Roll up, roll up for Blackpool's ridiculous roller-coaster ride

'Europe's most chaotic club' have barely enough players and a feud between the president and owners

Sir Alex Ferguson would have recognised the scenario. His first job in management was at East Stirling, and when he arrived at Firs Park it was to be told he had a playing squad of eight.

"You do realise, Mr Chairman, that you need 11 to play a football match," he said, "and it's advisable to have a goalkeeper."

When Jose Riga took over as Blackpool manager last month, he had eight players and no goalkeeper, although things have moved on. There is now enough for a football team at Bloomfield Road, although he is still looking for someone to put between the sticks at what Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, Bild, called: "Europe's most chaotic club".

Yesterday Blackpool, a team which four seasons ago beat Liverpool home and away, completed their preparations for the coming Championship campaign with a friendly against Burnley. Aside from a match against Penrith in which Blackpool fielded five trialists, yesterday's game represented their entire pre-season – one that has been dominated by a bitter feud between the club's president and minority shareholder, the Latvian banker Valeri Belokon, and the owners, the Oyston family.

Belokon, who has accused the Oystons of taking £24 million out of the club without his consent, is backed by the Blackpool Supporters Trust. The club's chairman, Karl Oyston, responded with a long letter published on the Blackpool website. In it he accused Belokon of wanting a similar sum for his 20 per cent stake in the club.

New manager Jose Riga New manager Jose Riga The gist of Karl's argument was that the Oystons had underwritten Blackpool for 27 sometimes very thin years, including three in which his father, the socialist entrepreneur Owen Oyston, now 80, was in prison for rape. They were entitled to some payback – and the money had gone to their companies, not to them.

In the midst of all this, preparations for the most volatile division in European football spluttered along. A game against Alfreton Town was called off. Blackpool withdrew from a tournament in La Manga to allow Riga more time in which to sign players. He added three more; two were from Barnsley, who were relegated from the Championship last season. Another new arrival was Peter Clarke, a 32-year-old central defender who had been released by Huddersfield but did have the advantage of having played for Blackpool before – albeit when they were in the third tier of English football.

In one sense Blackpool are a well-run football club. The Championship operates on economic lines that would shame a banana republic. The seven most debt-ridden clubs in 2013 – Bolton, Leicester City, Brighton, Ipswich, Middlesbrough, Hull and Cardiff City – owed a combined total of £670m. Blackpool are debt-free, and were one of only four Championship clubs to have made a profit last year. Their accounts for 2013 declared a cash balance of more than £4m.

It is, however, where those profits have gone that have triggered accusations that the Oystons have been relentlessly using Blackpool as a cash cow even when the milk has started to run dangerously dry. Most of the profits made by Blackpool have been distributed perfectly legally into other companies controlled by the Oystons, whose fortunes were transformed the moment Ian Holloway took Blackpool into the Premier League in 2010.

In that year the club's holding company, Segesta Limited, had a net worth of minus £6.39m. It was given an unsecured, interest-free loan of £11.5m by the club, 34 times their turnover. Segesta's debt to Blackpool now stands at £23.71m.

A further £11m was paid to Zabaxe Limited, a company wholly owned by Owen Oyston and his wife, Vicki. In 2010, the year Blackpool won promotion to the Premier League, Zabaxe's cash balances were zero. They now stand at £8.699m.

Owen Oyston Owen Oyston The £11m represented more than was paid to Blackpool's entire first-team squad during their season in the Premier League. Holloway's salary was £400,000.

The Oystons argued that had Zabaxe not received the money from Blackpool, the club would have had to pay a significant sum in corporation tax, and that they would be prepared to lend the money back without interest to rebuild the training ground – although they have not yet done so.

However, Chris Walker, who has investigated Blackpool's accounts extensively for the fans' website, argued that the bill to the Oystons would have been the same wherever the money went.

Zabaxe has used payments from Blackpool to finance some of Owen Oyston's smaller operations. One of the most interesting payments was to Lamara Roma Limited, set up in September 2011. The sole shareholder was Lamara Hill, the then 18-year-old daughter of Steve Hill, whose company Northern Security supplies match-day staff to Bloomfield Road. The company was dissolved in January last year.

This is a significant season for Blackpool, and not just because they are threatening to begin it without a goalkeeper. It is the final one in which they will benefit from the Premier League's parachute payments for relegated clubs, which last for four seasons.

The Oystons have always set great store by this influx of money. In the directors' report they stated: "Remaining in the Championship is not considered a considerable risk to the company as turnover will still be assisted by guaranteed parachute payments from the Premier League."

Blackpool survived last season by two points and responded by getting rid of almost the entire first-team squad. Only Riga's appointment as manager inspired confidence. Last season the 57-year-old, one-time technical director of Milan and manager of Standard Liège, steered Charlton to safety. This latest challenge is likely to be more difficult.

Karl Oyston Karl Oyston "It is not an easy challenge," he said when arriving at the club. "But with the support of the chairman and, certainly, the support of the fans, who really must be the 12th man, I am sure we can succeed."

The fans are not so sure. "What we are going through has been described as engineered stagnation," said Walker. "It seems that the Oystons' motivation is, 'How little [expense] can we get away with?' Last season Blackpool survived because they won five of their first six fixtures. Nobody expects a repetition of that.

"There are some fans who are suspicious of Belokon and would support the Oystons on the grounds that it is better the devil you know. However, what you can say with some certainty is that Blackpool's fortunes began turning around the moment Belokon invested. In the 2006-07 season we were in the third tier. His money financed the rebuilding of the squad, the fitting out of two stands and the signing of Charlie Adam."

Meanwhile the season grows ever nearer. In his final press conference at Manchester United, Ferguson recalled his first days as manager at East Stirling.

"That is your education," he reflected. "Other managers should start in that kind of way, but I don't suppose it's that kind of way now."

Jose Riga might just beg to differ.

  • This article was changed. An earlier version suggested that Owen Oyston owned Lancashire Life. It is in fact Archant.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?