In 2015 a detailed study of the impact of austerity across 33,000 communities in Britain produced a report which included a ranking using something called the Index of Multiple Deprivation.
One shocking headline statistic from that report was that eight of the 20 most deprived neighbourhoods in the country are to be found in Blackpool (Burnley came second with two).
Everyone knows that statistics can be massaged to suit most agendas but it is very difficult to refute the reality of what can be seen with one’s own eyes just by walking around parts of the town.
That’s not meant in any way as a put-down of anyone or anywhere. Austerity has hit the region very hard and many Blackpool communities have been struggling against considerable odds.
What has happened at Blackpool FC in the last seven years has not helped the town’s situation. Promotion back to the top flight should have been the catalyst for lasting improvements in the area but the owners pursued more selfish objectives, a decision that has had a devastating impact on the club, on local businesses, on community morale generally and on the image of the town.
Football clubs are about so much more than simply turning up to watch football every week (if you’re a fan) or hoping to make megabucks (if you’re an owner).
Clubs were born out of communities. They are part and parcel of the lives and livelihoods that keep those communities buoyant through bad times and good. They engender a sense of belonging from being part of the network that supports the team.
It is entirely natural and proper therefore that football clubs and their supporter organisations should become involved in community issues. Being a force for good and acknowledging the social responsibility that goes with ownership ought to be enshrined in the manifesto of all football clubs. Being a community asset and social enterprise should not be optional.
As one email of support to BST put it so eloquently this week: “I have lived in Blackpool my whole life and have also been brought up on football but never to follow Blackpool. I actually ended up a Man City fan, through a friend whose family had season tickets, and so I got to attend a fair few matches.
“My Dad never really followed football, so I never learned about my local club, which is a shame. I’m 31 now and have fallen out of love with Man City for a variety of reasons. I’ve grown up and realise that a football club is about much more than the football: it’s about community and pride in the town you live in.
“I’ve got a six-month-old son, and I am confident that within the next few years Blackpool FC will become the cornerstone of the community once again, and I look forward to taking him to watch them and the social integration football brings with it.
“I’m not sure really why I’m sending this message, but I suppose what I’m saying is that you’ve got potentially three season tickets in waiting (my wife included, and maybe even my dad) and that I am grateful for what the current fans are doing to try to get the football club back to the level of integrity it deserves.
“I feel hopeful that Blackpool FC has a bright future. The club could actually be a saviour for a lot of our population. I know in Blackpool we have a lot of deprivation, especially in the areas adjacent to the stadium, and having a great football club on your doorstep can do wonders for your well-being. It could bring people together once again, if only the situation could resolve, which I’m sure it will.”
As a timely opportunity to demonstrate that social responsibility in action, BST is once again calling on the goodwill of all Blackpool fans to donate provisions to our Christmas foodbank in support of less fortunate members of the community.
As with last year’s appeal, we will be collecting donations in aid of Home-Start and HIS Provision, charities which reach out offering support, friendship and practical help to parents with young children and the more vulnerable members in the communities.
Christmas is clearly a time of marked contrasts between the haves and have-nots and whatever you can donate to help bridge that divide will be deeply appreciated.
The charities are appealing for non-perishable food items (tea, coffee, soup, pasta, beans, tinned meat and vegetables), treats (chocolate, toys, nice toiletries), stocking fillers (socks, gloves, hats, felt-tips, crayons, notebooks, makeup) and clothes in good condition.
BST will be manning collection points outside Bloomfield Road West Stand from 1-3pm tomorrow (for Home-Start) and on Saturday December 8 (for HIS Provision).
Just imagine what could be achieved with crowds of 15,000 supporting such an initiative, plus the backing of community-minded owners and business sponsors. It could be transformative.
For this year, let’s do what we can, taking small steps to put the unity back in community. Thank you in advance for your help and generosity.