Blackpool Supporters' Trust column: Ready to work with new owners to take club forward
What are we to make of the announcement, just four days after that momentous High Court judgement in favour of Valeri Belokon, that the Oystons had put Blackpool FC up for sale, something they had long contended they would never do?
The initial response was a tangible wave of euphoria sweeping through the Fylde coast and beyond, a sense of impending liberation.
On the face of it, the fact the club has been put on the market so rapidly is beyond the wildest dreams of most supporters. And while it is broadly agreed that the future must be brighter without the Oystons, it is also true that many fans will be worried about the uncertainty which is bound to follow their decision to sell.
Is it one more cynical tactic? No price has been stated, though one expert witness in the High Court case placed a £5.5m valuation on the football club. Can a sensible market valuation for the club and stadium complex be arrived at?
And can a deal be concluded with an investor sympathetic to the history or our club and the ambitions of its supporters?
Successive BST committees have worked very hard to establish the Trust as a strong and relevant group, capable of representing all Blackpool fans.
To those new owners, we suggest that our reputation and connection with the wider football world and the football authorities will be of great importance in the months ahead.
It needs to be remembered that the judgement made in London last week was in a private action brought by one businessman against his business partners and that the Oystons’ conduct was found to have been unfairly prejudicial towards Valeri Belokon.
Of course, the implication is clearly that the Oystons acted unfairly to the football club as well in their ‘illegitimate stripping of Blackpool FC’, a judgement likely to prove damning to their reputation and finances.
However, it was only Belokon’s shareholding and clout that brought about such a result. If there had been no minority shareholder with a significant investment in the club, then the Oystons would have been able to carry on diverting assets that ought to have been reinvested into progressing the football club, and no-one would have been able to do anything about it.
This legal action has brought into sharp focus the fact that football governance is not fit for purpose,
For football fans who invest huge sums of money, time and emotion into our clubs, there is no such recourse to law when things go wrong. Who speaks for us?
BST, along with many other fan organisations, is determined to help bring about a change to this unacceptable state of affairs. We should not have to wait with trepidation to find out who our new owners will be and how they will run the club. Good ownership must not be a matter of pot luck.
There is an EFL board meeting this week and they will be reviewing the implications of last week’s High Court ruling. At the very least, Judge Marcus Smith’s judgement must call into question whether the Oystons have been fit and proper custodians of our club. It should also impel the EFL to overhaul their totally inadequate rules concerning owners and directors.
The situation at Blackpool is probably the worst case of the damage to club and community that ensues when rogue owners go unchecked.
BST will encourage the EFL to use Blackpool as a case study in their attempts to evaluate a more rigorous set of regulations and assessments for owners and directors. At least then something good might be created from a situation which has been so very bad.
It is to be hoped new owners will want to engage with the supporters in taking the club forward. Blackpool fans have proved a force to be reckoned with and we have not fought so hard for so long just to sit back and be taken advantage of again. Our club has huge potential and will progress far more successfully if owners, fans and the community are all pulling in the same direction.
The Trust is finalising a supporters’ manifesto. A draft version has been utilised in the Fans Not Numbers campaign and will hopefully be the model for all clubs and football governance in future.
Putting fans at the heart of our club is fundamental for a progressive club. The draft manifesto itemises ways that could be achieved. Among them is a proposal for democratic fan representation on the board, preferably based upon a percentage supporter shareholding in the club.
BST is proposing a Blackpool FC ‘Pledge’ to line up funds for a number of purposes – to demonstrate to potential new owners/investors that there is a sizeable fanbase waiting to return and recommit to an Oyston-free club; to help fund the ongoing campaign for reform of the game; and in readiness to finance a supporter shareholding in Blackpool FC.