Diminishing crowds at Bloomfield Road but bid unlikely to be accepted
15 July ~ When protesters piled onto the pitch, holding firm in the centre circle until the final match of the season against Huddersfield Town was abandoned, it looked to most outsiders as if Blackpool had hit rock bottom. They had already been relegated weeks earlier and ended up equalling the lowest ever points tally in the second tier with just 26 to their name.
Lee Clark had been preaching about a complete overhaul in the death throes of the campaign once relegation was inevitable, reassuring the media and supporters that he was well placed to rebuild the club having received assurances from above. Yet barely a week after the dust had settled in May, Clark too had seen enough and concluded it was an impossible job. It seemed as if things might get worse after all.
The summer didn’t get much better with the search for Clark’s replacement taking an eternity before settling on Neil McDonald, and in a repeat of last summer the squad that reported for pre-season training was threadbare at best. Meanwhile chairman Karl Oyston eventually received his punishment from the FA for an exchange of abusive text messages with a fan – he was banned from football activity for six weeks and fined £40,000. When the club finally had the opportunity to prioritise football in the opening summer friendly, a pitch invasion in the 75th minute caused yet another abandonment and more bad publicity.
A chink of light has emerged in recent weeks however, with the news of a bid for the club from Blackpool Supporters Trust (BST). The structure of the offer is based upon transferring in the region of £16 million of the club’s existing assets to the Oyston family, while also taking on approximately £7m of debt owed to club president Valeri Belokon, a Latvian investor with whom the Oystons have been involved in a public row over the management of the club.
While no cash has been put up, and thus the likelihood of the bid being accepted remains minimal, the proposal does allow the Oyston family to bring an end to the ongoing conflict between themselves and the supporters. At the same time they have the chance to walk away with a very healthy return on their initial investment, especially when one also factors in the £11m payment to one of Owen Oyston’s companies during the club’s season in the Premier League.
Many fans have vowed never to return to Bloomfield Road while the Oystons remain in situ, but if BST’s bid is unsuccessful and no other acceptable offers are forthcoming, the outlook for the near future looks bleak. Diminishing crowds will be left to witness a team of near-strangers rattle around an empty stadium unless the Oyston family can be convinced that their time really is up. Chris Walker