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BST Gazette Column 14/12/2018

BST14/12/2018

‘Putting Football First’ was one of the early defining slogans of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust back in 2014 and it drew the predictable response ‘Football first? What utter crap!’ from the then chairman of our football club.

That football first slogan, along with ‘Financial Fair Play Works Both Ways’ had been adopted by BST to highlight supporters’ concerns that an insufficient percentage of the huge revenues resulting from our year in the Premier League were being re-invested in the team and the club infrastructure.

This was at a time when it was obvious to all who cared to think about it what the Oystons’ real agenda was, a time when fans were at risk of being sued for naming that agenda the ‘illegitimate stripping’ of football club assets (since proven to be the case), a time when the club we love was manifestly falling apart both on and off the field in direct consequence of the cynical and one has to say incompetent business policies of the majority shareholder Owen Oyston and his son and club chairman (and EFL ‘board member’ for three terms) Karl Oyston.

Whether one chose to label the events of those traumatic seasons ‘managed decline’, ‘Operation Conference’, ‘a legacy squandered’ or simply ‘No way to run a football club’ the entirely predictable and unacceptable outcome was the same – relegation of the club which Karl Oyston claimed was the ‘envy of the football league’ from top flight to bottom division in five years, millions of pounds diverted into other Oyston companies, the suing of fans and a massive and irreparable falling out between the owners and the fan base.

On Tuesday next, 18th December, Blackpool will try at the second attempt to overcome National League side Solihull Moors and earn a 3rd round FA Cup tie at home to Arsenal. The result is far from a foregone conclusion, for the West Midlands team outplayed the Seasiders in the initial encounter.

Mention was made a couple of weeks ago of the fact that Solihull Moors’ training facilities are far superior to Blackpool’s at Squires Gate and it is a certainty that a large percentage of the income generated for the Moors by their cup run (TV revenue, sponsorship deals, prize money) will be reinvested directly into sustaining and improving the football club, its team, facilities and community out-reach. That is because Solihull Moors FC has been set up as a Community Interest Company, a government-approved business model designed for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for the public good, where surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the enterprise or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profits for shareholders and owners. Solihull Moors is being run as a football club should be, a community-focused social enterprise that by investing to be successful on the field is both helping to shape and enthuse a community and create a strong, sustainable and socially inclusive economy.

Compare and contrast with the ‘Football first? What utter crap’ attitude of the House of Oyston whose chronic under-investment coupled with the ‘illegitimate stripping’ of monies earned by success on the field has gained them the tag of rogue owners and the permanent disrespect of most Blackpool fans in a toxic situation that can only be satisfactorily remedied by the Oystons relinquishing any involvement whatsoever in Blackpool FC.

That being the case, and given Tuesday night’s game is televised live, Blackpool Supporters’ Trust repeats its appeal to every Blackpool fan to consider avoiding this one game as an opportunity to show Owen Oyston that virtually all fans want regime change, not just the ones who are boycotting regularly. Please boycott the game on Tuesday, a small sacrifice for a greater good – leveraging a change of ownership at our club. The fact that television cameras will be present inside Bloomfield Road for the first time in a long while means we have a chance to show the FA and the EFL as well as our owner that regime change is long overdue. Empty seats at our home ground send the strongest possible message that all is far from normal at Blackpool FC and that we, the supporters, have been badly let down by the football authorities. The burden of dealing with rogue owners should not be left on the shoulders of the clubs’ fans, but to date there has been no other agency willing and able to step in and put a stop to this long, painful saga.

It would be comforting to believe that the revenue Terry McPhillips’ team is generating this season from its Carabao and FA Cup runs will be reinvested directly into sustaining and improving the football club, its team, facilities and community out-reach. The Oystons’ track-record suggests this will not be the case. It all has to be so different once regime-change is achieved and it is part of BST’s ongoing remit to press for that to happen. Blackpool FC, its supporters and this town all deserve better.

Finally, thank you to everyone who supported the Trust’s two Christmas Foodbank appeals on behalf of Home-Start and HIS provision. That includes the students at Armfield Academy who have been collecting items as part of this initiative. The generosity of ordinary Blackpool supporters towards those in the community less fortunate is greatly appreciated and will make a real difference over the festive period.

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