EXCLUSIVE: Oyston’s vow to lift ban on fans in ‘open letter’

Blackpool FC victory parade down the promenade after their promotion to the Premier League.
Club owner Owen Oyston watches from the bus. PIC BY ROB LOCK
24-5-2010

Blackpool FC victory parade down the promenade after their promotion to the Premier League. Club owner Owen Oyston watches from the bus. PIC BY ROB LOCK 24-5-2010

Pool owner Owen Oyston has written a 1,600 word appeal to Blackpool fans ahead of the new season following farcical scenes at a recent meeting with hundreds of disgruntled fans.

Oyston ran a gauntlet of hate at the Hilton Hotel on July 9 when he tried to appease fans angry at the club’s dramatic fall from grace and legal action against supporters.

Blackpool owner Owen Oyston before kick off

Blackpool owner Owen Oyston before kick off

But he was heckled and eventually left early with scores of fans – who accused him of trying to win fans over purely due to low season ticket sales - demanding his family sell up and leave their beloved club.

Today, he has published an open letter explaining some of the issues surrounding the club - and appealing for the club and fans to come together to end the club’s shocking demise.

I wish to thank Steve Rowland, the Chairman of BST, for his invitation to answer questions at the meeting on Saturday July 9, and also to thank Tim Fielding for his courtesy and for bravely volunteering to put those questions to me.

I got the best ‘good hiding’ I’ve had since my schooldays at St Joseph’s College in Blackpool.

Blackpool FC Awards night held at the club. Valeri Belokon and Owen Oyston.

Blackpool FC Awards night held at the club. Valeri Belokon and Owen Oyston.

I came to that meeting because I was won over by Steve’s sincerity, passion, integrity, and most of all his love of BFC.

This is a man I can work with and with whom problems can be resolved. That is why I called upon the BST members at the meeting to unfetter him, so we can talk without pre-conditions. I believe this can lead BFC to a better place for us all.

I witnessed, first hand, the amazing passion and strength of feeling of the 400 who filled the meeting room and I took away with me their deeply held views about the club they clearly love.

I was not able to answer all of the questions in full, so I’ve picked some questions that seemed to be important to the fans, as well as some other information that I hope will be of interest:

We have stopped all new legal actions in a two-way street understanding where there will be no further criminal or illegal behaviour, or obscene abuse, or defamation directed at the manager, the players, Blackpool Football Club, the Oyston family, Oyston personnel or staff.

In order to bring this matter to a speedy close we invite the fans who went on to the pitch and caused match abandonments against Huddersfield Town on May 2, 2015, and/or against Lancaster City on July 11. 2015, to contact the BFC safety officers via the club on 01253 685000 to sign an acceptable behaviour agreement, whereby bans will be lifted and no further action will be taken by the club. This will be the end of the matter for the vast majority of fans.

We are doing our best to bring all current legal actions to a close, even though there has been acts of criminality and defamation which had nothing to do with football management.

BFC MATTERS:

[a] Last season we were the second biggest-spending club in League One, behind Wigan Athletic. We have signed seven players so far this summer, with more to come, and currently have 23 contracted players in the squad.

[b] Our manager Gary Bowyer has already completed the selection of his own back-room team.

[c] We have carried out remedial work on the pitch since the close of last season. The pitch is now in its best condition in recent times.

[d] Alex Cowdy has been appointed as Chief Executive and Karl has stepped down on a day-to-day basis but will remain as chairman. He will sign the players, if possible, that the manager wishes to bring to the club.

[e] Our revenues from season tickets and ‘football-related’ sources will be ring-fenced for team-building and for meeting other team-related costs. The club will confirm how this policy will be supervised by a supporters’ panel.

[f] Legal Actions

In addition to the three points I made about legal actions, and for clarity:

[1] We were fined heavily and sanctioned by the Football Association and Football League (now EFL) for the pitch invasion and our legal costs were considerable. If it happens again we will be fined even more heavily and very likely have points deducted, and/or be forced to play games behind closed doors, affecting all supporters and not just those protesting. In the best interests of Blackpool Football Club we have to ensure to the best of our ability that there are no further such pitch invasions. That is why we are offering an amnesty to the vast majority of fans who went on the pitch, dropping legal action, provided those fans sign an acceptable behaviour agreement. In the case of no more than 10 we have or are issuing proceedings against, all of whom have been identified, we are doing our best to find an acceptable compromise so we can put this matter behind us. We can then show to the football authorities that we are doing all we can to avoid future breaches of the league rule.

[2] The cruel attacks on players, who were named in social media by the perpetrators, damaged them and their families. Such behaviour has no place in Blackpool Football Club, or any football club.

[3] There can also be no place for death threats and for the obscene emails sent by two individuals to a young married woman with a young family with similar attacks on the children. For 27 years the Oystons faced considerable abuse, protests and criticism without ever taking any legal action. But the matters referred here were so serious that they should never again be part of Blackpool Football Club.

Bid for The Club

I repeat that no-one has made a bid for the club since last summer’s enquiry from a foreign consortium. In any event, the club is not for sale and will not be sold in the future. I love the club too much to sell it. It is a matter of fact that, other than when he made an unsigned proposal in the month after we first met in 2005, which was never pursued, Mr Belokon, in spite of statements to the media, has never made a bid for Blackpool Football Club. On June 7, 2013, he asked us to pay him £24 million for his investments in Blackpool. Since that date Valeri has attempted to take money from the club and not to buy the club.

Segesta Limited

I inherited the present club structure back in 1987, when it was bankrupt. BFC was the operating company and BFC [Properties] Ltd., now called Segesta, was the parent company holding the assets. When BFC wants to spend money on the stadium, BFC makes a loan to Segesta, or vice-versa. Segesta then organises and supervises the construction work. Before the Premier League, BFC never had any money, so I personally, my family and the Oyston group of companies had to fund Segesta.

This was how we built the North, North-west and West stands long before the arrival of Mr Belokon and the Premier League, which brings me to the legacy of the Premier League promotion, which was the subject of such heated criticism at the meeting.

What Is The Legacy of the Premier League Promotion?

Directly after our promotion to the Premier League, the board of Blackpool Football Club, through my influence and the Oyston majority stake, was able to commission an initial loan in 2010 of £13 million to further develop the stadium.

The immediate legacy of our promotion was therefore:

[a] The construction of the East Stand to accommodate five thousand fans.

[b] The construction of high quality new facilities, including a media centre, had to be completed in order to comply with Premier League regulations.

[c] The construction of the South East Corner stand, including hospitality, Rowleys Restaurant and hotel facilities on land owned by Segesta, BFC’s parent company.

[d] The completion of the third phase of the South and South-West Corner stand, known as the ‘joint venture agreement’ signed on July 17, 2008, between Mr Valeri Belokon’s company VBFA and the BFC parent company, Segesta.

Mr Belokon’s name was brought up at the meeting, so I must explain that £3.3m was deployed to complete the third phase of the ‘joint venture’, which is part of the hotel. Another £3.3m, as set out in [c] was deployed to build the South East Corner stand, the other part of the hotel. In total therefore, up to £6.6 million of the £13m loan was spent either directly or indirectly, to support the joint venture. This included Segesta funding with this loan from BFC Mr Belokon’s own 50 per cent stake in this joint venture. Mr Belokon was therefore a large beneficiary of the £13m loan from Blackpool Football Club. He has never revealed this to the fans, even though, as part of his ‘football first’ media campaign against the Oystons he called upon the Oystons to repay this money to the football club, money that was then in steel and concrete at Bloomfield Road – and still is.

[e] Another legacy was that we were able to increase our spending on players over a four-year period, during the promotion year and in the following three years, to £47.9m. This was an average spend of £12m per year on players’ wages, transfer fees, bonuses and associated costs. By contrast, in the year leading to promotion to the Premier League this figure was only £4.6m.

My Hope

I love Blackpool Football Club and the passion of our supporters. I am heartbroken about the anger and disappointment of our fans and I share their distress and concern that we find ourselves playing in League Two after the amazing efforts of the fans and those at the club who achieved the ultimate of Premier League status.

I respect the right of any fan to stay away from Bloomfield Road.

We are trying to repair the damage. Paradoxically, while we have succeeded in establishing BFC as one of the most financially viable clubs in all the leagues, including the Premier League, we are deeply conscious of the need to translate this into success on the pitch.

My final word is an appeal to every BFC fan. Please come together for the good of the club, the town, the Fylde Coast and Lancashire, to support the manager and the team on and off the pitch.

There can be no future for our club unless we march together, but not on to the pitch.