BST column: EFL’s unsatisfactory response and reluctance to change

Another empty stand at Bloomfield Road, though some Blackpool supporters have been boycotting for far longer than the past few seasons
Another empty stand at Bloomfield Road, though some Blackpool supporters have been boycotting for far longer than the past few seasons

The EFL replied as promised last Friday to concerns over the proper application of the Owners and Directors Test that BST raised on behalf of Blackpool fans at a March 20 meeting with EFL representatives.

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However, as the EFL CEO stated so presciently in his letter to the Trust last week, it didn’t reveal the answer fans would have liked to hear.

In addition, the Trust has heard nothing back regarding its suggestion that the EFL uses Blackpool as a ‘case review’ to help them improve the effectiveness of their regulations. That being so, BST has written back to Mr Harvey explaining why his reply was unsatisfactory on several counts.

BST’s letter has been sent to all members and shared on fans’ forums but it is worth highlighting key points here.

Firstly, the Trust is still convinced the EFL’s reading of its regulations regarding ‘registered offenders’ is incorrect in the context of owners and directors. The rules do not just apply at point of entry, they require all ‘relevant persons’ to self-certify their continued eligibility each pre-season – suggesting a fundamental misunderstanding by the EFL of what their rules say and how they should be applied.

Secondly, whenever there is a significant problem in any organisation, it is best practice to hold a review and learn from the experience by implementing changes to procedures and audits. The EFL appears reluctant to do this.

There seems to be a particular reluctance to engage with fans, even those bringing offers of practical help (such as the BST case review model).

There is a constant pattern of responding to issues at a glacial pace, even when clubs are clearly in crisis, and a culture of secrecy and a defensive attitude towards any criticism.

All in all, this makes the EFL a very difficult organisation to deal with and leads to a widespread perception that the EFL is not stepping up to a proper exercise of its powers when it comes to off-the-field matters of club management.

All of this is against a backdrop of negotiations behind the scenes by parties potentially interested in taking over our football club.

Of course that change of ownership is something thousands of people want to see happen – and not just Blackpool supporters. Everyone who has the best interests of the town and the wider community of the Fylde in mind lives in hope of such a change.

However, fans and non-fans alike will want the new owners to be a vast improvement on the existing ones, fit to usher in an era of optimism and uplift for club and town.

The task of vetting such owners currently falls to the EFL and the FA, the same august bodies that have allowed the situation at Blackpool to go unchecked for so long, that considered Francesco Becchetti fit to own Leyton Orient, that confirmed Massimo Cellini as suitable to buy Leeds United, that deemed Roland Duchatelet a proper person to take over Charlton Athletic.

We should be worried – and that’s the point. The EFL and FA may argue that most owners behave responsibly and most clubs are run in a reasonable fashion, but even one rogue, ineligible or unprincipled owner is one too many.

How can an English Football League club be owned by a ‘registered offender’ who is deemed by the High Court to have illegitimately stripped the assets of his football club? How come the EFL and the FA did nothing?

It is well known that thousands of Blackpool fans have been boycotting Bloomfield Road for two, three or four seasons in protest against the poor custodianship of our club by the Oystons. What is not so well known is that there are a very principled number who have refused to step inside the stadium for over 20 years now on the grounds that they will not support in any way an institution owned by a convicted sex offender.

Wouldn’t it be something if we all had it in us to exercise such firm principles in the face of our love for our team? Wouldn’t it be something again if the EFL and the FA could ensure we didn’t need to? Think on that, Greg Clarke and Shaun Harvey.

If your organisations will not step up willingly to the serious responsibility of ensuring the highest possible standards of governance for all clubs, then the fans will keep pressing to ensure someone does – preferably an independent regulatory body.

The petition to get a parliamentary debate on safe standing at grounds passed the 100,000-signature milestone this week, so a parliamentary debate should ensue. It can be done. The Trust would like to see the petition to get a debate on reforming football governance achieve the same support. Shaun Harvey declined to sign it. If you haven’t already, please do so. If you have, please share the link as widely as possible. Together we will make a difference. Here is the link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/213108