BST column: Sport and politics do mix

Members of Blackpool Supporters Trust and fans of Blackpool FC gathered outside the town hall
Members of Blackpool Supporters Trust and fans of Blackpool FC gathered outside the town hall
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This week saw the publication by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport of the Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement Report.

Long-awaited, it is the product of a year’s work by the government-endorsed Expert Working Group and is another small but significant step along the road to transforming the way football clubs operate in relation to their fans.

It starts by stating that “Supporter ownership is a legitimate ambition for football fans” and goes on to outline two major initiatives. The first is about removing barriers and creating incentives to permit increased levels of supporter ownership. The second is targeted at improved engagement and dialogue between clubs and fans to improve transparency, trust and good governance.

The first initiative doesn’t concern us so much as present as it is aimed at giving supporters’ trusts the statutory right to bid for their club if it becomes insolvent or enters administration (as happened with Portsmouth and Wrexham and could possibly happen at Bolton Wanderers).

The second initiative very much concerns us. The Expert Working Group concluded that there is a “need to develop relationships between supporter groups and clubs with a view to creating an environment of trust and increasing ownership opportunities as and when they arise” and therefore “a level of structured dialogue on major club issues needs to be agreed and implemented”.

This week also saw Blackpool Supporters’ Trust taking the issue of the problems surrounding the football club to our town councillors.

It was a full council meeting, open to the public, and the public gallery was packed, possibly for the first time since the Poll Tax was a hot issue.

Andy Higgins, on behalf of the Trust, requested that Blackpool Council should register concern about the deterioration on and off the field in every aspect of Blackpool FC, and the negative impact that situation is having on the well-being of the community and the reputation of the town.

He suggested that support for a change of ownership might be appropriate.

He requested that the council gives its formal support to the Football Governance (Supporters’ Participation) Bill and to the proposals contained in the Football Ownership and Engagement Report referred to above.

He further asked the council to support the principle that BST should be officially recognised by Blackpool FC as a supporters’ trust and engaged with, in line withthe recommendations of the Football Ownership and Engagement Report.

The leader of the council, replying on their behalf, declined to do so on all counts.

The suggestion was made that it is a bad idea to mix football and politics. We hope that was just a bad joke for the future of football, our national sport, is a highly political issue and the debate will only intensify in the months ahead.

This first public attempt by BST to engage the council, according to our democratic rights, is only the start of what we are sure will be a lengthy process to try to involve them more effectively in helping to right the problems at the town’s football club and restore some sense of hope and pride to the fanbase and the town itself.