What is it? Blackpool Supporters’ Trust has been in existence for just over two years and is the largest supporters group there has ever been at the club - and yet still many people don’t really understand what it’s all about.
Some think BST is just a protest group, a bunch of trouble-makers; some think the Trust’s only agenda is to get rid of the Oystons; some think they can’t join the Trust if they still want to go to home games. None of these things is true. Less surprisingly, some people don’t know the fundamental difference between a supporters’ association (like BSA) or an ad hoc fans group (like the FPG) and a formally constituted supporters’ trust (BST). This week’s column will attempt to make all clear.
The concept of supporters’ trusts is about twenty years old now and came into being in recognition of the fact that sport can and should be better run and should be more responsive to the needs of the fans and local communities. The government, with cross-party support, set up Supporters Direct, an organisation whose sole purpose is to promote good governance in sport and to enable the development of sustainable clubs based on supporters and community involvement. Supporters Direct helps fans set up democratic co-operatives to gain influence in the running and ownership of their clubs and to date has assisted in the creation of nearly 200 supporters’ trusts in football and rugby clubs up and down the country.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (like all such trusts) is a legally-constituted and democratic organisation (the technical name is a Community Benefit Society). We are a non-profit-making co-operative, open and affordable to all with an annual membership fee of £5. Our committee and officers are democratically elected volunteers and they act to represent the wishes of the members within the framework of the constitution. Everyone who is a member has an equal say in how the Trust is run. We are passionate about our club but principled in how we operate in representing the best interests of our members and our club.
One thing that differentiates the Trust from other supporters’ groups is that we are truly independent. Therefore we will look to hold the owners to account, on behalf of the fans and the community, regardless of who the owners are. Right now it happens to be the Oystons and there is a strength of feeling about their custodianship of our club that has to be recognised.
Another significant difference is that, as a legally constituted Community Benefit Society, BST is entitled to own property (e.g. a physical stadium, the assets of a football club) and this is in line with the ambition of all supporters’ trusts eventually to have a material stake in how their club is run.
A third difference is the sense of community responsibility that comes with being a Trust and BST is committed, as a non-profit-making organisation, to strengthening the bonds between club, fans and community. The Trust actively raises funds and uses them to the benefit of local charitable initiatives for the good of the community (currently the Kensington Foundation, Variety Children’s Charity and the Boathouse Youth Charity).
There is self-evidently a great deal wrong at Blackpool FC and BST is dedicated to improving the situation for current and future fans of the club. It is our members who set the agenda and that is to bring about radical and much-needed change in the way the club is run. Such change has to be by democratic, legal and politic means, even though that takes time and concerted effort. We do not condone illegal acts or bullying or intimidation by anyone or against anyone. We respect the rights of every fan to support the team as they see fit. We have fundamental principles and expect all members to abide by those principles. As fans united we will eventually achieve the changes required and Blackpool FC will emerge from the present toxic mess a happier organisation, a sustainable club in the heart of the town operating by principles of good governance based on supporter and community involvement.
The detailed aims and constitution of the BST are on the Trust website: www.blackpoolsupporterstrust.com and we request all Blackpool fans to give serious consideration to signing up to the Trust and its legitimate ambition to work for a brighter future for Blackpool FC and all of its fans, one that includes a degree of supporter ownership of the management of our famous club.