BST column: Blackpool revelations highlight a need for change

Owen Oyston in the 2010-11 season, when the Premier League ruled he should not have been charge at Blackpool
Owen Oyston in the 2010-11 season, when the Premier League ruled he should not have been charge at Blackpool
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Blackpool fans have become accustomed to shocking revelations but this week’s disclosure about behind-the-scenes events in our Premier League season is about as jaw-dropping as any.

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The Guardian broke a story on Tuesday that although Owen Oyston was considered ‘fit and proper’ in the eyes of the Football League, the Premier League had more stringent rules and Owen’s 1996 conviction for rape, ‘which can never be legally spent’, rendered him not a ‘fit and proper person’.

Under Premier League rules he was therefore disqualified from being an owner or director of a Premier League club and was directed to dispose of his majority shareholding in Blackpool FC upon the club’s accession to the top flight in 2010.

It is believed Richard Scudamore, then chief executive of the Premier League, thought he’d got agreement from Owen to comply – but, as we know, that directive was never acted upon and the issue was resolved temporarily (ie. it was no longer the Premier League’s problem) when Blackpool got relegated.

In hindsight, it adds weight to the strong suspicion that the Oystons’ refusal to bolster the Premier League squad was because they were counting on an immediate return to the lower division.

The latter’s ongoing inability to deal effectively with the problem of a not ‘fit and proper’ owner and director would surely have caused even more embarrassment than the news that Oyston had effectively paid himself an £11m ‘director’s salary’ for 2010-11 out of their parachute payments, despite having been told that he was disqualified from being either owner or director in that season!

In all of the above, the Premier League has let Blackpool FC and its fans down rather badly. Had it enforced its own rules properly in 2010, there is a chance the dynamic of the club might have been transformed and the game-plan might have been quite different. We would almost certainly have been spared some of the misery of the last five years.

Knowing now how Owen refused to comply with Premier League directives at the time also leaves his repeated claims that he wants to take the club back to the top flight sounding deeply suspect.

It has always only been about money with the Oystons, getting others to take the financial risks, and maximising their own profit while minimising their own expenditure – no way to run a football club or any other sustainable business.

The poor custodianship of Blackpool FC by the Oystons, their ‘illegitimate stripping’ of assets from the football club has been laid bare for the world to take note of.

The fact that the EFL is slow to act on the evidence is frustrating and will be the subject of strong debate when they meet with supporters on Tuesday. Other talking points on that day will be the discrepancy (and disconnect) in the rigour of rules between the Premier League and the EFL and the effectiveness with which the rules are applied.

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust clearly feels both organisations have failed the club and the fans and has written again to Damian Collins – chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee – to press the point. It is also why BST’s parliamentary petition requesting the government to introduce an independent regulator for English football deserves widespread support. You can sign up at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/213108. It only takes a couple of minutes to do so.

There has been some positive news this week, not the least of which was Blackpool’s tenacious win over Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night, which should help the push for League One survival.

Possibly of greater consequence for the long-term was confirmation that Valeri Belokon has appealed his EFL ban and is in discussions with the League on how it can be remedied. His commitment to a successful future for Blackpool FC appears to be unwavering.

The Trust has advised Owen Oyston to engage in discussion with Mr Belokon and we urge him again to do so, in mitigation of his own financial predicament and for the long-term viability of Blackpool FC. There really can be no future for the football club with the Oyston family involved.

In advance of the meeting with the EFL, BST is holding another general meeting – open to all supporters, you don’t have to be a BST member – at the Excelsior on Lytham Road tomorrow from 1pm.

If you wish to be briefed on the latest developments from this week’s court hearings (next one is today) or wish to contribute to the debate about points to be put to the EFL, come to the meeting and get involved in significant matters affecting your club.