BST : LIFE AFTER PROTEST
Some of our Members occasionally ask us what the focus of our efforts is now that the Oyston family have finally left the club. It’s a fair question; when an organisation gains much of its initial momentum from protest, what does it do to sustain it once the need for protest is over?
The first thing that it does, of course, is to do all the things that other Supporters’ Trusts up and down the country have been doing ever since they were formed. Primarily, that is representing the interests of its Members - the club’s supporters - in its dialogue with the football club.
We are lucky in that our new owner is the complete opposite of what we had before in terms of ambition, but he and his Senior Management team face a huge job in sorting out the shambolic mess they inherited and putting the club on a footing where it can not only compete for success, but also sustain itself as it goes forward.
This is a club where dialogue between fans and owners had been practically non-existent. The last twelve months has seen BST able to contribute to the Fans Forum, mobilise volunteers to help the club with clean ups, gardening and painting work and then continuing this voluntary contribution as part of our desire to assist in a practical way.
We man our match day “office” in the club shop before every home game, where anyone can come in and talk to members of the committee about the Trust, join or renew memberships or just chat about the football.
We are a regular presence at the Seasiders Business Club, a business network which holds meetings every two weeks at the club and brings local business people together under the umbrella of supporting Blackpool FC. Forming links with all aspects of our community is important.
The second big thing for the Trust is to continue and strengthen our efforts to reach out to the local community from which the club draws much of its support. Working with the Community Trust is a big part of this; supporting prominent and emerging charities who help the most needy in the community – Home Start, The Boathouse Youth and Amazing Graze to name but three - is also a fundamental part of what we do. On a more prosaic level, organizing the laying of a wreath at Jimmy Armfield’s statue to mark the second anniversary of his passing is the kind of thing the Trust feels it should be doing, and the kind of thing its Members would EXPECT us to do. Paying for an advertising board at a local grass roots football club is another. In a community with the deep-seated challenges that Blackpool faces, all this is a seemingly never-ending area of work; but while it needs to be done, the Trust will continue to put its best foot forward.
The third thing we do is to recognise that, nationally, the need for protest, or at least to campaign for reform, remains as strong as ever. The Trusts’ view of the way the EFL in particular manages its relationship with clubs, and its failure to properly regulate the game, are well documented.
These issues have not gone away. Everyone is familiar with the horror stories at Bolton and Bury. But Macclesfield and Oldham are struggling to keep their heads above water; Doncaster have still not got a satisfactory response from the EFL to the unilateral decision by Bolton Wanderers not to fulfil their early-season fixture, this being an issue that may prove to be very contentious if Doncaster remain in play-off contention. Meanwhile in the Championship, the EFL remain at loggerheads with Sheffield Wednesday and Derby over alleged breaches to the financial regulations. The latter club in particular are threatening the EFL with legal action, insisting that they have done nothing wrong and implying that the EFL don’t have a firm grasp of the detail of their own rules. Stop us if any of this sounds familiar…..
These issues will rumble on for some time yet. BST has a strong presence on the Football Supporters Association, and continues to play an active role in ensuring that these issues are not just swept under the carpet. The football authorities (admittedly having their collective arms twisted by the Government) have realized that the whole football governance set up is beginning to unravel and they NEED to bring fans on side. To do this, they will have to involve supporters with decision making and acknowledge that football without fans is nothing. We are the lifeblood of the game. To achieve this, they need a channel through which to reach supporters and already there are moves to have regular structured and meaningful dialogue via the FSA. These are early days, but it is a start and has been brought about because of the disaster at Bury, the festering problems at other clubs and because of the successful campaigning of Blackpool fans, who led the way over the need to reform football governance.
Structured dialogue between individual clubs and their supporters are now mandatory for EFL clubs; these meetings are not just glorified fans’ forums but present an opportunity for supporters, via their nominated representatives, to discuss more complex issues regarding the football club and the way it is run. This is a hard won right for football fans, born from the troubles faced by so many clubs, and must not be dismissed as unnecessary. The structure within which football clubs operate needs to be reformed and every opportunity to be part of that is vital, even at clubs where the owner is popular and times are good.
The underlying message is - your Trust is busy on many fronts and we don’t expect that to change any time soon. If you aren’t a Member, a mere £5 per year helps support all that effort, and every one of you who joins the Trust strengthens our mandate to fight for all these causes on behalf of ALL our supporters. If you are already a Member, we thank you again for your continued support. We literally could not do all the things we do without you.