For the first time in 31 years, League One Blackpool are approaching a new season without the owners who brought the club to its knees.
By the end, Owen Oyston, son Karl and daughter Natalie created an atmosphere around Bloomfield Road that was so toxic many supporters refused to go to watch their team.
In June, it was confirmed a Seasiders fan – Blackpool-born, Hong Kong-based financier Simon Sadler – had bought a 96.2% controlling interest in the club.
In the build-up to Blackpool’s opening match of the season at home to Bristol Rovers on Saturday, Sadler spoke to BBC Sport…
Blackpool in danger
It is hard to believe, considering what followed, but in 2009 Blackpool were about to embark on their first top-flight campaign for 40 years.
Despite doing the double over Liverpool and beating Tottenham, a run of 16 games from mid-January in which they earned only eight points meant they went straight back down. In 2015, they were relegated to League One. A year later, they were in League Two.
Supporters accused the Oyston family of taking money out of the club – a claim made in court which the family denied.
“I care deeply about this club,” he says. “What has happened to it has been unpleasant to watch.
“I own Sir Stanley Matthews’ FA Cup medal from 1953. I was sitting in Hong Kong thinking the club he won the medal for was in danger of going out of existence.
“The club needed a fan to step in. Friends have given me every reason not to do this. They have also given me every reason to do it. My wife has been incredibly supportive.
“Does the challenge occasionally feel daunting? Yes. Is it exciting? Yes. Am I going to have fun? I really hope so.”
A damaged community asset
Blackpool is not a wealthy town. Unemployment is significantly higher than the national average, and the number of people on benefits is almost double.
Sadler believes the football club should be a beacon of positivity. It has a rich history – three times FA Cup finalists, one of only five clubs to supply more than one player to England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad, and home to Matthews, who made 391 appearances for the club in 14 years.
Sadler says: “Football clubs are community assets but the link between the club and the town – if it didn’t get destroyed – certainly got badly damaged. How that happened is shocking.
“Blackpool has its social troubles. It needs a solid football club. We are starting to rebuild relationships. Blackpool Council is our new sponsor.
“I am fortunate enough to be the custodian of this football club and I want to make sure it is around for future generations so other lads and lasses can come with their mums and dads, like I did with my dad.”
Lagging behind Fleetwood and Fylde
Blackpool’s traditional rivals are Preston North End, 18 miles away. But as the rows around the club rumbled on, two more even more local foes have emerged.
Fifteen years ago, Fleetwood Town were playing in the North West Counties League – tier nine in the English football pyramid. Fylde were lower than that, in tier 11.
Fleetwood – eight miles from Blackpool – are now in League One. Fylde – a mile further away – came within one game of promotion to the Football League last season. Both have new grounds and better training facilities than Blackpool.
“In many respects, Blackpool is behind Fleetwood and Fylde because it hasn’t had that investment,” says Sadler. “It is going to take time, dedication and hard work – and, above all else, it is going to take money.
“We need to build the infrastructure and build a squad to get us out of League One into the Championship, and to stay there.
“We have to think long term. It would be ridiculous of me to chuck £10m to £20m into the playing squad when we aren’t ready for it. That sort of money needs to be invested in training facilities and the like.”
Sadler has installed a management team that includes Michael Bolingbroke, formerly of Manchester United and Inter Milan, as executive chairman and long-time friend Brett Gerrity, a lawyer, as director.
He has appointed Simon Grayson – returning to Blackpool for a second spell – to replace Terry McPhillips as manager.
Sadler does not view being based in Hong Kong as a draWBAck because “in a strange way, the time zone can work for me a little bit because I can concentrate on my day job and in the evenings devote some time to Blackpool FC”.
He has worked out it is possible to leave his office on a Friday, get to Blackpool matches on a Saturday and be back at work on Monday. It is a trip he hopes to make 25 times this season.
Buying Matthews’ FA Cup medal
Since he left the UK in his 20s to pursue a successful financial career, Sadler’s link to Blackpool has been through his memories – and, more obviously, Matthews’ medal. It is now housed in the National Football Museum in Manchester.
The story of how Sadler came to own it is a tale in itself.
He says: “A friend of mine, who was in Australia, saw an article about the medal being for sale and messaged me.
“We were going through a very good period at work – and, within that, I had a very good day. I had drunk quite a bit and rang my dad, who lives in the Lake District, and asked him to go to London and buy it.
“The guide price was £50,000. I just pulled a number out of thin air and said: ‘You can pay up to this.’
“We think he just offered that figure, though my sister, who went down with him, assures me that is not the case. We occasionally tease him now – ‘£220,000!’ But that is how I ended up getting it.
“It is an iconic piece of sporting history and I am honoured to own it.”