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BST Gazette Column 15/12/2017

BST15/12/2017

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who donated food, clothes, toiletries and toys on Saturday for our two nominated charities, Home-Start in St Annes and HIS Provisions on Central Drive. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is extremely grateful to the volunteers who helped and to those who turned out on a freezing afternoon to bring bags of goodies: Blackpool’s footballing family in action - well done all.

Keeping with the community theme, today sees the re-opening in town of a revamped historic pub. The Blue Room has become the Brew Room – 1887 The Brew Room to give its official title, in recognition that this was the place, then the Stanley Arms Hotel on Church Street, where Blackpool Football Club was founded 130 years ago. The décor of the renovated pub is blue & white in keeping with Blackpool FC’s original colours. 1887 The Brew Room will open from 5pm on weekdays and all day at week-ends.

It is the first micro-brewery in Blackpool and is being installed in conjunction with Cross Bay Brewery of Morecambe. Only self-brewed and regional beers will be sold (no majors) and the intention is that it will not only attract craft beer lovers who presently have to travel to Manchester, Crewe and Lancaster to get a decent craft beer, but it will also function as a community hub and not just another pub, one where people can come to chat, play games and socialise. To celebrate the opening, BST members will get a 10% discount on the draught beers all week (on production of a current membership card).

BST’s announcement that it is working with Supporters Direct on proposals for a community shares scheme for the Trust has raised some eyebrows this week. A bit of background might be useful:

It is well understood that the way football is run has transformed in the last couple of decades, particularly in the higher leagues. The sums of money involved are astronomical and the change has led to many big clubs being owned by businessmen who often know little about the game and who probably care even less about the social importance of the clubs they own or the communities in which they are based. Season ticket prices at a number of Premier League and Championship clubs are already beyond the means of some traditional supporters and so the demographic changes; at the same time, Global TV and sponsorship incomes have, in some instances, relegated supporters to the role of TV extras, required only to create the right atmosphere for a product which is then sold around the world.

Thus the ‘playing-field’ becomes progressively skewed. Our game appears to be moving further away from where we, the fans, would like it to be and the supposed guardians of that game, the football authorities, seem to have lost the ability or the will to respond effectively on our behalf to the warping caused by these commercial pressures. If the trend is not halted, it will be to the detriment of the majority of ordinary clubs in communities like ours. It needs to be remembered that football was built upon fan loyalty and without the fans the whole structure is not just hollow, it is unsustainable. Fan involvement in the administration of the game is key to the future.

Therefore the Trust will continue to press through the Fans Not Numbers campaign for regulatory reform of English football and for greater involvement by supporters in the running of football in this country – that means greater fan representation in the hierarchy of the FA and on the boards of individual football clubs. All clubs deserve to be both regarded and safeguarded as ‘the peoples’ clubs’ because they are by rights community assets and not mere businesses.

The decision by BST this week to announce it is working towards a community share initiative has been prompted by a desire to ensure that the supporters of Blackpool FC are ready and able to act when an opportunity for investment in our club and our community should arise. We believe that a community share scheme, run in strict accordance with ethical guidelines, will offer the best way for any club’s supporters to have a real chance of being involved in helping to shape the future. It is probably unrealistic to expect that such a scheme would result in outright fan ownership of the football club, but a 10% or 20% shareholding underpinned by a shareholder agreement with other investors could be a realistic objective. FC United raised £2m in this way and Pompey £2.5m.

There are more details to be determined before a formal proposal is launched, and the rate at which Blackpool FC moves towards a change of ownership may mean the Trust opts for a pledge or pre-share offer in the interim - the basic idea being that those supporters who are willing and able to do so can pledge money to BST for conversion to community shares. The only qualification is that you have to be a member of BST first. You can join online at www.blackpoolsupporterstrust.com. A community share scheme, once accredited, would then be utilised for the specific project detailed in the proposal – which may be the purchasing shares in Blackpool FC, because it is to be hoped that whoever comes in and buys our football club will see the value of the Trust holding a financial stake in the club on behalf of the fans. When that opportunity presents itself, the community share initiative means that we will be ready.

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