Blackpool Supporters' Trust column: Owners failed in their duties to us all

BST

The hubris and disrespect shown by the Oyston family towards Blackpool FC, its fans, Valeri Belokon and the wider football family was laid bare before a packed London courtroom on Monday as Judge Marcus Smith QC delivered his long-awaited judgment following 16 days of compelling evidence over the summer

The hubris and disrespect shown by the Oyston family towards Blackpool FC, its fans, Valeri Belokon and the wider football family was laid bare before a packed London courtroom on Monday as Judge Marcus Smith QC delivered his long-awaited judgment following 16 days of compelling evidence over the summer.

The written judgment runs to 166 pages and provides a fascinating insight into the inner workings of Blackpool FC during the period of Valeri Belokon’s involvement.

It highlights the cynical way Karl and Owen Oyston set about dismantling all that was achieved by Ian Holloway and his fabulous team in 2010.

It is clear from the report that the huge revenues Blackpool FC received between 2010 and 2015, in excess of £120m, ought to have provided the platform to create something truly special, making Blackpool the club we all felt it should be, with fantastic facilities shared among owners, players, fans and the wider Blackpool community. Instead there is little to show bar the sprinklers.

Over the last several seasons, Blackpool Supporters’ Trust has been hugely critical of the Oystons’ policy towards the running and financing of our football club, criticism that has not made the Trust popular in some quarters. BST has long maintained that it does not consider the current custodians of Blackpool FC to be fit and proper persons to hold that role.

Over the course of the trial, the highly respected Judge formed his own views and delivered findings which more than vindicate BST’s assessment of the owners and resulted in an award to Mr Belokon’s company of an eye-watering £31.27m, which with interest and costs will likely increase the sum to be paid by the Oystons to over £40m.

Rather than BST commenting on the findings (which you can read at www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/vbfa-v-blackpoolfc.pdf), you are invited to review this summary:

1) Despite Owen Oyston’s attempts to argue otherwise, there was ‘a gentlemen’s agreement’ between himself and Valeri Belokon whereby the latter was to acquire a 50 per cent share in Blackpool FC. This agreement was reneged on and denied to Mr Belokon when he asked for it to be formalised after promotion to the Premier League.

2) Within days of winning promotion, Owen Oyston’s objective was ‘to get funds without going through (Mr Belokon) and without tax’. Subsequently, payments totalling over £26m were made to Oyston-controlled companies. The Judge ruled not only that such actions were improper but they also had a detrimental effect on the football club, whose money it rightly was.

3) The Oystons saw nothing objectionable in their ‘modus operandi’, even though it entirely ignored the duties they owed to Blackpool FC.

4) Valeri Belokon and the fans who hold minority shares in the club suffered prejudice and discrimination as a result of the significant paying away of monies, detrimentally affecting the club’s values.

5) The Judge found that when the Oystons authorised Blackpool FC to fund Segesta’s purchase of the Travelodge and pay £11m to Zabaxe, these were in fact payments to the Oystons. It should be remembered that a past chairman of BST was faced with the threat legal action for defamation when he made the same claim.

6) The Oystons used Premier League monies to unfairly enrich themselves and in the process prejudiced Blackpool FC and its members.

7) Valeri Belokon was excluded from crucial decisions in respect of the football club specifically because it was known he wouldn’t agree to the Oystons’ plan to use money received from the Premier League to fund non-football-related loans to themselves and their companies, a practice described as ‘the illegitimate stripping of Blackpool FC by the Oystons’ – a damning indictment.

The Judge criticised ‘fundamental breaches of the duties owed’ by these directors to their company, its shareholders and stakeholders.

All of the above illustrates the pressing need for changes in the rules governing the fitness of owners and directors, and for democratically-constituted supporters organisations to play a role in how clubs are run – compelling reasons why BST is fully behind the Fans-Not-Numbers campaign.

In the wake of Monday’s historic ruling, it is possible that events will move fast over the next months.

There is great euphoria at the possibility of a post-Oyston era but expectations have to be managed. Patience and fan unity are required. The ethical boycott remains firmly in place.

It has to be patently clear to everyone, Oystons included, that their continued involvement in Blackpool FC would only imperil the club further. They have to go and allow our historic football club to mend itself, move forward and succeed under new ownership.

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