Members of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust attended a meeting of the North-West Football Supporters Federation in Leyland this week along with representatives from Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Everton and Morecambe. At least four of the six are clubs in crisis and similar tales emerged of the cynical manipulation of clubs by owners intent on maximizing their own windfall at the expense of the good standing of the clubs they purport to own. The fact that some of the most famous and historic clubs in the Football League can be treated so callously beggars belief. It is high time that supporters from each football club in the land realised that every club is potentially at risk and good results can mask a disaster waiting to happen. Fans need to unite and work together for football clubs to be treated as the social enterprises they were originally created to be. It is starting to happen and Blackpool supporters are in the vanguard of pressing for governance change to better regulate the game.
Cynical mismanagement is not just an issue affecting the north-west. The crisis has also deepened this month at Leyton Orient. That club, adrift in the relegation places at the bottom of League Two, has recently been served with a winding-up petition by HMRC. Orient’s last set of financial results (for the year to June 2015) showed them to be more than £5m in debt and dissatisfaction with owner Francesco Bechetti’s lack of investment in the club is intensifying. There is the possibility that the 120-year-old club could go into administration, which would be a desperate turn of events for its supporters. Orient visit Blackpool on the last day of the season and O’s fans will be joining Blackpool supporters in demonstrating against poor custodianship of our clubs on Judgement Day 3.
At our own club, the progressive bite of the ethical boycott (only just over 1,000 in Bloomfield Road on Tuesday night), coupled with the deficit that the club is running at (expect the financial results to May 2016 to show a significant loss) and the court ruling in Valeri Belokon’s favour last week in the first of two High Court cases against the Oystons all give grounds for cautious optimism that a resolution might be in the offing. Surely enough signals have been sent to our owners in recent months for them to realise that it is almost universally agreed they are past their sell-by date. For the good of our great old club, its supporters, the local community and the whole town, a change of ownership is now the only constructive antidote to the toxic mess that has so nearly destroyed Blackpool FC.
The Trust will be involved in any way it can to assist in the transition, to heal any rift between factions in the fan base and to try and ensure that in future, whoever owns Blackpool FC complies with the spirit of the government’s Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement Report, namely to: ‘give due regard to the interests of stakeholders (the fans) as well as shareholders and have due regard to the company’s operations on the community.’
It was related in this column a few weeks ago that Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is offering support to the Seasiders Walking Football Group as a community initiative. The Walking Football Group is currently housed at AFC Blackpool and the clubhouse there has been damaged by a series of break-ins in recent months. The Walking Football Group has asked BST for help as a community initiative and has proposed a ‘break the gate’ event to encourage as many fans as possible (ideally 300-400) to attend an AFC Blackpool home game, thereby raising much needed funds for repair of the clubhouse. The Walking Football group will organise a demo of walking football at half-time to dispel any myths about the game and to encourage older BST members to sign up. The Walking Football Group suggested a couple of possible dates and at BST’s recent general meeting a preference was stated by members for Saturday 25th March when AFC Blackpool is at home to Oswestry Town and Blackpool FC is at home to Hartlepool. Since then, the Senior Seasiders’ ‘first’ team has won through to the northern finals of the FA People’s Cup competition, also on 25th March, so have re-arranged the ‘break the gate’ event for AFC Blackpool’s home game against Stockport Town on Saturday 11th March. The Trust therefore encourages all Blackpool supporters not going to the away game at Wycombe Wanderers on 11th March to enjoy an afternoon of grass-roots non-league football at AFC Blackpool, complete with half-time demonstration of Walking Football.
Finally, it is time to address the issue of social media and ‘fake news’. It is often the case that people have a lot to say when they don’t know the facts. Things get invented at worst, misrepresented at best. The problem is particularly rife on social media but extends beyond that. Rumour and speculation are sometimes incorrectly given the credence of truth. It can be difficult for organisations to get a position communicated accurately when vested interests spin interpretations or are less than reliable in what they report.
The Trust is a legally constituted, democratic, ethical and independent organisation formed to represent the best interests of supporters, club and community. It will always act with integrity and transparency. Unless something has been put out on our website, Facebook page, Twitter account, directly quoted by a BST spokesperson on TV, radio or in the press, or expressly posted under the BST banner on fans’ forums, then it should not be taken as the Trust’s position. There are too many misconceptions. The full extent of our aims as a Community Benefit Society is detailed on our website for anyone to read at www.blackpoolsupporterstrust.com – worth a reminder.