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BST Gazette Column 13/04/2018

BST13/04/2018

Eight goals and six points in four days have eased the Seasiders away from the League One drop zone. A win over local rivals Fleetwood Town on Saturday would virtually guarantee safety. If we’d been told at the start of the season that this was to be a year of consolidation on the field, many fans would probably have settled for a respectable mid-table finish, given all that has been happening behind the scenes: the game-changing High Court rulings in Mr Belokon’s favour, the sacking of Karl Oyston as chairman, two CEOs gone, the club allegedly up for sale, the owner’s position looking increasingly untenable and the messages coming from a spokesperson for the Oystons sounding more fantastic by the week.

Social media has been full of discussion about the statement released by Blackpool FC last Friday, promising new investors and a return to the Premier League. That statement, coming as it did at 6pm on the day that chairwoman Natalie Christopher had claimed the outstanding debt of £25 million would be paid to Mr Belokon, appears to have been yet another smoke and mirrors exercise. Apart from anything else, Owen Oyston would be forced to relinquish any shares in the club before it could return to the Premier League. Realistically, the likelihood of any savvy investment group being prepared to plough money into Blackpool FC whilst the Oystons are in any way connected, the fans are boycotting, the club is losing circa £45, 000 a week and Valeri Belokon is still owed £25 million is surely the product of someone’s fevered imagination.

What this continuing melodrama highlights is the fact that football fans, whichever club they support, are largely at the mercy of whoever their owner is at any given time. It is an insufficiently regulated lottery which has given rise to the appalling situation of an historic sporting asset like Blackpool FC, which in ordinary circumstances would be supported by thousands of people and which sits at the heart of the community it serves, being used as a pawn in someone’s unscrupulous game.

Most Blackpool fans realised a long time ago that the Oystons, despite Owen’s protestations to the contrary, do not have the best interests of the football club and its supporters at heart. Few others have had the running of their club exposed in a court of law like Blackpool has and yet it seems that there is still very little that long-suffering supporters can do except wait.

It is understandable that some are becoming impatient, are beginning to question what is actually happening with the club and what Valeri Belokon’s intentions are. Mr Belokon invested in our football club in all good faith back in 2006, achieved promotion to the Premier League within his five-year target and throughout these recent, turbulent years has kept contact with Blackpool fans. He has consistently maintained his love for Blackpool FC and his intention to be part of its future. The EFL has to pave the way for that to happen by overturning their disqualification of him and Owen Oyston has to prove he is serious about complying with the High Court ruling by offering the club and the stadium at a realistic valuation to Mr Belokon in part settlement of his debt.

It has to be remembered that the football authorities (the EPL, EFL and FA) have not covered themselves in glory in any of this. They have failed to adequately implement their own statutes of governance and it only because Mr Belokon has taken out a civil action to seek redress for unfair prejudice that the ‘illegitimate stripping’ of our club by the Oystons has been forensically exposed.

That just serves to underline the importance and necessity of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust campaigning to get the government to appoint an independent regulator so that all football fans, not just those of Blackpool FC, can feel the ethical running of their football club is not dependent on pot luck. Some sort of licensing system is required which will provide a framework for the way football clubs can be run and which will limit the amount of damage that can be done by individual owners and directors. It is a reform that is long overdue, but it will still take months of sustained pressure to get all parties mobilised to enact it.

In the meantime, as fans we can only watch and wait for the final scene of the melodrama to be played out at our wreck of a football club. The majority of Blackpool supporters continue to press in the most effective way we can by withholding our revenue and campaigning for regime change. The formation of BST is one of the most positive things to come out of the last few catastrophic years and a strong and principled Supporters’ Trust will continue to contribute to the stability of our fan base and the resurgence of our club once the business side of this dispute is finally settled. Eventually we will then be able to move forward under new ownership. If that new ownership turns out to include Valeri Belokon, then Blackpool fans are sure to welcome him with open arms.

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