Here we are again. Yes, again. And again! It really is an omnishambles, isn’t it? The latest sorry mess to hit Bloomfield Road is of course the unseemly exchange of text messages between Karl Oyston and a supporter. There is much to condemn, from both Oyston and the supporter in question, but the particularly disgusting element – and the thing which has prompted so much press coverage – is the various references made by Oyston to learning disabilities with comments such as “retard”, “special needs” and “intellectual cripple”.
The comments have quite rightly been condemned, not only by national media but also campaign groups such as Kick It Out and Level Playing Field. The Blackpool Gazette have also reacted strongly to the story with a powerful editorial in which they announced they would be terminating Oyston’s weekly column with immediate effect – a decision which is certainly welcome in these parts given the one-sided propaganda puff pieces those articles had been since they were first introduced. Back in August, we deconstructed a particularly obtuse retelling of events from the bizarre perspective of the chairman.
After initially being met with a wall of silence from the club for the majority of Monday, the club finally spoke out with a personal statement from Karl Oyston. For the first sentence at least, one is led to believe that there might actually be a remorseful and contrite apology on the cards:
“I would like to unreservedly apologise for any offence or distress caused by my text responses reported in the media recently.”
OK, that seems fine. Well, the apology for “causing offence” rather than apologising for being offensive is a tried and trusted cop-out when managing a media storm such as this, but perhaps he will go on to express his regret in more detail? But then…
“I regret stooping to the level of those threatening and abusing my family.”
Ah. Hmmm. Well, at least the regret part of the prediction was correct. But no, he’s almost immediately switching the focus of the blame onto others. Maybe he’ll leave it at that though? Maybe it’s just a brief snippet of the fact he had felt he was being abused to provide a slither of context, and then he’ll return to the more important part of the apology in showing complete contrition at such loathsome comments?
“My mobile number was placed on a social media website recently and it led to a barrage of abuse about my mother, father, wife, children and myself. In hindsight the aim of this was clear, and I foolishly opted to challenge some of the abuse, harassment and threats.”
Oh. Oh dear. “The aim of this was clear”? The exchanges between Karl Oyston and Stephen Smith that have been released do not appear to show Smith abusing Oyston’s family, or threatening them in any way. Sure, there is some rather choice language which can’t be condoned, but the comments about learning difficulties were brought up independently of any threats. Does this adequately fall under the category of “challenging the abuse”? I certainly wouldn’t have thought so. More deflecting, then.
“Given my position, I should have acted with more responsibility and reported the abusive text messages, phone calls and answer phone messages to the police, rather than get embroiled in such an exchange.”
Yes, you bloody should have! What kind of individual in such a high-profile position of power acts in the way that Oyston has done, on this occasion and many more before it? Gerald Ratner springs to mind, one supposes, but beyond that it’s grasping at straws time. If you’re in the position that Oyston found himself in, with his number out in the open and on the receiving end of unwanted text messages, you would surely just change your number, wouldn’t you? Or have the offending phone numbers blocked? What Oyston chose to do instead is simply incomprehensible.
So, non-apology and a buck-passing “he hit me first” mentality aside, what else is there to pick the bones out of this miserable affair? Oyston goes on to state in the club press release that he will be making a donation to the Community Trust, who are engaged in several programmes to support a variety of charities, including some that represent those referred to in such offensive terms by the chairman. All of this suddenly has echoes of a similar tale that took place at Blackpool less than a year ago.
In early January 2014, Michael Chopra found himself at the centre of controversy after tweeting that a training session organised with just a handful of players was a “fucking joke”. Chopra was duly fined by the club, and Oyston went on record with some glee to state that Chopra’s fine would go to the aforementioned Community Trust:
“If people are dim enough to do things like that, which will cost them thousands of pounds, then I’m delighted to take it. It will be going to such a good use. People who deserve a chance and support will benefit from this, so I’m delighted. I wish there was more bad behaviour like that.”
Ooops. Talk about a premonition, eh? The level of the donation being made by Oyston has not been announced, but broadly speaking it’s neither here nor there. It is indeed good news for the Community Trust, although the goodwill lost by the sullying of the Blackpool ‘brand’ will surely have an impact, but the consequence on Oyston’s pocket is negligible. This is especially pertinent when one thinks of the money the chairman has been making out of the club, including a reported salary in excess of £500k in the last published accounts.
Essentially then, by over-paying an under-performing chairman, it is the football side of Blackpool FC that are paying this ‘donation’. It seems much less sincere when examined in this way. If Karl Oyston thinks that paying off the Community Trust in a donation makes everything hunky-dory again, he is very much mistaken. Perhaps a better gesture would have been to commit to 100 hours of community service on the front line. You never know, it’s possible that the chairman could find this a humbling experience and educate him to alter his disturbing views on the disabled.
Going back to the Chopra incident, there was a further comment made by Oyston which warrants closer examination:
“The player has a well documented run of poor behaviour and off-the-field problems, so it doesn’t surprise me.”
Pots and kettles, anyone? The truth is that Oyston has virtually made antagonising his own fanbase his main hobby, such is the frequency of his run-ins with supporters. We could go back a few years to the time he branded his critics as being “peculiar” or perhaps the incident last season when the chairman posed with an “Oyston’s Cash Cow” banner (pictured at the top of this post).
In the case of the latter incident, Oyston sought to shift blame to his son for taking and uploading the photo to social networks, rather than accepting any responsibility for actually posing next to the banner with a smug grin on his face. There are countless other examples as well, far too many to mention indeed. So yes, with a well document run of poor behaviour and off-the-field problems, this latest Oyston faux-pas is no surprise.
Aside from the slurs against mental disability, there were several other deeply concerning remarks made by Oyston during his text message exchanges. There is the slur on the working class, writing off the trade of painter / decorators as being a “pathetic, dreary life”. There is telling someone they are banned because they are “a prick”. There is the claim that he is a “one man nightmare revenge mission” intent on taking the club to the Conference within three years. There is the proud statement about being “awash with cash”.
There are reams and reams of this stuff. What on earth is the chairman of a professional football club doing mouthing off like this, especially a club that is heavily in distress, both on and off the pitch due to the crass and incompetent mismanagement by said individual? It’s utterly and totally bemusing, yet to any Blackpool fan it is pretty much considered the norm for a man whose name could not be more toxic.
It’s clear that Karl Oyston has to go if the club is ever to progress again, as the slogan on the club’s badge suggests Blackpool FC should be striving for. If his rank bad management wasn’t evidence enough that he does not deserve to be running our once proud club, then his frankly disgusting comments at the less fortunate should really be sealing his fate. But then, we are dealing with someone who lists being stubborn as one of their main qualities, so perhaps we shouldn’t be holding our breath just yet.
Listening to Radio Lancashire’s coverage of this sorry saga on Monday evening, it’s clear that the Blackpool faithful are almost universally united in their determination to see the back of Karl Oyston’s catastrophic chairmanship. It’s heartening to hear so many impassioned pleas for the club to be returned to those who love it most. For now, all we can do is wait, and hope that the pressure being brought to bear will eventually yield the result so many want…the removal of the Oyston family once and for all.