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BST Gazette Column 02/02/2018

BST02/02/2018

Blackpool FC’s bizarre soap opera continues to twist and tease.

On Saturday planned tributes to Jimmy Armfield took place against the backdrop of Blackpool’s game being postponed an hour before kick-off even though both managers wanted the fixture to go ahead. Many a match has been played inside Bloomfield Road on a more dangerous surface than that one was.

Some fine and fitting tributes were paid to Jimmy both around his statue and inside the stadium and it was heartening to see and hear so many fans coming together on the day to pay their respects to Blackpool’s finest in the place where he made his reputation, although it was a somewhat surreal experience.

On Monday the Oystons were denied permission by the Court of Appeal to contest November’s High Court ruling. They appealed on four counts and all four were refused by Lady Justice Asplin who concluded that any appeal would have ‘no real prospect of success’. This came as no surprise to most observers but appears to have shocked the Oystons and thrown them into something of a spin.

Then on Wednesday the deadline for payment of the second instalment of £10 million to Valeri Belokon passed without payment being made, meaning that technically the Oystons are now in breach of court. It remains to be seen what action Mr Belokon will take next.

Rumours abound that Owen Oyston, who really doesn’t want to sell the club, is still looking for ways to raise the money and retain control of Blackpool FC while others are counselling him on the advisability of striking a deal to mitigate some of the huge financial loss that is pending.

Quite honestly it is becoming almost pointless to speculate. As far as most supporters are concerned, these are still deeply damaging days for the football club. There are significant changes being introduced on the administrative side, the January transfer window closes without the team being strengthened to any significant degree and the prospect of a relegation battle, unthinkable three months ago, begins to look like a real possibility while wrangling over future control of the club continues to dominate the storyline. What the fans want is an end to this nightmare and the opportunity to support our team anew under owners who share our ambitions to rebuild a community club with pride, passion and the aspiration to succeed.

A fact-finding delegation from Blackpool Supporters’ Trust got a real sense for what is possible when we were given a behind-the-scenes look at Burnley FC as their guests on the day they were at home to Manchester United. Burnley’s efforts to engage with and cater to their community of supporters was hugely impressive in so many ways and the goodwill they have generated through doing the right things in the right way cannot be underestimated. Some of what was learned that day will feed back into BST’s own supporters’ manifesto of how it might be possible to do things differently and better one day at Blackpool FC.

In the meantime, it looks as though there are a few more twists to come yet in our tragi-comedy and the courts may continue to play a key role. It begs the question: what on earth do the FA and the EFL make of what has happened at Blackpool FC and what is currently unfolding here? As the key organisations looking after the game they – and the EFL in particular - ought to truly alarmed by the implications of November’s High Court ruling and by subsequent developments - but if they are, you’d never guess! These supposed custodians of the game are showing scant regard for the good standing of Blackpool FC and its stakeholders. Under an effective administration, what has happened at Blackpool would either not have been allowed to happen in the first place or it would have been resolved ages ago. And yet, were it not for Valeri Belokon’s court action, the Oystons would be able to carry on doing what they have done for years – using Blackpool Football Club as their own personal cash machine while the club and the community around it dies. That is the real scandal.

We need a change in legislation to appoint an independent regulator to ensure that no other rogue owners can ever do to another football club what has been done to this one. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust has become so disillusioned with some aspects of the EFL that it is tempting to call them unfit for purpose. The focus of the second phase of the Fans Not Numbers campaign will be to highlight those areas quite specifically and to lobby and petition for change. Watch this space.

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