The decision by Fylde Borough Council this week to give formal support to the national Fans Not Numbers campaign is another step in the right direction in the fight to bring change to the governance of our game. Blackpool Council was the first to sign up to this initiative back in October and we hope that by the time you are reading this column, Wyre Council will have become the third local authority to do the same. The Fylde Coast can feel justly proud that our region is at the forefront of this new initiative – but then so we should be, given the cynical way the owners have treated Blackpool FC and its loyal supporters.
Fans Not Numbers has been designed to take the fight for independent regulation of football clubs and owners to Parliament. The Trust does not consider that the leagues, the EPL and the EFL, have either the power or the desire to self-regulate in any meaningful way. If they will not oversee the changes that are required, we need an independent body to do so. England is one of only five countries that do not have this sort of external regulatory body and it is high time that situation was rectified, by legislation if necessary, to give for instance the FA some real teeth and a mandate to enforce changed practices.
Last Friday, the EFL held its latest Structured Dialogue meeting in London and Blackpool Supporters’ Trust was represented, along with other supporters’ trusts and fan groups as well as members of Supporters’ Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation. These meetings are intended to provide engagement between the EFL and the supporters of clubs from all 3 divisions. Disappointingly, CEO Shaun Harvey was unable to attend and what is evident is that when it comes to the problems that so many clubs are having with their respective owners, the EFL simply do not ‘get it’. They act as a sort of shop steward for the owners of the League Clubs and consult with them. Yet it is the supporters that they should be consulting with – those on the receiving end of bad conduct where it occurs – and if they cannot recognise the issues that supporters are complaining about, they are failing us all.
BST has suggested to the EFL that they use Blackpool FC as a case study for what has gone wrong in the governance and ownership of our football clubs in the hope that this is a constructive way to bring the changes that are required to prevent owners like the Oystons from ever causing such catastrophic problems for any other club. Following the recent verdict in the Belokon v Oyston legal action, Judge Marcus Smith has produced a 163 page judgment which has provided the EFL with plenty of evidence as a basis to work from. We believe that the EFL, as the guardians of our game, should be as shocked and appalled at how Blackpool FC has been run as the rest of us and should see this as their best opportunity to review and revise their procedures. Unfortunately, given the responses we have had from the EFL to date, it would appear that the events of the last few years have barely even registered.
Once again, it is the supporters who will have to take action if we are to see any meaningful change in the rules relating to fit and proper persons owning our clubs and in the way that those clubs are run. If Structured Dialogue is to mean anything at all, clubs have to engage with the fanbase and take supporters’ wishes into account. For instance, if that had happened when the idea of the Checkatrade Trophy was being proposed – an idea that Karl Oyston was apparently fully supportive of – the chances are the supporters would have said it was a pointless competition and we might have been spared the embarrassment of a couple of hundred people turning up to watch Blackpool versus Mansfield on Wednesday night.
The next phase of the Fans Not Numbers campaign, which will take the fight to Parliament, is our best hope for action. Thank you to all those who have petitioned their MP via the campaign website. It is not too late to do so if you haven’t yet. Just Google Fans Not Numbers. Change the game and email your local MP. The Trust will keep you all informed as to how you can get involved in the next phase.
Finally, on a local level, social deprivation in Blackpool is a year-round issue but Christmas is a particularly difficult time for many in the town. As a Christmas community initiative, BST and the Tangerine Knights are organising a food and clothing collection to take place before the home game against Rotherham tomorrow, Saturday 9th December. We will be outside the main entrance to the football club from 1.15pm and invite donations of suitable food items (tins, dried goods etc) as well as clothes, toys and toiletries. These will be shared between local charities Home-Start Blackpool and HIS Provision on Central Drive in time for Christmas. Please support this initiative if you can.