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BST Gazette Column 31/08/2018

BST31/08/2018

The game against Accrington Stanley last Saturday brought two distinctly different EFL club owners under the same stadium roof. Andy Holt and Owen Oyston couldn’t be further apart in their approach to football club ownership and that was reflected in the fact that the Accrington owner chose to watch the game not from the Directors’ Box but in the away end with fellow Accrington Stanley supporters.

After the game, Andy Holt commented on social media about the situation at Blackpool, stating that ‘It’s sickening to see a great club alienate fans’ and ‘it’s so sad that one person can hold a community club to ransom.’ Most Blackpool fans would agree wholeheartedly with his comments. They reflect much of what has been said by most of us over a period of years.

Owners like Andy Holt have the vision and determination to develop football clubs, investing wisely and involving the supporters who are at the heart of the club. Our own minority shareholder, Valeri Belokon, who came to Blackpool purportedly to sell his beer and ended up investing in the club, has always shown a deep respect for the supporters and an understanding of what a football club should represent to its community. Blackpool fans have had a good relationship with Valeri for many years and it is true to say that he over-delivered on his promise; (Premier League in 5 years, we did it in 4!) He has supported the fans and has fought a legal battle with the Oystons which will undoubtedly be the catalyst for a change in ownership, though not necessarily with the Latvian at the helm.

The question of club ownership is becoming an increasingly hot topic for football fans and nowhere is the problem of poor regulation more evident right now than at Blackpool FC. Speculation is rife about how much longer Owen Oyston can continue to hold on to the club, whether Valeri Belokon will play a role in its future and if not, who is the potential new owner who has been on the verge of concluding a deal to buy the club ‘in a few weeks’ for about the last six months?

Football clubs are classified as private businesses and supporters are totally at the mercy of whichever person or group of persons has ownership of their club at any given time. For much of the time this arrangement works well (as least according to the EFL), but however well run some clubs may be and however benign some owners undoubtedly are, football clubs will always be vulnerable and can only ever be one rogue owner away from the next nightmare until there is a change in football governance – preferably the introduction of an independent regulatory body and an annual licensing system for all league clubs.

There are those who say that as long as the Oystons get out of Blackpool FC then it doesn't really matter who the new owners are. Whilst it is a fact that the fans have little or no influence over who the new owners will be, BST believes that exactly because Blackpool fans have suffered at the hands of the worst owners in football, that bitter experience must be put to good use to bring about the change which is so desperately needed. As fans and a community we have been through too much turmoil to risk being the victims of rogue owners ever again. It is vital that whoever takes control in the future understands and values Blackpool’s supporters and recognises the significant role the club plays in the local community.

Progress towards a change in football governance is slow, however. Political wheels are beginning to turn and the upcoming Party Conferences will be visited by delegations from Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation hosting fringe meetings about the need for regulatory change.

In the meantime it is important to keep grassroots pressure on the administrators to recognise that there is a need for such change. Blackpool fans continue to be extremely frustrated by the EFL’s unwillingness to address serious issues of poor governance at our club. As Andy Holt also said on Saturday: ‘The EFL must have powers to intervene, which it either hasn’t got or won’t use….’

Whichever is the case, in the current situation the EFL is failing football fans – and by extension the football clubs of which the fans are an integral part – and so Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is calling for another public protest outside the EFL offices in Preston on the afternoon of Friday 14th September at 3pm. It is planned to run coaches to Preston from the Thatched House in Poulton and the No.10 Ale House in Marton. Fans from other North-West clubs will be encouraged to come and lend their support, because this is not just a Blackpool issue. Discontent with the actions of unscrupulous owners is on the increase at several EFL clubs whose supporters and communities are suffering as a result. Beyond the Preston protest, there is the potential for this to be part of a more widespread wake-up call to the EFL and football authorities on September 14th as football fans and supporters organisations act in unison to campaign for change in the way football clubs are governed. Change has to be made to happen.

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