Blackpool Supporters’ Trust column: Oystons’ legal action so divisive

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Blackpool Supporters’ Trust has to take issue with last Friday’s statement from the Oyston family, published under the name of Blackpool Football Club, concerning the May 2015 pitch protest and the ongoing litigation.

It is disingenuous at best to claim that all new legal actions have been stopped when Karl Oyston confirmed that 10 supporters “are about to be sent letters to inform them of legal action” (verbatim quote from the approved minutes of September’s BFC/FPG meeting).

That is really not in the spirit of the undertaking Owen Oyston gave to fans when he attended a BST meeting in July.

Whether this latest round of litigation is labelled new or old doesn’t in any way justify or mitigate against the decision to carry on suing individual fans.

As BST’s chairman commented in the Gazette:“For the Oystons to select 10 of the 150 or so on the pitch looks to be highly subjective, even vindictive.”

Why are these 10 to be pursued for financial damages? Even the FPG tried and failed to dissuade the Oystons from taking such a highly divisive step.

Based upon letters the Oyston family has issued to date, the focus is seemingly on recouping from fans the £50,000 fine imposed on the club by the FA.

It has to be remembered that the fine was for failings in the club’s security procedures on the day and not for the actions of supporters.

The Trust wouldn’t suggest the club should seek damages from Lancashire Police or Northern Security as a result of those failings, so why doesn’t the club just accept the consequences of the lapse?

Lessons have been learned. Security procedures have been improved. What possible justification can there be in pursuing fans for financial retribution, fans who can probably ill afford to pay or to defend themselves in court?

The reason given by the Oystons for targeting the 10 with the threat of legal action, and another unspecified number with banning orders unless they come forward and sign an Acceptable Behaviour Order, is the fear that if another such pitch protest were to take place the sanctions from the FA and EFL would be more severe – but there is a more conciliatory way of dealing with the issue.

BST liaises regularly with Lancashire Police and has been advising fans for a season and a half against any more encroachments on to the pitch (both home and away). There have been no further instances.

Surely working with BST and the Police to achieve that end ought to have been the constructive route to take, rather than litigation and an insistence on issuing Acceptable Behaviour Orders?

BST calls upon the club to honour the spirit of Owen Oyston’s undertaking and enter into meaningful dialogue with the Trust on this specific issue, to discuss the basis upon which the threats to sue the 10 can be withdrawn.

The Trust doesn’t know why the club is suddenly “so pleased to see an acknowledgement from BST that supporters should not commit criminal acts”. That has always been the Trust’s position.

Far from being something that the Trust has only acknowledged recently, it is a tenet that has been stated publicly at regular intervals over the last couple of years and the club should have realised that.

Furthermore, if there is any inference in the club’s statement that BST knew about or was somehow responsible for an attack on a vehicle belonging to the Oyston family outside Morecambe’s ground in August, that is absolutely not the case.

The point has been made repeatedly that the Trust does not engage in or condone criminal activity.

For the club statement to include such a reference is regrettable.

BST understands no arrests have been made following the incident referred to. The club is best advised to pursue the matter with the Police.

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is holding its 2016 annual general meeting tomorrow at the Excelsior on Lytham Road from 12.30pm.

The issue of litigation against fans will be on the agenda, along with extending the ethical boycott, the results of the latest committee elections and membership polls and discussion about future initiatives to bring about much-needed change in the way Blackpool FC is run.

Karl Oyston may claim (as he is alleged to have done) that he is Blackpool FC. Thousands of fans think the supporters have a more deserving moral right to say “we are Blackpool FC”.

Come and join us. Help make a difference.