Although we didn’t go to Tuesday night’s game at home to Pompey (on account of the ethical boycott) it was good to read that Gary Bowyer’s side acquitted themselves well against probably the best team in the division and secured three useful points.
When one thinks about clubs in crisis, Portsmouth’s dramatic fall from being in the Premier League and FA Cup holders (2008) to the bottom division in six turbulent years is the closest equivalent to Blackpool’s similarly headlong plunge from top to bottom tier. Given Karl Oyston’s references down the years to Blackpool avoiding a similar fate to Pompey’s, it is ironic that we should be meeting in League Two this season.
Of course there are differences. The owners of Portsmouth FC were culpable of the sort of financial ineptitude and mismanagement - spending monies the club didn’t have - that forced Pompey into administration and nearly out of existence. Blackpool FC, on the other hand, is where it is in large part because the owners have refused to spend monies the club allegedly does have (the latest example being the decision not to upgrade the training facilities). We regard this as mismanagement of another order, a lack of reasonable ambition masquerading as financial prudence – the money never actually being there when it is needed.
Neither situation is satisfactory. Neither of these two historic clubs should be in the bottom tier of English football. Both ought to have had better custodianship. The stakeholders in a club – the lifelong fans – are as important, more so even, than the shareholders, and they deserve better. It is for that reason that Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is actively engaged in working not just for a change of ownership at Bloomfield Road but is lobbying for fundamental changes in football governance.
Another significant difference between Portsmouth FC and Blackpool FC is that Pompey is now a community-owned club. One of its community shareholders (and a lifelong Pompey fan) is Joanna Manning-Cooper. She was the chairperson of the Government Expert Working Group on Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement. That group published its report to the Minister of Sport last November and in it Ms Manning-Cooper had this to say:
“Football is the national game, and football supporters are the lifeblood of the game. As a long-term season-ticket holder at Portsmouth FC I saw how private ownership failed us in recent years and how hard the supporters, led by the Pompey Supporters Trust, worked to overcome the many barriers to supporter ownership until they ultimately bought – and saved – the club in 2013. Supporter ownership is a legitimate ambition for football fans.”
Some of the recommendations in that Expert Working Group report, calling for improved transparency by clubs and improved engagement and dialogue between clubs and fans, will be implemented by the EFL this season, but in our opinion they don’t go far enough. They lack teeth and many clubs will pay no more than lip service to them, as was the case when the League made Supporter Liaison Officers a mandatory requirement a few seasons ago.
Therefore, the Trust will continue to work directly with the Football Supporters Federation (whose chairman Malcolm Clarke addressed the most recent BST open meeting), Supporters Direct and other Supporters Trusts in the North-West to formulate and lobby for the sort of changes that would guarantee football supporters a material influence on the way our clubs are managed and would ensure that all football clubs, whether privately owned, partly or fully supporter owned, are run in compliance with the core principles of the Companies Act – which is certainly not the case at the vast majority of football clubs today.
Change is coming. The directors of Portsmouth FC, all community shareholders in a well-supported community owned club, will have been the guests of the Oystons on Tuesday evening. As they gazed out over a stadium that was four-fifths empty tangerine seats, what might they have had to say to each other about the fundamental importance of supporter engagement?