The BST Annual General Meeting takes place tomorrow, and will be a watershed moment for the Trust - and for Blackpool fans generally.
For the first time since BST was created, we go into our AGM free of the regime that blighted the club for so long, and our work on behalf of Blackpool fans as a whole is no longer defined merely by protest. It is a sweet moment, one that many people have made sacrifices to secure, and tomorrow’s meeting will be a celebration of that - in part.
However, our Trust exists for a much wider set of purposes, which only now - after the demise of the Oyston family - are coming to the fore. Only this week, our Chair Christine Seddon was able to take part in an event at the Tower Ballroom in connection with the “Blackpool - Pride of Place” initiative, which is designed to examine how the various agencies in the town and in Government can work together to improve quality of life, and life prospects, for the people who live and work in the area. The town’s social problems have been well documented, but a tremendous amount of thought and effort is going into addressing them. Linton Brown, acting CEO at BFC and Ashley Hackett from the BFC Community Trust were also there and it is gratifying that it is acknowledged how important the football club is to the town and what a key role it can play on behalf of the community.
Whilst working with partners locally remains a big part of our DNA, the national challenges that football faces have not gone away simply because we are free of the Oyston family. Our inability to break down a stubborn and well-organised Bolton side on Monday evening was frustrating on a number of levels. Any pleasure that the genuine football fan could take from seeing a Founder Member of the EFL competing properly is tempered by the knowledge that at least a couple of our rivals at the top of League One have obtained a benefit from having played them in August before the takeover of the club brought in new investment and new players.
Couple this with the EFL’s dithering over how to handle the accompanying crisis at Bury and it is obvious that Shaun Harvey’s oft-repeated mantra about “preserving the integrity of the competition” is a hollow joke, and one that will affect not just the twenty three remaining L1 clubs, but every club playing in L2 as well.
It is clear that the EFL has been rattled by the criticism its handling of events has had, and whilst its announcement that it would conduct a review of the finance and sustainability of clubs is welcome, it does look like a knee-jerk response conceived in panic. Not only that, once again it is a consultation largely aimed at the club owners who are a large part of the problem, and much too narrowly framed for our liking. We will support the EFL in conducting it - but it looks like an inadequate response to a very deep-seated problem.
Much more promising is the Government’s own review of football governance which gets underway formally in a couple of weeks time. This has been prompted by events at Bolton and Bury, but the Government recognises that they are merely the latest in a long line of club failures that have not been properly addressed by anyone, least of all by the people who actually run the game. This review is casting its net far wider, to take in the experience of the SUPPORTERS of other clubs whom have suffered the effects of poor ownership.
BST has, as you might expect, provided written evidence to this review, and we are delighted that civil servants at Digital, Culture, Media & Sport are keen to have us involved when the Select Committee takes oral witness statements later in October. At the time of writing we are expecting to be represented in that process, not only to talk about what has happened to our club, but also to give our views on how the situation was handled and how we think the way the game is governed needs to change.
Of course, words are merely that, and any review needs to lead to something actually happening on the ground. But having campaigned so hard for regulatory reform for so long, it is hugely heartening for BST that people at very senior levels in Government are now taking notice of the issue and what WE have to say about it. It is probably no coincidence that the Labour Party have this week announced a whole raft of policy proposals designed to give Supporters’ Trusts a far more hands-on role in the management of clubs. These ideas are interesting, although perhaps need to focus more on regulatory issues, but we are very clear that without the campaigning effort of fans nationally, and in our case, locally, this debate would not be taking place.
To summarise, there remains much to play for, and much for us to seek to influence. We are meeting to endorse our new BST Committee on Saturday, and many of the issues touched upon above will be under discussion. We are very pleased to be able to welcome Linton Brown, the new Chief Commercial Officer and acting CEO as well as Brett Gerrity, BFC Director and friend of Simon Sadler, to our meeting. Everyone is welcome to come along and listen to and join in the debate - and if you haven’t already joined us, remember that you get all this local and national endeavour for an annual Membership fee of just £5. We hope to see as many of you as possible at the meeting, which is at the Bloomfield Social Club, Bloomfield Rd and starts at 1 p.m.