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BST Gazette Column 29/12/2017

BST29/12/2017

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust believes that our football club is on the verge of tremendous change, a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a fresh start. It is not just about bringing in new owners. It is also the cue to do so many things differently and better.

As fans, of course we want to be proud of Blackpool FC again and the recovery will take a while. However, if there is an obvious blueprint for the future direction and if supporters are part of the process of change, there will be a huge amount of goodwill and there is every reason why the club can progress again – only this time on a more secure foundation both in terms of its sustainability and its central role in the community of Blackpool and the Fylde.

As a Supporters’ Trust, BST considers it not only appropriate but necessary that fans should voice a wish-list for their model of a well-run football club, a template for how Blackpool FC (and by extension other clubs) might function in the future - a ‘how we would like it to be’ guide.

For the good of our club and the good of the beautiful game it is vital that we seek to curb cynical and exploitative practices and reaffirm the importance of supporters at the heart of the footballing experience. Therefore in this and next week’s column, BST is publishing its draft manifesto – a set of principles the Trust would like to see implemented here at Blackpool FC. This manifesto has been shared with Trust members for their feedback and approval. Here is the first part, covering ownership, governance and stewardship.

Ownership:
Ethical requirements. It is important that anyone having a formal stake in Blackpool FC, as owner, share-holder or director, should voluntarily adhere to self-imposed standards of ethical business practice with regard to their custodianship of the club as a social enterprise. Over and above that, we would like to see statutory changes in football governance for all English League clubs by which owners and directors are required to pass an externally administered set of checks. We advocate extending the scope of the current Owners and Directors Test to include, subject to right of appeal: any previous criminal convictions, any current or previous disqualification as a company director; any current or previous bankruptcy event; any material or persistent breaches of specified League or FA rules.

Community shares. We believe that the purchase of shares in Blackpool FC by BST on behalf of the fans through a community share option is achievable.

Funding. There should be an agreed and appropriate ratio of investment and profit to income. Borrowings should be permissible only from FCA regulated lenders; Loans must be unsecured, unless funding new capital expenditure. There should be an absolute prohibition on owners holding security over club assets and an absolute prohibition on owners pledging their shares in the club as security. Under Premier League and EFL Financial Fair Play regulations, ‘secure funding’ must be equity.

Financial Transparency. Realistic caps should be imposed on withdrawals as salaries, fees, dividends or interest - with a prohibition on loans to connected companies or related parties. Complete transparency is required whereby all dealings are fully disclosed on the club website in real time, not retrospectively; and there should be meaningful sanctions for disguised withdrawals through related parties or for a failure to make full disclosure.

Governance:
We support the national initiative to create an independent licensing body to instil a new obligation for owners and directors to observe the basic standards of good stewardship, examples being structured dialogue, respect for club heritage and community obligations.

The ‘regulatory body’ would rate clubs and require clubs with poor ratings to address failings. Clubs with poor ratings would be put ‘on report’ and failure to take remedial action could result in sanctions against owners.


Stewardship:
Staff and team requirements. It is stating the obvious but as fans we want players who take pride in playing in the famous tangerine shirts, players with drive who want to win for the club and who we can develop a connection to. That spirit has been missing for much of the last few seasons but has been glimpsed occasionally in the current squad.

We want a manager who favours adventurous football and who can get the best out of his players, supported by forward-looking coaching and fitness staff and a good scouting network – all of this managed to a reasonable budget – one that adequately reflects the club’s aspirations (which might require some flexibility in transfer policy if/when we reach higher divisions of the league).

We want a CEO who has a good track-record in the football business and who can work effectively between the board and the manager for the best advancement of the club.

We want a youth system that can bring good local talent to the fore and into the first team squad.

Goals. Performance on the field will be crucial to rebuilding the fan base and momentum for the club. Goals should be set for getting promoted out of the current league and for getting promotion back into the Championship. The intention should be to achieve these promotions through competitive but entertaining football. Ultimately Blackpool should aim to become a club that managers and players want to come to because of its ambition to progress and succeed.

Part 2, covering Engagement, Infrastructure, the Match Day Experience and Community Involvement will follow next week – which is also next year! So Happy New Year to all Seasiders everywhere and let us hope that the new year really can be filled with memories you will always cherish.

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