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BST Gazette Column 29/09/2017

BST29/09/2017

As has been the case for many months now, with the ethical boycott holding firm, the progress of events off the field are is important as those on it. While Blackpool fans must be pleased with the way Gary Bowyer and team have opened the new season, the majority of us remain adamant that we will not return to Bloomfield Road until there is a change of ownership and ethos in the boardroom.

The Fans-Not-Numbers campaign for regulatory reform of football is up and running. Since its launch in Blackpool at the beginning of September there have been similar public events in the north-east, the midlands and London. The purpose of the campaign is two-fold: first to engage ordinary fans to make a concerted call on their elected representatives in parliament to take notice; second to put the proposals for change that Supporters Direct has compiled onto the discussion table for an all-party parliamentary review, something which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is keen to promote. The Fans-Not-Numbers launch video has been seen by over 2 million on social media and the lobbying process is underway. If you haven’t yet seen the video, you can find it on YouTube at this address: http://youtu.be/m5_dW0U1aC4

It is very heartening that Blackpool Council has become the first council in the country to officially endorse the Fans-Not-Numbers campaign, having voted unanimously to support the motion brought by Councillor Tony Williams last week. It is understood that the Council’s views on the need for regulatory reform will be conveyed in a letter to the prime-minister. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust thanks them for making the right decision. The governance sub-committee of the Trust has worked tirelessly for the last couple of years to engage with our politicians on the issues affecting our football club. Last week’s vote was good news for the town and hopefully the actions of Blackpool Council will now be replicated across the country.

Some Blackpool fans have questioned why Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is getting involved in this national campaign when we ‘should be focussing on trying to resolve the problems here in our own club’.

The answer to that is very simple. The problems that exist in the way the game is run and in the way that fans are disenfranchised are systemic problems. It is only by good fortune that more clubs are not in the mess that Blackpool, Blackburn, Bolton, Coventry and other crisis clubs have sunk into. Our chances of resolving the issues at Blackpool on a standalone basis are slim. As some are happy to point out, bad though the Oystons are considered to be, there are no absolute guarantees that another owner would act any more fairly by the club and the fans. Only better regulation of the sport (the EPL and the EFL in particular) at a national level will improve standards of custodianship for all clubs and give supporters a more influential stake-holding in their individual clubs.

Of course, as the ‘conscience’ of the fans, BST will continue to press for changes at Blackpool FC. It should be remembered that Supporters’ Trusts (legally constituted, independent and democratic fans organisations) are the preferred model for fan representation. That was the whole purpose of the government setting up Supporters Direct over a decade ago. It was stage one in a process that really needs to move, it is hoped via the impetus of the Fans-Not-Numbers campaign, on to stage two, proper external regulation of the leagues; a licensing system that ensures all owners comply with rigorous standards for how their football clubs should be managed as social enterprises; and a clear set of guidelines for how clubs must incorporate fan representation in strategic decisions about how football clubs are run.

It is worth reminding anyone who thinks that BST is just a protest group or an anti-Oyston campaign that it is not the case. As Community Benefit Societies (CBS), a form of Co-operative that operates under a one-member one-vote principle, our aims since our inception in 2014 have always been:
- to represent the best interests of the supporters and the club
- to hold the owners of the club to account (regardless of who they might be)
- to improve the quality of service for all supporters
- to strengthen the bonds between club and community
- to give supporters a democratic voice in the decision-making processes at the club

The fact that Blackpool FC’s chairman and majority shareholder have consistently refused to recognise Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (preferring to set up the bogus Fans Progress Group) has merely exacerbated a situation that has been deteriorating almost from the moment that promotion to the Premier League was achieved.

That BST has established itself as one of the most active and credible supporters’ trusts in the country should offer all fans hope for the future. Every supporter of Blackpool FC has the opportunity to be a member of BST and to make their voices heard through the democratic process which is the basis of the Trust. The circumstances at our football club are the very worst and having a strong, united collective acting in the best interests of the club, its supporters and our community, is by far the best way to achieve a positive future. When Blackpool FC finally has new owners, they will need to engage with the fan base as a matter of urgency and having a strong, credible supporters’ trust waiting in the wings to represent all Blackpool fans is one of the best things to come out of the troubles we have faced in the last few years.

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