BST column: Fighting for exploited and marginalised supporters
Regular readers of these weekly columns will know that the Blackpool Supporters' Trust (BST) is very proud to be an active participant in national initiatives designed to improve the manner in which football is governed, as well as campaigning on our own own issues.
In undertaking this work, we recognise that football fans come in many forms and enjoy the sport in very different ways.
At one end of the spectrum is the man who lives many miles away from his favourite club and follows them principally through a TV subscription.
At the other end of the scale might be the lady who travels the country to watch her home town club play home and away.
Both love the game but in very different ways. Both might have strong opinions about how their enjoyment might be improved. Both views are equally valid as are the infinite variety of views in between.
Our view is that as things stand the game is failing both the individuals described above - it is exploiting him to an unwarranted extent, and increasingly marginalising her.
Both situations are of concern and need to be addressed. As far as BST is concerned, when we campaign on national issues, we do not cherry pick the groups we seek to represent. We have no favourites - we fight for ALL of them.
This is an increasingly important principle, but we cannot really be a strong force for national change if we cannot show observers that we are applying these principles closer to home.
Over the last couple of weeks, at events up and down the country, BST representatives have spoken at length about the role we want to play in our own community.
Readers will know that being a full-time resident in Blackpool is not necessarily a bed of roses.
Our community has some profound problems that are not widely understood outside the town, but the wards around the football ground illustrate the issues well.
People there are blighted by lack of employment opportunities after decades of under-investment.
They are far more likely to suffer heart and respiratory diseases than the national average. They have to endure poor housing and a poor quality environment, and statistics show that they do not live as long as many people in more affluent parts of the country.
Some will feel that addressing such problems should be the province of local and national politicians, and indeed it is.
But that does not mean other organisations cannot become involved in the long-term job of securing answers to these problems.
At BST, we see ourselves as campaigners for the regeneration of the town, an organisation that is both a champion and an advocate for the people who live in our community.
Some of the people concerned will have no connection with our club and may not even support it. But as far as BST is concerned, it is our job to fight for ALL of them.
Most importantly of all, we need to be inclusive when it comes to the people who support the football club and want it to thrive.
Again, these people come in many forms. At one end of the spectrum is the ethical boycotter, who refuses to fund the club until there is regime change and who, in some cases, will not attend away games either. They are often very vocal on social media, and typically feel the business of securing regime change is the main raison d’etre for the Trust.
Not everyone is at this end of the scale. We know that a much reduced but still significant number of people still attend home games and intend to continue doing so. They have many different reasons for this. Some just love watching football above all else; some have strong social reasons for attending and others are simply apolitical.
It is very easy for the people at either extreme to grow very far apart and human nature being what it is, recrimination and back-biting can make the fractures in the fan base very deep.
Two years ago a fan of Coventry City came to address a meeting of the Trust and warned us of the dangers inherent in such a situation.
Coventry’s experience was that bringing disparate elements of their support back together had arguably been the hardest task they faced, and he felt they had still not fully addressed it even after years of effort.
This is a warning that should be heeded. Many of us have seen that social media in particular is often used by the mischievous to make tensions between different factions worse than they need to be, and a counter-voice needs to be heard.
The view of BST is simple. What unites us is far more important and far more powerful than what divides us.
And what unites us all now, and will continue to, is our common love for this most extraordinary of football clubs. And when BST sets about the daily business of fighting for our club’s supporters - then we fight for ALL of you.