by John Robb
The on going mess at Blackpool FC, which now has 8 players on the books two weeks before the season starts which meant a pre season warm up trip to play games in Spain had to be cancelled and a whole host of other problems piling up at the door of chairman Karl Oyston is an on going lesson for anyone interested in football and sport in general.
The club is in crisis. Football is in crisis. And it’s time for change.
It’s time for a political party to make this change part of their manifesto for the next election- a change that would be wildly popular with the public who are sick to the back teeth of seeing their national sport pillaged like everything else in the UK by the rich. It’s time to get football back to the community.
In Blackpool’s case it seems like the millions in Premiership payments given to any club relegated from ‘richest league in the world’ has simply been reinvested in various businesses apart from the club. This is all perfectly legal but not highly moral and fan frustration has now reached a boiling point.
Fans are wondering where a team will come from to start the season. With the millions and millions given to the club by the premiership why is there no money invested into the squad, why are the trianing facilities a joke and why are the backroom staff all leaving? Instead of spending even a tiny proportion of the Premiership payouts the people that run the club, the wildly unpopular Oystons, seem to have spent virtually nothing.
A few weeks ago The Oystons appointed yet another manager, the highly rated but maybe quite naive in the ways of lower league clubs, Jose Riga and there seems to have been an instant breakdown in communication with him – a stand off in the club that sees no communication between manager and chairman and media and fans as Riga takes a stand against the situation he finds himself in- no-one knows what is going on but everyone can guess the situation there.
Meanwhile the club’s training facilities are a national joke- still the same tin shed that the great Stanley Mathews (who remains a heroic figure and who represented everything great about football unlike the current regime in charge of the club) used in the fifties and the worst training facilities in the league and, lets face it, most of the non league. The club’s secretary left to go to work for Shrewsbury FC and last week the kit man left to go to Preston to get a proper wage, players have been leaving and no-one wants to sign because of the current mess- every day a new problem occurs, a new scenario caused by the set up at the club.
Last week the club’s Director Valeri Belokon, a Latvian businessman who, as club president, has a 20 per cent stake in the club, resorted to an open letter asking what was going on with the club- a letter that was a thinly veiled but politely written attack on the Oystons in which he accused them of taking as much as £35 million out of the club in the form of wages and interest free loans made to other companies they own.
Belokon has demanded a final parachute payment due next month is used solely for recruitment, given the club’s parlous situation in terms of their playing staff.
There have been constant mainstream media reports on the situation and still no sign of any change from the Oystons who run the club like petty dictators in some far flung East European republic thinking they are answerable to no-one.
The fans resorted to throwing tennis balls onto the pitch at one game last season to in an attempt to stop a match and the Oystons retorted by waving tennis rackets and laughing at them from their posh seats. someone parked a van outside the ground with a billboard with ‘cash cow’ written on it which Oyston posed next to for a snapshot laughing- the contempt that the fans are held in by the people that run the club is shocking but this contempt seems to run from the top of the sport itself and, lets face it, society in general in these greed times.
Blackpool will probably be able to play the first fixture with a botched up team of trialists and old men grabbing their last bit of cash from playing football. Whether they still have a manger then or any staff working at the club is another question- this would be fine and admirable if they were plucky non league side who were punching above their weight but they are a championship side with millions of pounds given to them for their one season in the Premiership, millions that have not been reinvested.
To make things worse Fleetwood Town- who are four miles up the coast have gone from strength to strength under the chairmanship of Andy Pilley, who has taken them from non league to Division One in record time and invested heavily in the club and ground and built up a very good model for a lower league football club who now threaten to overtake the club he really supports.
It’s almost taken for granted that football should be down to money and who runs the clubs- that it’s a sport that is played out in boardrooms more than the pitch and that Business FC will always be the winner.
But is this the way football should be? Why are we taking it for granted that people’s lives and passions are up for grabs and that ‘greed is good’ and that ‘it’s just a business’. Surely the situation at Blackpool is the last card and after Coventry, the Venkeys at Blackburn, Portsmouth and now Leeds and Blackpool it’s time for change and time for people to get their sport back and time for clubs to become part of their community and all the responsibilities that situation entails.
The people running the clubs into the ground know that tribalism gets in the way of change but the real fan wants to beat their rivals on the pitch and not off the pitch.
In these modern times when bankers seem to be able to pay themselves what they want and the rich get richer and no-one stops them this may seem normal but it’s not moral.
It’s time for a political party to dare make this change part of their manifesto- it’s time to clean up football and have it better run and run for the fans and local communities.
For how much longer will people have to tolerate situations like at Blackpool where the club is run like a personal fiefdom for chairman Karl Oyston who can do as he pleases and ignore the wishes of the fans. Clubs should be beacons of hope for their towns- they should be central to the community, places where sport for all is encouraged and not cash cows for the cynical few.
In Blackpool’s case so much good could have been done with this Premiership millions- the club could have been a shining example of smaller town UK community led football with enough money to sustain a Championship side with strong links to the surrounding town instead of becoming this ugly mess where one family seems to have taken everything.
It’s time for change.