In off-the-field developments this week, it transpires that the Oystons have decided to go to the Court of Appeal to contest elements of Judge Marcus Smith’s 6th November ruling. That is no great surprise. It is a delaying tactic from which they will likely emerge either flush or bust. It is entirely consistent with the internal – if somewhat implausible – logic of their custodianship, whereby they maintain they only ever had the best interests of Blackpool FC at heart - even when there is a wealth of damning evidence to the contrary.
Also this week the Judge denied them any leeway on the £10m upfront payment which must, he insists, be made by Monday next, 4th December. He also refused two further requests, to have certain of their assets unfrozen at this point, and to be allowed twelve months to pay the balance of the award to Mr Belokon (subject to their appeal). He has summoned them back to another day in court before the end of this year to fix a schedule of payments that is likely to be between six and nine months.
As far as the average football fan is able to determine, this really begins to look like the endgame for the Oystons’ involvement in Blackpool Football Club. It is a cause for cautious optimism that maybe we can make a fresh start under new ownership before or by the close season.
Given we are entering a period of unprecedented uncertainty and likely change, it is important that as a Supporters’ Trust, BST should be anticipating how the Trust and the fan base can best be positioned to work together for the good of all Blackpool fans, for the good of the club’s future and for the community. Here is an insight into some of what is going on behind the scenes, in no particular order…
Because as fans we wish to ensure that no owner can ever take such cynical advantage of Blackpool FC again (or any other English football club for that matter), BST has formally requested the EFL to make robust changes to its rules for Owners and Directors (what used to be called Fit and Proper Persons Test) and to use the evidence of what has happened at Blackpool as a case study to help ensure such rules are water-tight. That will be discussed at a meeting with the EFL in London this evening. Pressure towards the same objective will be applied by phase two of the national Fans-Not-Numbers campaign in December, aimed at lobbying MPs to vote to legislate on governance reforms for the FA, EFL and EPL.
Because the Oystons’ legal team has been claiming in court, somewhat spuriously we believe, that the requirement to pay Mr Belokon £10m next week and the balance next year might have the effect of driving Blackpool FC into administration, BST is working closely with Supporters’ Direct to understand the protocols around such an event, as the regulations have been modified recently. It is an unlikely scenario, but it is one for which the Supporters’ Trust will have a contingency strategy.
The two hundred or so minority shareholders who between them have a 3% stake in Blackpool Football Club have not been well-respected by the owners. There hasn’t been a shareholders’ AGM in years and no dividends have been paid in a long time. It is quite possible, in light of the verdict of unfair prejudice in the Belokon case, that the minority shareholders could bring a similar action worth in the region of £1.5m. BST has already sourced someone who is prepared to fund initial investigations into the merits of such a claim, which will only be viewed as viable if sufficient fellow minor shareholders come forward to join in. Those holding shares in Blackpool Football Club Ltd (not BFC Properties – formerly Segesta) are invited to confidentially register their interest in such an action with BST. There will be no cost to them in doing so. Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if you have not already done so.
Since the club was put up for sale, rumours abound about consortia and individuals who might be interested in buying Blackpool FC, from China, through the Middle-East to closer to home. BST’s abiding wish is that the club should have owners who are passionate about the game of football, passionate about Blackpool as a place and passionate about our Football Club as a positive social force in the community. We still hope that Mr Belokon will have a role to play in the future of Blackpool FC, for it was his arrival and investment in Blackpool FC that gave us the best years this club has had in half a century.
Regardless of who takes over at Bloomfield Road, the Trust hopes the new owners will recognise the passion and commitment of thousands of principled fans who have been calling for change in the boardroom at Blackpool FC for several years. Properly democratic supporter representation in the running of the club has to be a key element in rebuilding a vibrant football club. Looking to the possibility that fans through the Supporters’ Trust could possibly be shareholders as well as stakeholders, BST is also working, with the help of Supporters’ Direct Community Share Unit, to develop the recently mooted Pledge concept towards a scheme that would allow all Blackpool fans to buy into having a financial stake in their club if a share-option opportunity can be created.
These may be times of unprecedented uncertainty for our beloved football club but they are also times of great potential. Without contraries there is no progression, as a wise man once said. We are at the start of a new and positive era for Blackpool FC and its supporters. Many doubted that it would ever happen, but it is coming. The future is bright, the future is tangerine!