Last Friday (14th September) Blackpool and Charlton Athletic fans protested outside EFL offices in London and Preston, calling for better standards on governance. Here FSF national game development officer Andy Walsh tells us more about the action...
The resilience and determination of Blackpool fans to save their club from the ruinous ownership of the Oyston family was on display again this last week - as more than 100 of them gathered outside EFL Headquarters in Preston on Friday to protest against the lack of any action by the EFL against club owner Owen Oyston and his family.
The Oyston family have presided over a slide in club fortunes over recent years from Premier League to serial strugglers whilst at the same time paying members of the family millions of pounds from club coffers.
On this Preston protest the Tangerines were joined by north west-based Charlton fans who are experiencing what they believe to be similar issues with their own owner, Roland Duchatelet, who took control of the Addicks in 2014.
Blackpool Supporters' Trust (BST) along with other Blackpool fan groups and the Charlton fans’ protest group, Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet (CARD), coordinated a simultaneous protest outside the EFL’s London headquarters where Charlton fans were joined by southern-based Blackpool fans.
Whilst the gates at EFL HQ in Preston remained firmly closed an EFL statement said: “The EFL acknowledges the right of Blackpool and Charlton Athletic fans to stage a protest outside EFL offices on Friday afternoon.”
At the London event supporters were invited in to speak with EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey. This opportunity to address League officials directly was welcomed by fans but they want to see action not further chats.
At Charlton, Duchatelet has promised to sell the club but so far, no deal has been finalised. Supporters are continuing to apply pressure on Mr Duchatelet with the hope of a speedy conclusion to what has been widely acknowledged as a disastrous tenure.
Blackpool fans' boycott of home matches at Bloomfield Road has severely hit club revenue, staff have been issued with redundancy notices and the club is having to survive at a much lower level of competitivity than in 2010 when the club won promotion to the Premier League.
Much of the fans’ ire is directed at the highly divisive Karl Oyston who stood down as chairman after trading insults with supporters and spectacularly falling out with fellow club shareholder Valeri Belokon. The Belokon dispute ended in a court ruling that the Oystons had acted against the interests of the club and its shareholders. Karl Oyston stood down as chairman but amazingly has simply been replaced by his sister, Natalie Christopher.
The FSF believes that the campaign by Blackpool fans is one for the whole of football.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust has conducted a long and highly successful protest but they say that whilst the fans boycott is keeping pressure on the Oystons they should not be left to act alone. The EFL and the game’s governing bodies have a duty to act.
The lack of action from the EFL does need some explaining. The court has ruled in favour of Mr Belokon, and against the Oystons, on the manner in which the Oystons as majority shareholders have conducted themselves by acting against the interests of the club. It is hard to argue against the accusation from Blackpool fans that the EFL is acting like a “cosy owners’ club” rather than a regulator of the game.
We have been here before with Blackpool but with the EFL opening their doors and holding a meeting with representatives of the Blackpool and Charlton London protesters this week there may be some signs that things are moving in the right direction. It does at least acknowledge that fans are not simply being ignored.
After the meeting, the EFL said: “The EFL met with representatives from both sets of fans, listened to their concerns, and confirmed that in recent weeks there has been direct contact with the ownership of the respective clubs in regard to the relevant matters raised."
Blackpool supporters' take on the discussions was understandably cautious and whilst acknowledging that for the most part, the meeting was conducted in a reasonable spirit, they do not believe that the EFL is being decisive.
No promises were made about a timeframe. A lack of transparency in the processes being followed and poor communication with supporters of either Charlton or Blackpool have only led to a strengthening of the view that the EFL is talking a lot but doing little.
As Andy Higgins from Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, was at pains to point out when speaking to the FSF, this is not just about Blackpool and Charlton:
"We have reiterated over the last few years, this is not just about seeing off Duchatelet and Oyston and getting new owners in at our respective clubs, vital though that is.
"It is also about keeping up the pressure on the football authorities to implement reforms in football governance which limits the ability of rogue owners to exploit football clubs in a shameless way.
"It is also about ensuring that structured dialogue with fans is more than just a box-ticking exercise. As fans we care about our clubs but we also care about the wider game too. The EFL needs to understand that and respond to the call for change. Protesting outside EFL offices is a part of reinforcing that call.
"We want football fans to join us in a sustained campaign of lobbying the EFL and other stakeholders within football. We would like to see fans come together in an ‘All Fans United’ march on Wembley at the Carabao Cup Final in 2019.
"And, we are asking all football fans who share our concerns to write to the EFL and call on them to act to protect the integrity of the game. It could be your club next."
The Trust is now calling on any fans with similar to concerns to write to EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey here.
Thanks to PA Images for the image used in this blog.