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BST Gazette Column 01/02/2019

BST01/02/2019

Who is old enough to remember Tommy Hutchison, Blackpool’s first choice left-winger of the late 1960s/ early 1970s? He made 185 starts and scored 14 goals in all competitions for the Pool before moving on to first division football with Coventry City in the autumn of 1972. He was electrifying to watch and this columnist, arriving in Coventry as a student that same autumn, was fortunate to follow Hutch’s progression from tangerine to sky-blue over the next three seasons. In fact Tommy probably was at his peak at Coventry, going on to play over 350 games for the Sky Blues – though I don’t think he ever enjoyed as good a partnership as the one he had with Alan Suddick back at Bloomfield Road.

Nearly every football fan has a ‘second’ team and Coventry City became mine, largely due to the Hutch-effect, dating back to those years at university. The Sky Blues’ stint in the top flight lasted longer than anyone expected, over thirty years, but they gradually slipped down the divisions after the millennium just as the mighty Seasiders were on the rise again.

If you’re wondering why the emphasis on the Sky Blues this week, it is this: there is a real possibility that unless the club’s issues with ‘rogue’ owners SISU and more pressingly its troubled tenure at the Ricoh Arena can be resolved, it could cease to function as a football league club. My ‘second’ team could soon be no more. That’s the alarming prospect that became clear to Blackpool fans when the Seasiders played at Coventry last Saturday and witnessed and met Sky Blue Trust members sleeping out on the Friday night in order to highlight the club’s potential homelessness.

In every sense, Coventry City is as much a ‘crisis’ club as Blackpool is. What perhaps differentiates the two is the fact that thousands of Pool fans are in their third/fourth/fifth year of boycotting Bloomfield Road as part of the campaign to bring about regime change and largely shunned the League Two play-off final at Wembley; whereas Sky Blues fans continue to go to the Ricoh, took 40,000 fans to the EFL Trophy Final and are still funding owners SISU.

For those of you who’ve followed Coventry’s problems, you’ll know that the club almost went out of business in 2007 before being snapped by up hedge-fund company SISU; then almost went into administration five years later and at one point the club was forced to play its ‘home’ games at nearby Northampton Town.

However, if they are ejected from the Ricoh Arena again such an option will be closed to them this time because the EFL has ruled in its wisdom that the team has to play at a stadium within a certain distance of the town/city it represents. Hence Coventry’s current homelessness predicament stems in part from the EFL's very arbitrary refusal to let them go elsewhere. It’s odd that the EFL has steadfastly refused to act in Blackpool’s case but has taken this action with regard to Coventry City.

It once more calls into question the EFL CEO’s claim that they want to act in the best interests of both clubs and communities and is just one more example of how the EFL cannot be trusted to do the right or sensible thing, or seemingly act with any consistency. At any rate, the case for taking regulation out of the hands of the EFL - the de facto clubs shop steward - is there for all to see, and they have just given us all the opportunity to tell them so, for they have just launched their ‘Have Your Say’ initiative.

‘In what will be the most wide-reaching survey of its kind carried out since 2010, fans will have a unique opportunity to give feedback on a range of matters relating to their respective Clubs, the EFL and its competitions.’ If you have fifteen minutes to spare, this survey does give you the chance to tell the EFL specifically what you think about how Blackpool FC is run and what you think the EFL’s priorities should be (among many other items relating to the game). You can find the survey online at: https://www.efl.com/news/2019/january/efl-supporters-survey-2019---have-your-say/ and you are encouraged to take part. It would say something about Blackpool supporters if as a group we provided the largest response to the EFL’s survey – and the club does get to see the feedback as well.

BST has argued passionately in various arenas that football clubs are social enterprises, rooted in communities and not just business opportunities for hedge fund owners, speculators and playboys. Blackpool, Bolton, Charlton, Coventry and a growing list of ‘crisis’ clubs and their long-suffering fans simply should not be in the precarious position they find themselves in. The football authorities ought to have acted to ensure cynical practices by rogue owners have no place in the game, but it is being left to fans to push for such change.

Never underestimate the importance of not taking good management for granted. The Trust would argue that more than ever fans need to be proactive, organised and vigilant in support of their institutions - a football club is not just for Saturdays! That is the justification and rationale for supporters’ trusts. We might ultimately have no say about who takes over our club and although we obviously expect to end up in better hands in the near future, fans still need to be represented officially and robustly. BST will continue to do that. Please consider becoming a member if you are not one already. It is all about strength of numbers and being representative.

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