Blackpool FC's fight with Oyston family featured as independent regulator Bill brought to parliament
Regulation of the way football clubs are run is badly needed to ensure “scandals” - such as Blackpool’s plight under the Oyston family - become a thing of the past.
That’s according to Member of Parliament Chris Matheson, who spoke passionately in the Commons today about the need for an independent regulator to ensure the highest level of governance.
The MP for Chester brought a 10-minute Bill to parliament which was passed for a second reading, having received support from Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden among others.
Mr Matheson, who used to sit on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, says such a change will stop clubs being "driven into the ground" by rogue owners.
“The concern for supporters is that they are only ever one bad owner away from these types of problems and that they have no where to turn for help,” he said in parliament.
“It’s crucial supporters have somewhere to turn to in their desperation.
“While the directors of a club might be the legal owners, they are surely only the custodians on behalf of the whole family of supporters.
“If they are seen to be acting in their own interests, rather than the interests of the club, that can not be allowed.
“If I don’t like Tesco then I can go to Sainsbury’s, if I don’t like Asda I can go to Waitrose, Aldi or Lidl. But you can’t do that with a football team.
“Supporters have a profound sense of loyalty and identity and belonging that can’t be transferred at the first sign of trouble.
“This is why this Bill is so important. At a time when this country is so divided, this is a sport that can bring our country together again.”
The strife Blackpool suffered during the Oyston years featured heavily in the speech, although the Labour MP stressed the Seasiders were by far the only club to have suffered at the hands of a rogue owner.
“On March 9 this year Blackpool supporters went to watch a home match for the first time after a four-year boycott of home fixtures,” he added.
“The reason for their protest was the mismanagement of the club, as they saw it, by its owners Owen and Karl Oyston.
“Yet it was more than simply mismanagement, the fans believed the owners had been bleeding the club dry - not just failing to invest but also taking large sums of money out.
“Indeed, a High Court judgement found the Oystons had illegitimately stripped £26.77m from the club.
“Previously it was reported Owen Oyston was the highest paid person in English football during Blackpool’s season in the Premier League, receiving an eye-watering £11m with only Wayne Rooney reportedly coming close to earning similar immuneration.
“Yet there was nothing the supporters could do within the existing structures of the game to force a change in ownership and stop their club being ransacked.
“Unable to prevent the mismanagement by the Oystons, the supporters had to take things into their own hands and eventually launched a boycott of home games to deny the owners their money.
“They received support from fans of other clubs and fan organisations, but little support from the football authorities.
“To get to the point of being sold, it has taken four years of not doing the one thing that binds them together and defines them: watching the football team they love.
“If this was a one-off I’d feel sorry for Blackpool fans, pleased they’ve won their campaign and move on, but it isn’t.
“Coventry City are in an even worse situation and they’re being driven into the ground by SISU, who are answerable to no one, and are now being forced to play their home fixtures 18 miles away in Birmingham.
“Further up the M6 at Bolton Wanderers, again one of the great names in English football, they are now in administration after being so badly managed that staff have not been paid and other clubs are assisting with payroll and even providing foodbanks to support employees.
“This is not a new phenomenon though, there have been similar question marks in the past over the owners at Notts County, Gateshead, Bury, Portsmouth, Hartlepool, Charlton Athletic and more - too many to be isolated cases, suggesting there is a broader problem that needs to be addressed."
Last year Blackpool Supporters' Trust set up a petition calling for the introduction of an independent regulator after sharing frustration with the EFL's lack of action towards Owen Oyston - a convicted rapist who “illegitimately stripped” the club of millions of pounds.
The petition urged the government to introduce an independent regulator for English football, charged with ensuring the "highest possible standards of governance" for all clubs.
However, despite Blackpool being far from the only English club to experience strife with their owner, it received little traction away from the Fylde Coast.
The government responded after the petition gained 10,000 signatures, saying there was no "desire" or "need" to introduce an independent regulator.
The EFL, whose chief executive Shaun Harvey is departing this summer, argue they are a competition organiser and has limited power when it comes to dealing with rogue owners.
Mr Matheson says in an ideal world improved regulation of football clubs would come under the FA’s jurisdiction.
However, as there seems little appetite for that, he claims the regulator must be independent.
“Ideally it would be for the FA to undertake these activities but under the absence of action, an independent regulator is needed so the scandals of Blackpool, Chester, Brighton and so on are a thing of the past," he said.
“The FA and the EFL have an Owners’ and Directors’ Test but these might only be relevant in the case of, for example, previous criminal convictions.
“Football needs regulation independent of the owners who have a vested interest. That regulation could and should be done by the FA in the interests of the game as a whole.
“A regulatory body that is adequately funded and suitably staffed with effective regulations and the power to enforce them could restore faith in the game.
“Of course there are ways the Owners’ and Directors’ Test can be improved but it can never be foolproof. Not all owners start out bad.
“A regulator could be there to educate, advise and support. Punishment and sanctions should be the last resort and the good owners should have nothing to fear, they should be benefitting from reflective improvements across the game.
“This Bill would bring into being an independent regulator with the powers to undertake forensic audits of clubs’ financial activities where sufficient concern has been expressed to the management of the club and to report to the FA with recommendations for action.”