Action is needed before football's pyramid crashes down says Christine Seddon of Blackpool Supporters' Trust
Under the ownership of Simon Sadler all now seems well at Blackpool FC – but events at Bury have tempered the joy felt by Christine Seddon, chair of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust (BST), at finally having her club back.
She said: “It’s the fact that football clubs, which we all accept are community assets, are treated like any other business. Our argument is that they shouldn’t be.
“If you have a restaurant and you choose to run it badly, that’s up to you. There’s really only you affected. But if you take a football club on and run it badly, then thousands of people are going to be affected.”
Bury is just one example of a club where many fans feel an owner was allowed to take control without sufficient due diligence being done by the EFL.
For Christine, the inconsistency of this process is frustrating. She added: “Before Simon Sadler was allowed to buy this club, he was subjected to an intensity of scrutiny that I don’t think any owner has ever had.
“I think that was simply because there had been so much trouble at Blackpool and action by fans that they couldn’t afford to get it wrong again.
“If they could do it for him, why couldn’t they do it for Steve Dale at Bury or Stewart Day? It’s a nonsense.”
Amid the despair and anger, there is hope that Bury’s expulsion could be the catalyst for reform within the EFL, which has announced a comprehensive independent review of the regulations and procedures concerning the financial sustainability of its clubs.
Seddon said: “I just hope this is now the opportunity for the EFL and the FA to take a long, hard look at themselves and say, ‘We do need to address this issue’.
“The first step is acknowledging that there is an issue because up until now they haven’t been able to do so.
“I am really sad that it looks like it’s going to take at least one club going to the wall to really shake things up and make people understand what’s actually going on here.
“A change in the way the EFL governs seems like a necessary and logical way to tackle issues surrounding club finances and ownership, but whether or not this will happen is up for debate.
“The EFL is a members’ organisation. They literally represent the owners of football clubs. It’s the members who have to make the decisions and many of them will not agree to things that won’t benefit them. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”
One argument which has come up time and time again during discussion of reform is the need for an independent regulator.
Christine added: “The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) have put some proposals forward, which basically say the FA should be able to get involved. Their suggestion is that the FA becomes the independent regulator.
“I’m a little bit cynical about that but the FSA proposal is well researched and thought through. There are no quick fixes but we have to start somewhere.”
The appointment of an independent regulator may be a way off but Christine believes there is action fans can take now to regain control of their clubs.
“Situations like Bury flag up the need for supporters to get involved and have some say,” she said.
“Fans need to get themselves organised. I bang on about supporters’ trusts but having one is absolutely essential for every club, whether it that club is doing well or not, because a legally-constituted trust gives you a certain amount of authority to act if necessary.
“I think Bury will eventually, after a lot of hard work, be in a better place because the supporters will have control of it and will be able to sweep away all of the toxic mess they’ve got at the moment.
“All I can say is that fans are the club, and no club will die as long as there are fans who care and who step up to the plate.”
But looking at the bigger picture, there is little doubt that change is needed to safeguard lower league clubs.
“Unfortunately I think we’ve sleepwalked into it,” said Seddon. “The football pyramid is crumbling.
“They have not looked after the bottom part of the pyramid and that’s the important bit because it’s the foundation that holds the rest of it up.”