At the last home game, the number of Bradford City supporters exceeded the number of paying Blackpool fans inside a two-thirds empty Bloomfield Road. We are led to believe this pattern will repeat itself when Coventry City visit the seaside tomorrow. That remarkable statistic might well be called a tipping point in the plunging fortunes of our football club.
Fortunes: that’s an interesting word. From the perspective of most fans, the footballing fortunes of the team have been in marked decline over the last three years - a fairly damning indictment of the management of Blackpool FC who are singularly failing to offer their customers what we want. By contrast, from the perspective of the owners, Blackpool FC has been a profitable business for a number of years, “cash rich” even and, oh yes, the envy of the football league or some such claim. It will be interesting to see what the financial results for the year to May 2015, due imminently, have to reveal about the trending state of the business.
What would club president Valeri Belokon have to say about all this? Actually, we don’t need to wonder – it’s on record from past interviews: “I thought I was investing in a club and I feel as though I’ve invested in the Oyston family….It would be fair if they told the fans ‘We love money more than the club.’”
Apparently Mr Belokon was urged by the Oystons to spend money on specific targets to strengthen the squad during the Premier League season, in the same way that Valeri had funded the signing of Charlie Adam. It’s alleged that they told him he could put in more of his own money if he wished, but they would not be putting in any of theirs. That appears to have been the moment when the penny dropped for Mr Belokon. “They shouldn’t have needed my money.” He subsequently opposed the £11m payment to Owen Oyston and various other payments but was outvoted.
We are bringing this up now not because of Mr Belokon’s high court action – although that is gathering momentum – but because the Supporters’ Trust is engaging in an initiative, at Councillor Williams’ instigation and mediated by the Football League, to try and meet with the owners to discuss options for repairing relations between the fans and the club. It looks like a tall order, with the odds firmly stacked against it.
Fans know that it was Mr Belokon’s investment that propelled the club to the Championship and the Premier League. They believe that the parachute payment money should have sustained the club at Championship level, at least, for many seasons. Apart from the issues of transparency and trust that have to be addressed, supporters will need some convincing that the owners don’t love money more than the club, and that they are prepared to commit to the levels of investment in the infrastructure and the team that are necessary to achieve success on the field. There have been too many empty words. Specific, measurable and target-dated commitments are what are required now if bridges are to be built and the declining footballing fortunes of the club are to be reversed. It’s payback time.