It was just five months ago that Jaimie Fuller had the meeting with Blackpool boxer Ryan Davies that has inspired a new campaign aiming to regulate the way football clubs are owned and run.
Football fans from across the north-west gathered to support the new Fans Not Numbers campaign in Blackpool.
Supporters from Pool, Morecambe, Blackburn Rovers and even a Bristol City fan were joined by former England international Trevor Sinclair and fellow ex-Blackpool players Derek Spence and Eamonn O’Keefe for a passionate two-hour debate at the Blackpool Hilton that outlined solutions to regulate clubs and the way owners run them.
Campaign leader Fuller was on a panel of four that also featured Christine Seddon from the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust, James Mathie from Supporters Direct and Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative Group of Blackpool Council.
A full reform document will be delivered to government after fans have had their say at four further events across the country, with Williams hoping to push the issue at Blackpool Council.
The #FansNotNumbers campaign is a joint initiative between Supporters Direct, sportswear company SKINS, of which Fuller is chairman, and social media platform SPORF, and the ideas discussed included the creation of an independent regulatory body empowered to enforce annual compliance tests on clubs and owners.
And Fuller, a sports governance campaigner who has used his company’s international platform to mount successful challenges to governance at FIFA, the IOC and world cycling body UCI, explained that the roadshows had started in Blackpool because former boxer Davies had alerted him to the controversy surrounding Blackpool’s owners and its impact on the community.
Fuller said: “Ryan and I had been playing email tag and we were finally able to meet up in London.
“Ryan was aware of a lot of the stuff we do regarding governance and advocacy and he said to me, ‘Have you looked at the Blackpool FC situation?’
“I said no and he sent me some links to stories. I wanted to learn more. Ryan introduced me to the supporters’ trust. I came up here, met with them and then I had a couple of days in the high court in London spectating the Belokon trial. I saw Karl Owen and Owen Oyston in the witness box being cross-examined.
“The more I scratched and dug, the more horrified I was at what had been going on with the club and that is what spurred on the idea about looking at the broader scope of football in England and starting the campaign.
“It is such a critical issue when you look at the role that sport plays in society. If an owner mismanages the local football club, the impact on the local community is massive. It cannot be allowed to happen anymore.”
BST chairmain Seddon urged people to lobby their MP to support a regulation drive. She said: “For us really it was a privilege to be involved in this.
“Blackpool are having such difficulties with our owners – people have said the worst owners in football! We are like the case study for the reform that is needed in the whole game.
“The way some owners look after their clubs is totally unacceptable and there isn’t anything anyone can do particularly as things stand.
“This is about trying to get legislation through parliament to give the FA the powers they need to actually do something to regulate the owners and make sure they run clubs as they should be run – as community assets, not just a cash cow as we have said about Blackpool.
“This is about our national game. We are the fans and we need to stand up for it, fight for it. Pressurise your MPs, get on the Fans Not Numbers website and let’s make this happen.”