Blackpool Supporters’ Trust column: Why we won’t attend FPG meeting

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The FPG were scheduled to meet once again this week with the chairman of Blackpool FC and the club’s CEO.

A discreet approach was made to BST asking if the Trust would like an invitation from the FPG to attend the meeting. The Trust declined the opportunity.

As far as Karl Oyston, BFC and possibly even the Football League are concerned, the chairman has ostensibly made right and appropriate gestures towards the fan-base in line with the recent Expert Working Group recommendations on supporter engagement. Those parties might all consider the ‘fan engagement’ box has been suitably ticked.

BST considers this position to be false and the overtures made to the Trust to be disingenuous.

It must have been anticipated that BST was bound to reject such an invitation. Our members have voted by a large majority on two separate occasions not to have any involvement with the FPG on principle.

In case anyone might fall into the trap of thinking BST is being unco-operative in rejecting a potential olive branch, it is worth explaining the Trust’s position again.

BST was formed as an independent and democratic supporters’ organisation with an objective to hold the club’s owners to account for the proper running of our football club.

This was in contrast to the seemingly cosy and collaborative relationship that BSA (the ‘approved’ fans’ organisation’) had with the chairman. It was also in principled reaction to what so many fans perceived as bad management of the club by the owners.

The list of supporters’ grievances is a long one stretching back years. It includes the lack of a strategic plan, lack of ambition to invest in infrastructure or to grow the club, short-termism, an inability to attract and retain good personnel, loaning football club monies out to other Oyston businesses, running the club on a day-to-day basis, maximising profit while minimising expenditure, skimping on quality only to have to pay more in the long run, showing scant regard for the value and views of supporters – and all of this before any of the toxic fall-out and suing of fans commenced.

Given that the Oystons have owned Blackpool FC for nearly 30 years and Karl is one of the longest-serving football club chairmen, their record is a pretty poor one. Only Valeri Belokon’s arrival and financial involvement made any significant change to Blackpool FC’s fortunes and Karl Oyston has overseen the squandering of the resulting footballing legacy.

BST would like profound and substantive change in the way the club is run. This is entirely in line with the report of the government’s Expert Working Group which called for ‘a new level of structured dialogue between representative groups of fans and senior club personnel with a view to improving and increasing opportunities for fans to be involved in club governance’ and recommended that ‘the focus of these meetings should be on strategic/major issues’.

The report also stated that its proposals are intended ‘to develop and improve relationships between fans groups and their clubs which may, over time, facilitate new opportunities for fans to invest in their clubs and encourage opportunities for collective share ownership.’

It is hard to see how such a transparent and constructive relationship between club and fans could ever be implemented at Blackpool given Karl Oyston’s preferred model of ‘consultation.’

Remember that BSA had to forgo its independent status to earn its relationship with the chairman. Remember that the FPG was his creation and relies entirely on his favour for its position.

Many consider it to be a cynical and thinly disguised governance shield for the Oystons.

Right from BSA days through to the current incarnation of the FPG, successive fans’ forums have consistently failed to address substantive issues or to trigger significant changes in the way Mr Oyston runs our club.

BST has always considered Karl Oyston’s tenure as chairman to be an impediment to real progress at Blackpool FC. The Trust retains a fundamental dissatisfaction with the way he operates and cannot see him voluntarily changing his management style. For the good of the club, it is time for a change at the top.

If the club wants a fans’ group that is open to all supporters, that is legally constituted, registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, endorsed as a model by the leading footballing bodies in the country (government, Supporters Direct, Football Supporters Federation), has a proven means of organising democratic elections and can represent the diverse body of Blackpool supporters in a professional manner, then that group is already in place – and it’s called Blackpool Supporters’ Trust!

The Trust will never relinquish its role as the independent voice of Blackpool supporters.

There is strength in unity. If you love Blackpool FC and want the best for the club and its supporters in the coming months and years, join the Trust and help shape the future.