Posted: 28 / 06 / 2019
It’s fair to say life supporting Blackpool has been a bit like a ride on the famous Big One in the towns Pleasure Beach. As recently as 2010 the club earnt promotion to the Premier League and was 8th at the turn of the year before taking a downward spiral 2nd half of the season that them relegated on the very last day. Despite amassing 39 points and earning a league double over Liverpool, a tally that would see you safe in most seasons, no one could have quite predicted the effects this season would have on the club.
It is widely acknowledged the wealth that can be earnt from even a single season in the Premier League and Blackpool was no different. They earnt £21m that season (or was it £32m? more on that later), followed by £16m and £6m as they benefited from Premier League parachute payments, almost making an immediate return in 2012 narrowly losing in the Play-Off final. Once the parachute payments ended the profits kept on coming, £9m in 2014 and £7.5m in 2015. However, the 2015 season saw relegation to League One, and just a year later the Seasiders were back in the bottom tier of English football.
Nothing untoward there you might say. Yes, ok you wouldn’t expect a club to slide the entire length of the Football League pyramid in six years (but they were in the bottom division as recently as 2001). And unlike most, they were making profits and they owned their own recently redeveloped stadium which includes a 4-star hotel and office space rented out to the local NHS. This was an asset they were able to use 365 days of the year, alongside the training ground – but the less said about that the better!
This doesn’t suggest any reason for the fans to have hatred toward owner Owen Oyston, the man who bought them for £1 in 1986 on the brink of financial ruin and helped facilitate this roller coaster ride to the Premier League. However, that season in the Premier League had huge consequences.
That profit of £21m, was after a director’s bonus was paid of £11m, which wasn’t overly popular with the Tangerine faithful. At the same time Charlie Adam, one of the players instrumental in the club reaching the Premier League, had to go to court with 3 other players just to get contractual bonuses paid to them. Despite the profits earnt, the training ground was that bad one season that Manager, Gary Bowyer, felt the need to pay for his own training facilities in Preston so they didn’t have to use the clubs.
You are also guaranteed to alienate yourself to the fans when you attempt to sue some of them, and your son and fellow director send abusive messages to another. Throw in their relegation season from the Championship when on the morning of the first game of the season they had 9 players registered and you can see why fans were unhappy about how the club was being run.
Eventually, enough was enough and in 2015 they began a boycott. Attendances plummeted, fans would not give the club a single penny. No replica shirts and no ticket money and it got that extreme that fans wouldn’t event attend away games if you couldn’t buy the ticket at the home club, as Blackpool would earn 5% from any sales they carried out.
As well as the Oystons, there was a 20% shareholder called Valeri Belokon, who was also unhappy with the Oystons running of the club and took them to court arguing their actions had unfairly prejudiced the minority shareholders. All in all, a court judged in 2017 that on top of the £11m salary, a further £15.7m of other payments to related companies had been made meaning £26.7m had been stripped from the club. The Oystons had to pay this £26.7m to Belokon plus his initial investment for his 20% stake of £4.5m. £10m was paid but on the 13th February 2019 with the balance still owed, the club was placed into receivership so that the assets could be sold, and the monies paid to Belokon.
This was a momentous day for the club as the Oystons 30 odd year reign was over. The receivers appointed an interim board who, with the help of Sedulo, proved to the Football League that the standard 12-point penalty for entering an insolvency act should not be applied by demonstrating they had the cash to fulfil their fixtures to the end of the season.
On Saturday 9th March the boycott was officially over, almost 16,000 fans packed into Bloomfield Road to celebrate. Being lucky enough to be there that day, you couldn’t help but be bowled over by the passion and the pride they have in their club and see the massive importance football clubs play in the local community. They certainly could be forgiven for the pitch invasion after the last-minute equaliser as the emotions of the last 4 years and beyond came out simultaneously in one moment.
So, what does the future hold? A walk around the ground shows what a big club this is in English football. Stanley Matthews shot the club to fame with that FA Cup final in 1953 that bore his name. You can’t forget Stan Mortensen who scored a hattrick that day but who does have a statue outside the ground. Then there is Alan Ball who won the World Cup for England whilst still at Blackpool and Jimmy Armfield, who has a stand named after him at Bloomfield Road, was also a member of that 1966 squad.
This is a club steeped in history and the last 10 years have been as turbulent as they come. With the recent announcement of Simon Sadler as the owner, a boyhood fan now based in Hong Kong, the fans can look forward to the next chapter in their history.
Most importantly, no matter what results are on the pitch next season, the fans have their club back.