Many of you will recognise this slogan: ‘Legal, decent, honest and truthful…’ It comes from the mission statement of the Advertising Standards Authority, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in the year Blackpool FC was relegated from the Premier League. The slogan concluded ‘…to the benefit of consumers, business and society.’ As Judgement Day 4 looms (the High Court Ruling in the Belokon v Oyston case), it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the stark facts of life under the current custodians – not everything might live up to the ASA slogan, were it applicable.
The football club was bought outright by Owen Oyston in 1988 ago for a pittance, with the proviso that everyone would sing to old blue-eyes’ tune: ‘I am committed to securing a successful future for the football club but it has to be done my way.’
Out would go the age-old custom of selling our best players to pay off club debts, of slopping around the lower leagues and playing/watching football in a ground that was falling down on all sides. Owen Oyston was going to take the club he’d fallen in love with aged two back to the toppermost, bank-rolled by his multi-million pound personal fortune and the first step – announced in February 1990 -was going to be Soccer City, a £60m revamp of Bloomfield Road. As if!
Of course none of this materialised. He possessed the wherewithal to make it happen but apparently had not the slightest intention of putting that personal fortune on the line – even though he professed to love Blackpool so much that he turned down an opportunity to buy Manchester United! It might seem a strange paradox, but as has been pointed out before, Oyston is no benefactor of the game in the way Jack Hayward was at Wolves or Jack Walker at Blackburn. His way appeared to be to keep the club just about afloat while looking for the opportunity to leverage business advantage.
When fans campaigned for more investment in the team which a decade later was still slopping around the lower leagues, they were invited to help raise the funds themselves via various ‘buy-a-player’ initiatives.
When plans to sell Bloomfield Road and relocate the football club fell through and the state of the ground became a matter of concern to the football league, eventually the North and West stands were redeveloped but this was largely financed by grants from the football authorities, not from Oyston’s personal coffers.
The current custodians’ real lack of ambition for the club (as distinct from their ambition for themselves on the back of whatever success the club may contrive) has been apparent for all to see for decades, despite Owen’s often repeated mantra that he’s working 24/7 to get us back to where we belong!
Despite widespread cynicism, real and concerted opposition to the current regime was only galvanised after two things had happened:
The first was the arrival of Valeri Belokon, whose financial injection helped to build the South Stand and to buy the players that took the club to the Premier League – proving that there were footballing rewards to be had even in a seaside town like Blackpool when investment matched with ambition created a positivity that made its own luck.
The second was the Oystons’ cynical squandering of the Premier League opportunity - if not illegal then unethical and certainly unforgivable. It could all have been so different. Monies that were earned by the efforts of the players and coaching staff could and should have been used to build years of sustainable success at Bloomfield Road but they were diverted elsewhere. Remember it was Karl Oyston who said: ‘Put football first? What utter crap!’ Top flight to bottom division in five years tells its own story.
One ex-manager commented that the fans had never taken the Oystons to heart and it had always been an uneasy relationship. The way the owners have managed the club during and since the Premier League season has destroyed their last shred of credibility in the eyes of thousands of supporters. They hold the fortunes of our team in hostage.
Even leaving aside the indignation caused by ‘textgate’ and the suing of fans, there have been too many glib promises made that were never delivered on – take for instance the saga of the new training facility, which is just one long-running bad joke now, or the ridiculous ‘Riga revolution’ – and it appears clear that the intention all along has been maximum yield from minimal investment. That’s not really a business plan to improve the football club. It’s not good for Blackpool FC. It’s not good for consumers – us, the supporters; it’s not good for the local economy; and it’s proving to be a disaster for the community of Blackpool. Thankfully Blackpool Council has seen fit to support the campaign for changes in football governance.
It is to be hoped that the High Court judgement in the Belokon v Oystons proceeding makes clear to all that the ‘the greatest trip’ has in fact been the greatest rip-off, prejudicial against the interests of Mr Belokon and by extension against the football club which we would all like to make many happy returns to once the Oystons have gone.