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BST Gazette Column 04/11/2016

BST04/11/2016

The broad theme of this week’s column is Clubs In Crisis – of which Blackpool FC is evidently one, along with near neighbours Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers (and further south, Charlton Athletic, Coventry City and Leyton Orient).

There is an ethical boycott in place here precisely because Blackpool is a club in crisis (not the other way around as some would try and claim). If the owners had been doing the right things by this football club then arguably none of the fall-out and toxicity would have happened and the ethical boycott would not have been necessary.

Owners not doing the right thing by their football clubs appears to be the common factor among clubs in crisis. When power is vested in the hands of a few, whether it be a Duchatelet, the Oystons, SISU or Venky’s, and when those few show scant regard for the wishes of the supporters or the true spirit and aspirations of the football club, then the supporters are bound to take issue.

Several other clubs in crisis have followed the lead of Blackpool fans when it comes to creative protesting. However, the situation at this club is unique – cash rich and slipping down the divisions with the owners engaged in litigation with supporters – and has been going on for so long that Blackpool has arrived at a point beyond the staging of protests. Ultimately, the only legitimate sanction the fans have is to withdraw their custom in an attempt to persuade said owners to listen and to change or to go. The boycotting of Bloomfield Road by so many, so consistently, is unprecedented. It is also an outstanding effort and sacrifice by the thousands who love their club but don’t like what the Oystons have done to it.

This Sunday, for the FA Cup tie against Kidderminster Harriers, the ethical boycott will remain firmly in place, but as explained in the Gazette recently, BST members have proposed and instigated a ‘Boycott, Donate & Protest’ initiative for Sunday. The reason is an obvious one: for Kidderminster Harriers, a relatively small cash-strapped club in the National League North, an away FA Cup tie against League opposition is usually a significant source of funds to help keep their club going – FA Cup rules give the visitors up to 45% of the gate receipts. The Trust didn’t want our issues with our owners to impact Kidderminster Harriers adversely

The initiative is gaining widespread publicity and support and also the thanks of Kidderminster Harriers themselves, whose chairman has commented: “I would like to thank Blackpool Supporters Trust for your fantastic gesture. We fully understand your position with the clubs current board and appreciate your anger and frustration. We support your right to protest wholeheartedly and wish you the best of luck in your quest to resolve this difficult situation. For you as a fans trust and your supporters to consider our club and the fact that we would lose much needed income with your NAPM campaign is very commendable and shows the true comradeship of football supporters.”

What really counts, though, is fans donating and protesting in numbers. The Trust appeals to all Blackpool fans boycotting the match to donate part or all of what they would have paid for a ticket to BST via our website. Go to ‘About The Trust’ and the ‘Donate’ option on our website. If each supporter were to donate between £6 and £13 (£6 represents the percentage of the £13 ticket price that would normally go to Kidderminster), the Trust will gift the sum of all the £6 donations to Kidderminster Harriers to compensate them for the boycott and will forward any additional amounts to the independent Justice4Fans fund. It is a principled and ethical thing to do and you don’t have to be a member of BST to donate.

The Trust is also calling a pre-match protest at 1pm outside the West Stand on Sunday and hoping to get as many boycotting Blackpool fans as possible to stage a noisy but legitimate demonstration against the way the owners are managing our club. It is likely that many Harriers fans will join in this protest to help further highlight the issues at Blackpool FC. We may be opponents on the pitch but off it we are all fans united in working to get better governance for football clubs and a greater say for fans in how clubs are run.

To that end, BST along with supporters groups at our fellow crisis clubs in the area has been lobbying the Football Supporters Federation to re-constitute FSF’s North-West Division. The relaunch of FSF North West will take place at the Blackpool Hilton Hotel next Saturday 12th November, starting at mid-day.

“The FSF is very pleased to say that Blackpool Supporters Trust is hosting this event giving fans across the region a chance to share their experiences, concerns, and ideas for campaigning together to improve football governance.”

With more money flowing into the higher echelons of the professional game than ever before and seemingly more and more ‘clubs in crisis’ there needs to be fundamental change in how our sport is governed. By working in concert, North-West Supporters’ Trusts aim to maximise the leverage for change.

FSF National Council members will also be in attendance to give updates on other areas of the Federation’s work. The meeting is a public event and open to all, so feel free to get involved.

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