UPDATED 4.40pm: Pool chairman: '˜I am not a bully'
Blackpool FC chairman Karl Oyston has accused club president Valeri Belokon of inciting fans '˜to make trouble' and predicted the Seasiders' fortunes will continue to dwindle.
He is defending himself in a bitter legal battle with Mr Belokon, a Latvian millionaire who claims the Oyston family have angered fans by using the club as their “personal cash machine”.
Mr Belokon, acting through his company VB Football Assets, a minor shareholder in the club, is seeking a ruling club owner Owen Oyston and son Karl are guilty of “unfair prejudice” against shareholders.
He alleges they “improperly” extracted millions of pounds from Blackpool FC funds following its short-lived but cash-rich promotion to the Premier League in 2010, using the money for their own benefit.
Denying the allegations, Mr Oyston said neither the value nor the “success” of the club had been prejudiced by him or his father and all payments out had been sanctioned by the board.
Mr Oyston said in a written statement to the court: “It is a fact that the fortunes of (the club) have dwindled and will continue to do so because of the fall of its fortunes on the pitch.”
The trouble on the pitch had been added to “by the actions of a small but highly vocal and active group of supporters who object to myself and my father retaining our interest in BFC”.
Mr Oyston said: “I believe that VB (Belokon) has been instrumental in inciting those fans to cause trouble, making it difficult to run the company in the best interests of the football club.
“I believe from disclosure (sic) I have seen that VB has been involved in inciting these fans which has caused them to make trouble.”
My Oyston told Mr Justice Marcus Smith, sitting at London’s High Court, that “one of the committee of the supporters’ groups which was entertained by VB in Riga published both my home and mobile numbers on the internet, causing me to receive over 4,000 abusive and threatening calls and text messages”.
He added: “These calls and messages included threats to my wife and children and protests were and continually are held at our home where criminal damage and trespass has occurred.”
Andrew Green QC, appearing for Mr Belokon, suggested to Mr Oyston in cross-examination that he was the son of a wealthy and powerful man who did not take kindly to anyone standing up to him.
Mr Green asked: “Are you a bully?”
Mr Oyston said: “Not in the slightest.”
Mr Green suggested there was no evidence to support Mr Oyston’s allegations of incitement, or that Mr Belokon had been guilty of tipping off the press in a media campaign.
He asked Mr Oyston whether he now wished to withdraw his “grave allegations” in court. Mr Oyston said: “No, I don’t”.
Earlier in the five-week hearing, Mr Green told the court that as a result of the Seasiders reaching the Premier League, the club received some £106 million.
The unprecedented influx of cash over five years from the Premier included £48 million in respect of the 2010/11 season, followed by some £58 million in “parachute payments” following Blackpool’s relegation at the end of the season.
Mr Green said: “Owen and Karl Oyston have treated Blackpool Football Club as the Oystons’ personal cash machine.”
The club was relegated at the end of the 2010/11 season from the Premier League to the Championship and ended up in League Two, the fourth and bottom league of English professional football. It has just gained promotion back to League 1.
Mr Green said that in the period of its decline, more than £29 million had been paid out of the club to Blackpool FC (Properties) Ltd, a company with family links formerly known as Segesta, and in 2012 an £11m “directors’ emolument” was paid to Zabaxe Ltd, the service company owned by Owen Oyston.
In his court statement, Mr Oyston said all payments had been properly approved at board level and denied claims that the club had been starved of funds.
He said in the year that the club was in the Premier League, the wages bill increased to over £12m and in the following three years, it amounted to over £27m “even though we were in the Championship”.
The club board could not accept allegations “that we starved the squad of funding or somehow brought about our downfall because of a lack of investment in the squad”.