Month: February 2016

The Blackpool Fans’ Progress Group are undemocratic and unrepresentative

Thousands of supporters are choosing to boycott Blackpool football club because of the appalling actions of its current owners, the Oyston family.

Over the last three years nearly 2000 fans have chosen to join the Blackpool Supporters Trust (BST). Anyone can join. The trust is democratically run by its members. The trust’s committee is elected by its members. The club has refused to speak to the trust, and the fans that it represents, despite three years of attempts.

The club decided to set up its own group. The Blackpool Fans’ Progress Group (FPG). This group has 6 members. They were selected by the club’s staff. They do not represent the fans.

Some people seem to think the FPG is a legitimate way for the club to engage the fans, a bit of basic research shows this isn’t the case. Here are some links and some of the FPG’s own words. Any Blackpool fan can point at this post to help explain to any politician or journalist that the FPG is undemocratic and unrepresentative.

Meanwhile if the 6 members of the Fans Progress Group read this post I hope they think about the message of hope at the end.

The Fans’ Progress Group were selected by the club

At the start of 2015 the club’s previous official fan group, cut its ties with the club saying:

“The chairman’s recent words and actions have alienated supporters and brought our club into disrepute. We once again want a club where all supporters feel they are valued.”

In the summer of 2015 the Oyston family decided that it would set up a new official group for Blackpool fans. Initially called the “Fans’ Parliament” This group is now called the “Blackpool Fans’ Progress Group”, or “FPG”.

Three of the four people that the club announced as being on a selection panel for the FPG withdrew from the selection process. The MP for Blackpool South, Gordon Marsden had been announced by the club as a panel member. He publicly said:

“At no point did I give any commitment to taking part in the selection process”

Eventually the club’s staff personally selected the twelve people who joined the group.

Four of those initial twelve members quit after a single meeting with the chairman, Karl Oyston saying:

“after the first meeting it quickly became clear he wasn’t really willing to act on our main concerns”

The Fans’ Progress Group in their own words

When the FPG was first launched, and on a few occasions since, I have exchanged polite emails with them. In these exchanges the FPG has said things such as:

One of our objectives is to get Karl to re-open dialogue with the main supporter groups like the BST and BSA etc., we absolutely do not consider ourselves to be a replacement for these groups

and

We have never professed to represent other fans

Last week I had another email exchange with the FPG. The FPG gave its permission for me to publish the full exchange. The exchange showed that there are now only six members of the group. Let’s be clear: as they do not “profess to represent other fans” the FPG represents six people.

I asked whether the FPG would ever hold an open meeting with fans. The FPG said:

Yet to be decided, although we receive many views and opinions from supporters like yourself via Email or our website contact form, and those supporters we talk to both at matches and elsewhere and those we known personally. The FPG isn’t a fee paying members group, but more of an independent supporters liaison group. Remember we are barely 6 months old and are still in the early stages of evolving.

Now, I’m no expert in football liaison but you would have thought that rather than deciding between the six of them whether or not to hold an open meeting they might want to ask Blackpool’s fans what they wanted. They might want to go to where the fans are. It would not take me 6 months to work that out.

There is more in that response from the FPG but I will leave it for others to pick apart. The point is made.

The FPG are 6 people. They are not democratic. They were selected by the club. They know that they are unrepresentative. They do not know or understand what many Blackpool fans want. They have no legitimacy other than that granted to them by the club and the Oystons.

The club and the Oystons are giving the FPG’s opinions a value that they simply do not deserve.

The Blackpool Supporters Trust are democratic and representative

By contrast the Blackpool Supporters Trust (BST) represents nearly 2000 fans. Anyone can join. Whether they are a lifelong season ticket holder, someone who refuses to buy a ticket because of the boycott or someone who chooses not to buy because they live thousands of miles away. All fans can have a voice.

BST holds regular meetings that are open to anybody to attend whether or not they are a member. Minutes are published after every meeting. The BST committee was selected through a vote in which nearly 1000 members participated. Any member could have stood for election. The committe are democratically elected representatives for the members.

There are over 140 democratically run supporters trusts across the UK. BST are an affiliate of the Football Supporters Federation (FSF). Any fan group can join the FSF, only democratically run ones become affiliates with the legitimacy that democracy provides.

If the club and its owners genuinely want to speak with the fans then rather than insulting them, taking legal action against them or hand-picking the fans it chooses to talk to the club needs to start by simply recognising and talking with the Blackpool Supporters Trust.

A final note of sorrow and hope

Despite the damage they are causing to the fans and the wider Blackpool community I do feel sorry for the 6 people who are left in the Fans Progress Group. They have made a huge mistake and I think some of them know it.

Their mistake was to allow themselves to be used by the Oyston family. The Oystons created the FPG because they were unwilling to talk with a democratically run fan’s group and the fans it represents.

As we saw in this post the Oyston family are happy to use people. They claimed that one of Blackpool’s MPs had agreed to help them select the FPG when he hadn’t.

There is a way forward. A way for those 6 fans to show some real progress. The remaining members of the FPG can stop causing damage and go to where the fans are.

They can help make Blackpool FC a more democratic club, one that listens to all its fans, by leaving the FPG and joining their fellow Blackpool fans in choosing to be represented by the democratic Blackpool Supporters Trust.

I hope they do.

An exchange with the Blackpool Fans’ Progress Group

I dropped an email to the Blackpool Fans’ Progress Group (FPG) last week.

The FPG responded within a couple of days. I’m grateful to them for responding so fast.

The FPG are a strange beast. Three of the four people on the initial selection panel withdrew from the selection process. The club’s staff personally selected the twelve people who eventually joined the group. Four of the initial twelve members quit after a single meeting with the chairman, Karl Oyston.

As you will see in this email exchange the FPG currently has 6 (six) members

By contrast there are nearly 2000 (two thousand) members of the Blackpool Supporters Trust. If you don’t know why Blackpool has a supporters trust then this may help.

I’ll share my own thoughts on the email exchange with the FPG within a day or so but I thought it useful to share their response in full and with minimal commentary at first.

An exchange with the FPG

Hi FPG,

hope you’re keeping well.

Can I ask a few questions? I’d appreciate a reply by the end of the week if that’s possible? Do let me know if not and when you will be able to answer by.

Hi Peter,

We have tried to answer your questions as best we can, answers are below against each of your questions in {italic} text.

Just to be clear the members of the FPG have not benefited in anyway from our membership, we have not benefited from any use of the hospitality box, nor in any other way. We pay the cost of the hire of a room away from Bloomfield Road for our our meetings, and have paid for our own website and anything else that needs to be paid for. We only use Bloomfield Road when we have met with the club for our quarterly meetings. As we have said before we are a supporters liaison group that is truly independent of the football club and its owners.

In response to your final comment “To be clear I intend to publish any answers in the spirit of creating a more transparent and open debate about Blackpool FC”, we’d like to draw your attention the Email signature below (*) as we take supporter confidentiality seriously. However we have no objection to you using the answers provided below but would hope that you use them in a way that ensures your debate is fair and balanced, and not solely used to discredit the FPG.

I’m interested to know what your view is to the announcement of a meeting invite to all main supporter groups with the club. I listened to Christine Seddon of the BST on radio Lancs describe it as an invite to meet the FPG which is wholly incorrect, yes we will be there and can meet each other. Understandably some are skeptical about the meeting intent but what some seem to be missing is that it is an opportunity for all groups including the FPG to question Karl Oyston further and seek answers regardless of their pre-conceptions.

1. In this posting on your site you provide an opinion on the club/Oyston’s position on legal action against fans. I cannot find this position on the club’s website. If a fan was to follow your opinion but still face legal action form the club/Oystons would you be willing to take responsibility?

This information is provided in good faith based upon our understanding of information received from Karl Oyston, the wording was confirmed as accurate by Karl before publication, however fans are advised to check with the club first. The FPG cannot accept any liability for any loss or damages sustained or for any legal action taken by Blackpool FC, its owners or others. If a fan has concern about this perhaps they should raise it through their supporter group that they may be a member of at the 10th March meeting with the club. This amnesty was referred to in the clubs news release on its website 6th Feb 2016, which states :

“A report on legal actions, both civil and CPS/Police initiated, will also be on the agenda. The club will confirm its intention not to commence any further legal action, other than that relating to the pitch invasions, where a limited number of individuals have been contacted and further small number of individuals are currently being identified with the assistance of Lancashire Police.

The club has offered an amnesty, via the FPG, to the vast majority of those individuals involved in the pitch protests on 2 May 2015 and 11 July 2015. This is subject to all those involved accepting the amnesty and attending the club to sign an acceptable behaviour order”.

2. In this posting on the Blackpool FC site it refers to “Iain Tarpey’s attendance at the club’s last board meeting.”. When was this board meeting? Who was present? When do you intend to publish your notes from the meeting?

The meeting was held mid December, all board members were present in person or via conference call, along with our own chairman. The minutes have not yet been issued, but given BFC Ltd is a private company the FPG has no control over the release of board meeting minutes, particularly if they contain commercially sensitive information, consequently we are not in a position to comment on the meeting, unless the club gives permission for us to release any minutes once issued.

3. In this posting on your site you discuss the club’s hospitality box. How many times have the FPG had access to a hospitality box? How many, and which, members of the FPG were in the hospitality box on each day? What was the value of any hospitality provided by the club to the FPG members in the box? Did those FPG members pay for match day tickets?

No member of the FPG benefited from the use of this box, nor watched any matches from it. The box was provided by the club for the FPG to donate to local charities, a member of the FPG went to meet the persons using the box to say hello, take some photo’s and make sure they were all OK, then returned to their own season ticket seat to watch the match. The value of the box is unknown and irrelevant to us. This box is a genuine gesture on behalf of the club in response to our request for the club to donate a box for one match to a local charity, the club did this but extended its offer for all remaining home games of the season. Players will also be making visits to the box to meet the charity users for photo’s and sign autographs etc.

4. According to this report in the Gazette the FPG have confirmed their attendance at a meeting with the club on March 10th. Which members plan to attend?

We have not confirmed to anyone that we will be attending, be cautious of what is written including AVFTT. However it is our intention to attend and we will reply to the club in due coarse, we have yet to decide upon who will be attending. We hope that the supporter groups accept the clubs invitation and attend, they all have the opportunity to place their own issues on the meeting agenda. This is not a “meet the FPG evening”, but an opportunity for all groups (including the FPG) to ask questions of Karl Oyston directly and seek answers etc.

5. Can I ask when and where you intend to hold your first open meeting to hear the views of Blackpool fans?

Yet to be decided, although we receive many views and opinions from supporters like yourself via Email or our website contact form, and those supporters we talk to both at matches and elsewhere and those we known personally. The FPG isn’t a fee paying members group, but more of an independent supporters liaison group. Remember we are barely 6 months old and are still in the early stages of evolving.

6. The names of current FPG members does not appear to be on your website. Can I ask what they are?

There is no particular reason why not, nor is this dissimilar from the BST or BSA, however names were made public via our first press release which was published in the Gazette and the clubs website before we established our own. Anyone who has asked for them has been given this info.

Current members are : Iain Tarpey, Terry Greenhow, Peter Wadeson, Ron Matthews, Rachel Haines and Nick Bell

To be clear I intend to publish any answers in the spirit of creating a more transparent and open debate about Blackpool FC.

All the best,

Peter

Additional note: at this point I would like to rem that

(*) the email signature is very formal. It says:

The content of this message and any attached file(s) are private and confidential and Without Prejudice and / or privileged and are for the named recipient only, re-transmission, dissemination, copying, or disclosure of this Email and it’s contents onto others not listed by the sender, whether electronically, printed or verbally, is strictly prohibited unless prior approved by the sender. If you are not the named recipient, any unauthorised review, use, re-transmission, dissemination, copying, disclosure or other use of, or taking of any action in reliance upon this information is strictly prohibited. If you receive this message in error please contact the sender immediately and delete this Email from your system. Any attachment with this message should be checked for viruses before it is opened. The sender shall not be held responsible for any failure or loss by the recipient who should test for viruses before opening any Email or attachments. Should you communicate with the sender by Email you consent to the sender reading and forward communicating any such correspondence. Any information provided in this Email is provided in good faith, supporters should not take any action in reliance upon it and are advised to check with the Blackpool FC and/or its owners or others first. The FPG cannot accept any liability for any loss or damages sustained or for any action taken by Blackpool FC, its owners or others. Opening and reading this Email confirms your acceptance of these terms and conditions. As a Blackpool FC supporter who has contacted the FPG you have been added to the FPG’s mailing list, should you wish to unsubscribe from this mailing list, please send a return Email with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject field.

Sepp Blatter, Liverpool, Blackpool and open government

At the weekend 10,000 Liverpool fans marched out of Anfield in a protest against ticket prices and it was reported that Sepp Blatter is continuing his campaign to make mischief for football’s global governing body Fifa.

The two incidents are connected and, strangely enough, the connection is the Lancashire town of Blackpool and the global movement of open government.

Sept Blatter, Fifa and open government

You may not have heard of open government. Gavin Starks wrote about it in the Guardian when discussing Sepp Blatter and the allegations of corruption in Fifa:

Allowing citizens to freely access data related to the institutions that govern them is essential to a well-functioning democratic society. It is the first step towards holding leaders to account for failures and wrongdoing.

Jack Hardinges echoed this call recently discussing the upcoming Fifa elections and saying that transparent governments publish open data and Fifa should be no exception. He argued that it:

would not only help a new Fifa president to mark the start of a new era for the organisation but, more importantly, help to bring about the true reform it so desperately needs.

Football fans would do well to heed this message and the need for true reform.

Premier League fans need a change in governance

Following the walkout by 10,000 fans the Telegraph said that “enough is enough, English football should hang its head in shame”. Both the price of a ticket to go to a game and the price of subscription to watch football on television continue to rise. Fans are being priced out of the game.

The Football Supporter’s Federation are mobilising fans to lobby for a freeze on ticket prices but are faced with reports that the Premier League clubs voted against a freeze in a secret ballot.

The clubs hold both the information and the decision making power rather than opening it up to others. Fans can see the effects of ticket and television subscription rises on their own bank balances but they can’t see where the money is going or influence those decisions.

They should be calling both for a price freeze and a change in governance to clubs that are partially or wholly owned by fans.

Blackpool: a club that won’t listen and a council that is closed

In Lancashire there are other problems. Thousands of Blackpool fans don’t walk out in the middle of matches. They don’t even go in the stadium. They have chosen to boycott their club.

This is not because the tickets cost too much. They boycott because a £90m windfall from Blackpool’s one season in the Premiership has not been invested in the club, instead much of it has been transferred to the owner’s other businesses. They boycott because the club’s owners have taken and are still taking legal action against fans. They boycott because the club’s owners antagonise and abuse them. A police officer alleged that the club’s chairman, Karl Oyston, was ‘beckoning and enticing’ fans yet no action was taken.

The fans set up the Blackpool Supporters Trust to tackle these issues. The trust is democratically run and had nearly 1000 people vote in its last election. The trust offered to buy the club. The club refused to negotiate. After three years of attempts the owners have not even met them.

Last month the trust addressed Blackpool’s town council. If they were not concerned about the fans perhaps the fact that local business are complaining and the loss of an estimated £30m a year of extra revenue would catch people’s attention.

The council leader, Simon Blackburn, told the fans “we cannot take sides that is not the role of the council”. He said that his meetings with the Oystons will remain private. An attitude that is completely opposite to the culture of open government that we want from our politicians. Rather bizarrely the local paper supported this stance saying:

can a council leader really go to war with one of the town’s most wealthy business families? Rightly or wrongly, his approach is understandable.

The council has since said that Simon Blackburn has met Karl Oyston twice in the last 24 months but that there are no records of what was said. Even the number of meetings appears confusing when the club claims to have regular meetings with Simon Blackburn. There is clearly more that the councillor and council could choose to disclose. If they don’t then using rights won by the open government movement people can try to compel them.

Because of the owner’s actions many Blackpool fans will never be able to trust them again but they will also struggle to trust a politician whose first choice is to keep things private rather than to open things up or a politician that is not willing to challenge those with power.

Go and listen to the fans

Football and governments have problems globally, nationally and locally. All of these things are connected. Liverpool, Sepp Blatter, open government and Blackpool. They share common faultlines and the need for change. We need to make sure that fans and voters have both information and the power to use it. Unless we deliver these things we cannot increase trust.

Image by author of the January 2016 Blackpool Supporters Trust meeting.

When I was writing this I kept thinking back to a recent meeting of the Blackpool Supporters Trust. There were over 100 fans passionately debating the future of their football club and a nervous undercurrent in parts of the room due to the fear of legal action. Despite that fear those fans were still there and still fighting for their club and their community.

I didn’t expect any of the club’s staff to be there. They ignore the fans. But as I thought back I remembered that despite the Blackpool fans’ prominent battles over many years there was not a single politician present to listen to them, talk with them and debate some ideas. If politicians want fans to trust them to help tackle football’s problems perhaps that is the first thing that they need to do.

Interesting times for Blackpool fans

While the football is irrelevant this is still an ‘interesting time’ for fans of Blackpool football club. There are ups and downs but despite their appalling owner, and against a background of continuing legal actions, there is a glimmer of hope. An upcoming meeting with the club provides a way to test how fast this progress will be.

I made my choice a couple of years ago. I want change. Like many other fans I will not go back to Blackpool football club whilst the current owners, the Oyston family, remain in charge. Their actions against the fans, the club and the town are unforgiveable. The Oystons need to go and we need fan ownership to help stop events like these happening again.

A snap, by me, of Blackpool football club 30 minutes before a game. This car park and that stadium used to be full of cars and coaches carrying both home and away fans who spent money in Blackpool.

A couple of weeks back the Blackpool Supporters Trust spoke to Blackpool council about these issues. To put it mildly the response from the leader of Blackpool Council, Simon Blackburn, was gobsmacking. He said that politics and football don’t mix and that his meetings with the Oystons would stay private.

This was surprising. Even if Simon Blackburn is not concerned about the Oyston’s ongoing legal actions and threats against fans; or their failure to invest a £90m windfall earned by the football team back into the football team you would have thought that a council leader would know of the estimated £30m loss to businesses in Blackpool due to the club’s failures. We know that Simon Blackburn has met with the Oyston family. On 19 February we should find out more about these meetings and what Simon Blackburn knows.

Whilst Simon Blackburn is currently failing the town of Blackpool there are signs of progress and real leadership elsewhere.

The Blackpool Supporter’s Trust have got a number of members of parliament to choose to stand by the fans, another local councillor has called for a truce and mediation between the owner and the fans and, after three years of requests!, the football club has finally agreed to meet the fans.

(For some strange reason the football club has decided that as well as the democratically run and nearly 2000-strong Blackpool Supporters Trust and long-standing groups such as BASIL and Yorkshire Seasiders they want to invite another group, the “Fan’s Progress Group” to that meeting.

The “Fan’s Progress Group” is a strange beast. It was set up last year when the club refused to speak to other fans’ groups. The club’s staff personally selected the people who joined it and even then four quit after a single meeting with the chairman, Karl Oyston. Just like the club’s “Supporter Liaison Officer” the group has never held a public meeting to talk with fans. I understand that there are five members left and, judging by polite email exchanges with a couple of them and transcripts of their chats with Karl Oyston, they are significantly out of their depth. Now that the club has (finally!) agreed to meet with the fans’ democratically elected representatives I trust that this infamous five will choose to stop their secret meetings and join their fellow fans in the trust.)

A leech by GlebK. I would like to avoid Jason Manford’s mistake and issue an apology to leeches for the unfortunate analogy before they make a complaint.

The trust wrote last week that there is still a long way to go. This is a risk. The Oystons could try and cling on to the club like a particularly unpleasant leech sucking the blood out of its victim. If the Oystons do this the fans, the club and the town will continue to suffer. The current incarnation of Blackpool football club could even die.

But there is an argument that the Oystons may be keen to go. After all they have an impending court case alleging ‘unfair prejudice against shareholders’; the pressure from politicians will only grow now that they are starting to understand the damage that the Oystons are causing; the Football Assocation have been asked to investigate the club on ethical grounds while we can expect that the Oystons will have yet another round of bad publicity when their company accounts are published at the end of April. That will be unfortunate timing given the club’s need to persuade fans to renew season tickets rather than join the growing boycott. Perhaps the Oystons are listening to fans and are keen to exit after all.

The meeting with the trust provides an excellent opportunity to test this by presenting a rapid way out for the Oystons. I would suggest a short agenda:

  1. Stopping all legal action against fans and refunding all money gained from legal action against fans.
  2. Appointing an independent valuer to put a price on the club.
  3. Timetable for the fans to raise the money and for the Oystons to get out of our club.

If the club accept this agenda and we start to see an exit timetable for the Oystons then that will be real progress for fans. Football will become relevant again and we can go back to being more interested in what happens on the pitch than the failures of the boardroom.

If they don’t accept the agenda then the fans will know that they are in for the long haul and more years of hurt. This may seem daunting but it won’t dampen my resolve.

Like many others I will continue to stand side by side with my fellow Blackpool fans.

I will stick with the Blackpool Supporters Trust.

I will continue to fight.

And one day we will win and we will get our club back.

(If you want to help Blackpool fans then you should join or donate to the Blackpool Supporters Trust and help their campaign to put football first.)

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