BST column: Early issues for Blackpool’s interim board to address

A good matchday experience is rightly high on the list of most football supporters’ expectations.

Friday, 26th April 2019, 10:00 am
The match against Fleetwood ended well on the field but showed that work off it still needs to be done

After so many seasons of sparse crowds and pared down facilities at Bloomfield Road, now that we are back in numbers there have been what one might most kindly call ‘teething problems’ at recent games as the club’s infrastructure struggles to move up a level.

On Monday there were long queues to get through the turnstiles, meaning thousands of fans missing the first 15 minutes of the game.

There were still long queues for half-time refreshments, quite a few problems of people sitting in the wrong seats, a few issues with standing fans obscuring the view for others and generally ineffective stewarding.

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All of this can be glossed over in our good-natured relief at actually being able to watch our team again but they are problems that need addressing as part of the drive to make coming to watch football at Bloomfield Road the best experience for all.

As has been said on a number of occasions, we have an opportunity over the coming year to build and innovate at Blackpool, to make a Saturday or a weekend in the town a real highlight for visiting fans and to make the matchday experience at Blackpool FC the envy of other clubs.

The club this week posted a vacancy notice for a supporters’ liaison officer (SLO), a voluntary position to be appointed from the fanbase.

It’s a fairly daunting job description but that’s good because it signals that the interim board is taking the role of SLO very seriously after years of mere lip service that was given to the position under the Oystons.

It would appear from the scope and detail of the job description that the new board recognises a good SLO team – for the notification suggests assistants – will be integral to improving the quality of everybody’s matchday experience. That is a very encouraging sign.

The Trust has been inundated since Wednesday morning with emails expressing concern and criticism over aspects of the 2019/20 season ticket prices.

While an adult season ticket at under £300 and a young person’s season ticket at around £150 are well below what was charged a decade ago, there is unhappiness that the age threshold for senior concessions has been raised from 60 to 65 – though this is in line with a similar shift for pensions entitlement – and even greater concern that the £75 child’s ticket is restricted to the family stand. BST has made representation to the board about these concerns and has asked if there is the opportunity for some fine-tuning.

That the Trust was not consulted over the fine detail of the pricing proposals is perhaps a learning point for the board. After years of the fans not being listened to or properly engaged with by the recently deposed board, there is an opportunity now to make supporter engagement and involvement in Blackpool FC part of the dynamic that will help re-establish the well-supported, financially sustainable and successful community football club we would all like to see.

The government commissioned an expert working group (EWG) report in 2015 into how structured dialogue between clubs and supporters should work and BST had input to that study.

The EFL and EPL implemented those EWG recommendations, putting the onus on clubs to initiate the dialogue, except this being Blackpool, Karl Oyston subverted the process with another meaningless box-ticking exercise called the FPG.

The EWG model for ‘structured engagement and dialogue between clubs and fans’ is intended to meet a requirement first laid down by the Secretary of State for Sport in 2012 that ‘clubs give supporters visibility of the strategic direction of their football club and regular opportunities to discuss the issues which matter to supporters’.

The report further recommended that such structured engagement should take place on a regular basis between senior representatives of the club – owners, directors, senior executives – and democratically elected fans’ representatives; ideally engaging with the fanbase through the club’s Supporters’ Trust – if there is one – to discuss major strategic and governance issues.

This implies a whole other level of detail beyond the sounding board of a fans’ forum. It gets to the heart of understanding and enhancing a club’s DNA with a long-term rolling strategic plan that covers every base.

As the report puts it, ‘structured dialogue can help facilitate a partnership approach between a club and its supporters, recognising that supporters care about the strategic direction of the club as well as operational issues and the matchday experience.’

The CEO of the interim board has indicated that the club will engage with the Supporters’ Trust in this way going forward.

The sooner that process starts, the sooner we will be able to put the legacy of years of opaque and unresponsive despotism behind us, build a level of transparency and trust between the boardroom and the fans that hasn’t existed at Bloomfield Road in a generation and start moving forward to make Blackpool FC the great community club we all know it can be again.