In one sense, Christmas came early for Blackpool fans in 2019.
We shouldn’t forget that, less than a year ago, we were still waiting to see if, or when, we would get our club back.
With Simon Sadler arriving in June and a new board putting plans in place for making a proper football club out of the sham the Oystons left behind, we surely only have reasons to be positive about what the future holds in 2020.
What cannot be denied is that the atmosphere at recent home games continues to be fantastic, even if results have been elusive.
As I wrote recently in a matchday programme, the passion of our supporters is vital to the upward progress of Blackpool FC.
It’s a passion that’s only intensified because of the toxic years we’ve endured of late, because we came so close to losing what unites us all; our football club.
We want the support from the stands to grow as fans come back to the club and we want that support to be as vociferous as possible – loud but legal, as I described it.
So far this season there has been relatively little trouble at Bloomfield Road. Fans have been impressively noisy and disturbances have been few and far between.
However, following on from incidents at the end of the EFL Trophy game against Scunthorpe United, the league match at home to Fleetwood Town and some bottle-throwing during the Shrewsbury Town game – for which Blackpool was reported to the EFL – the club has been investigating the cause of some altercations which have caused distress.
I actually attended a briefing for SLOs at the EFL last month, a sign of how fortunes have changed for Blackpool FC, and one of the items reviewed during the day was the question of safety and security at football matches – how it’s traditionally been managed, what it is designed to do, what it costs and how it could be managed differently in future.
In light of recent incidents, I thought it worth sharing some of what I learned.
Obviously the welfare of supporters attending football matches is of paramount importance.
We are all entitled to feel safe and secure when we go to a game. The law requires it, the Safety Advisory Group prescribes it and football clubs, the football authorities and the police are collectively charged with making sure it happens.
However, our safety comes at a cost. The policing bill alone for professional football matches is pushing £50m per season.
At the moment the clubs pay only about 10 per cent of that cost but the pressure is on them to pay a larger share – so there is a financial incentive to football clubs to find more cost-effective ways of guaranteeing everyone’s safety and security at matches without jeopardising the quality of those security provisions.
In a marked change from the recent regime, this is now a listening and a caring club which takes the safety of everyone inside the stadium very seriously.
Stewards and supporters both have a responsibility to behave appropriately, out of respect for everyone at the game and for the good reputation of Blackpool FC.
Over-zealous action by individual members of staff has been dealt with quickly and effectively and the club is adamant that it is working to promote a positive relationship between supporters and those whose duty it is to ensure the safety and enjoyment of us all.
This is being insisted on from the top down, and with some education, a bit of goodwill and the use of common sense from everybody, the relationship can and will change for the better.
Coincidentally, for the next two years, the EFL is helping to fund a project called ‘ENABLE’.
Its goal is to drive innovation in both policing methods and club security programmes, to develop better, more collaborative ways of keeping everybody safe on matchdays by sharing information, expertise and best practice, focusing more on human rights, emphasising better engagement with fans and the central importance of collective responsibility.
Blackpool’s SLO team will follow its development closely as we look to adopt the best ideas to improve the matchday experience for us all.
In the meantime, if you have issues that are concerning, or observations and suggestions for how to improve the quality of that matchday experience at Bloomfield Road or our away games, don’t hesitate to contact me. It’s what I’m here for.
I’m at the club most Mondays and Wednesdays as well as matchdays. You can also reach me at any time via twitter: @BFCSLO, via email: email@example.com and on Facebook: Blackpool FC Supporters’ Liaison Officer.
Onwards and upwards! A decent FA Cup run wouldn’t go amiss. Stay positive. A Happy New Year to everyone and let’s look forward to some more exciting developments at Blackpool FC in the year ahead.