GAZETTE OPINION: Oystons must be in a state of utter turmoil
The Gazette reporters Steve Simpson and Matt Scrafton give their verdict on the fallout from Monday's momentous High Court ruling.
There have been many heart-stopping moments in the history of Blackpool Football Club, not least the Matthews Final in 1953 and the 3-2 Wembley play-off victory over Cardiff City in 2010 that took the club to the dreamland of the Premier League.
But nothing that has happened in the entire history of the club can possibly compare in terms of its magnitude and meaning than the decision that the Oyston family must pay their one-time ally but now court-room adversary Valeri Belokon the sum of £31.27m.
Jaw-dropping does not come close to describing such seismic, unprecedented events and the Oystons must now be in state of utter turmoil, but one precisely of their own making.
To put it in its starkest terms, their selfish actions have caught up with them in a modern-day morality tale.
The Seasiders have hailed their fair share of heroes over the years - the two Stans, Matthews and Mortensen, Jimmy Armfield and Ian Holloway - but those disaffected Blackpool fans, who have been dismayed and disgusted with the way that the club has been run, now have someone else to put in their own hall of fame, Mr Justice Marcus Smith, who issued such a damning indictment of the disgraced Oyston regime.
They could almost be reading from the same script as the judge with his crushing, revelatory remarks, accusing the Oystons of ‘illegitimate stripping of Blackpool FC’. Such a condemnation could hardly be clearer.
It is the worst possible verdict on the Oystons’ stewardship of the club and confirms what the fans have been saying for years. Credit to those single-minded supporters for being right all along, sticking to their guns and refusing to have anything to do with the club until the Oystons were brought to account - and how they have been brought to account.
Though the disenfranchised fans have won the most notable court victory, perhaps beyond their wildest imagining, the jubilation must be tempered by deep concern for what the future holds.
In the short term there could well be major consequences, with the Oystons’ assets frozen.
The family’s legal team have already said that the gigantic pay-out of £31.27m would ‘financially cripple’ the club and there has even been speculation about receivership or going into administration.
As to the financial implications, the reaction of some supporters has been, ‘They would say that, wouldn’t they?’ but it goes deeper.
This, they would argue, is the first significant step to the supporters getting their wish and seeing the Oystons leave the club in no little state of disgrace.
But the judgement poses just as many questions as it does answers.
The departure of the Oystons looks like becoming a reality but no-one seems clear how the vacuum will be filled.
As it stands, Valeri Belokon cannot be the man to come to the club’s rescue as he has failed the EFL owners and directors’ test, but in the light of recent happenings within a London courtroom there could be grounds to appeal against that.
In the light of the judge’s findings this week, the question has to be asked whether or not the Oystons now pass such a test.The answer would have to be a resounding ‘no’.
That is something for the EFL to sort out as a matter of urgency as they now have to get involved. maybe reversing one decision (against Belokon) and instituting internal proceedings against the Oystons.
Blackpool has been no stranger to boardroom controversy over the years.
Back in 1978, there was a famous spat between manager Allan Brown and the club chairman Billy Cartmell - that ended with Brown getting the sack, but not before he went public and labelled Cartmell a ‘back-stabbing’ rat.
It made headlines nationally at the time, but in the light of this week’s happenings, it seems of little consequence compared to the resolution of the Oyston versus Belokon court arbitration.
The Oyston involvement at Bloomfield Road began back in 1988, when Owen stepped in.
There is no question that but for his intervention at that critical time the club might well have gone under as it was threatened with bankruptcy at the time.He deserves credit for this, though no-one ever quite bought the idea of him coming into save the club aboard a dashing white charger.
To his credit. the club did pull round under his regime, despite a few very rocky bumps along the road, like the deeply unpopular sacking of manager Billy Ayre.
In 1996 they famously came close to promotion from the old Division Two via the play-offs, only to lose in the play-offs to Bradford City. Sam Allardyce got the sack on the back of that loss.
Either by good luck or good management (maybe a combination of both, plus the inspired appointment of Holloway) the pinnacle of achievement for the Oyston regime came in 2010, when the club secured Premier League football. It gave the club and its supporters a place in the big-time again, where the Seasiders had lorded it in their pomp in the 1950s, when they were a football power in the land.
Sadly, enjoyment of the Premier League era, including notable home and away wins over Liverpool, is tempered by what happened to the cash accrued in the top-flight.
We now know where a lot of it went. What we simply don’t know is where Blackpool go next.