Will Watt column: Local papers should be respected, so should fans

Karl Oyston
Karl Oyston
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It’s been another week of off-the-field headlines at Blackpool, with Karl Oyston finally breaking his silence to talk to a group of supporters.

On the face of it that’s a good thing, it’s about time the Pool chairman started to listen to and communicate with the people who matter most at the football club.

But, as ever, it wasn’t as simple as it should have been.

With two fan groups already in operation, the perfect thing would have been for the chairman to invite five members from each group in for a chat about the shambolic goings-on in recent months.

Instead, the club have decided to totally ignore those established and respected groups – instead making one of their own.

The Fans’ Progress Group (FPG) was formed after an advertisement on the club’s official site, hand-picked by club staff and operate within Blackpool FC’s set rules.

I must stress the people on the panel shouldn’t be criticised, they are clearly just wanting the best for the club and I know many of the people involved are very decent people and die-hard fans.

But I can also understand why the panel may lack a little credibility on the wider scale.

That said, good on the FPG for their defence of The Gazette and local media, particularly after typically confusing and even baffling statements made recently.

In this column last month I referred to ‘commercial partners’ being given preferential treatment and spoke about the dangers of this becoming the norm in professional football.

The club responded with a statement on their official site which read: “In a recent column in The Gazette it was stated the club were giving preferential treatment to the media partners.

“This has not been the case.”

So, imagine my surprise to read the minutes of the FPG meeting this week, during which Oyston responded to questions about The Gazette’s restricted access, saying: “It would be grossly unfair to allow the newspaper a similar level of access as Football League rights holding media organisations, and those the club holds commercial agreements with.”

If I’m not mistaken that’s a total contradiction of their previous statement and confirms my original concerns.

Sadly football clubs appear to see the media as a threat, but down in League One that simply isn’t the case.

Clubs, and particularly Blackpool, in the state they are in, should be embracing the media and using them to build bridges and fill all those empty seats which are currently on show at Bloomfield Road.

In a further dig at The Gazette the chairman claimed he had: “recently been given The Gazette’s circulation statistics,which indicated a very small percentage of the Fylde Coast population buy or read The Gazette.”

This is something which was puzzling to say the least, taking yesterday’s statistics as a general example around 60,000 people bought or read The Gazette – a newspaper which has been covering the Fylde coast since 1873 –in print or online. Our website attracts more than 1.1 million page impressions a month.

To put yesterday’s readership into perspective, The Gazette has around 15 times as many readers as Blackpool has season ticket holders.

The Gazette not only remains a hugely read paper, but also massively respected in the community, it’s also, in my opinion, the primary source of news for Blackpool FC’s fans.

In the past The Gazette has sponsored the club and been a ‘commercial partner’, something which we haven’t done for the past two seasons.

As the latest of those reporters who have been lucky enough to cover the club for the paper, I’d call on the chairman to respect our heritage and the paper’s future.

The Gazette will be here and covering Blackpool FC long after any of us.

During more than 100 years of reporting we have always supported the club and wanted it to thrive, something which is the case to this very day.

At present we are not being critical because of a specific agenda and would never ‘take sides’ in any of the rows going on.

Instead we have reported facts and offered balance as much as we possibly can.

Personally I couldn’t care less who runs the club or who makes the decisions.

What I want is a well run, thriving football team, much like the one we quite rightly celebrated a few years ago.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask.