In December 2016, I looked at what the problems were at Blackpool Football Club and why it has descended the leagues drastically after gracing the top flight in 2010/11. The finger was pointed at one man or should I say family; the Oystons. The name is synonymous throughout football and has brought pain to the northern seaside town. If someone says “Oyston” it is usually followed by “out”. However, it has been over a year, so surely things are looking up for the Tangerine Wizards?
Blackpool were in League Two the last time I wrote about the club but following some miraculous work by manager Gary Bowyer they gained promotion to League One via the excitement of the playoffs. What should have been a magical trip to Wembley, as it was in 1994, 2001 (Millenium Stadium) 2007, 2010 and even 2012 when they lost; the Blackpool fans came in their numbers. However, this time the pictures of empty seats were clear evidence that fans were not happy with the current regime. The reason behind the boycott was the fact that the owners would pocket half the income of ticket sales and it did not follow the Not A Penny More (NAPM) movement that many supporters have taken to.
Even before the celebrations had worn off the worry about League One was evident. Key players like goalkeeper Sam Slocombe, midfielder Brad Potts and captain Tom Aldred all departed the club; only Potts bringing in a transfer fee. The spine of the squad was gone, so it was up to Bowyer to scour the free transfer market to find suitable replacements.
He did well, and despite the obvious lack of investment from the owners, Blackpool had a superb start to the season as they took 18 points from their first ten games.
However, without real investment, the cracks are starting to show as the ‘Pool have drifted off and are now in a real relegation dogfight sitting 18th on the league table.
Despite the recent form, Bowyer and his staff deserve all the praise in the world for what they have done since arriving at the club. There were real fears of relegation to the Conference but the former Blackburn manager, who is used to working with challenging owners, has worked wonders to get the club where they are today. So if all the squad is steady and they picked up a few wins earlier in the season, why have the fans not returned?
Owen Oyston believed that the fans would return if the club start winning again. This misguided opinion is why the man is resented so much in the town. Admittedly, he saved the club from bankruptcy, but since then he has to an extent got lucky with promotions in recent years. From the Simon Grayson organised unit to the full blow attack Ian Holloway side, they both did it on a tight budget. If he had invested in the club instead of taking money from it when they gained promotion in 2010, then Blackpool might have survived relegation as they were 8th at the end of 2010 but lack of investment in January meant they slipped down the table to 19th.
The majority of supporters just cannot return until the family is gone. They are not fickle and are not going to return just because results are going their way as they have had enough of all the lies, the suing of their own people and the constant circus around the club. They have sought Saturday football elsewhere. Some have taken to AFC Blackpool, some have taken to AFC Fylde, and some have even taken to League One rivals Fleetwood because all these clubs are being run fit and proper. Well according to the EFL so is Blackpool FC!
The fans want a return to Bloomfield Road to see their side on a weekly basis. There is some good news on this rollercoaster ride for the Tangerine faithful, and that happened at the end of 2017; the Oyston family lost a court battle. A huge battle in fact against their former ally Valeri Belokon who had invested heavily over the years but did not see anything from it as the Oystons moved money into other businesses. After months of court hearings, Belokon won, and he won big. £31.2 million in the face. A massive victory and surely the end of the Oyston reign as they must sell the club to make the four payments issued by the judge?
Wrong. The club is “technically” up for sale, but the Oystons do not look like they want to sell. Owen and son Karl, chairman, are happy to strip the club of all its assets to fund the payments. This means honest people being laid off, the club shop being moved, no money into the transfer budget and even rumours of their successful youth team being dissolved. Is this their last laugh?
However, they have still managed to give the supporters another kick in the teeth. Following the sudden departure of CEO Alex Cowdy, they have hired Karl’s son Sam to become the new CEO. The day to day running of the club is now in the hands of a person who his own father said cannot do anything without going through him; he is not even allowed to sign cheques. Sam, just like his family, comes with baggage after several feuds on Twitter with fans led to him losing £20,000 after revealing a supporters seat details. It is just more corruption and unwanted news to a club who has faced far too much in recent times.
When will it end? This is the question on lips of all the Blackpool faithful. With reports of contact being made about the availability of the club but the Oystons are not willing to release the financial aspect dealings of the club which makes investors reluctant to put in a formal bid.
The most important thing that the new owner/s have to consider is the full purchase of the football club, and that includes the ground. If they do not buy the ground but just rent it from the Oystons, then they will find empty seats in the 17,338 seater stadium because the money will still be going to the detestable family and that goes against the NAPM stance.
The ideal situation for the followers of the Seasiders is that Belokon buys the club alongside a local investor. The Latvian is well loved and with local money coming in the club and town can prosper again. However, anyone has to be better than the Oystons at this point, but something has to be done soon to stop the club from rotting into oblivion.
The playing side is likely to take a massive hit now that the January transfer window open. The owners will be looking to sell players rather than bring them in, and it has started with a bid having been accepted to sell key defender Kelvin Mellor. The manager is against the decision, the press are against the decision, and the supporters are as well. Yet the owners need to make money so they get the final say and all they talk is business, not football.
2018 is hopefully going to be an Oyston free year for Blackpool football club, but with the addition of more Oystons, they will more than likely be fielding themselves as players before long. There are three more payments to go, £10 million by the end of January and two more £7.5 million to be paid by the end of March and May. They are selling as much of their property as possible but are not selling the most important thing that the fans want them to sell, the club.