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BST Gazette Column 27/04/2018

BST27/04/2018

The EFL replied as promised last Friday to concerns over the proper application of the Owners and Directors Test that BST had raised on behalf of Blackpool fans at a meeting with EFL representatives on 20th March. However, as the EFL CEO stated so presciently in his letter to the Trust last week, it didn’t reveal the answer fans would have liked to hear. In addition, the Trust has heard nothing back regarding its suggestion that the EFL uses what has happened at Blackpool as a ‘case review’ to help them improve the effectiveness of their regulations. That being so, BST has written back to Mr Harvey explaining why his reply was unsatisfactory on several counts. BST’s letter has been sent to all its members and has been shared on fans’ forums so the full details are out in the public domain but it is worth just highlighting a few key points here.

Firstly, the Trust is still convinced that the EFL’s reading of its regulations regarding ‘registered offenders’ is incorrect in the context of owners and directors. The rules do not just apply at point of entry; rather, they require all ‘relevant persons’ to self-certify their continued eligibility each pre-season – suggesting a fundamental misunderstanding by the EFL of what their rules say and how they should be applied.

Secondly, whenever there is a significant problem in any organisation, it is best practice to hold a review and learn from the experience by implementing changes to procedures and audits. The EFL appears reluctant to do this. There seems to be a particular reluctance to engage with fans, even those bringing offers of practical help (such as the BST case review model); there is a constant pattern of responding to issues at a glacial pace, even when clubs are clearly in crisis; and there is a culture of secrecy and a defensive attitude towards any kind of criticism. All in all, this makes the EFL a very difficult organisation to deal with and leads to a widespread perception that the EFL is not stepping up to a proper exercise of its powers when it comes to off- the- field matters of club management.

All of this is against a backdrop of various negotiations going on behind the scenes by parties potentially interested in taking over our football club from the Oystons. Of course that change of ownership is something thousands of people want to see happen – and not just Blackpool supporters either. Everyone who has the best interests of the town and the wider community of the Fylde in mind lives in hope of such a change. However, those same people, fans and non-fans alike, will want the new owners to be a vast improvement on the existing ones, fit to usher in an era of optimism and uplift for club and town alike.

The task of vetting such owners currently falls to the EFL and the FA, the same august bodies that have allowed the situation at Blackpool to go unchecked for so long, that considered Francesco Becchetti fit to own Leyton Orient, that confirmed Massimo Cellini as a suitable person to buy Leeds United, that deemed Roland Duchatelet a proper person to take over at Charlton Athletic. We should be worried – and that’s the point. The EFL and FA may argue that most owners behave responsibly and most clubs are run in a reasonable fashion, but even one rogue, ineligible or unprincipled owner is one too many.

How can an English football league club be owned by a ‘registered offender’? When that same football club owner is deemed by the High Court to have illegitimately stripped the assets of his football club, how come the EFL and the FA did nothing?

It is well known that thousands of Blackpool fans have been boycotting Bloomfield Road for two, three or four seasons in protest against the afore-mentioned poor custodianship of our club by the Oystons. What is not so well known is that there are a very principled number who have refused to step inside the stadium for over twenty years now on the grounds that they will not support in any way an institution owned by a convicted sex offender. Wouldn’t it be something if we all had it in us to exercise such firm principles in the face of our love for our team? Wouldn’t it be something again if the EFL and the FA could ensure that we didn’t need to!

Think on that, Greg Clark and Shaun Harvey. If your respective organisations will not step up willingly to the serious responsibility of ensuring the highest possible standards of governance for all clubs then the fans will keep pressing to ensure that someone does – preferably an independent regulatory body for the sport.

The petition to get a parliamentary debate on safe-standing at football grounds passed the 100,000 signature milestone this week, so a parliamentary debate on the topic should ensue. It can be done. The Trust would like to see the petition to get a debate on reforming football governance achieving the same support. Shaun Harvey declined to sign it. If you haven’t already signed it, please do so. If you have signed, please share the link as widely as possible. Together we will make a difference. Here is the link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/213108

Thank you on behalf of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust – fans united, putting football first.

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