Blackpool Supporters' Trust column: New year and the same challenges ahead

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This is our first article of what promises to be a busy year for all Supporters’ Trusts – and we would like to begin it by wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous 2022.

While the year may be a new one, many of the challenges that English football faces are very familiar.

Rising debt, competition integrity and governance remain as important as they ever were.

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Closer to home, we find ourselves contending with more familiar issues around poor form, a lame FA Cup exit and a lengthening injury list.

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Blackpool's trip to Barnsley CALLED OFF due to Covid-19 in the opposition camp

The first four months of the year are pivotal for our club’s prospects on the pitch.

That said, we do start from a decent position. The cushion to the bottom three is a good one and, given how they are performing, as few as four wins and a sprinkling of draws should be enough to ensure this ends up being a season of consolidation.

The step up from League One to the Championship is the second biggest in British football and making it successfully would be an achievement for which we should take great pride.

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Neil Critchley has Blackpool competing in a division where other clubs have financial advantagesNeil Critchley has Blackpool competing in a division where other clubs have financial advantages
Neil Critchley has Blackpool competing in a division where other clubs have financial advantages

We have pointed out the huge gulf between the top two tiers of the English game, and the way in which this affects the spending of some clubs.

Add in parachute payments and it is easy to see how a club with average crowds of around 12,000 has something of a mountain to climb.

This of course means that the club has to be creative in finding ways to compete.

We are clearly prepared to spend significant sums when circumstances demand it, but we seem to be developing a modus operandi that involves recruitment of mainly lower league players who are young, upwardly mobile, athletic, flexible and intelligent.

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This puts a premium on scouting and recruitment – and there will be misses as well as hits – but, when done properly, it proves managerial competence can sometimes trump spending power.

Elsewhere, the poor management of the game by the ruling authorities continues to frustrate.

We have asked you more than once to empathise with the fans of Derby County and make no apologies for doing so as the club’s troubles with the EFL enter a third calendar year.

At the time of writing, one of the potential bidders for the club has quit the arena.

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Mike Ashley has reportedly headed in the opposite direction but the administrators have still not named a preferred bidder, are fighting off legal claims from Middlesbrough and Wycombe Wanderers and still have to negotiate a deal on debts with HMRC.

We haven’t mentioned the small issue of who will own Pride Park. It continues to be a mess that the EFL, in particular, should be ashamed of.

Those of you who follow governance matters at all closely will have heard the term ‘competition integrity’ bandied around regularly by the people who run the game.

In the interests of giving the EFL a rest, we thought we would this month concentrate on the FA and the EPL instead.

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The FA made what looks a very clumsy decision with regard to the FA Cup this season when they decided that VAR would be used – but only for those ties taking place at Premier League clubs who have the technology in place.

On the face of it, this might appear non-controversial; the technology exists, why not use it?

The problem is, however, it means a small number of games are being refereed in one manner and the vast majority in another.

It is also a matter of great regret that the FA also decided that the third round could be managed without replays.

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This is, of course, routinely blamed on fixture congestion, but the football authorities from FIFA downwards continue to try to shoehorn more and more games into the calendar, thus creating that congestion.

The clubs who end up suffering are the lower league clubs who hope for a home draw against top opposition – and possibly the chance of a replay that will generate revenue which might actually change their future, as opposed to merely topping up the coffers .

We think it is a retrograde step and have noted the promises made about it being a ‘one-off’. We will see.

At least the FA took a strong line on clubs seeking Covid-related postponements.

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The programme took place on time and pretty much unscathed, which just goes to show clubs can fulfil fixtures when the prospect exists of forfeiting them if they don’t play.

That sort of rigour doesn’t seem to be carrying over into the league programme.

Here, there have been a lot of short-notice postponements and almost no transparency about the rules – and the way in which they are being applied.

We have heard Neil Critchley express his frustrations about this and he is by no means the only person doing so.

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If this seems like a potentially big can of worms, that is because it is.

To be fair to the ruling authorities, Covid-19 is a huge headache they could well have done without but the way it is being managed is unclear to many and, in turn, erodes what sympathy fans might have.

If you have read this far, you may have gathered the way in which our national game is being run continues to cause us great concern.

BST is working hard to progress this debate on behalf of our members and, now more than ever, we need and value your support and contributions.

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If you have never been a BST member, please consider joining us and helping to shape our future.

If you have allowed your membership to lapse recently, please contact us so we can get you back on board.

We hope 2022 may indeed be the year in which many of these concerns get properly addressed, so please help us continue with our best endeavours in supporting the case for change.

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