I’m honest.
“We should be setting our sights higher than just staying up but a catalogue of errors and a lack of investment in the team has left us in this position.
“If they have spent £47m on players in the last three years, clearly they have wasted a lot of money.
“What they need to be saying is what they are going to do to grow the club and develop it.
“Where is the legacy from being in the Premier League? What is Owen Oyston’s five-year plan for Blackpool FC?”
For more on this story pick up a copy of today’s Gazette.