When Blackpool Supporters’ Trust was created just over five years ago, its main purpose was, as it is now, to represent the interests of Blackpool fans, to help ensure the wellbeing of the football club and promote the involvement of the club in its local community. These relatively simple aims proved very difficult as a result of the unwillingness of our then owners to engage with supporters. The previous owners ignored the Trust, cravenly disowned BSA when that group opposed their shenanigans before creating a bizarre half-baked consultative body called the Fans Progress Group. So transparent was the artifice with which the Oystons’ tried to protect themselves from any kind of oversight or accountability, that the FPG numbers soon dwindled to literally less than a handful and the owners continued to drain the very lifeblood out of the football club until finally having BFC wrested from them by the courts.
This quick and hugely condensed account of the recent past serves only to remind us of just how dire the situation was and how vastly improved it is now. Largely because of the situation that Blackpool fans found themselves in, BST has been a leading light in developing new and effective means of ensuring that clubs are required to maintain communication with their supporters. That the clubs are subject to a degree of oversight by supporters who help to make them viable as businesses. It may even be that the Oystons’ most lasting and unintended legacy is the evolution of supporter engagement by football clubs.
We are fortunate now to have a board and an owner who want to actively engage with supporters, who wish to establish regular Fans Forums and would also like to have structured dialogue with supporters’ groups. It seems clear that Simon Sadler and his team would do this whether or not it was required of them by football’s governing bodies but not every club has the luxury of an owner who has the club and the community’s best interests at heart.
It is because the regulations relating to ownership are so flimsy that BST and many other such groups are consistently working to persuade the EFL, the PL, the FA and politicians that they need to develop a more robust system of governance that will help to prevent rogue owners from rapaciously or incompetently destroying football clubs.
One of the few initiatives to come out of this lobbying is ‘structured dialogue’ which is intended to provide an effective and formal method of communication between the executive level of football clubs and democratically elected supporter representatives on key issues of importance. The EFL rule book states that the clubs must be represented by owners, directors or senior executive management as the matters being discussed will often be of a strategic nature and may relate to the management and day-to-day running of the club.
This is something we are confident that the new board will embrace and will be an important step in helping to ensure the continued well being of the club.
BST welcomes the recent announcement from the EFL that they have commissioned an independent review, led by Jonathon Taylor QC, to review their regulations and procedures. At the same time, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee have announced an inquiry into the administration of football clubs and have requested help from football fans. The first step towards resolving the many issues that football faces is an admission that those issues exist, something that the football authorities have been reluctant to do thus far. The campaign by Blackpool fans (“the most brilliantly orchestrated campaign in football” according to a national journalist) to challenge the existing regulations and bring change at our own club has played a major part in highlighting the problems that exist and the need for change. The evisceration of Bury FC may prove to be the catalyst that finally brings that change