Dear BST Member
As many of you are already aware, BST have been in dialogue with the EFL for some time regarding the ownership of not only our club but of the poor governance in football generally and their failure to act.
Attached are 4 documents which show our communications to date. We are deeply disappointed at the response we have had and have taken the decision, following consultation with other supporter groups, Supporters Direct (SD) and the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) as well as MPS and local councils, to make these documents public.
Tomorrow, Saturday 3rd February, we will launch a petition calling on the EFL to tackle failing clubs. If we can obtain 100,000 signatures, this will automatically force a debate in Parliament.
We hope we can count on your support to achieve this objective; we will keep you updated in due course.
1: Original Letter to Mr Lenagan
Dear Mr Lenagan,
Further to the recent Structured Dialogue meeting, I am compelled to write to you regarding concerns that we at Blackpool Supporters’ Trust have about the governance of the game and the relationship between the EFL and the fan base.
We are extremely disappointed at the EFL’s apparent failure to address the many issues facing supporters. The measures put in place so far have been woefully inadequate and the general feeling amongst fans is that the EFL simply do not “get it.” The absence of Shaun Harvey from the last meeting appears to show a disregard for the importance of these occasions and has not helped to give supporters any confidence that our concerns and suggestions are being taken seriously.
On the subject of supporter engagement – all clubs claim they engage with their supporters but Blackpool FC DO NOT in any meaningful or effective way. The information that the EFL relies on comes from the clubs so why do you take their word when in so many cases, they are the problem? At Blackpool, the Oystons were so determined not to engage with the largest, democratic fan group (BST) that they set up their own selected group of individuals in the guise of the Fans Progress Group. This was clearly an attempt to create a governance shield, to meet the EFL requirements without actually having to engage properly with the fans. Your failure to monitor such schemes means they have got away with it for far too long. Karl Oyston said he would never have an SLO at Blackpool and when the EFL insisted, he gave the title to the person who writes the match day programme – but he is just paying lip service. Blackpool’s SLO was appointed in name only, he never replied to any requests from BST and we understand that the nominated person has since left the club, with no replacement announced.
Is the EFL aware that Blackpool has no SLO and no dialogue with supporters in any meaningful sense? What procedures does the League have in place to detect when rogue clubs show a blatant disregard for the intended spirit of EFL rules?
The EFL consulting with clubs but not sharing the responses is insufficient. It is the SUPPORTERS who should be consulted – those on the receiving end of bad conduct who can tell you what is really going on at our clubs. Self-certification by owners is an insufficient safeguard, a box-ticking exercise. The EFL may represent the clubs (i.e. the owners) but if it cannot recognise the issues that supporters are complaining about then it is failing us all.
The situation at Blackpool FC presents the EFL with the best opportunity to review and revise its own procedures. What has happened at Blackpool at the hands of the Oystons, the very people who should be the guardians of the club, is scandalous and we seriously urge the EFL to reconsider using this as a case review without delay. The reason that BST put the case review idea forward in the first place was precisely because we want the EFL to be seen to lead on this and do something constructive. It is in all our interests for this to happen.
Among the EFL board members in charge of governance during the period when Blackpool FC were, to quote Justice Marcus Smith, being “illegitimately stripped” of assets was Karl Oyston – elected for a third term in 2013 when the running of Blackpool FC was already being called into question and serving until 2015. Leading the praise for Oyston’s re-election in 2013 was the then-EFL chairman, now FA chairman Greg Clarke who said, “It’s a pleasure to welcome Karl back to the board. Over the coming years his experience will be invaluable in shaping our organisation." Such comments should at least be a source of embarrassment and a huge incentive to ensure that such unfit and improper people cannot be allowed to get anywhere near any other club, ever. Surely the impropriety of a rogue owner being allowed to influence the very rules which enabled him to virtually destroy an EFL club is now evident?
It would be reasonable to assume that the parent organisation of our game would be desperate to find ways to self-legislate in this respect yet in spite of a damning and very public court ruling, the full extent of what the Oystons have done to an EFL club barely seems to have registered.
If current rules do not allow the EFL to take robust, effective action against rogue owners then it is time to get some new rules. 163 pages of irrefutable evidence from Justice Marcus Smith in the Belokon v Oyston legal action would be a good place to start.
Football fans are waking up to the fact that we are regularly viewed as little more than TV extras, required only to turn up at football matches to provide “atmosphere” for an increasingly global TV market, while unscrupulous owners line their own pockets and showcase their other businesses at our expense. Our beautiful game is in danger of leaving the fans behind and the movers and shakers appear to overlook the community aspect of football altogether. As fans, we have had enough and are determined to reclaim our game.
Football without fans is nothing, as Blackpool FC has already found out. If Blackpool fans can boycott matches in such numbers for such a long period of time, there is no reason why fans of other clubs won’t do the same when reform is not forthcoming.
We require you, the football authorities, to act resolutely and speedily for the good of all in the game, to bring the changes regarding responsible custodianship which our game so urgently needs. If the EFL won’t act, then we give you notice that we, the fans, most certainly will.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust
2) EFL's Reply
Thank you for your recent email regarding Blackpool FC, addressed to EFL Chairman Ian Lenagan, many apologies for the delay in providing this response to you.
The Chairman has read your letter and has been personally involved in the drafting of this response in the light of his earlier discussions with Blackpool supporters at the Supporters Conference at Wembley in 2016. He understands your concerns, visited Blackpool previously to discuss this matter – among others – with Karl Oyston, and has asked me to respond in some detail on his and EFL’s behalf.
Firstly I acknowledge your frustrations, and understand that supporters naturally have concerns regarding recent events at the Club. These were raised by Robbie Jackson as part of the recent structured dialogue session in December, along with general comments regarding the Club’s ownership. However with regards to Owners and Directors, it remains difficult for us to comment publicly on matters that relate to specific individuals.
You refer to Shaun Harvey’s absence at the structured dialogue meeting. He sent his apologies as unfortunately he was called away at very short notice. However his views were represented by other senior EFL staff in attendance who were able to provide the appropriate levels of feedback.
Turning to your comments regarding Blackpool’s Supporter Liaison Officer, we have been informed in response to our checking that the Club is currently looking to recruit for the role. They have again been made aware of the requirements of regulation 20.5, and have confirmed they will appoint as soon as is practically possible. Generally speaking, if any Club is found to breach EFL regulations, EFL will engage with them formally and ultimately they may be subject to further action.
The EFL has recently corresponded with both Andy Higgins and Robbie Jackson with regards to the proposal of the Case Review you refer to. We do understand your views regarding this and, at the recent EFL structured dialogue meeting, it prompted a discussion about various matters relating to Club ownership during which we updated the group on EFL’s strategic review of the conduct of owners, directors and executives which EFL instigated at the start of the 2017–2018 Season. We clarified that EFL are currently mid-way through the consultation with Clubs.
At this stage, it is obviously too early to speculate on what the outcome of the review will be but we expect it is something we can discuss at the next meeting in Spring, and any formal proposals would be dealt with at the AGM in June 2018. We recognise your willingness for this process to be expedited and took note of a number of comments and suggestions made at the meeting with regard to the review. We committed to feed those into the clubs’ and EFL’s decision-making discussions for consideration.
We well understand your strength of feeling in the matters you raise and recognise the considerable commitment you have made to watching and supporting your Club. As matters naturally move forward, we will endeavour to provide an update whenever appropriate.
Thank you again for contacting the EFL.
Supporter Services Department
3) Further Letter to Mr Lenagan
Dear Mr Lenagan
Thank you for the e-mail I received from Andrew Pomfret on 26th January, replying to points I put to you on behalf of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust in my e-mail of 23rd December. After waiting over a month for a response on some rather serious points, I have to say this latest communication from the EFL is extremely disappointing.
In particular, I note that you have failed to respond in any meaningful way to BST’s ideas regarding the development of a case review, using Blackpool FC as an example. Vague assurances about feeding our ideas into an opaque process that will not deliver conclusions until the summer - a full year after it was begun - really is not good enough. And the EFL’s continued insistence on consulting only with and through clubs remains baffling. It is not likely, in our view, to deliver any challenging conclusions that allow you to improve the manner in which the English game works.
Nor have you so far shared any of the conclusions you may have reached after your meeting to discuss the club on 18th November. Given events that were befalling our club at the time, I find that a scarcely credible position. It suggests that, contrary to what your organisation continues to say in public, meaningful engagement with supporters and their representative groups remains a very low priority for you.
You will appreciate that as Chairman of BST my prime responsibility is to the Trust’s members. You must be aware that a significant number of them have been lobbying your organisation directly for months, and I can tell you that the feedback we get from them is that they are increasingly dissatisfied with the stock non-answers that they are receiving. Now that I have had one of my own, I can fully empathise with them.
I want the members of BST to be fully appraised of the representations we are making on their be-half, and the work we are doing to keep these important governance issues in the public eye. The BST committee has, in the period since 26th January, taken some private soundings with key partners in other Supporters' Trusts, supporters' groups and national organisations about how best to do that. To that end, we have agreed that I will be sharing with BST members my e-mail to you of 23rd December, Andrew Pomfret’s reply on your behalf and this latest response from me.
I will also be sharing with them the attached document, which is BST’s proposal for a “model” case review, in this instance tailored to address our particular case. As well as circulating this to our members, the committee will also be sharing it much more widely with other Trusts, national supporters organisations, key figures in Parliament as well as a range of contacts in the national press and elsewhere. Finally, tomorrow we will be launching an on-line petition which states that we believe the EFL is unfit for purpose and needs to be radically overhauled if it is to be truly effective.
Despite all this, you will note the attached case review document repeatedly stresses that we believe that the national game is crying out for leadership on the topics it covers, and that we believe the EFL should be the body that provides that leadership. In our particular case, our club’s owners are back in court on Monday and there is a real fear that after Monday’s hearing our club may be headed for administration or receivership. There can be no excuse for you not to engage now.
I know that you think that your current powers constrain your ability to act. But you have so far offered no reason for clubs to believe that you are willing to be pro-active in changing matters for the better. In the view of BST, adopting the model we have enclosed and using Blackpool FC as an opportunity for learning would be a start. I commend it to you wholeheartedly.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust
4) Case Review Proposal
MISMANAGEMENT OF BLACKPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB - A CASE REVIEW MODEL
Introduction & Context
This document has been prepared by Blackpool Supporter’s Trust (BST), but only with the greatest reluctance. In our view, the near-ruination of a famous football club that has been presided over by the Oyston family in recent years (and particularly since the club’s elevation to the Premier League in 2010) should have given great cause for alarm within both the Football Association (FA) and the English Football League (EFL).
If that state of alarm exists within the two governing bodies, there has been no sign as yet of that being translated into any decisive action. BST has lobbied the EFL in particular about the need for action over a period stretching back for years, not months. In doing so, the Trust has pointed to the club’s precipitous fall down the League pyramid, the increasingly heavy-handed efforts to suppress criticism from supporters by using legal action, and the astonishing deluge of damning evidence that has emerged during the court case involving the Oyston family and minority shareholder Valeri Belokon (VB) since the summer of 2017.
It is the view of BST that the sheer weight of evidence of wrong-doing, spite and incompetence on the part of the Oyston family makes a prima facie case for the EFL (as Blackpool is now a Football League club) to investigate the club and what has befallen it. We think that the mere fact of an in-vestigation - or case review - would send a powerful message to the League’s other 71 clubs that the EFL takes these matters very seriously. But in our view there are a number of other good things that could be taken from what has been a distressing series of events:
• Instigating a case review would show the EFL leading the way on an issue of national concern
• It would provide “real” data to allow the EFL to assess its own policies & procedures
• It would highlight any gaps or deficiencies in the EFL’s powers to act
• It would position the EFL as more than a mere shop steward for its 72 members
The position of BST is that the interests of our club - and the wider game in England - is best served by a strong, vigorous EFL taking on cases of endemic failure as robustly as possible. It is the kind of leadership role that the English game needs and which is currently not being delivered. In our view, shining a light on what has happened at Blackpool FC would allow us all to learn lessons for the future, and would highlight areas where the regulatory framework for the game is currently lacking. Crucially, it may help to make sure that the supporters of other football league clubs never have to go through this kind of trauma again. Below, we offer our thoughts on what such a review could look like, and commend it to the EFL as a model for them to adopt.
The review model
The model favoured by BST involves the following stages :
• identifying the chronology of relevant events and their impact
• taking a rounded view of the situation by interviewing a range of interested parties
• undertaking an honest critique of the roles performed by key bodies like EFL
• identifying the barriers to action
• identifying areas for learning and change
The chronology of events
Failure never occurs in a vacuum, and often the wider context, the nature of key relationships and certain key events have a major impact on the nature of the failure and how it comes about. No two cases are ever the same, but some due diligence about “the how, the who and the when” often gives a broader understanding of WHY failure has occurred.
In Blackpool’s case, this needs to cover :
• a brief history of the period prior to the partnership between the Oyston family and VB. The Oys-ton family took over the club in 1987, and entered into a partnership arrangement with VB in 2006
• the EFL’s rules on ownership and the “fit and proper” owner and director test
• the nature of the relationship with VB and its implications (including its deterioration). Ordinarily, this sort of evidence would be very hard to both gather and evaluate, but in this instance, unique-ly, a full history and analysis of it was set out by His Lordship Marcus Smith in his court judge-ment of 6 November 2017
• the growing fan concern post 2011 and the Oyston’s reaction to it. This inevitably has to consider the formation of the Seasider’s Independent Supporter’s Association (SISA), its evolution into the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, and the history of litigation undertaken at the behest of the Oyston family against individual supporters
• the nature of lobbying undertaken at the national level by BST and the view taken of it - to in-clude a critique of EFL mechanisms for fan engagement
• the EFL intervention re VB and its consequences. Again, this needs to be informed by and take account of the Judgement issued by Marcus Smith
• post court case paralysis, and latterly the volatile nature of governance within the club
Taking a rounded view
It should be axiomatic in reaching conclusions about what has gone wrong at Blackpool FC, and what can be learned from it, that a wide range of views should be canvassed from a variety of stakeholders with differing perspectives.
In recent times, this has not been the EFL way. The approach they have taken to consultation on a variety of issues has been to merely consult with the clubs themselves - even when there have been widespread concerns about the behaviour of those very clubs.
In our assessment, this leads to a narrow view of key issues that is often based upon incomplete, inaccurate and sometimes plainly misleading information. In the specific case of Blackpool FC, where most of the disquiet is about the club and its owners, a much bigger effort has to be made in any case review to collect relevant perspectives wherever they are. BST suggests that this should include :
• the Oystons and Valeri Belokon (if possible)
• policy makers at the EFL and the FA
• national supporters groups like the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) and Supporters Direct (SD)
• local interest groups including BST, local councillors and local businesses
• non-aligned supporters of the Club who may not be Members of any particular group, or who support the club from a distance
• informed representatives of the local, regional and national media
It is the view of BST that these three areas are closely entwined and it would therefore be difficult to look at them separately without some duplication of effort. This is not simply about gathering information, but also about analysing it honestly, without fear or favour, to ascertain ways in which the whole of the football community can learn from failure, whether it be at Blackpool or anywhere else.
As such, it requires a culture which is based upon learning and improvement for the future, rather than defensiveness about errors or omissions in the past. It also requires a culture based upon monitoring clubs and seeking to identify problems as early as possible, rather than - as in Black-pool’s case - waiting until a crisis point has been reached.
The following list of issues for consideration comprises questions which BST believes are germane to the problems at our club. But they could easily be applied in any other case in the future.
• what type of intelligence has been gathered in this case, and where from ? How complete is it? How has it been used?
• whistle blowing - what was the source of concerns and complaints ? Who was responsible, when did they raise issues, and how was their contribution acted upon?
• what could have been done to respond, using existing powers? What might still be done now?
• what ideally SHOULD be/have been done ? How does that compare with the powers to intervene that currently exist?
• what constraints (policy or legal) prevent or inhibit action? How could they be removed?
• what recommendations could be made for change? Who would they apply to? How would they be followed up?
• could early warning systems be developed? What would they cover, and who would use them?
The audience for the Case Review
The obvious audience for the review that BST is pressing for includes the EFL (as the regulatory body in the lead) and the supporters, owners (present and future) and employees of Blackpool Football Club.
However, to the extent that this Review is about the national regulatory framework, its fitness for purpose and the way in which it has been used, there is a much wider group with a vested inter-ested in the quality of it and the outcomes that eventually emerge. The BST view is that these in-clude :
• Parliament (Ministers, DCMS Select Committee, local MPs)
• national Groups (FA, FSF, SD)
• the Independent Football Ombudsman
• the footballing media
The BST view is that at the conclusion of any review its findings should be shared with - and scru-tinised by - all of the groups listed above as a bare minimum.
As stated above, BST has long wanted the EFL to take the lead in this case and to demonstrate that it would use detailed examination of one case of serious failure as a platform for changing the way that regulation and scrutiny of the English game works. In publishing these ideas about how this work might be done, the Trust hopes to give the EFL a head start in addressing not only our parochial concerns, but in applying them for the greater good of supporters more generally. We hope that they will respond to the challenge constructively.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust
2nd February 2018