The Blackpool Files - Ground
In the first installment of the Vital meeting with Karl Oyston, I'll relay what was said about the ground - any possible building work and the upkeep of the stadium.
Firstly though, I'll just give you some background information on the meeting between Chairman Karl Oyston (KO), alongside Club Secretary/Press Officer Matt Williams, and the members of our forum.
A letter was written to Blackpool Football Club back in October making our views known to the Chairman, to which he responded to, inviting the people surrounding the letter in for a meeting, with the most convenient date for both parties being Saturday's fixture against Queens Park Rangers at Bloomfield Road.
Originally scheduled for a noon kick off (if you will!), however, the meeting was put back to a five fifteen start at the chairman's request, he initially said that we would have 'about an hour' but the meeting surpassed that and to their credit the meeting last just over two and a half hours. The meeting took place in the Joe Smith box of the hospitality area.
In attendance, and representing VitalFootball were 'Crossy', who was designated spokesperson, coupled with 'TorontoPool' (TP) as co-editor of the site. Further co-editors Jerry, 'Sandgroanun' were also in attendance with forum members 'SeasideEssexXile' (SEX), 'Layton_Seasider', 'BisphamTangerine', 'Platos', 'SeasiderTony' (ST) and 'SirHarryThompson', with Nige, Sam and Linda as friends and family of predominant users of the website also sitting in on the meeting.
To start the meeting off, fulfilling his spokesman's role, Crossy made a formal introduction to who we were and what we were about, with 'we are not here to ridicule or try and catch you out' setting the stall out very early on.
The meeting was then underway, and within minutes SeasideEssexXile was asking the opening question, predictably with regards to the South Stand:
'Karl, in the summer of 06, you stated that groundwork on the SW corner would start on the 23rd of September. This never materialised, much like when you said on BBC Radio Lancs in July that an announcement on when building work is to start on the whole South Stand will be made public within 'a few weeks'. What is the current situation with the South?'
In reply, Karl Oyston was quick to address the announcements; 'We've said a lot over the time I've been here and there's a lot of misreporting. I always carry out whatever I say very carefully to make sure we don't make promises that we can't keep.'
The Chairman continued that 'as far as the South West and South stands go, the same with the rest of the business, I'll always do what's right for the business and in my considered opinion - which is the opinion that counts - it's not right for the football business to borrow £3.5 million at least - which is what it will cost for the South West and the South - and then take the payments out of the football business - which will probably amount to around £400,000 per year - which is directly out of the manager's budget for players and in this division probably amounts to two very good or four squad Championship players.'
To lengthen his initial response, KO then went onto further report the clubs position on how many fans are genuinely missing out at home games: 'I don't think that's the right thing to do, (build the stand based on football issues) and my thoughts are backed up by the experience of a number of requests when we sell-out or ticket office staff. I get actual facts other than the varied speculation that flies about the place about the number of supporters who can't get seats. I think we said between 50 and 100 possibly some games, certainly the Preston and Burnley games will be a lot, lot more but on an average match the number of supporters who can't get in the ground isn't enough to guarantee income to pay back that £3.5 million. The revenue that the football side would generate isn't enough, and I am not going to preside over making a commitment, a 25 year commitment, to take £400,000 out of the playing side of this club.'
SEX then further added to his original question by stating 'if we built a stand of 3,500 (a figure accepted by the Chairman), and gave it to away fans at least 12/13 teams in The Championship would sell out, with demand outstripping supply.'
Both KO and Matt Williams disagreed, saying that from their research they would only say 'six or seven teams would sell more than their allocation now,' and Essex's claim about the away following wouldn't generate 'enough money' for the club, and explained: 'There would be 10-15,000 (extra) people over a season? Maybe 20,000? At an average of a tenner each when you've knocked the VAT off and all the other bits and pieces, it's not enough money.'
Club Secretary Matt Williams then explained: 'The six or seven club figure is based on the average away attendance from clubs in The Championship. There's a benchmarking exercise that's done every close-season in The Championship whereby the average away support, obviously we take into account the Blackpool factor, but we've gone out and speaking to other clubs in the division when we were toying with the idea of a temporary stand it was only 6 or 7 that would have requested an additional allocation over the 1,900 that we supply.'
KO said that 'we did consider having a temporary stand with 3,000 seats in which would have cost us about £400,000.'
'SirHarryThompson' was quick to cut to the chase, and questioned whether there were plans or start dates, to which typically Karl Oyston didn't answer directly, 'I'm not going to make a decision that takes £400,000 per year out of the football side because it's not sustainable; it won't generate that money.'
After the latest explanation, SeasiderTony asked bluntly when the Chairman would foresee building a new stand, due to customer demand. To this, KO replied: 'I don't think I will.'
What ensued was an exchange between ST and KO, after KO's latest explanation to the straight-forward question: 'so you'll never build the stand?!' from ST.
KO; 'No, no... you've said that. Don't put words in my mouth. I've said I'll build it when it's right for the football business and it isn't currently right for the football business. It'll be right for the football business when someone else is paying for it, i.e. The Property business is paying for it by the pre-lets.'
At the end of the exchange between ST and KO, the Chairman said: 'Most games we sell-out probably the night before the game - today (Saturday) wasn't a sell-out - so this demand thing is a complete red herring...'
At this point, TorontoPool interrupted and posed the scenario of MK Dons: 'where last year they were in an awful ground weren't they and they had no gates did they? They've built a new ground haven't they, and their attendances have gone through the roof…' to which KO specified 'I'm not interested in MK Dons, I'm interested in Blackpool...' and went onto state that 'Darlington's an example of a new stadium aswell, so lets not have examples.'
TP felt that comparing Darlington and MK Dons were not an ideal comparison; Darlington are a club who had a stadium lumped on them for George Reynold's ego rather than the Football club, whereas a MK scenario still remains a prime example of what a good stadium can do to galvanise a club. There was a brief exchange between Matt and TP on the comparison of MK and a number of other clubs who have built new grounds, many of which have received funding from local authorities and grants from the football foundation. Since the meeting the, club have confirmed to us that they received £2.5 million from the Football Foundation to build the new stands which was a 'massive bonus' at the time, the club also explained that of the £2.5 million, £500,000 was paid because the club had 'moved' from its original location!
Moving on from other comparing our club with others, Crossy then asked 'if you could get £400,000 from somewhere else, you would go ahead and build the stands on pre-lets?' to which the answer was a simple yes.
Finishing off the question, KO said 'with a pre-let it's not just the £400,000 per year, because when we build the stand for £3.5million, the South West and South, then we've got to create approximately between 60 and 80,000 square feet of let-able space behind it, but there's a cost to fit, that's just a shell.'
Co-editor Sandgroanun then asked: 'Would one of the options have been to actually have had the hotel built into the South Stand, rather than have it done separately as a Travelodge across the road?' to which his reply was a simple no, because 'Travelodge wanted a stand-alone hotel.'
SeasideEssexXile then asked; 'So the hotel is part of Blackpool Properties? Or is that courtesy of the club at all, the Travelodge receipt?' to which KO replied that the hotel wouldn't directly benefit the football side of the club, however, the club currently spends a considerable amount of money on hotel accommodation for loan players and trailists and it is hoped that a favourable rate would be agreed with Travelodge to help in that respect.
Sam, looking slightly agitated, then wondered: 'when you've got a couple of pre-lets hopefully going to sign up, or you've got them signed up, if they sign up are you going to build the stand then?'
KO replied with: 'Nothing's black and white particularly. If I get enough signed up to where I don't have to rob too much money out of the player's budget, I would probably take a flier on it and do it on that basis, on the grounds that we would make a bit of money as we go along with other events.'
Platos then asked about the pre lets situation, to which the Chairman stated that one's 'for the North (chipboard area adjacent to the Nursery) and one is for the South-West corner.' Sam and Platos both picked up on this point straight away, and both asked 'are we to have a South-West stand then?' to which Oyston replied 'It's all property driven. The whole thing is property driven. It always has been. This was property driven, what we're sitting in now (the West Stand). That's just the way we decided to go.'
KO did confirm that the pre-let agreements are in the hands of the club solicitors; it would be his intention to build both the South West corner and South Stand at the 'same time' as this would easier and a lot more cost effective.
After a brief interruption, and slight digression from the topic in hand, LaytonSeasider asked if the Chairman had anything he could offer us optimistically, to which the reply was: 'I'm very optimistic (laughter). Seriously, I am optimistic that we'll achieve what we're all after. That's what we work towards...'
As expected, someone jumped on the answer from KO, and that someone was predictably SeasiderTony, who asked what the plans are for the club in the short term future, to which KO said he didn't have short term plans, and added: 'if you have short-term plans, they're pretty pointless. If I'm going to spend the best part of £8million building and fitting out a stand, it's a massive undertaking, then I'm going to balance that from pre-lets, it's pretty straight forward isn't it? You've got something there that's let for 25 years and that's a long-term plan isn't it? It's a long-term commitment and that benefits the football club to the tune of 3,500 seats for no real cost, the football club doesn't pay for that so the football club gets a free stadium which it can generate funds from...'
KO also confirmed that the pre-lets in place and ones proposed for the new South West and South Stand had significant break clauses should the tenants wish to move away from Bloomfield Road.
A reference was made to the East stand by ST, with the Chairman content to let the away followings watch the game without a roof, Matt Williams made reference to Gillingham`s stand, which is 'exactly the same'. Noticing the club officials were using examples that weren't allowed beforehand, ST stated categorically: 'We don't have to be Gillingham, we're Blackpool! Let's talk about Blackpool...'
Moving slightly on from the building of the stands and pre lets, TorontoPool then posed the question: 'Karl, can I talk about the state of the current stands?'
TP went onto state that the maintenance gives an image about the club, KO initial response of a sigh and 'does it?' somewhat baffled a large proportion of the thirteen fans around the table, with Crossy and TP both united in saying that yes it does, and that everyone around the table will agree.
KP explained that the chipboard in the North Stand adjacent to the Nursery is to be vacated soon 'because that's one of the pre-lets that we're talking about, I've applied for and got planning permission to get a bigger window, effectively cut into the cladding.'
KO continued that the area adjacent to the Nursery was to become a drop in centre operated by the Primary Health Care Trust. *BFC written paragraph...*
Platos rightly went back to pointing out the panels at the end South West Corner of the ground, and said: 'It's a bit of an eyesore that piece that's cut out at the end there (on the South end of the West stand) like someone's been there with a tin-opener.' KO said that it's going to remain until the South West is built. Platos kept plugging away though, and asked why the cutting of the panels was done. KO cleared the point up by stating that they had to cut the panels 'So we could load all the plasterboard and metal studding in to do the fit-out on the 42,000 sq. ft. of space that we rent to the PCT at the moment. Also all the builder's rubbish went out through the hole as well.'
After that answer, Sandgroanun mentioned about the signage (or lack of) and again reiterated that the impression given from the club isn't a good one, with KO accusing the meeting of 'skipping around', but TorontoPool rightly pointed out that signage is under ground maintenance, so therefore we weren't skipping around! The chairman reluctantly agreed and the topic of signage and general upkeep was taken up by SGU.
'I just want to pick up there, when you go to St Mary's like a week ago and I think I saw you outside there looking at it and how impressive it was. First impressions as an away fan are just as important as home fans isn't it; its pride in your club isn't it. That's what I'm saying, as fans you have a pride in the ground, and not just in the playing staff themselves don't you. It's a general comment I'm making, not specific about building the South stand, I'm just saying, being here now and what it conveys. A lot of it, and I live hundreds of miles away, I deal with Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday fans and I'm jealous of them and what they've got, they've got a fantastic following and great grounds do you knoww what I mean? It's just a general comment that's all, I'm not asking you to sign a cheque now, I'm just saying I'm delighted to go to Wolves, delighted to go to Leicester, fantastic grounds - one of the benefits of being in The Championship - it means a lot rather than going to Gillingham as you've quoted Matt, quite rightly, we're in The Championship and we've got a Championship team but have we got a Championship stadium?'
KO asked Sandgroanun what his point was…
Sandgroanun; Well no, I'm just making a general one, it's about the impression of the ground and the signage is one thing I think could have been quickly dealt with. It doesn't cost a lot of money to put a decent sign up...rather than it is, BSA organising charity functions in order to pay for it, Karl. Just a personal observation...
Karl; You'd rather have a fancy sign than a player?
Sandgroanun; Well god, if it costs that much, I will be worried!
SeasideEssexXile (interrupting); Can I just quickly talk about the sign? One of the quotes about the sign Chris, as you rightly said, was two seasons ago when we were struggling and we never went up, we stayed above relegation, one of the quotes attributed to yourself on Radio Lancashire - you were on the phone - was 'if we stay up, I'll put a sign up'. We stayed up, no sign appeared...
Karl (interrupting); Did I?
SeasideEssexXile (interrupting); Radio Lancs so I...y'know, Radio Lancs is Radio Lancs. We had a function purely for the simple 120th anniversary it was, part of the funding was that we made money for signage. From the 120th anniversary...
Matt, then Karl; That was Chris Hull who staged that event it was nothing to do with the club.
KO then went onto say that he had received several designs from the clubs signage people but at this stage there currently isn't enough in the 'signage pot' and the discussion about the ground was put to an end after 28 minutes.
Since the meeting the club has asked us to point out that it has applied for planning permission to extend the East Stand by a further 1,000 seats with turnstiles, access, catering and toilet at the North East side of the ground, this would then give the club the opportunity of 'splitting' the East Stand. The club have also been given permission to add an extra 100 or so seats around the current North and West stands in particular another 50 seats will be added at the top of the '53 club stairwell, other seats will be added in the various voids around the stadium. *BFC written paragraph...*
So, to summarise on the topic of the ground, the following points:
- The South end of the ground will only be built when the pre-lets are sorted, it won't be - in the chairman's opinion - worth building it on the footballing side of things.
- The pre-lets for the North and South West stands are currently in the hands of the clubs solicitors.
- The Chairman would be reluctant take any money out of the player's budget for ground improvements
- No temporary stand will be built on the south end of the ground
- Planning permission has been applied for to extend the East which will give the club the option of splitting for home supporters use.
- Not enough funds in the signage pot to date, however, the club has received several designs
- Tin-opened panel at the end of the ground is to remain sliced until SW is built.
The full transcript of the conversation on the ground will follow later in the day.