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BST Gazette Column

At the time of writing, it looks as though the football world may be gearing up for some kind of resumption of competition. Clubs are on standby for a possible return to training in May; some hopeful noises are being made about games taking place from June. Depending upon which League you are talking about, there are ambitions to complete the season in 56 or even 40 days from then.

This should not, of course, be mistaken for normality. Anyone hoping to attend these matches will not be able to. This will be a TV event, and already the drive is on to encourage fans to take up approved media platforms such as I-Follow to ensure that you don’t miss out on your fix of live football.

As a Trust, it is difficult to know how to respond to initiatives such as this. On the one hand, it is very much in the practical interests of clubs and players to get some kind of action underway and start the revenue streams flowing again. At a time when we are repeatedly warned that possibly over a dozen League clubs could go to the wall without an injection of cash (and goodness knows how many more lower down the pyramid), anything that alleviates their plight is a good thing to at least some degree.

This is of course especially true for our own club. We all know that our new owner has had to make a major financial investment in the club since taking over, to improve the quality of the squad, recruit two different managers and begin the process of addressing years of physical neglect of the stadium, as well as the chronic organisational problems he inherited. To then be faced with a major financial blow such as this must be proving hard to absorb - and all of us will want him to see some light at the end of the tunnel sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, questions have to be asked as to what is prompting the rush to an early return. Some might say - with some justification - that at a time when 800+ people are still dying of the virus every day that football and its associated fripperies are trivial in the extreme.

The football authorities are in something of a bind. A great many people can see no reason why finishing this current season is even a consideration. However, there are some very good reasons why the Leagues cannot afford to think like that. The financial implications of not delivering to the major broadcasters what they have already paid for are immense. The legal implications of (for example) asking clubs like Leeds and West Brom to give up the competitive advantage they currently enjoy are equally insuperable. And this is before we start to consider the trickier issues further down the pyramid - what of Stevenage, stranded at the foot of League 2? Are we really going to ask Barrow and Harrogate to simply erase what has been shaping up to be the biggest season in their club’s histories?

Andy Holt, Chairman and owner of Accrington Stanley, is warning that a resumption of games behind closed doors could force clubs like his to choose between fulfilling fixtures and saving the club. He says that if Stanley have to complete their remaining 11 fixtures behind closed doors and so without gate receipts, it will cost them half a million pounds and leave them faced with financial disaster, especially as next season may have to start without spectators and solidarity payments will have been eaten up by the advance payments this season. They will not be the only club in that situation. His suggestion is that a pools panel system be used to decide the remaining games and then televised play off games could be played behind closed doors.

The drivers for a resumption - and conclusion - of the 2019/20 season are very, very strong. However, it says much for the leadership vacuum in English football that the new CEO of the EFL, Rick Parry, wrote an open letter to supporters this week that acknowledged all of the difficult issues above - but offered concrete answers to none of them. On one level it could be regarded as an astonishing exercise in vacuity - but it is more likely he was signalling that football is going to continue to be a remote access sport for some time to come. The FA, EPL and EFL are sending some clear messages that getting the current season finished - by whatever method - is probably their least worst option, however many problems flow from the delay. One thing is certain. However this plays out, it will be impossible to please everyone and damage limitation is the best that can be hoped for.

It was encouraging that Mr. Parry did at least acknowledge that football does not amount to much without the people who follow it. For too long it has appeared to many football supporter groups that the interests of the fans who follow the game in person don’t actually count for all that much to those who administer it. This has been despite the fact that it is these very same fans who give the game the live atmosphere that makes it so very special.

There are some small signs that this is being addressed, which we have mentioned previously ; but at BST we will be redoubling our efforts locally and nationally to ensure that the football hierarchy takes a long hard look at its priorities, and the structures it needs for the future. This is the very least that is needed to clean up a sport that has many questions to answer about the basic morality of those who make the major decisions at the global level.

These are difficult times, and the bonds that tie us all together have never been more important. To Blackpool fans and their families everywhere, BST sends our best wishes for your safety and good health.

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