For most relegated football clubs, the sole consolation to come from that loss of status is the understanding that things shouldn’t be as bad again the next time around. Relegation offers the opportunity of a fresh start, a broom to be brushed through a squad of misfiring players, the possibility of a run at promotion back again the following season, or at least winning a few more game the next time around. Sometimes, however, the only wind to blow through a football club following relegation takes the form of a cold, sinister gust. Sometimes, it feels as if relegation is the precursor to something darker than even that seen the season before.
After having finished last season with an almost astonishingly dismal four league wins and a paltry twenty-six points, it has become clear that a stench of death has come to settle over Blackpool Football Club this summer. A season that had started disastrously somehow only deteriorated still further as it wore on. Relegation couldn’t even be considered to be much like the feeling of death’s sweet kiss, because there seemed no end to a torment wreaked upon it by its cancerous owners. At the time of writing, the club has fifteen players including a goalkeeper, and it says a lot about the way in which it’s been treated over the last few years or so that this seems to be what counts for progress at Bloomfield Road, these days.
The revolting Karl Oyston seems to have given up on any pretence of being anything like a decent human being. When he’s not calling a supporter “a massive retard”, amongst other abusive text messages – the behaviour of an ill-tempered child, which earned him a £40,000 fine and a six week ban from football, though it says something quite profound about the incompetence of the Football Association that this ban should come over the course of the close season – he’s being spoken to by the police about carrying a firearm in a public place. The biggest surprise about the reaction of the game’s authorities to all of this is that they seem happy for him to drag the reputation of one of their member clubs through the mud by allowing him to remain in control of a football club under their jurisdiction.
Oyston’s name, like that of his convicted rapist father, may well have become byword for one of the most fetid stenches ever to emanate from the boardroom of an English football club, but dislodging this particular reptile isn’t proving easy for those who wish to rid their club of his charmless, boorish antics. We can only guess as to the reasons as to why this may be – many Blackpool supporters are now at the point of sincerely believing that he only remains at Bloomfield Road because he is, for whatever reason, taking some form of pleasure from inflicting all of this upon them – but company law is company law, and with the authorities apparently satisfied that he is an appropriate person to be running a football club, the only way in which it seems likely that he will finally leave Bloomfield Road will be voluntarily.
It is with this in mind that the Blackpool Supporters Trust yesterday morning presented Oyston with the opportunity to leave the club with at least a fig leaf of respectability still intact. The BST has now made a formal bid to take over the club, and we might consider that in situations such as these, timing is everything. Oyston’s ban from football begins today and lasts until the eighteenth of August. Perhaps – just perhaps – this enforced six week break from the game might give him the opportunity to reassess the stupidity of his behaviour over the last few weeks, months and years, with the thought in his mind that he has the chance to walk away from the running of the club on a day to day basis.
The package that the BST has come up with offers around £16m in club assets, property and written-off loans, as well as making a plaintive appeal to any better nature that he may have to “rectify a dreadful situation” after having explained “that any good you and your family may have done for the club in the past has been entirely negated and rendered worthless” by his previous behaviour. The truth of the matter is that the reputation of the Oyston family is in tatters, and all the money in the world won’t allow the people of Blackpool to forget everything that more than one generation of this family has done. But by exiting quietly and soon, just about the only shred of dignity that Karl Oyston can retain from all of this may, just about, be retained. Meanwhile, the Latvian businessman Valeri Belokon, who some had hoped might act as a knight and save the club, continues to wait in the shadows on account of a separate claim that he is bringing against its owners and is unlikely to make any sort of move until that is resolved.
The alternative for Oyston is that he stays in place, continues his increasingly frequent and bizarre displays of intransigence towards supporters of the club, and continues to drag his family name deeper and deeper into the mud. It seems inconceivable that the protests against him are going to end until he and his family finally get out of Bloomfield Road, and it’s likely that these protests will only become angrier and less predictable. The gloves came off between the Oystons and Blackpool FC’s support base a long time ago, and no matter how much money he may have, it is ultimately a basic truth that there are many, many more of them than there are of him and his sympathisers. His behaviour has been so provocative that it would be unsurprising to hear that more direct action had been taken against Karl Oyston personally and, while it would be regrettable if anybody were to engage in illegal behaviour of any sort, even towards him, it’s difficult to imagine that there would be much sympathy for Karl Oyston were he to be on the receiving end of just about anything, right now.
Of course, it’s possible to argue that the continuing presence of Karl Oyston at Blackpool FC is as much a symptom of an ailment as a cause. The Football Association and Football League have both turned their attention to anywhere but what has been going on at the club over the course of the last few years or so at this club, and if Oyston cannot be depended upon to behave in manner appropriate for a grown adult in his position, then responsibility should have been taken by those in a position to be able to do so. Just as Blackpool FC is Karl Oyston’s club for now, so it is that the Football League and Football Association are both clubs that ultimately decide who they wish to be members. They could have acted considerably sooner. They could have acted considerably more harshly. Instead, they have done little more than condone the behaviour of this wretched little man through their inaction over his excesses. In the meantime, Karl Oyston has an out at Bloomfield Road. He should take it, of course, but doing the right thing seems to have become a completely alien concept to this particular individual of late.
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