Oyston/Belokon saga one year on: What's happened since last year's High Court ruling?

Exactly 365 days ago Owen Oyston's 30-year grip on Blackpool FC appeared to have been dealt a decisive blow.

Tuesday, 6th November 2018, 8:11 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th November 2018, 9:23 am
Valeri Belokon and Owen Oyston remain at loggerheads
Valeri Belokon and Owen Oyston remain at loggerheads

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In the High Court last November 6, the Oystons were ordered to buy out former director Valeri Belokon for £31.27m after it was found they had illegitimately stripped the club of cash following the club’s promotion to the Premier League in 2010.

Justice Marcus Smith found that the Oystons had unfairly prejudiced the club’s former president, who accused them of “improperly” extracting tens of millions of pounds from the club.

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The judge found in his favour and the club was put up for sale four days later.

But since then, what has happened?

In December 2017, an initial £10m payment was made to Belokon after Oyston managed to stump up the cash with the help of a loan.

However, the 84-year-old missed the second £10m instalment in January, leading to Justice Marcus Smith scrapping his original payment schedule.

He subsequently put power in the hands of Belokon, whose lawyers Clifford Chance were told they could take Oyston’s properties and shares to auction to help raise the money.

The order, which came into effect at the start of July, included Oyston’s shareholding in Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Limited, the company that owns the majority of shares in the football club.

However, the auction process has yet to proceed, with the latest court hearing last month eing told that Oyston was “disobeying” court orders. The judge attached a penal notice as a result.

Away from court, things seemed to be progressing in July, when Oyston, joined by daughter and club chairwoman Natalie Christoper and business associate Jonathan Disley travelled for talks with Belokon in his home country of Latvia.

It was initially understood the meeting went well, with Belokon willing to grant Oyston more time to conclude what was described as a “complicated transaction” with Disley that would go some way to repaying the debt, with the auctioning off of Oyston’s assets put on hold in the meantime.

However, the deadline was missed and no further news emerged.

That remained the case until the start of August, when Oyston released a 1,000-word statement on the club’s website offering his controlling stake in the club to Belokon for £5m.

However, his offer made no mention of the Bloomfield Road stadium, hotel or training ground. The latter is currently considered unusable, with the squad training in Preston.

It was the first public announcement from either side since the two parties met in Latvia the previous month. Belokon made no public response to the offer.

At the end of August, Natalie Christopher, in her first interview as the club’s chairwoman, told BBC Radio Lancashire the club was no longer for sale.

She said: “Whatever people think of him (Owen), good or bad, he does love the club and I think he’d be devastated not to be a part of it any more.

“In an ideal situation for him, he’d like to be able to agree a settlement and find the money and move on from this. He’ll only sell if he absolutely has to.”

Last month, on the eve of Blackpool’s clash with neighbours Fleetwood Town, Oyston released a further statement through the club website, again claiming Belokon had refused to take over the football club.

The Latvian again made no response to the statement.

During this time, the EFL also faced criticism from Blackpool supporters.

The EFL responded by hosting a meeting in the town in March, attended by it chief executive Shaun Harvey.

But Christine Seddon, chair of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, says the EFL must take their share of the blame for the ongoing situation at Bloomfield Road.

That’s why the Trust decided to organise tonight’s vigil to turn the focus back on the football authority.

She said: “The point of the vigil is to emphasise the point that Blackpool fans are still on the outside when we want to be back on the inside.

“It’s really taking a pop at the footballing authorities because we really believe that when the EFL have a 163-page document, why on earth haven’t the EFL done something about it?

“The fact that it’s now a year on and they haven’t even officially commented on what has happened is staggering. This is a supposedly a professional club within the Football League and they’re the authority in charge of it, but they don’t seem to think it’s worthy of a public comment.

“So that’s really what this is about, to highlight that, yes, we’ve had this judgement but this was an opportunity for the EFL to use Blackpool as a case review. We’ve actually provided them with a case review and they still haven’t done anything about it.

“Of course we’re not the only club with problems but we certainly are an extreme example.

“The fact they’ve now got a legal document was a gift to the EFL. It’s there in black and white but they’ve failed to use it. To not even comment on it is completely unacceptable.

“Twelve months is a very long time to not do something. It’s really not on.

“This judgement did actually happen. It’s still there and it’s a matter of public record but Blackpool fans are still suffering, so we want something doing about it.”

The Gazette approached Owen Oyston for comment but received no response. Valeri Belokon’s representatives declined to comment, although they did say they were unable to issue a statement while the legal process was ongoing.

“Unfortunately the legal process takes a lot of time”, a spokesperson said.