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BST Gazette Column 03/05/2019

BST03/05/2019

It is probably not surprising, given the seismic events of the last few months, that as we approach the final game of the season affairs off the pitch at Blackpool FC continue to overshadow those on it.

In one sense, Saturday’s game at home to Gillingham offers little to play for except bragging rights with local neighbours Fleetwood Town as to who finishes higher in the league. More importantly, the game will be the climax of a Family Fun Day organised by Blackpool FC Community Trust with assistance for the first time from Blackpool Supporters’ Trust.

Much concern had been expressed during the extended boycott about the danger of losing a whole generation of young supporters. Now that we have our club back, Saturday is a great opportunity for local families with children to start connecting or reconnecting with their football club. The Family Fun Day event is completely free of charge and will take place in the North Stand Car Park from 3pm until 5pm. Blackpool’s game kicks off at 5.30pm. There will be a variety of activities for all age groups to get involved with, from a bouncy castle and face painting to penalty shoot-outs and mega football on a giant inflatable pitch and Fylde Coast Radio will provide the music. It should be a great afternoon and an important step in building a brighter future of our community club.

Once the final whistle goes, then work in preparation for the next campaign begins. A great deal was broken behind the scenes and it needs fixing. That fixing requires paying for. During the closed season, there are at least two essential projects which must be undertaken immediately. One is the replacing/repair of the pitch and the other is work on the East Stand (to be the permanent location for away fans). That stand will not be given a safety certificate unless the work is carried out. This is not BST ‘speaking on behalf of the club’; it’s an independent assessment of the situation.

While we await the sale of the club, the interim board does not have any income to finance these works other than what it can bring in via sponsorships, merchandise sales and most importantly season ticket sales.

There has been a lot of concern expressed in recent weeks about the risk of buying those season tickets before there is absolute certainty that Oyston doesn’t have a way back in, and before we know who the buyer(s) of the club will be. There has even been an inference that the Court Appointed Receiver (CAR) may saddle Blackpool FC with another ‘unacceptable’ owner and a lot of excited speculation ensued on social media.

To recap, the facts are these. From the appointment of the CAR on13th February, Paul Cooper made it clear that if Oyston can raise the funds and pay off the debt, the CARs job would be finished and Oyston would retain the club. He also made it clear that once the club is sold and the debt paid off, Valeri Belokon’s 20% shares could revert to Oyston. This is not new information, it has been clearly stated and has been covered extensively at two public BST meetings.

However, the stark reality is that for Oyston to retake control, he would first have to raise the funds, at least £30 million. He has already had almost 18 months to resolve the situation in this manner and has signally failed thus far. By the way, his debt to Belokon is increasing by a staggering £5,000 per day in interest. Thus whilst Oyston may well continue to disrupt and frustrate the selling of the club, for instance by circulating rumours of his impending return, it is highly unlikely that he will succeed in raising the necessary funds to complete what would in business terms be a suicide mission.

Even if this highly unlikely scenario should occur, he then has to negotiate the EFL’s Owners & Directors Test afresh. The EFL’s failure to apply its regulations correctly to Oyston in the past has now been exposed by a leading QC as an invalid position and BST shared this with the EFL and the football authorities two weeks ago. There is now no legitimate reason for them not to ban Oyston from being an owner or director not only of Blackpool FC but any football league club.

Finally, standing firm beyond all of the financial and governance hurdles are the fans and the community of Blackpool. Most Blackpool supporters who boycotted the club prior to Oyston’s removal would most certainly resume that boycott should he ever try to come back. In addition, the local business community has rallied behind the football club, recognising its importance to the community. The return of Owen Oyston would immediately destroy all the good initiatives that have already begun around the resurgent Blackpool FC. Having publicly supported and celebrated an Oyston free club, Blackpool’s business and Council leaders could not now go back to accepting the Oyston family as owners of the town’s football club again.

At their recent meeting, Blackpool’s Pride of Place Board agreed that due to the importance of a thriving football club to our community and as part of the town’s Agenda For Action, having the right owner of Blackpool FC is vital. Baroness Jo Valentine, Special Projects Director for Business In The Community, has provided BST with the following statement:

‘Blackpool Pride of Place Board is concerned that any future owner of the football club understands their important role in fostering links with, and contributing to, the community. We are making this point to the club and to the receiver.’

Whilst BST cannot state that there is absolutely no chance of Owen Oyston returning in any way, our considered opinion is that the risk is minimal. However, the risk to the club if we do not back it financially right now is huge. Evaluating that risk is a task for each of us but it is important to be sure that decision is based on facts, not rumour. For those who may be concerned that if they buy a season ticket and then Oyston returns, he would get their money, it has to be said that money will be spent as fast as it comes in; there will be no pot waiting for Owen Oyston!

As for new owners, BST understands that there have been a number of credible bids submitted for the club already. The deadline for submissions is 15th May. There will then undoubtedly be a period of several weeks while the CAR completes due diligence on the relevant bids.

The CAR has the responsibility to get the best deal for Belokon that he can (that’s his role as decreed by the High Court). BST is working behind the scenes to make the case that it also needs to be the best deal for Blackpool FC and the fans. The EFL has the responsibility to make sure that whoever the CAR decides to conclude a deal with is absolutely fit and proper to own and run Blackpool FC.

BST put out in the public domain two weeks ago quite a detailed list of questions we would ask of any potential purchaser and we hope the CAR and the EFL are taking those questions on board. The Trust is happy to talk with anyone who has lodged a firm offer for our football club. Our remit is to seek the best for the club, its supporters and the community of Blackpool and we will endeavour to influence proceedings by all legitimate means to ensure that the process is conducted in an ethical manner, with appropriate scrutiny and delivers the right result to guarantee that brighter future.

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