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BST Gazette Column 21/09/2018

BST21/09/2018

“Will no one rid us of this troublesome pest?” to paraphrase Henry II. He said that way back in 1170, coincidentally as football was establishing itself as a popular sport (with an annual competition held in London) and about the same time as Owen Oyston became a lifelong fan of the game!

Of course Henry was referring to the troublesome priest Thomas Beckett, formerly the king’s Chancellor, who went rogue after being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, acting in defiance of Henry and the rest of the English bishops. He famously met an untimely end at the hands of four knights of the realm.

Blackpool Supporters Trust is not for a minute advocating violence against the person of Owen Oyston; it would not be fitting for a legally constituted and peace-abiding organisation to do so. However, we could certainly do with a modern-day equivalent of those four knights of the realm to ride in and administer bloodless retribution in the current impasse at Blackpool. How about it FA, EFL, EPL and FIFA?

The reasons why Owen Oyston should be regarded as a bad or ‘rogue’ owner of a football club are legion. The broken promises and the asset stripping have been bad enough. The suing of fans has also been unconscionable on every level. When you throw in the cynical way that he led a concerted campaign to bypass his own club’s governance arrangements in order to prejudice Valeri Belokon’s interests, you see why he falls a long way short of the kind of standards that football fans are entitled to expect, and a long way short of the behaviour that the football authorities ought to insist on – and that is without taking into account the fact that he was not meant to be acting in any directorial capacity! Contrast his behaviour with the principled and energetic leadership offered by (for example) Andy Holt at Accrington Stanley. Holt has taken a genuinely tiny club to unimagined heights, and not only that, continues to cast a searchlight over some of the questionable policies of those who lead the EFL. Blackpool supporters can only congratulate Accy fans on their good fortune.

There is however, a more fundamental objection to the Oystons. Any club chairman in League One worth his/her salt is desperate to take their club into the Championship, for financial as well as footballing reasons. But getting there and staying there are two very different things.

We only have to look at our near neighbours at Deepdale to see how hard a Division it can be. North End have had some good times in recent years, have even been harbouring hopes of Premier League football; but for the first time in several seasons, their start to the current campaign suggests that this year they are finding the job of being competitive harder work. And they are a club with several million in the bank from summer transfers, who enjoy home gates in excess of 10,000 every fortnight.

It has already been made clear by the CEO of the Premier League that Blackpool will not be allowed back into the top tier whilst the current owner retains his controlling interest in the club. So as long as Oyston stays, our dreams of advancement are strictly finite. When you then have real reservations about his ability or willingness to even make it to the second tier, you have to ask yourself - what is the point of Owen Oyston, really?

Even with the alleged attendances at Bloomfield Road, can anyone see him making us competitive in the Championship, if by some miracle we manage to make it back there? It would require money, effort, imagination and commitment to make it work. These things all seem to be in short supply at a club that can’t even maintain its stadium adequately, let alone honour its heroes.

The attitude of our owners toward the statues of Stan Mortensen and Jimmy Armfield speaks volumes about their priorities. Football fans will put up with a great deal and at Blackpool we have become used to being ignored and disrespected, but neglecting the monuments to our footballing greats is a step too far.

The vandalism of the Morty statue prior to Judgement Day 1 when Karl Oyston ordered its sudden removal (with an angle grinder!) caused understandable outrage and although it has since been restored to some degree, Stan's niece has again had to complain to the club in recent weeks regarding its condition and lack of maintenance.

Even more alarming is the state of the area around Jimmy Armfield's statue. A number of Blackpool fans have been highlighting the need for work to be carried out to the cracked and damaged paving stones. The situation deteriorated significantly a couple of weeks ago when vandals pulled up some of the damaged blocks, making the whole area dangerous and unsightly. Whilst the club did have some of the stones taken up and removed, nothing else has been done since. Such disrespect to Jimmy Armfield and his family as well as to the supporters who funded both statues is testament to the disregard with which the owners of Blackpool FC view the club, its players, its history and its supporters.

Today (21st September) would have been Jimmy Armfield's 83rd birthday and BST will be laying some flowers at his statue in honour of his memory. It is very sad that the club’s owners have been unable to provide more fitting surroundings for this great servant of Blackpool FC, a dignified man who by-and-large kept his own counsel, but who would have been eminently in sympathy with the views expressed by good King Henry II.

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