The Biggest Win of Blackpool’s Season

Under most circumstances, a professional football club being placed into receivership would be considered cataclysmically bad news. Blackpool, however, has not been like most professional clubs over the last few years.

There were celebrations at the High Court in London yesterday afternoon after judge Mr Justice Marcus Smith appointed receivers to take over, temporarily manage and sell the club along with its ground and hotel in order to repay the £25m owed to former director Valeri Belokon from the £31.7m awarded to Belokun by the same judge in November 2017 over disguised dividends to the Oyston family – asset-stripping, effectively – following the club’s Premier League financial windfall of 2010.

Mr Justice Smith confirmed existing orders for sale could be used for Segesta (the former trading name of Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Ltd., the holding company which owns Blackpool FC, the stadium, its training ground and the Travelodge hotel) shares or assets held by the company. However, he also added that those orders would only be effective if the football club was “broken up” and its assets simply sold, ignoring that it was an ongoing business. He also confirmed that he had been informed that the receivers would seek to reassure the Football League’s board that their management of all Segesta assets would not adversely impact the club’s ability to fulfil its obligations.

The Football League has been almost comically silent over the years as this particular drama has played out. The owners of a club under their jurisdiction had tens of millions of pounds taken out of it by its owners and they stood by and did precisely nothing. Their next step, however, cannot be ignored and will further impact on the well-being of the club as an institution.

Under the letter of the law in terms of their current regulations, Blackpool should be deducted twelve points because yesterday’s events constitute an “insolvency event”, but it is to be hoped that they will consider the plight of the club in a sympathetic light, taking into consideration the mountain of evidence which confirms that the Oystons have failed in their duty to put the best interests of the club above their own enrichment. The comments of chief executive Shaun Harvey allow for a little cautious optimism on this subject:

We will be seeking an early meeting with the receiver, so as to ensure that the best interests of the club can be jointly considered, against the context of our regulatory framework.

As things stand, a twelve point deduction would harm the value of the club, but even this being put in place wouldn’t necessarily be catastrophic for the club. Blackpool currently sit in eighth place in the League One table, and a twelve point deduction would drop them to seventeenth place, two points above the relegation places. Such is the strength of feeling in Blackpool over all of this that it’s likely that many of the club’s supporters would take relegation if it meant the departure of the Oystons from Bloomfield Road forever.

A positive resolution to this will surely mean the end of the supporter boycott that has been strangling Blackpool for several years and the prospect for a new beginning for a club which has become a byword for the dismal state of English football club ownership in the twenty-first century. And despite the fact that the appointment of receivers at any football club will always send a shiver down the spine of many supporters, the statement released after the verdict from Paul Cooper and David Rubin, of David Rubin & Partners, demonstrated an understanding of the emotive nature of this particular series of events:

David Rubin & Partners are only too aware of the history of Blackpool Football Club, the central part the club plays in the community and the emotions involved for those supporters dedicated to securing its future.

This has obviously been an unsettling period in the club’s history.

But in this time of uncertainty, the joint receivers will be doing everything in their power to keep the fans informed of relevant developments.

The Blackpool Supporters Trust, meanwhile, were unable to suppress their delight at yesterday’s verdict, although their statement also urges patience on the part of everybody, as this story moves into its next phase:

The exciting developments at court in London yesterday have understandably prompted a widespread and mainly positive reaction. Expectations are high.

BST would like to reassure all Blackpool fans that we are currently taking advice on the next steps for our football club. We have spoken with the court appointed Receivers and are currently waiting to meet with them to discuss in detail the specifics of how our club can move forward. There are many issues to cover.

We are all eager to return to Bloomfield Road and so we ask for your patience while we establish exactly what the situation is regarding the finances at the club and confer with other fan groups. We will update you all as soon as possible in the next few days and we look forward to planning our return together.

The Blackpool supporters’ boycott has become such a part of the firmament of the Football League that it seldom warrants much comment these days, but it is worth reflecting upon at this point. There has been a small number of supporters who have been unwilling or unable to join it, but on the whole what has been most striking about this boycott has been its strength over such a substantial period of time. Staying away for one match is easy enough, but for most supporters keeping away from a club for a period of time that runs to years is an endurance test that we might not even necessarily even most to be able to see through.

The solidarity shown, however, has been remarkable – particularly when we consider the often gravity-defying achievements that the team has managed while it has been ongoing, including promotion from League Two via the play-offs at the end of the 2016/17 season – and the support from fans of other has demonstrated a fundamental truth of the game: that football supporters have considerably more in common with each other than we could ever have between us because of tribal loyalties.

The victories that are won by football supporters are rare, these days. Ticket prices remain high to a point that millions are excluded from the very idea of even going to live matches. Kick-off times are still shunted from pillar to post in order to satiate the best interests of broadcasters, not matter how inconveniencing it may be for fans. Rules regarding the ownership of clubs remain stuck in an idealistic dream world in which no-one could conceivably become involved with malign intentions. We are made to pay through the nose, then to sit down and shut up as a matter of routine.

Blackpool supporters did not sit down, though, and they did not shut up. They kept their story in the news, they formed bonds with supporters of other clubs who had found themselves in similar positions. They understood that the life of the football supporter is not the life of the passive consumer. They walked away, but they never gave up on their love. They protested long and loud, even after the owners of their football club sought to silence them. This verdict will have no ramifications beyond Bloomfield Road. No precedent has been set, here. But yesterday afternoon, at the High Court in London, they took the first step towards getting their club back. This was, in a very real sense, the biggest victory that they’ll have all season.