Blackpool Supporters' Trust column: Why end of Oyston regime must not mean the end of BST

Blackpool Supporters' Trust
Blackpool Supporters' Trust

While fans hold fast to the belief  we are witnessing the (somewhat protracted) end of days for the Oystons at Blackpool FC, in the absence of any significant new developments in the last two months social media has been awash with various debates about whether Blackpool will needs fans groups after regime change – as if removal of the Oystons will be ‘mission accomplished’.

While fans hold fast to the belief we are witnessing the (somewhat protracted) end of days for the Oystons at Blackpool FC, in the absence of any significant new developments in the last two months social media has been awash with various debates about whether Blackpool will needs fans groups after regime change – as if removal of the Oystons will be ‘mission accomplished’.

Many still mistakenly assume BST was formed with the sole objective of protesting against and seeking to remove the Oystons. Not so.

It is just that there was such an obvious issue of inappropriate behaviours to be addressed that campaigning for regime change was seen as a necessary first step to putting right so many of the structural things that have gone wrong at our club. Those will still need to be put right and BST is so much more than a pressure group to oust current owners.

One of the great ironies is that it was Karl Oyston who first questioned whether Blackpool would benefit from establishing a properly constituted Supporters’ Trust along the lines advocated by Supporters Direct.

The prevailing opinion at that time (Oyston’s and the committee of Blackpool Supporters Association) was that Supporters’ Trusts were only for clubs in dire straits and Blackpool was the ‘envy of the Football League’.

Fast forward a few months to the autumn of 2013, amidst increasing fan unrest, and the decision, not taken lightly, to reconstitute SISA as a full-blown Supporters’ Trust.

BST was established in early 2014 as a fully independent, democratic (one member one vote), non-profit-making co-operative of Blackpool supporters, open and affordable to all fans, totally transparent in its dealings and with all of its aims and policies decided by a majority of members.

Its officers are entirely voluntary, are democratically elected and wholly answerable to the membership. Its stated claim to be acting for the benefit of all fans stems from its status as a Community Benefit Society (CBS), which serve the broader interests of the community.

The key aims of BST include:

Representing the best interests of the members and the club at all times

Holding the club’s owners to account in the interests of the community

Achieving supporter representation at board level

Strengthening the bonds between club and community

Promoting football as an activity and focus for community involvement

Giving supporters a shareholding as well as a stakeholding in the club

All of those stated aims are ongoing and will be just as applicable when new owners are in place.

Unlike the present regime, which has refused to recognise and hold dialogue with the Trust, it is to be hoped that whoever takes on the club will choose to work closely with BST as part of the open and structured dialogue with fans that was a key recommendation of the recent Expert Working Group report into engagement in the game.

That would go a long way to making Blackpool FC ‘the best small club in the world’ as one recent would-be investor put it.

Supporters Direct has been instrumental in helping to set up over 200 Supporters Trusts committed to strengthening the voice for fans in the decision-making process at their clubs, and strengthening the links between those clubs and the communities they serve. Just over half of those 200 Trusts have a shareholding stake in their club and two of the Trusts own their club outright.

BST’s fourth agm was held last Saturday. It was proposed that one of the original stated aims of the Trust should be revised – the one that states “The ultimate aim is for supporters to own a majority of Blackpool Football Club”. There is a general recognition that the levels of investment required to sustain a club at the higher levels of the pyramid are so great it is unlikely any supporters’ organisation alone could command the sums of money to justify a majority shareholding. A proposal will shortly go out to the entire membership to vote on an amendment and the Trust will adopt the majority position.

BST belongs to the members and its policies are directed by the members. Anyone can join to help shape the future of democratic fan representation at this football club