Gazette opinion: Bury's expulsion a tragic inevitability after EFL ignored Blackpool's warning signs

The date was February 2018 and I had just met with Shaun Harvey at the EFL’s headquarters in Preston.

Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 11:01 am
Blackpool fans protest outside the EFL's headquarters in Preston last year

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I asked him a wide range of questions relating to Blackpool’s off-the-field crisis, and more pertinently, why the EFL hadn’t done anything to stop it.

Why was Owen Oyston, a convicted rapist and proven asset stripper, deemed fit to own the club?

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Why was Valeri Belokon, the Latvian businessman who was instrumental in the club’s glorious rise to the Premier League, banned from taking a director’s role?

Why had the EFL done nothing when the High Court, in minute detail, had laid bare the Oyston family’s mismanagement?

When I put it to Harvey that the EFL’s inaction would only increase calls for independent regulation, taking control out of their own hands, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered something along the lines of: “so be it”.

Blackpool fans will have known long before then that the EFL was not fit for purpose. The warning signs were there.

It is a sad - nay - tragic state of affairs that the death of a 134-year-old club is what it takes to get football reform onto the national agenda, when it’s something Blackpool fans have been banging the drum for for the past three or four years.

They had to endure years of being shunned, derided and divided. Yet, to their credit, the always-impressive Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (BST) remained constructive, refusing to succumb to mindless criticism and abuse - which, you’d have to admit, they were well within their rights to do.

BST launched a petition urging the government to introduce independent regulation of English football in March 2018. It was largely ignored outside of the Fylde Coast, gaining just 14,500 signatures.

The Trust also put together a case study of Blackpool’s managed decline and put it to the EFL, advising them to use it as an example of how things are NOT done and what lessons can be learned, to ensure this doesn’t happen to another club.

It was already too late for Blackpool, who had to endure a painful, four-year boycott, before the receivers and Simon Sadler came to the rescue earlier this year.

The EFL, of course, ignored them completely and failed to heed their advice. So the recent turmoil at both Bury and Bolton Wanderers should really come as no surprise.

The EFL is an organisation that, aside from telling everyone how the previously-known Checkatrade Trophy, a competition widely regarded as a joke and a waste of time, is the best thing since sliced bread, normally resorts to putting its fingers in its ears and pretending the chaos surrounding them isn’t happening.

The frustrating thing is, the EFL has power at its disposal to stop rogue owners from wielding such disarray.

Steve Dale, the owner of Bury, was allowed to buy the club for £1. This is despite having an involvement in 43 businesses that were liquidated.

The EFL didn’t even ask for proof of funds, just because they were so desperate to see the back of previous owner Stewart Day.

The EFL’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test surely would have stopped Dale from taking over had it been applied correctly.

This is the same ‘test’ that deemed Laurence Bassini fit and proper to take over at Bolton, although the deal never went through.

Bassini, if you don’t remember, had been made bankrupt on two previous occasions and banned by the EFL for three years in 2013.

In what universe should he be allowed to take over a football club? Especially one that had been through so much chaos as Bolton?

Much of that chaos was overseen by Ken Anderson, an owner that was permitted to run the Trotters despite previously being disqualified from being a company director for eight years after eight of his businesses went bust.

The list goes on and on, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The EFL eventually had no choice but to expel Bury, the league was becoming a laughing stock. But it should never have got that far in the first place. Regulation would have stopped that.

They ought to learn from the National League, who hold an annual AGM. If any club fails to demonstrate they have the sufficient funds to last the season, they are chucked out of the league.

It’s a brutal way to do things, but it would have stopped this situation getting as far as it did.

It begs the question, why does governance differ from the EFL to non-league? And again from the EFL to the Premier League? Surely there ought to be a widespread regulation of all clubs, irrespective of what division they’re in.

Where is the FA in all of this? Why have they completely absolved themselves of responsibility?

Bury’s situation should have been dealt with before the season started, to stop the scenario that has since unfolded where they have failed to play a game while everyone else is already five matches in.

League One will now run with 23 sides and only three clubs will face relegation. Who knows what will happen in League Two and the National League. It’s a farce from top to bottom.

“It is with a heavy heart that this situation has been forced upon us”, EFL executive chair Debbie Jevans said.

She’s got some temerity to claim the situation was “forced” upon the EFL. She’s completely oblivious, a lot of this was of the EFL’s own making.

The EFL had enough warning signs, yet they opted to sleepwalk into nightmare after nightmare.

It is fitting that Blackpool host Portsmouth this weekend, a meeting of two clubs that have been through the mire in recent times with rogue owners.

Portsmouth supporters were always gracious in their support to Blackpool fans when they were enduring their fight against the Oystons, even going as far to join in with their protests.

They knew what it felt like to be ignored, to feel completely helpless, to have no outlet to air their grievances.

You’d like to think their message to the EFL will be made loud and clear at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.