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BST Gazette Column 01/09/2017

BST01/09/2017

As trailed in last week’s column, September sees the launch – in Blackpool – of a new national campaign for reform in football governance, lobbying for significant changes to the regulatory powers controlling the game of football in this country.

The recent legal actions initiated by Valeri Belokon against the Oystons at Blackpool FC has brought the bigger issue of football ownership into sharp focus. Whilst most people who have read the court transcripts will agree that Mr Belokon has been shabbily treated, the fact that the football club he invested in is classed in the same way as any other business means that he was able as a shareholder to have recourse to law to resolve his particular grievances.

In stark contrast, fans of Blackpool FC have invested huge amounts of money, time and emotion into our football club yet we have no such options or support to resolve our difficulties with the owners. There is no legal action we can take, no governing body with any real authority to step in and right the many wrongs which have been perpetrated against us, the stakeholders in our club.

Football fans currently have two courses of action open to them if they are unhappy with the way their club is run and if attempts at meaningful dialogue have failed: they can withhold their revenue and custom in an attempt at forcing change or they can just put up with whatever the owners wish to do. That is a wholly unacceptable state of affairs and for this reason, Blackpool Supporters’ Trust has been working with other agencies in relation to the wider subject of football governance. We have high hopes that the problems at Blackpool are coming to an end but football fans, football authorities and the Government need to work together to ensure that what has happened at Blackpool can never happen again elsewhere. BST have been leading the way on this issue and it will continue to be an important focus for us in the coming months, even if our own situation is successfully concluded.

Jaimie Fuller, the founder and Chairman of international sportswear brand SKINS, is an anti-corruption campaigner with very strong views concerning ethics, integrity and the role that sport plays in society. His track record is impressive. He instigated the campaign that exposed doping in World Cycling and brought about the resignation of the head of the ICF. He presented a strongly-supported anti-doping petition to the International Olympic Committee and most recently he was an orchestrator in the campaign that exposed corruption within FIFA and persuaded a raft of multi-national sponsors to withdraw their support until the governing body of the world game cleans up its act. He is now turning his attention to football governance in England. There are only five countries in the world that do not have a formal regulatory body in place with the requisite powers to manage the way leagues and clubs operate. England is one of those five – along with Andorra and Montenegro.

It was during a conversation with Blackpool boxer and BFC supporter Ryan Davies (who was being sponsored by SKINS), that Jaimie Fuller first heard about the problems at Blackpool FC. Jaimie was explaining his ideas around the changes he feels are necessary within football and Ryan pointed out that the situation with Blackpool’s owners is a classic example of what can happen to a football club when rogue owners are allowed to control a community asset unchecked. Jaimie did his own investigations and was absolutely staggered at what had been allowed to happen.

Although Blackpool FC is probably the most extreme example of bad ownership in English football, our case is not the only one and BST have been liaising with other crisis clubs for some time. Rather than simply deal with each individual situation, it became clear that a blueprint for how football governance should work and the changes required to bring that about would be necessary. Simply put, there needs to be a legislative framework in place which empowers a regulatory authority to deal effectively with football club owners who do not respect the supporters, the history of the club and the fundamental principle that football clubs are community assets and have a social responsibility. For some months now, SKINS, Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation have been working together to give shape to the campaign that is about to launch.

How will it work? Input from the fans, the lifeblood of any club, is essential. People from the world of football, whether supporters, owners or professionals within the game, need to work together to pressurise government to put in place the legislative powers required. For this reason, a series of regional ‘Fans Not Numbers’ roadshows has been organised in September to kick the campaign off, to highlight these issues and to start the debate. Each roadshow will have a panel of informed people from the worlds of sport, politics and business and supporters are welcome to attend these free events and to contribute to the reshaping of football’s future.

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is proud to host the launch event Fans Not Numbers, North West at the Hilton Hotel, North Promenade, Blackpool next Tuesday 5th September at 7.30pm for north-west regional clubs and their supporters (including Accrington Stanley, Blackburn, Everton, Fleetwood, Liverpool, Morecambe, Southport, Tranmere, Wrexham). Come and hear a positive call for reform in football governance; join the national debate to re-shape football’s future; add your voice and your support to the campaign for change. You can register for the event online at:
www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fans-not-numbers-blackpool-tickets-37310710339

The other regional kick-off road shows are being held on 6th September in Manchester, 7th September in Darlington, 13th September in Coventry and 14th September in London. At each one there will be an exclusive panel of eminent supporters and campaign champions (including BST representatives) as SKINS, Supporters Direct and the FSF look to unite the stakeholders of the game in a movement that will result in long-overdue reform in English football.

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