Blackpool fans are rejoicing because their club has been put into receivership and that means the era of Oyston ownership is over. Blackpool’s game against Southend next Saturday will be the first home game since this happened and the Guardian reports that:
“Supporters are planning a party, starting with a celebration march from the promenade, and perhaps in some small way it can be a reminder for every other club that has inadequate or reviled owners, that things can change for the better, that it won’t always be one crisis after another, and that one of the reasons why this sport pulls us in, why it is so damn addictive, is that the bad times always make the good ones seem so much better.”
The same article includes accounts of other owners who have endangered the futures of their football clubs. Charlton’s owner has suggested that the Football League buy the club. There are reports of Bolton not paying staff and players. Notts County is at the bottom of League 2 and HMRC has issued a winding-up petition against it. If Coventry City can’t find a place to play next season it could be expelled from the league.
Not all owners are inadequate or bad but there have been enough problems to suggest that the system needs changing. There needs to be a better way of ensuring that people who buy football clubs are fit and proper and also know something about the football business. When problems occur there needs to be a way of sorting them out quicker.
Blackpool is one example of how long it can take to get rid of a problem owner. Owen Oyston bought the club in 1988. His wife and then his son took over after he was convicted of rape in 1996. Valeri Belokon bought a 20 per cent stake in 2006 and became chairman. Owen and Karl Oyston began suing fans who criticised their ownership on internet forums. Five managers came and went in the space of two years and 27 players left before the start of the 2014-15 season. In 2016 some fans started to boycott games and pledged never to return until the Oystons had left. Valeri Belokon instigated court proceedings against the Oystons. On November 6, 2017 the Oystons were defeated in the High Court and ordered to buy out Valeri Belokon’s shares for £31.27m after it was found they had “illegitimately stripped” the club. You can read the timeline yourself if you want all the gory details.
As a Birmingham City supporter, I know what it feels like to have an owner convicted of money laundering. I can sympathise with other fans whose clubs have inadequate owners. That is why I believe that there needs to be an independent regulator for English football. Let the English Football League concentrate on organising the leagues and let someone else regulate the business of football.