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Victory cannot mask problems


It was a relief that the Seasiders secured a first League win of the season against Coventry City on Tuesday night, but Blackpool supporters are increasingly concerned that events both on and off the field are moving more slowly than they would like. The team is now entering the third week of the new campaign without a manager and the goalkeeper has said he feels the team is lacking a sense of direction in the wake of Gary Bowyer’s sudden departure. Off the field, despite all the rumour and speculation, no announcement or follow up has been made to the bizarre club statement of August 10th whereby Owen Oyston offered to relinquish his shares in Blackpool FC to Valeri Belokon for £5m.

This week also marked deadline day for the BST-sponsored parliamentary petition calling for an independent regulator for English football. Despite an encouraging start and passing the 10,000signature mark to prompt an official response from government, the endeavour sadly lost momentum, reaching just over 14,500 signatures and not the 100,000 required for a debate in Parliament.

A key motivator behind the petition was the fact that club owners in professional football can get away with showing so little accountability to the fans and communities of the clubs they own. Match results and league tables make it easy for everyone to measure on-field performance but the footballing authorities and club owners are notoriously reluctant to offer anything meaningful in terms of measuring off the pitch performance. Such a state of affairs would not be allowed to happen in any other industry and it is all the more surprising given that football is such a media saturated sport, a wealth-generating industry touching so many people’s lives.

In the worlds of banking and finance and in industries such as health, construction and transport, the importance of independent and meaningful governance is reflected both in the investment made to support various regulatory bodies and how the results and findings of these bodies are so closely monitored by the media.

Underpinning this is an expectation that companies offer a duty of care to consumers and the wider public in how they conduct themselves and their business practices. Sadly, football club owners seem to be absolved from any such ‘duty of care’. Imagine if the daily news segments which quote the sub-standard performances of companies such as Northern Rail and G4S were to be applied to football clubs – particularly Blackpool FC. Recent damning reports have adversely affected the owners and shareholders of both of those companies, and indeed things have got so bad that the governments has seen fit to intervene ‘at no cost to the tax payer’ in sorting out the toxic situation at HMP Birmingham. If only the government could see fit to intervene and set some proper governance guidelines to prevent rogue practices and rogue owners in the football industry!

Earlier this month the competition watchdog published figures revealing that fewer than half of RBS's customers would recommend it to friends and family. By analogy, how many Blackpool fans would recommend supporting the club under its current regime to even their worst enemies? In the banking sector, all British banks have been ordered to publish a league table of customer ratings figures twice a year and to display them in their branches and on their websites. This is so the general public can make a judgement as to whether to switch banks or not. The economic leverage of ‘going elsewhere’ doesn’t apply in the same way to football given the emotional sense of loyalty fans have for a club – but imagine the board of our football club having to post notices in club shop and on the club website proclaiming ‘the owners of Blackpool Football Club are not fit for purpose’ and ‘BFC has the most unpopular chairman in the Football League’.

Unfortunately, the EFL and the Premier League know that football fans generally do not switch their custom as readily as they would their banking provider, if at all; the football authorities and football club owners count on fans not switching teams, count on them continuing to pay at the turnstiles and buy the merchandising no matter how badly the clubs are run. Football supporters are regarded as a captive audience and as such are taken for granted; hence there is so little serious engagement with supporters by the EFL and EPL.

However, these two League organisations are both private companies, limited by guarantee similar to the other industries mentioned above and therefore should be held up to even more public scrutiny when they wantonly oversee the toxic shambles taking place at Blackpool FC.

The sustained ethical boycott by thousands of Blackpool fans is something new and unique in English football and the Leagues should take note of it. Prior to the Portsmouth game Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden contacted BST lamenting the club’s chaotic ownership and reassured the Trust that he is pressing the EFL to be far more proactive in resolving the deadlock which he describes as a huge black hole in both what the club could achieve and in our community.

Clubs like Blackpool epitomise the successes and pride that has been achieved by being at being at the heart of their local communities, but this is all being put at risk by unscrupulous owners who are unfit for purpose. BST hopes his claim that ‘the Government and football authorities need to recognise the need for a step change, not just for Blackpool supporters but for fans all across the country’ is heeded.

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