If concerned football fans could conjure up Three Billboards Outside Blackpool, Lancashire, what might their righteous message be? To hazard a guess, they’d read:
ILLEGITIMATE STRIPPING – AND STILL NO REDRESS! – HOW COME, EFL?
It is nearly four months since Marcus Smith handed down his judgement on the Oystons’ financial machinations at Blackpool FC. It was, by any standards, one of the most remarkable indictments of an organisation and the way it has been run that many people have ever seen; forensic in its analysis, scathing in its conclusions and – as events turned out – permitting no realistic grounds for appeal.
In the intervening 100 plus days, what have the EFL done in response? They held a meeting on the 12th day after the ruling - but so far they have told no-one anything about what was discussed there, any conclusions they might have reached or any plans they may have devised for a response to what is patently an unacceptable state of affairs at one of their football clubs.
They've processed a lot of correspondence from concerned Blackpool fans, but they have a standard template for those replies, so the burden has been minimal and the turn-round a matter of days, although the replies say nothing of substance.
Dealing with a letter from the elected chairperson of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust apparently proved a bit trickier. Here they stalled for four and a half weeks before sending a reply (from the Customer Enquiries team) to an e-mail that had actually been sent to the chairman of the EFL Board. (He opted not to respond in person.) The reply seemed to be a cut-and-paste amalgam of a lot of different templates, so badly was it constructed. Not surprisingly, it failed to deal with any of the substantive points put in the original communication to the EFL.
Since that less than satisfactory response in mid-January:
- At least four members of the Oyston family have been appointed to/resigned from/been dismissed from positions at the club (some managing more than one of the above).
- The Oystons have appeared in court twice more, being found in technical breach of their obligations on one occasion and in actual breach on the other.
and still Messrs Lenagan, Harvey and EFL colleagues apparently sleep on...
Section 8 of the EFL website sets out an impressive array of actions the League can take in respect of failings at one of their clubs. Some of these measures are quite draconian; some amount to no more than a giving the club a gentle slap on the wrist. However, it is impossible for concerned supporters to know which, if any, of these powers have been deployed in the case of Blackpool FC because the club isn't telling and the EFL seem quite shy about revealing what they might have done.
The suspicion, of course, is that they have not used any of the powers available to them. Which begs a number of questions:
- What is making them stay their hand regarding the Oystons? Surely it can't be a lack of evidence. Marcus Smith alone provided around 160 pages of it.
- Why was their approach to Mr Belokon so different? They were swift to act upon a ruling from a kangaroo court in Kyrgyzstan when it was brought to their attention (supposedly by Karl Oyston) but they appear loth to take notice of a ruling from the High Court in London.
As it stands, that judgement against Mr Belokon by the EFL has constrained the ability of the High Court to act in one respect, and threatens to constrain Mr Belokon's right to the full range of legal redress in another. It smacks of incompetence and clumsiness at the very least.
This far-from-ideal scenario is about to move into a fourth month of non-answers, obfuscation and tactical silence on behalf of the EFL. It is beginning to look as though the top dogs at the EFL are stooges at best (for having been taken in by Owen and Karl Oyston over several years) or expensive lapdogs at worst.
When the appropriate authorities don’t act appropriately or with authority, then it’s time for ordinary fans to give them a wake-up call. That is why Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is encouraging all football fans of this and other clubs to join in a planned peaceful demonstration outside the EFL headquarters in Preston next Friday afternoon, 2nd March.
BST believes the EFL could have constructively engaged with the Trust over what has occurred at Blackpool FC. Our frustration with their apparent refusal to act or even respond to the revelations about inappropriate custodianship of Blackpool FC is well-documented. The planned demonstration is intended to remind the EFL that fans are vital stakeholders in the game and to show the strength of dissatisfaction with their response when it comes to dealing with rogue owners.
There is a train from Blackpool South at 13:48 (the ‘EFL Special’ to Preston) but for those who can't make that train, the plan is to meet at Preston Station for 14.30pm and then to march down Fishergate for the peaceful Fans United protest outside EFL House. BST has agreed to be a point of contact/liaison for Lancashire Police, who are happy with the arrangements.