The pantomime season traditionally ends soon after New Year - but at Blackpool FC it appears to be getting an extended run!
The breaking news on Saturday wasn’t that Blackpool still haven’t won a league game at home in three months, it was the revelation that CEO Alex Cowdy was relieved of his position just minutes after the 0-0 draw against Bristol Rovers at Bloomfield Road. It was like a piece of bad theatre and behind it lay rumours of a massive falling-out between Owen Oyston and club chairman Karl.
On Monday, Steve Edwards was appointed as interim club secretary with responsibility for football administration and then on Tuesday came the announcement that Sam Oyston has been made the new CEO of Blackpool FC.
Reaction among fans has ranged from hilarious disbelief to downright anger. The sudden removal of a competent and qualified CEO at a time of unrest and uncertainty (and during the transfer window) appears to be utterly irresponsible. To then appoint someone with no track-record and limited experience into the role of executive officer at a League One club would be questionable enough. To appoint a junior Oyston family member to that position is barely credible and has led to the EFL being inundated with protests by supporters, prompting that organisation to comment: ‘The appointment is a matter for the club and not the EFL. We will offer Sam all the support that he requires, as we do with all new employees at our clubs.’
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is hardly surprised that the EFL has taken this position. The Trust has been in regular correspondence with the EFL regarding the situation at Blackpool FC and other crisis clubs with ownership issues. The concerns of fans have been very well documented and the seeming reluctance of the EFL to respond in any constructive way continues to be deeply frustrating.
BST has proposed to the EFL that it uses what has happened at Blackpool as a ‘case review’ if it is serious about making practical improvements in the governance of the game, taking Judge Marcus Smith’s forensic ruling as a guide. The Trust had been stating its concerns for the club to the EFL for years. It took the ruling of a High Court judge to give those concerns legitimacy. It is to be hoped that finally the EFL will listen and act – the Trust is waiting for a formal response on that from the Chairman of the EFL to whom we wrote before Christmas. The tone of the letter was deliberately blunt to convey BST’s growing exasperation with the EFL’s refusal to confront difficult issues and its seeming inability to understand the concerns that supporters feel. We will share this letter publicly next week, along with the EFL reply if one has been received by then. The big fear is that the EFL will continue to be something of a cosy closed shop, heavily biased in favour of the owners of the 72 league clubs. That would really call into question how genuine the English League is about promoting fan engagement and structured dialogue!
With the January deadline for another £10 million payment to Mr Belokon fast approaching, it appears that Owen Oyston’s daughter Natalie has this week been made a director of Blackpool FC. There is speculation that this is more evidence of a factional split in the house of Oyston. It is most unedifying that our historic football club is in this amount of turmoil. What has been unfolding at Blackpool over several seasons is surely compelling argument enough why football clubs should not be hostages to ‘ownership’ fortune, why the lack of proper custodianship, care for the club and the community as evidenced by the Oyston years has to end soon and should not be allowed to happen again.
If anyone reading this still believes that BST is only a protest group with an anti-Oyston agenda, they have seriously missed the point of what a Supporters’ Trust is all about – a legally constituted, democratic fans organisation dedicated to improving the way our football club is run. That includes holding the owners and directors to account no matter who they are. It also includes trying to redress the imbalance that has seen many owners act too much in their own interests to the detriment of their clubs, supporters and communities. The arrogant attitude that says ‘I own it, I’ll run it as I see fit’ needs to be challenged and the idea of football clubs (and other sporting institutions) being regarded not just as any other business but as social enterprises needs to be championed, with legislation to underpin proper accountability if necessary.
As self-regulatory organisations, representing the clubs themselves rather than the supporters of those clubs, there appears to be a disconnect between how we, the fans, believe the game should be run and how the EFL and EPL, who listen to the owners of the clubs, are willing to act. This must change if supporters are ever to see as standard the sort of ethical custodianship that our clubs and communities deserve. As ever, it is the fans who will ultimately bring this about. In the coming weeks, the Trust will share with our members and the wider football community plans for the next phase of the Fans Not Numbers campaign. BST believes it is time to increase the pressure on the administrators of the sport. Our football clubs are far too important to be used as pawns in someone else’s game.
Never has there been a greater need for taking a principled stand. A strong and well supported Trust carries weight and there is no doubt that Blackpool fans need to stand together and act collectively. We are fighting for the very soul of our club and community. Every fan can play his or her part in helping to safeguard it for the future, so if you are not yet a member of BST or need to renew, please make a New Year resolution and do so now.