The Football League’s CEO, Head of Policy and Communications Director all travelled to Blackpool on Tuesday to meet representatives of Blackpool supporters’ groups.
READ MORE: Oyston praises daughter for team's revival
It is highly unusual for the EFL to hold such a one-club meeting but its board sanctioned this one, according to CEO Shaun Harvey, because of concerns that the November High Court ruling put the very future of Blackpool FC as a league club at risk and as recognition that the ongoing situation is extremely worrying for supporters.
To their credit, the representatives from the EFL chose to deal with the key issues for Blackpool fans head on: the League’s Owners and Directors Test (ODT) and how it related to Owen Oyston’s and Valeri Belokon’s fitness or otherwise to hold positions at Blackpool FC, and what the EFL is doing to help restore stability at our club.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust contends that Owen Oyston, as a ‘registered offender’ ought to be disqualified from holding office.
The EFL stated that because Oyston’s conviction preceded the implementation of its fit and proper test in 2003/4, which apparently doesn’t allow for retrospective application of the criteria, the League has no powers to act.
BST could find nothing in the EFL’s rules that exempted a disqualification in this instance and challenged the EFL’s interpretation of their own statute.
The EFL undertook to come back with an explanation of why someone with an ‘unspent’ conviction for rape is fit and proper to be owner and director of one of their clubs. (The Premier League certainly held Owen to be disqualified, as revealed last week.) The Trust awaits that clarification from the EFL with interest.
BST understands why, according to the strict interpretation of its rules, the EFL would have to declare Valeri Belokon disqualified.
The EFL representatives were reminded that the ruling by the Kyrgyz court is not recognised in the EU or UK – it is only recognised by Kyrgyzstan and the EFL! The EFL has it in its power to suspend a disqualification pending appeal but said this is premature, although it is working with Belokon to determine what he needs to do to disprove his disqualification. CEO Shaun Harvey restated that the EFL doesn’t wish to stand in the way of anyone who seeks to invest ethically in one of its clubs.
The EFL cannot force change of ownership but assured fans it is working to ensure the restoration of stability at the club – so will have been somewhat alarmed to see Owen Oyston’s extraordinary claims in the press this week that ‘Belokon is Bluffing’ and the club is being forced into administration.
What became clear at the meeting is that the EFL has limited powers to ensure compliance. It is a competition organiser first and foremost.
It has no concept of itself as a governance body, nor does it have any wish to become one.
The EFL considers the FA to be the authority in charge of governance - and yet the FA always directs complaints about League clubs to the EFL.
That is intensely frustrating for supporters. Given what has happened at Blackpool FC, though it apparently broke none of the EFL’s regulations, demonstrates there is a glaring need for external regulation, be that a properly-empowered FA or some other organisation.
Therefore the parliamentary petition requesting the government to introduce an independent regulator for English football becomes ever more important.
It has passed 10,000 signatures, which means we can expect a formal response from parliament, but it needs 100,000 to sign to trigger a debate by MPs. You can sign at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/213108.
What appears to have prompted Owen Oyston’s outburst in the press is the fact he has made an offer to Valeri Belokon that has been rejected, probably because Owen is still overestimating the value of the club and stadium.
His own ‘expert witness’ in court only valued the club at £5m. The Trust is encouraged that Owen is looking to conclude a deal to cede the club and stadium to Mr Belokon in part-mitigation of his debt. The offer just needs to be a realistic one.