When regime change finally arrives at Blackpool FC, as arrive it surely must, the task facing the new board will be a monumental one.
For years this club has been on a downward spiral caused by chronic under-investment and poor direction from the boardroom. Premier League to bottom division in five seasons when you’re ‘cash rich’ certainly takes some beating and ought to have taken some explaining as well. Showing an arrogant disdain for the fan base in the process only compounded the problem. Be that as it may, when change comes it will be important to focus on the future and not rake over the past.
Let us assume that new owners will be fully committed to rebuilding the club to the standard it ought to have realised after May 2010. As fans, of course we want to be proud of Blackpool FC again. We should recognise that it could take a few years to get everything back on track, but if there is an obvious blueprint and if supporters are part of the process of change, there will be a huge amount of goodwill and there is no reason why the achievement of 2010 cannot be replicated – only this time on a more secure foundation.
What might the aims and the blueprint be? In no particular sequence (though the board would need to prioritise) they would include at least the following ten items.
1) Rebuilding the fan base. The relationship between owners and supporters will be key. The priority must be to get all the boycotting fans back through the turnstiles, for the club to re-engage with the fractured fan base. Maybe there could be a proper community section to re-engage fans and start building new support for the future, particularly younger fans.
Appointing a full-time Supporters Liaision Officer would pay dividends in improving the relationship between the club and the fan base, as would regular and transparent meetings between club officials and fans representatives.
It will also be vital for the club to provide a good matchday experience. Fleetwood Town and AFC Fylde are showing the way. An upgrading of the concourse under the South stand to make a fan zone with good value bars, food outlets, pre- and post-match entertainment would encourage fans to socialise both before and after games and would help build the income stream from merchandise and refreshments.
2) Sorting out the state of the pitch. It is not conducive to good or entertaining football. Employ a competent groundsman and provide him (or her) the right equipment and level of investment to maintain a decent playing surface.
3) Upgrading the training facilities. Again, Fleetwood Town are showing the way. Blackpool FC really needs proper state of the art training and recuperation facilities. They are crucial to a club of our size. They should also act as a community hub and facility. This is a long overdue development.
4) Stadium revamp. Bloomfield Road is in urgent need of some serious maintenance and not just a spring-clean. In addition, the temporary East Stand will need replacing. Might that be an opportunity to install both a safe standing area and better provision for disabled spectators?
5) Staff and team requirements. It is stating the obvious but as fans we want players who take pride in playing in the famous tangerine shirts, players with drive who want to win for the club and who we can develop a connection to. That spirit has been missing for much of the last four seasons but has been glimpsed occasionally in the current squad.
There will inevitably have to be a clear-out of players who are surplus to requirements and the recruitment of fresh talent all managed to a reasonable budget.
We want a manager who favours adventurous football and who can get the best out of his players. We want a CEO who has a good track-record in the football business and who can work effectively between the board and the manager for the best advancement of the club. We want a youth system that can bring good local talent to the fore and into the first squad.
Some of these pieces may already be in place. The new board will have a fresh perspective on the relative merits of existing staff. Ultimately Blackpool should aim to become a club that managers and players want to come to because of its ambition to progress and succeed.
6) Kit. Can we get back to proper tangerine shirts with white shorts and tangerine socks for home matches plus an away kit of white shirts and tangerine shorts, sponsored by an ethical business partner prepared to invest in the revival of our famous old club? Additionally, most fans have not bought replica kit or other BFC clothing for so long that a revamped club shop with a decent range of leisure wear would do good business.
7) Season ticket offers. The club must demonstrate and earn goodwill in the way it structures season ticket provision. Sensibly priced season tickets, flexible season tickets, family season tickets and even away season tickets might be made available. Premium season tickets might offer discounts on beer, food, merchandising and hotel accommodation.
Consideration could be given to reinstating continuity of tenure privilege for those who opted not to renew their season ticket in the last four seasons.
8) Fan representation. From its members’ perspective it will be important for Blackpool Supporters’ Trust to have a role to play. It would look for formal recognition of BST by the club and two Trust-elected supporters on the board of directors.
Just to clarify, BST would remain an independent and fully democratic organisation - that is a sacrosanct Trust principle.
9) Goals. It was stated at the outset that the board will need to prioritise its efforts. Performance on the field will be crucial to rebuilding the fan base and momentum for the club. Goals should be set for getting promoted out of the current league and for getting promotion back into the Championship. The intention should be to achieve these promotions through competitive but entertaining football.
10) Integration and community. Beyond the matchday experience, the club should continue to build strong links with the local community through the work of the Community Trust, possibly in tandem with BST. It needs to re-establish the links it has lost with the local business community. Matchday sponsorship, advertising revenue and corporate hospitality provision are all significant revenue streams that will need to be rebuilt.
In all of its endeavours, the new board must aim to give supporters a sense of belonging to a great adventure again as Blackpool FC aims to become a beacon and ambassador for the town once more. There will be exciting times ahead for our football club. We are Blackpool FC.