This article was originally published on the Penalty Magazine website.
Leading 3-1 against the Trevor Sinclair assisted Lancaster City everything appeared to be going well for Blackpool. That is until the 75th minute when according to a report in the Blackpool Gazzette made their way onto the pitch. Walking towards the centre circle the fans were there to show their anger towards the club’s owner, Karl Oyston. The game was postponed due the fan disturbance.
This was the second instance of this occurring with the first taking place in Blackpool’s final Championship fixture. Lining up against Huddersfield at Bloomfield Road the match was abandoned on the 48th minute after hundreds of fans made their way onto to the pitch. This was just under a month after fireworks and eggs rained down on the Bloomfield turf during their draw against Reading.
This latest stunt highlights the general consensus of the fans to new manager Neil McDonald, if he was somehow not aware of the supporters’ opinion of their owner they’ve made their thoughts known now.
As Blackpool begin their first season in League 1 it’s quite a fall from grace for the North Lancashire club. Just five years ago they were gearing up to appear in the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history. In their opening game they destroyed Wigan Athletic 4-0 which resulted in at least for a few hours the Seasiders were on top of the English footballing pyramid. After exactly 365 days in the highest league in English football the club were resigned to the Championship after losing 4-2 to champions Manchester United. Although the media predicted them to struggle, with some even saying they could emulate Derby’s struggles and get less than 10 points. The Ian Holloway lead team proved these naysayers wrong, taking 39 points from the season which included back to back wins against Liverpool, consecutive away wins at Stoke City and a home victory over Tottenham Hotspurs. Although they were relegated they showed that were no pushovers and the future looked bright for the club. Selling their talismanic midfielder Charlie Adam to Liverpool in a club record £7 million deal it seemed things may start to get difficult for the team. Again they proved their doubters wrong, finishing the season in the Play-Off final which saw them lose 2-1 to West Ham after a last gasp Ricardo Vaz Te goal confined them to an agonising close finish for the end of the season.
Ian Holloway moved on after this taking the reins at fellow Championship side Crystal Palace. Blackpool moved quickly to replace him, bringing in Michael Appleton from the League 1 side Portsmouth. History was made with this appointment, but not the positive kind. After just two months he left to take over the team’s Lancashire neighbours Blackburn Rovers. This was the beginning of a host of manager’s coming into the club.
After Appleton’s tenure former England captain Paul Ince was placed in charge of the club. A new manager again brought history to the cub, although this time it was positive as he managed the team to 16 point out of a potential 18 – a sequence which resulted in their best ever start to the season. Alas for Ince his time came to an end after 11 months and a run of nine losses in the last ten games. Scot Barry Ferguson was named player-manager with his season continuing much in the way Ince’s finished. Out of the 20 games Ferguson was in charge they won just 3, finishing the season in 20th place, two points above relegation.
To attempt to stop the rot the powers that be tried something doing – appointing their first overseas manager in ex Standard Liège and Charlton boss José Riga. Due to problems I will get into later in this article Riga’s time at Blackpool seemed doomed before it even began. With tensions already high with the chairman at the start of his career there was no other way for things to go than poorly. After winning just one out of 15 games in charge Riga was relieved of his duties as manager – becoming the club’s second shortest serving manager behind the aforementioned Michael Appleton. In the fan’s eyes it was during Riga’s time at the club that sullied the fans opinion of Karl Oyston to the level where it is at now. During an international break Riga returned to his native Belgium for a few days. During this time Oyston attempts to find a new manager, setting his eyes on Gary Rowett of League 2’s Burton. Unfortunately for the chairman not only did Rowett decline the position he also chose to go public about the approach.
After Riga it was the turn of Lee Clark and after his failures at stabilising the sinking ship they now find themselves in League 1 with the unenviable task of looking after the club is placed on the shoulders of ex Everton and Newcastle midfielder Neil McDonald.
As well as organising a manager merry-go-round Oyston is also disliked by the fans for alleged asset stripping of the club. Blackpool’s policy of hiring players on just one year contracts has seemingly backfired on the team not just once, but twice. As Jose Riga began his preparation for the upcoming season a pre-season trip to Spain had to be cancelled due to lack of personal. Before his arrival the team had released a grand total of 28 players – leaving them with 8 outfield players and no goalkeepers. The club’s chairman attempted to spin this positively. “I see our transfer policy as benefiting the manager,” he said. “It’s enabled him to buy his own team as opposed to picking up a squad that was overloaded and he didn’t think was good enough. It’s empowered him”. The relatively short time he remained as Blackpool manager highlights that it probably didn’t help him.
This season has started no different. Now faced with battling it out in League 1 the club have released 17 players, which again leaves them with 8 contracted outfield players. Signings have been made with Lloyd Jones, the young Welsh international joining on loan from Liverpool.
After generating £32 million from their time in the Premier League everything was set for the team to become a beacon of stability. Although the money was seemingly there to be spent it appears to have been siphoned off into different business ventures. An article for the Guardian describes how money had left Blackpool in a series of loans that have been moved via the holding company Segesta Ltd. The holding company have then gone onto distribute the loans to a number of companies run by the Oyston family. The article then goes on to describe how Blackpool’s 2012-13 financial accounts highlight a quite staggering payment. The highest paid director – believed to be either Karl Oyston or his father Owen received a stark increase in the amount of money they received via remuneration. The year before shows they received £65,000 while the following year it rose to £568,000, which was £58,000 more than the club had spent on transfers that season.
This use of funds not only concern the team’s fans but the family’s fellow shareholders. In 2006 the Latvian investor Valeri Belokon paid £2 million for 20% share in the club. In an open letter to the Oyston family he puts the major shareholders to task over their financial history.
“Since Blackpool was promoted to the Premier League you have paid yourself more than £11.5m in salaries and £24m in interest-free loans to your various companies, all without my approval,” Belokon writes. “There is little sign of the parachute payments being spent where they should be, on the team, the stadium and the training ground”.
There’s been a number of clubs ruined by bad financial decisions or a chairman who refused to leave when their time had called. Unfortunately for the fans of Blackpool there appears to be no end in sight to the Oyston era. If the club don’t attempt to stabilise themselves by building up the squad’s foundations they could see themselves tumbling further down the footballing period. It’s happened before – look at Bradford and Portsmouth.
The best situation for Blackpool may be following the Portsmouth route – the fans gathering together and attempting to buy the club. With the team continuing to make a profit it is unlikely Karl Oyston, someone allegedly interested more in money than the greater good of the club will relinquish control even if a bid came in.
The Blackpool fans have to hope that they will soon wake up from the Tangerine dream that escalated into a nightmare.