BST column: Blackpool’s FA Cup trip magnified the football authorities’ failings

Supporters were thin on the ground at Exeter last weekend
Supporters were thin on the ground at Exeter last weekend

As a supporters’ trust, BST has to feel some considerable sympathy for Exeter City, a football club owned by its supporters.

Prior to last Saturday’s FA Cup first round match at St James’ Park, Blackpool had last played Exeter City at Wembley in the 2017 League Two Play-Off Final.

As Blackpool fans, we wouldn’t have wanted the outcome of that game to have been any different, but Exeter’s failure to gain promotion that season was obviously a bitter blow for a supporter-owned club.

On Saturday the Seasiders beat the Grecians again, and while we wouldn’t have wanted that result to have gone the other way either the ongoing boycott by Blackpool fans caused considerable collateral damage.

Consider this: Exeter have just opened a new stand and were hoping for a draw that would bring a large away following to make for a good atmosphere and decent gate receipts. Instead, the official away attendance was just 113.

To add insult to injury, the Devon club had to share 45 per cent of the match-day revenue – raised mostly by their own fans – with Blackpool FC.

Those are the rules of FA and League Cup competition, the luck of the draw. And while it would be disingenuous to suggest that maybe Mr Oyston could gift back Blackpool’s 45 per cent, seeing as he is the reason there were so few Blackpool fans at Exeter (and at Wembley in 2017), one can imagine Exeter hope they don’t have to play Blackpool again until our situation is resolved. That said, Exeter Supporters’ Trust remains fully supportive of our ethical boycott and understands why it is necessary.

The Exeter example is not unique, of course. The ethical boycott/not-a-penny-more initiative, now in its fourth season, has had a significant impact not just within Blackpool, where vastly reduced match-day attendances have contributed to the fall in visitor numbers to our town, but also via a ripple-effect onto other clubs and communities as Blackpool fans are also forgoing away games in numbers.

Perhaps it is something the EFL and the FA ought to give serious consideration to. And before anyone comes back with the predictable but facile argument that the boycotters are to blame for the situation, remember this: Owen Oyston failed the Premier League’s Owners and Directors Test in 2010 and the EPL instructed him to sell his shareholding but then omitted to follow through.

Oyston fails the EFL’s Owners & Directors Test on exactly the same criteria but the EFL chooses to misinterpret its own statutes and responsibilities and does nothing.

Blackpool is in this predicament because it has an owner who has proved an unworthy custodian, who has illegitimately stripped this football club of assets and who has taken legal action against fans who called him on it.

It is a scandal that it was allowed to happen in the first place. It is a scandal that it took a civil action in the High Court by a disenfranchised minority shareholder to confirm the truth of what has been going on at Blackpool and still the football authorities do nothing to resolve the shambles. The EFL even confirmed its support for Sam Oyston when he was appointed CEO!

Last week, over 160 Blackpool fans congregated outside Bloomfield Road to mark the first anniversary of the High Court judgment, each fan holding up a page of Justice Marcus Smith’s damning forensic judgment of the Oystons.

The slow and painful saga is causing widespread unhappiness among the supporters and is a blight on the town.

The football authorities are letting down a famous club and its community in their ongoing tacit support for an owner who fails their basic ethical criteria, who has frankly done little of good in the club and the community over his 30 years in charge and who has in recent times been directly and indirectly culpable of causing incalculable harm.

The vigil on November 6 was a timely reminder of exactly what so many people are protesting about and how unacceptable the lack of action from the football authorities is.

The next time Shaun Harvey, CEO of the EFL, talks about “keeping our clubs in business for the benefit of the community and the fans” and “promoting the positive contribution made by our clubs” he might question how good a job is being done right on his doorstep here in Blackpool.