The exchange of open letters between councillor Tony Williams and Karl Oyston (both printed in the Gazette this week) has proved interesting and instructive. On Monday, councillor Williams called on the Oystons to agree to negotiate an honourable exit strategy from Blackpool Football Club ‘if they truly have any feelings at all for the town and the people of Blackpool’. He explained that the position he is taking is not personal, he just wants the best possible future for ‘one of our best assets’. He also added his call to that of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (in last week’s column) for persons of standing and influence in the town to speak out publicly in favour of the need for change at the top at Bloomfield Road.
Although the situation at the football club is mainly hurting the fans, the negative effect on the local community and the town as a whole should not be underestimated and therefore it is incumbent on the people of Blackpool, the business leaders, politicians, community chiefs, to get involved and help bring to an end this sorry saga. Blackpool fans have had to carry the burden of the problem for too long.
Karl Oyston’s response on Wednesday didn’t really address the councillor’s call for the Oystons to leave Blackpool FC. Instead it appeared to accuse Mr Williams of being inflammatory and of trying to make political capital out of the issues at the football club. It also made some condescending and quite disparaging personal comments about the councillor before concluding ‘What is required are solutions’. Mr Oyston is seemingly oblivious to the fact that councillor Williams had already proposed the most credible solution to the problems besetting the club.
Elsewhere in his open letter, Karl Oyston claimed that 20 years ago he made a conscious decision to work for the benefit of the town and community. However, he failed to explain how this decision had been translated into action. The evidence before us suggests that Mr Oyston was being somewhat disingenuous.
A team which has disappeared down the divisions in spite of the millions poured into the club since 2010, a lack of investment in the infrastructure, the complete breakdown in the relationship with supporters and the degeneration of the local area does not suggest a club being run for the benefit of the town and community. In fact, in March 2014, Mr Oyston stated in an interview with the Lytham St Annes Express that there were ‘no big plans’ for investment at the club because of a lack of investment in the town of Blackpool as a whole. ‘The club and the town are poised on the edge of a precipice and I’m more than prepared to sit down and talk with businesses and other stakeholders in Blackpool to come up with a strategy to make the most of what this unique place has to offer,’ added Oyston. ‘People are not willing to invest in Blackpool at the moment, the economic position the town is in makes it difficult so we have no big plans for investment at the club.’
With all the Premier League parachute payment funds at his disposal, what happened to Mr Oyston’s ‘conscious decision’ to work for the benefit of the town and community when he had the wherewithal to do so? A cash rich club with huge opportunities to progress would have benefitted the club and the town enormously, but the Oystons preferred to prioritise their other, non football businesses. Instead of taking a lead and encouraging others to follow suit, they chose to turn their backs on the town and the club which had brought them such riches.
Blackpool Football Club is a community asset. It should be treated with respect, as should the fans and the community that support it. There is widespread recognition that its best chance for a positive future is under changed ownership. Councillor Williams may have been the first local politician to openly call for the Oystons to announce their exit strategy but he is certainly not the only one who thinks it is necessary – and to his credit he doesn’t appear to be trying to make political capital out of the situation, despite Karl Oyston’s allegation to that effect.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust committee members have had many discussions with people connected to the town who have expressed in private their opinion that the Oystons ought to sell the club for the good of everyone. It is about time the conspiracy of public silence was broken. We call on those people to come forward, speak up and add your voice to those of the many fans who are making a stand to save our football club.
To Karl and Owen Oyston we say again: for the good of the town, the club and yourselves, face up to the reality of what you have done. Whatever the rights and wrongs of past years, your situation now as owners of this football club is untenable. Agree to sell the club and bring an end to this desperate chapter in the history of Blackpool FC.