When Blackpool supporters look back and reflect upon the events of 2016, the last couple of months could prove to be a turning point for the club and its fans.
In November, the action for defamation brought against Jeremy Smith by the Oystons was dropped at the last minute in a dramatic turn of events at Liverpool, when the Oystons realised they could not win the case. Last week, the action against Paul Crashley and the fans’ message board Back Henry Street was struck out by the court. In an irony not lost on those present, this coincided with the first of the long overdue legal proceedings being taken against the Oystons by Blackpool FC President, Valeri Belokon. Over three days in Manchester’s Court of Civil Justice, evidence was given under oath and cross-examinations made concerning the Oyston/Belokon joint venture development of the South Stand. These proceedings signal the start of changes which will affect our football club in the long term, whatever the final outcome may be.
The breakdown in the relationship between the Oystons and Belokon mirrors the collapse in the relationship between fans and the owners. For many Blackpool supporters, Mr Belokon's investment in both the infrastructure of the club and the players was the catalyst for progress which had been so sadly absent for many years. To witness such a rapid deterioration in the relationship between the owners and the Club President after such unprecedented success has been both alarming and frustrating, leaving supporters confused and wondering what the future holds.
Almost as soon as Karl Oyston declared that he would never engage in dialogue with Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, BST made contact with Mr Belokon (who is a 20% shareholder in Blackpool FC) and his colleague Kaspars Varpins (a director of the club). That contact has been maintained for several years. Many issues have been the subject of discussion but the main concern has always been the future well-being of the club.
The most recent of these meetings took place last week in Manchester when Mr Belokon and Mr Varpins met with the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Trust. BST took the opportunity to express the concerns of all Blackpool fans at the state of our club and to try to establish what role Mr Belokon would wish to play in the future of our football club once the outcome of the two legal actions is known. They assured Mr Belokon that although the majority of Blackpool fans are currently boycotting home games, that same majority are ready and waiting to return just as soon as they have owners who will put football first. Whilst BST has been requested to keep the details of the meeting confidential for the time being, Mr Belokon agreed to send a seasonal message to Blackpool fans and we look forward to receiving it in due course.
For Jeremy Smith, Paul Crashley and their families, this Christmas and New Year will be much happier than the last one, now that the threat of litigation is no longer hanging over them. For the first time, perhaps, the Oystons will be able to empathise with such supporters in that they themselves face legal action with an uncertain outcome. Sadly, there are still Blackpool fans who are waiting to hear what will happen in their particular cases. Again, we would urge the Oystons - for the benefit of everyone involved - to drop all litigation against supporters.
During the festive season, when we should be contemplating goodwill to all, it is very apt that one of the good things to come out of the troubles faced by Blackpool fans is friendship. Much has been made of the differences and divisions between some fans but our love for our football club and the community it serves is also what unites us. Many people have felt a strong sense of camaraderie with fellow Seasiders in recent times and it is this support for each other which will win through when we reclaim our football club.
With this community spirit in mind, BST held its first Christmas party at the Excelsior on Lytham Road last Friday. As a Supporters' Trust, we wanted to put something back into the local community, especially as so many businesses have been negatively impacted by the downturn at the football club. We are delighted to announce that over £600 was raised by Blackpool supporters for The Boathouse Youth, a local charity for young people in Blackpool based in the Bloomfield Ward.
The Trust wishes Gary Bowyer and the players both a happy and a successful festive season as they face two tough away games in their attempt to stay in touch with the play-off hopefuls. The Christmas and New Year period is always a strange one for a professional footballer – but that is situation normal at Bloomfield Road these days.
Best wishes also go to Jimmy Armfield, our club Vice-President, to President Valeri Belokon and to all at Bloomfield Road who have the best interests of Blackpool FC at heart.
Finally, a Merry Christmas to all Blackpool fans everywhere, with a fervent wish that as supporters we will have reasons to be cheerful in 2017.