BST column: A loud message but the EFL stays silent

Artwork produced by Blackpool Supporters' Trust, inspired by the film Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri
Artwork produced by Blackpool Supporters' Trust, inspired by the film Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri

If concerned football fans could conjure up Three Billboards Outside Blackpool, Lancashire, what might their righteous message be?

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To hazard a guess, they’d read: ‘Illegitimate Stripping – And Still No Redress! How come, EFL?’

It is nearly four months since Justice Marcus Smith handed down his judgement on the Oystons’ financial machinations at Blackpool FC. It was, by any standards, one of the most remarkable indictments of an organisation and the way it has been run that many people have ever seen; forensic in its analysis, scathing in its conclusions and permitting no appeal.

In the intervening 100-plus days, what have the EFL done in response? They held a meeting on the 12th day after the ruling but so far have told no-one anything about what was discussed, any conclusions they might have reached or any plans they may have devised for a response to what is patently an unacceptable state of affairs at one of their clubs.

They’ve processed a lot of correspondence from concerned Blackpool fans but have a standard template for replies, so the burden has been minimal and the wait a matter of days for replies that say nothing of substance.

Dealing with a letter from the elected chairperson of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust apparently proved a bit trickier. Here they stalled for four and a half weeks before sending a reply (from the customer enquiries team) to an e-mail that had actually been sent to the chairman of the EFL Board, who opted not to respond in person. The reply seemed to be a cut-and-paste amalgam of a lot of different templates, so badly was it constructed. Not surprisingly, it failed to deal with any of the substantive points put in the original communication.

Since that less than satisfactory response in mid-January, at least four members of the Oyston family have been appointed to/resigned from/been dismissed from positions at the club, some managing more than one of the above. Still Messrs Lenagan, Harvey and EFL colleagues apparently sleep on...

Section 8 of the EFL website sets out an impressive array of actions the League can take in respect of failings at their clubs. Some of these are quite draconian; some amount to no more than a gentle slap on the wrist. However, it is impossible for concerned supporters to know which, if any, of these powers have been deployed in the case of Blackpool FC because the club isn’t telling and the EFL seem shy about revealing what they might have done.

The suspicion, of course, is that they have not used any of the powers available to them, which begs a number of questions. What is making them stay their hand? Surely it can’t be a lack of evidence – Marcus Smith provided around 160 pages of it.

Why was their approach to Valeri Belokon so different? They were swift to act upon a ruling from a court in Kyrgyzstan but appear loath to take notice of a ruling from the High Court in London.

As it stands, that judgement against Mr Belokon by the EFL has constrained the ability of the High Court to act in one respect and threatens to constrain Belokon’s right to the full range of legal redress in another. It smacks of incompetence and clumsiness at the very least.

When the appropriate authorities don’t act appropriately or with authority, then it’s time for ordinary fans to give them a wake-up call.

That is why BST is encouraging all football fans to join in a nationally-organised peaceful demonstration outside EFL headquarters in Preston next Friday.

BST believes the EFL could have constructively engaged with the Trust. The demonstration is intended to remind the EFL that fans are vital stakeholders in the game and to show the strength of dissatisfaction when it comes to their dealing with rogue owners.

The plan is to meet at Preston Station for 2.30pm and march down Fishergate for the peaceful Fans United protest. BST has agreed to be a point of contact/liaison for Lancashire Police, who are happy with the arrangements.