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BST Gazette Column 10/02/2017


The FA is supposedly the over-arching guardian of the game of association football in this country. Football clubs, many founded over 100 years ago originally as social enterprises for supporters and their communities, have often become money-spinning business ventures for unscrupulous owners as multi-millions of pounds of TV and sponsorship money have flooded into the game in the last couple of decades. Unchecked powers of privilege have led to practices that are not in the best long-term interests of many clubs. Corruption is thought to be rife and supporters, who should be the lifeblood of the game, are often treated merely as consumers of a product and sometimes treated not very well at that.

In reaction to this football dissociation, grassroots pressure for change in the governance of the game has been gaining momentum for some considerable time as disenfranchised supporters register their concern at the direction football is heading in. Supporters’ Trusts from the current ‘crisis clubs’ (Blackburn, Blackpool, Charlton, Coventry and Orient – but expect Bolton and Morecambe to join the list) have been pressing both the FA and the EFL to take action but those authorities appear reluctant to engage. The FA is the body that should be listening, reacting and leading the way. It is not doing so. That is both disappointing and frustrating.

There is an old German proverb that states: ‘When you sweep the stairs, you start at the top.’ In line with that principle, north-west MPs have finally been prevailed upon to table a motion for debate in the Commons this week: “That this House has no confidence in the ability of the Football Association to comply fully with its duties as a governing body, as the current governance structures of the FA make it impossible for the organisation to reform itself; and calls on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals to reform the governance of the FA.”

One way to start redressing the dissociation would be to give supporters as stakeholders formal representation on the executive board of a reformed FA, for instance via democratic appointment through either Supporters Direct or the Football Supporters Federation.

No one should be under any illusions about the rate or extent of change, but if this week’s debate signals the start of a process to re-establish the FA (by force of legislation if necessary) as the moral compass of the game, then at least the process of sweeping can get under way and serious attention can be focussed on reform: for a fairer representation of supporters’ rights in the way their clubs are run; for a more stringent set of rules for the roles of owners and directors; for limits on the percentage of revenues that can be diverted from football-related spending; for more detailed and transparent financial reporting; for a more effective and generous cascading of the money pouring in at the top of the game down to the grass-roots.

All of the above is directly in line with key objectives of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust:
- to represent the best interests of our members and our club
- to hold the club’s owners to account, in the interests of the community
- to achieve democratic supporter representation at board level
- to strengthen the bonds between club and community
- to promote football as an activity and focus for community involvement

Regarding that objective of community involvement, the BST committee recently met with representatives from the Senior Seasiders Walking Football Club. Walking football is an activity that was fostered by AgeUK some years ago to increase participation in sports by the over 50s. Jimmy Armfield was an advocate for the activity and for the Blackpool team. The Senior Seasiders were among the first wave of teams to register and there are now over 850 clubs nationally.

The Senior Seasiders were EFL NW regional champions and national runners-up in 2015. They went one better in 2016 and are currently both EFL NW regional and national walking football champions. Kudos to them.

Unfortunately, AgeUK is no longer in a position to support the initiative and given the issues concerning the owners at Blackpool FC, Blackpool’s Senior Seasiders’ Walking Football Club is currently aligned to AFC Blackpool, though it remains an independent organisation.

It runs teams for over 50s and over 60s age groups at present but is looking to add an over 65 team later this year and is keen to start a ladies’ team if there is sufficient interest.

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust is proposing to officially endorse and support Blackpool’s Senior Seasiders’ Walking Football Club and the SSWFC extends an invitation to all over 50s members of the Trust to get involved if they are interested. This is a great opportunity to participate in and support grass-roots football in Blackpool.

The Walking Football Club holds twice weekly sessions at Blackpool Sports Centre on Monday from 12:30 to 13:30 and on Thursday from 16:30 to 17:30. Coaching and refereeing is provided by BFC Community Trust and led by Owen Coyle Jnr. Just turn up. Teams are selected with inclusion firmly in mind and the social aspect of the activity is a significant feature.

The Trust is often depicted as a protest group. Although there is much to protest about in the way Blackpool FC is being run, BST is about much more than that as the principles restated above have indicated. It is also a democratic organisation that is open to all Blackpool supporters. Its next open public meeting is on Saturday 18th February at the newly re-opened Bar 1 on Bloomfield Road from 1pm. Every Blackpool fan is welcome to attend.

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