Tag: Football (Page 1 of 2)

Putting Blackpool FC on the blockchain

Blackpool Football Club, its fans and community have been treated horrendously over the last few years. The owners, the Oyston family, have run the club into the ground, abusing and taking legal action against fans in the process, while both the football authorities and Blackpool’s town councillors sat by and watched.

Last year there was light at the end of the tunnel when Justice Marcus Smith ruled that the Oystons had “illegitimately stripped” the club “in a manner which involved “fundamental breaches” of their duties as directors”. The ruling came after a legal case bought by Valeri Belokon, a major investor at the club. To compensate Belokon the Oystons need to raise money so have put the club up for sale.

Seven patient months later a company called vSport are reported to have bid for Blackpool FC and are quoted saying that they expect to complete the purchase by the end of the month.

vSport say that they are the “world’s first non-profit, open-source and blockchain empowered platform which is completely dedicated to the Sports Industry”.

Sounds impressively futuristic but what on earth does that mean? And should fans and journalists be welcoming the news, or undertaking a bit more scrutiny?

What on earth is blockchain?

Blockchain is a new technology that is generating a lot of interest. Many people believe that it will change the world.

I was part of a team that looked at blockchain two years ago. Our first assessment was that it was useful, but not for everything. We then wrote a longer report, which looked at the promises and risks. Our simplest definition was:

Blockchains provide a way to store information so that many people can see it, keep a copy of it, and add to it. Once added, it is very difficult to remove information. This can reinforce trust in a blockchain’s content.

This type of data storage can support lots of new business and organisational models. Bitcoin is the most famous new model associated with blockchain, indeed blockchain was invented as part of the development of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin was originally intended as a way for people to send payments to each other without an intermediary, unfortunately Bitcoin is currently most famous for being notoriously hard to spend and use, generating a few (Bitcoin) billionaires, losing some people a lot of money, and using as much energy as Ireland or Denmark. Bitcoin doesn’t seem a great thing.

from “Blockchain for 2018 and Beyond: A (growing) list of blockchain use cases

There are many many other proposed uses of blockchain. I won’t list them all. They seem to exist in every sector.

I still haven’t seen one working at scale. And I do spend time looking, Because while I still think there may be some good in blockchain (making it really hard to change data, and making it easier for more people to see when it is changed, must be useful for something! perhaps our project on national archives will help find it?) there is also a lot of hype.

It is good to see that the hype is gradually being seen by more people. We need to get past it to see where, or if, blockchain can be used for positive purposes. Where there is hype there is danger. Not just of lost money — some people will always lose some money while experimenting with new technology — but of more unintended harmful impacts, such as Bitcoin’s impact on the environment, or a direct and immediate impact on individuals.

As societies we need to experiment with new technology to see where it could be useful, but we need be wary of harmful impacts and who could be affected. In the age of a global internet and world wide web, harm can happen at great scale and speed.

What on earth is vSport?

vSport say that they are “world’s first non-profit, open-source and blockchain empowered platform which is completely dedicated to the Sports Industry”. It was founded by Bai Qiang and, Dutch ex-footballer, Wesley Sneijder. vSport is based in China.

The two previously founded a company called Sport8. The English-language version of Sport8’s website has not been updated since 2015 although the Chinese-language version seems to have been more recently updated.


There are reports that Sport8 signed a deal with Borussia Dortmund in 2016, although the Borussia Dortmund website has no mention of it. Bai Qiang previously produced a 3D music video in 2012 and worked as a Vice-President at large speech recognition firm iFlytek.

Play vSports roulette! Could this be offering the chance to win rare Brett Ormerod memorabilia soon?

vSport, like many other companies, has raised some initial funds from investors, put out some blogposts and a whitepaper and is trying to show its potential so that it can bring in more funds. When I signed up on the website I got the chance to play a boring roulette game, I don’t think that game will bring in many funds or players in Blackpool.

The whitepaper has lots of big words and claims but little technical information or detail on how the capabilities will be built and adopted across the many claimed scenarios. I couldn’t find any source code to review, either to check if the roulette game was fair or to help form an opinion on whether the larger technical claims were credible.

A list of applications from the vSport website

The list of applications on the website and in the whitepaper is long and varied. In the time it would take to build a business across the sports sector then most of these ideas would be out of date. If I was advising them then, as for most other blockchain companies, I would recommend that a little more focus and a lot less hype would make them more likely to have long-term success.

from the vSport whitepaper

Some of the applications are a little strange and will have harmful impacts. For example, a section on data sharing talks about personal data like people’s names, sports activities and achievements being put into the blockchain. It says that this could be used in marketing and in making decisions about teenagers at school. Don’t put personal data in a blockchain. Sometimes people need protecting and data about them needs changing or removing. The very same factors that make it hard to change data in a blockchain, also make it hard to protect the people that the data is about.

Most of the applications don’t require a blockchain, they could be built with existing and less experimental technologies, and most of them are about creating financial value for vSport, football clubs, and celebrities but, one of the promises of blockchain is that it can widen the number of people involved in decision making.

from the vSport whitepaper

If vSport follow that model (and the whitepaper hints at this) then football fans could influence its direction and get it to build applications that they want. Perhaps Blackpool fans could vote to finally build a training ground?

Unfortunately the limited information about the foundation shows a simple organisation chart with no detail of who is in which box, how decisions are made, and how they can be appealed.

vSport looks like the very early stage of a classic top-down business. Lots of promises, few products and in need of customers to both develop the products and prove that it can deliver what it promises. I worry that it wants to buy Blackpool football club either for marketing or to test its new technology on the club and fans.

vSport needs more scrutiny

Blackpool fans have had a terrible time. Many, like me, haven’t been to see their football club in years. Any escape route from the Oystons might seem a good one but vSport doesn’t seem the right next destination.

Being either a marketing vehicle for vSport or a testing ground for its technology doesn’t seem like something Blackpool FC, its fans, or its community need. Fans, journalists and local councillors (who’ve hopefully learnt a lesson from their failure to get to grips with the Oystons) need to ask more and better questions of any potential new investor. Any investor that fails to talk with fans before bidding should immediately raise alarm bells.

Many fans were happy to start a new fan-owned club if the Oystons failed to leave. We can ask more questions of vSport, or wait and see if Belokon can use his court case to get ownership from the Oystons, but we should also continue to be prepared to start a new club rather than accepting the first rescue ship that comes along.

Most Blackpool fans will boycott Wembley, you should know why

Next week Blackpool and Exeter will play a game of football at Wembley to decide which team gets promoted to the third division. Most Blackpool fans, including myself, will boycott the game. They will boycott because of the actions of the owners, the Oyston family, who have threatened and taken legal action against many of the club’s fans.

Football is a sport that entertains billions of people around the world. It helps brings people and communities together. Blackpool FC doesn’t. All of my family boycott the club. It is tainted by the Oystons and their actions.

A big game like this would normally be an opportunity for families and the town to unite, whether in victory or defeat. Instead this game will leave the town confused and frustrated, thinking of what could have been. Blackpool’s owners don’t get the damage that they have done to football, the town and the fans.

If you are thinking of going to Wembley then, unless you are an Exeter fan, please don’t. While if you happen to be watching or reporting on the game then it’s important that you understand the reasons for the boycott and that you tell others about it.

That way you can help support all of the Blackpool fans who are trying to heal the damage of the last few years and create a club that all of the fans can support.

This isn’t easy, it hurts

It’s hard not to go and watch your team.

I remember Brett Ormerod’s goal at the Millenium Stadium when we got promoted in 2001. I watched it with two very quiet friends who were in town to support Preston North End in their playoff final. They were even quieter when Bolton took Preston apart in their game two days later.

In 2007 I was at Wembley with my future wife and a group of friends to watch Keigan Parker’s stunning goal help Blackpool beat Yeovil at Wembley to get promoted to the Championship. We met up with a colleague from Yeovil afterwards to share memories and talk about the next season.

In 2010, when Brett Ormerod scored the winning goal to take Blackpool up to Premiership, seven of my family were in attendance along with over 36,000 other Blackpool fans.

This game will create no such memories or reunions for me or thousands of Blackpool fans. I boycott. That hurts.

I boycott because of what the Oystons have done

The Oystons have wasted the opportunity provided by a £90m windfall from Blackpool’s recent season in football’s top division. Much of that windfall has been loaned from the club to other companies. The terrible waste of that money is damaging the club but that is not the main reason I boycott.

One 67-year old Blackpool fan had to pay £20,000 for a private Facebook post seen by 34 (yes, you read that right. Thirty. Four) friends. Fans raised the money to pay the fee.

My boycott is because the Oyston family have abused fans, taunted them and taken legal action against them. An unknown number of legal actions are ongoing. These legal actions carry a large human cost.

The Blackpool Supporters Trust have reported on the human cost saying:

Some individuals have lost their jobs, businesses are in jeopardy, relationships with partners have broken down and health has suffered.

That damage cannot be undone. The Oystons have to go before many fans go back.

Thousands of Blackpool fans are trying to make things better

The fans are working to get the Oystons out of the club and turn Blackpool FC into something that we can be proud of. A club that puts football first and that all fans can support.

While the Oystons remain there is an ethical boycott in place. We call it NAPM: Not A Penny More. The boycott works. The official attendance figures have dropped dramatically and overstate the actual attendance. In some games last year the actual attendance was three thousand lower than the official attendance. The Oystons listen to money. The drop in income will hurt them.

The missing fans are still there and still passionate. Six thousand people joined the most recent protest march with Blackpool fans joined by other football fans from around the country. The Blackpool Supporters Trust have offered to buy the club but the owners have refused to enter negotiations.

While this happens the local council and its leader have stayed curiously silent and the footballing authorities have sat on their hands, rather than trying to save the club and help the fans. There is an ongoing court battle over ownership of the club but many fan’s only real leverage is to choose to boycott. Our boycotts and protests can help motivate the Oystons to leave and others to act.

You can help Blackpool football club

Some fans will recreate part of the Wembley experience by watching on a giant screen that they have hired. Others will join friends down the pub or stay at home. A few will simply ignore the game altogether, the Oyston’s actions have led to them falling out of love with the club and the game.

I know that the short-term pain of missing games is morally right, I cannot give money to a club that sues its fans. I also know that it will help get the Oystons out of the club. The declining revenues, empty seats and protests at Blackpool tell a tale. The tale of a football club whose owners are not wanted and not welcome, who are damaging the game and the town. Eventually they will run out of money or the authorities will intervene. The football league are starting to realise that their rules needs to change so that they can help address the problems at Blackpool and elsewhere.

In the meantime the best way to help Blackpool football club is to encourage people to boycott. I hope this post helps persuade some people who might be wavering and helps both journalists and oppositions fans who haven’t heard of our protests understand why Blackpool fans boycott and why that matters.

We boycott because of the actions of the Oystons. We boycott to help save the club.

Write to your MP about reforming governance of the Football Association

On 9 February 2017 UK politicians are debating governance of the FA (Football Association) – the governing body for football in England, Jersey, Isle of Man and Guernsey. The debate follows the FA’s failure to implement UK government’s best practice for sports governance. English football currently has big problems, this is a chance to make a difference.

You can send a form letter to your MP about the debate using the VoteFootball site but it is more likely to be effective if you send a personal letter using the WriteToThem site produced by the lovely people at MySociety. It is likely to only take 5 or 10 minutes. Write about what you know and feel. Be concise. Give links to more detail and evidence. Be polite. Ask for a specific action.

If a relative or friend can’t use the WriteToThem site then they can call their MP. You can help your relative/friend by looking up their MP’s contact information on the Parliament site and passing it on.

Below is what I sent to my new MP.

— — — — — –

Dear XXXX

On 9 February the House of Commons will be debating the following motion:

That this House has no confidence in the ability of the Football Association (FA) to comply fully with its duties as a governing body, as the current governance structures of the FA make it impossible for the organisation to reform itself; and calls on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals to reform the governance of the FA.

The motion has been bought by a group of Labour and Conservative MPs (Andrew Bingham, Christian Matheson and Damian Collins).

Can I ask you to attend the debate and support the motion?

There have been many governance failures of the FA, and other English governing bodies. I am particularly concerned about the lack of representation for fans and the lack of action against the owners of football clubs who act against the interests of the game, the fans and the communities in which the clubs are rooted.

There are numerous current examples of fans protesting against and boycotting their clubs because of the actions of their owners. For example, Charlton Athletic, Coventry FC, Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United and my own Blackpool FC.

In the case of Blackpool FC despite a £90m “windfall” of Premiership money the club has fallen 3 football divisions in 5 years and could not even put out a full squad at the start of the 2014/15 season. Much of the money has been loaned to Segesta, a company owned by the Oyston family who have a controlling interest in the football club. (1)

The club has taken legal action against fans and abused them. The trust reports that legal action has meant that:

some of the people caught up in this situation ha[ve] been seriously impacted — two cases of cancer, a stroke victim, depression, loss of a baby and an attempted suicide all in the last twelve months. (2)

The fan’s response has been a long-standing and effective boycott (3) coupled with the growth of the democratically run Blackpool Supporter’s Trust (4). The boycott is primarily due to how the club treats its fans, not its performance on the pitch.

Neither the FA, the local footballing authorities or even the local council (5) have taken action.

Reformed governance of the FA which provides transparency, accountability and gives power to fans will help alleviate the situation at Blackpool, and other clubs, and can reduce the chance of similar cases happening again.

Please support this motion to help make that happen.

Yours sincerely,
Peter Wells

(address)

(1) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3030302/How-Blackpool-laughing-stock-sorry-story-Oyston-mess.html

(2) http://blackpoolsupporterstrust.com/Site/LatestNews.aspx?NewId=46

(3) http://blackpoolsupporterstrust.com

(4) https://medium.com/@peterkwells/football-attendance-figures-are-inaccurate-and-don-t-tell-the-whole-story-b4e3f4859648#.xotfjo5wc

(5) https://medium.com/@peterkwells/the-curious-silence-of-blackpool-council-and-its-leader-c1b9be675fde#.34wdwv6i4

They don’t get it

Blackpool football club is in a terrible state. Thousands of fans are boycotting the club until the owners, the Oyston family, go. We know that if we don’t get the Oystons out then they will keep damaging lives and could destroy the club.

Image copyright Reuters, snipped from that terrible excuse for a paper The Sun.

The reason we boycott

The boycotts are not about money. Yes, there is a wasted opportunity of a £90m windfall from Blackpool’s recent season in football’s top division and much of that windfall has been loaned from the club to other companies rather than spent on football. The terrible waste of that money is damaging the club but that is not the reason we boycott.

The boycotts are also not about being a laughing stock as the club fell 3 football divisions in 5 years and couldn’t even put out a full squad at the start of the 2014 season. The Oystons are currently in a legal battle with someone who owns 25% of the club. A legal battle that is bringing yet more shame on the club as allegations fly in the courtroom. Blackpool is a laughing stock because of the Oyston’s management of the club. We will not forget the shame but that is not the only reason why we boycott.

The boycotts are mainly because the Oyston family have abused fans; taunted them and taken legal action against them. An unknown number of legal actions are ongoing. These legal actions carry a large cost.

The real human cost of legal action

Fans from across the country have raised money to help Blackpool fans defend these legal actions but money is never everything.

Two weeks ago the Blackpool Supporters Trust wrote about the real human cost of the legal action saying:

Some individuals have lost their jobs, businesses are in jeopardy, relationships with partners have broken down and health has suffered.

they went on to say

some of the people caught up in this situation ha[ve] been seriously impacted — two cases of cancer, a stroke victim, depression, loss of a baby and an attempted suicide all in the last twelve months.

Devastating stuff.

These are some of the people that used to fill that stadium, who used to cheer on the team and travel around the country with other Blackpool fans.

This is not just a club being damaged, this is people’s lives being destroyed.

They don’t get it

Unfortunately too many other people either don’t realise or don’t care that the football club is acting this way. They are not speaking up to say that this must stop or taking any form of action to help get the Oystons to go.

The club and its employees didn’t comment on the legal action or the tales of the damage the legal action has caused to fans, instead they released “funny” Christmas videos. Some fans still go and put money in the club’s coffers rather than joining the boycott. The local paper tries to stay neutral and frequently reports on Blackpool as a normal football club when it should campaign for change. The local council and its leader stay curiously silent. The footballing authorities sit on their hands, rather than trying to save the club and help the fans.

They don’t get it. The Oystons are damaging lives and could destroy the club.

My family and I made our choice to boycott Blackpool FC a long time ago. I haven’t been to Bloomfield Road for 2 1/2 years. We don’t just boycott though, like many other Blackpool fans we work to stop the damage by getting the Oystons out. We won’t give up and we won’t go away.

Image: onedayinwatford via Urban Ghosts. The wreckage of what was Scarborough FC.

I’d invite those people who still don’t get it to work with the fans who are both trying to stop the damage being done to our fellow fans and trying to save the club. There is a big job to do. Every voice, every pair of hands and every pair of feet can help.

It is also an urgent job. If you don’t help now and we don’t get the Oystons out soon then we may find ourselves with a much bigger task.

Building something new from the ashes that the Oystons leave behind.

Join the Blackpool Supporters Trust. Donate to Justice4Fans.

We won’t give up, no matter how long it takes

This is a redrafted version of an article that was published by SixStars in The 1887 magazine sold at the Judgement Day 2 protest march in April 2016. More than 3000 fans marched. The march was organised by the Blackpool Supporters Trust and the Tangerine Knights.

It may seem like there’s a long way to go for Blackpool fans, but we should be proud of what we have achieved

Counting the fans in a recent picture by ex-Blackpool player (big) Ben Burgess showed 475 fans at a this week’s game vs Bolton. The club claimed there were 1,372 fans. Bolton had 2,261 away supporters. Nearly 5x the number of Blackpool fans.

The Oyston family have taken legal action against fans. Abused them. Taunted them. A fan was jailed. An unknown, but large, number of fans are banned from Bloomfield Road. Thousands of fans are boycotting and refusing to go back until the Oystons go. We’re not paying any more. I’m one of those thousands. More legal actions are on the way against more fans.

Protesting, like thousands of fans did at Judgement Day 2, takes time and effort. Boycotting your football club is hard: it hurts. Being on the end of legal action is horrendous. It can damage your job, your relationships, your life.

We all have doubts

Sometimes it’s hard to see if the boycotts and protests are achieving anything. Perhaps the Oystons will never leave?

After all the bid to buy the club by the Blackpool Supporters Trust was rejected, the Oystons refused to even negotiate a price. The club denied a recent bid even happened. The leader of the town council, Simon Blackburn, said the council “cannot take sides”. He is curiously silent on a matter that affects so many of the people he represents.

The Oystons have a long history in Blackpool and seem to want to cling on like a particularly unpleasant leech sucking blood out of its victim. Sometimes it can feel like failure is inevitable. That the club will sink and that no one will stand together with the fans and stand up for the club, the community and the town.

Perhaps we have to get behind the team despite the owners? Maybe a cheap season ticket offer will be available? Perhaps there’ll be some new players? Perhaps they’ll win a few games?

Many Blackpool fans will have had these nagging questions going around their head. We all have doubts.

We should ignore them.

We should ignore our doubts because the protests are working

I think the Blackpool fans have achieved something. The protests and boycotts are making a difference. You can tell by the reactions of the Oyston family. The protests and boycotts affect them. They reacted by taunting fans. They reacted by taking legal action against people trying to change the ownership of the club. They reacted by spending a tiny amount of the £90m Premiership windfall, just part of the millions that has gone into the club over the last few years, to buy some players. That must have hurt. Owen Oyston even attended an open meeting of fans for the first time in three decades.

But the protests also work by influencing other people. Crowd numbers have dropped to levels not seen since the late 1980s/early 1990s. Visiting fans spend less in the ground. Thousands of previous season ticket holders are boycotting the club. Ex-players and managers have spoken out. The opposition leader of the town council and the local MPs have called for action. The Oystons, and their disgraceful management of the club, regularly feature in the national press. There is the looming spectre of a court case from Valeri Belokon who owns 25% of the club.

Players don’t want to come to the club and supporters don’t want to go to matches. This makes it harder for the Oystons to keep hold of the club. Despite the tangled finances the club becomes less useful to the Oystons and possibly even damaging to their other businesses. More people now know how badly the Oystons run their businesses and treat people.

Perhaps as that court date approaches the Oystons might choose to approach the Blackpool Supporters Trust and start talking about a price to let them get out?

This doesn’t mean that we can expect a quick exit by the Oystons or that it will be an easy life afterwards. It took nine years after Wimbledon was stolen before its fans had a club back in the football league whilst eleven years after they were formed FC United Manchester have not made it into the league and there is unrest between fans in the stands and those in the boardroom. Some fan-owned clubs will face the same difficulties as ones owned by individuals like the Oystons. The grass is not always greener. We always need to scrutinise those in power whether the times are good or bad.

But we should take heart, the protests are working and getting the Oystons out will make the club and Blackpool a better place.

We won’t give up, no matter how long it takes

There’s another reasons we won’t give up.

Many of the people marching and boycotting have faced legal action from the Oystons or are banned from the club. Other people have been abused by the Oystons, whether directly or indirectly given the Oystons’ utterly unpleasant comments about people with special needs. Even if some of us give into our doubts then these people can’t go back unless the Oystons go. We should never forget, and I cannot forgive, the Oystons and the way they have treated our fellow fans.

Image from Blackpool Supporters Trust. If you’re not a member you should join them.

We are not just protesting for ourselves, we are protesting for other people. Blackpool fans are standing together, calling for the Oystons to go and for new owners who put football first.

We should be proud of our boycotts, our protests and of the work the Trust have done to show how a new democratic and fan-owned Blackpool FC could be run. We are fans. We stand together. We are a community. And we won’t give up, no matter how long it takes.

The curious silence of Blackpool Council and its leader

Thousands of Blackpool fans are boycotting their football club. Fewer than half of season ticket holders were going to home games at the end of last season and investigations show that about 25% of season tickets have been renewed for the coming season. The fans are boycotting until things change.

Image courtesy of a Blackpool fan — let me know who and I’ll credit 🙂

At most clubs a boycott might be due to bad performances on the pitch, and given their second relegation in a row it is clear that Blackpool are dreadful on the pitch, but in Blackpool’s case the boycott is due to the owners, the Oyston family, and how they treat the fans, the club and the community.

The club’s owners have taken and are still taking legal action against fans. They antagonise and abuse fans. The family paid themselves the largest ever salary for a football club director and transferred money from the club to other businesses. There are even allegations that the club is linked to money-laundering.

Despite this the town council and its leader, Simon Blackburn, stay silent. How curious.

The town marched, the politicians were absent

Over 3000 people marched through Blackpool in protest last month. My family and I were in that march. We marched alongside Blackpool fans, fellow football fans from across the country and fans from abroad.

A Fortuna Dusseldorf fan on the march. Image author’s own.

My sister came on the march. She doesn’t like football. She was there for the town. Blackpool should be proud of that march. It was peaceful, joyous and united in a determination to change the town and club for the better.

But despite the turnout, there was something missing. Local councillors and their leader, Simon Blackburn. Despite the disgrace being heaped on the town he is curiously silent and the council is curiously passive.

After much pressure and lobbying Blackpool Supporters Trust was given time to speak to the council earlier in the year. In his response Simon Blackburn told the fans “we cannot take sides that is not the role of the council”.

Some local councils and politicians choosing sides

Most football fans are used to the times when councils praise their team’s occasional success. Both Leicester and Merton council leaders have rightly praised Leicester for winning the English league and AFC Wimbledon for their promotion.

But local councils also intervene when things are going bad or might go bad. Leeds council spoke up before Massimo Cellino bought the club and asked the FA to check if he was a fit and proper owner. Coventry council have asked questions about the leasing arrangements between the football club and the rugby club. Newcastle council complained about Mike Ashley trying to rename St James Park to Sports Direct Arena. There are many more cases. I expect that in some cases I would agree with the council and some I would not.

https://twitter.com/COL_LETT/status/739463737371951104

Politicians choose sides. It’s what they do. They don’t just display their choice of sides by passing legislation. Politicians also tell us about their choice of sides by speaking out about issues that concern them to try and improve things. Soft power can help make things better.

Politicians from across the political spectrum are tackling the wealthy businessmen behind the collapse of BHS whilst, to give a Blackpool example, Simon Blackburn recently joined the protests against the increase in the cost of bursaries for nurses.

Labour, the political party Simon Blackburn belongs to, intend to pass legislation to give fans more control over football clubs but have not been able to persuade the government to allow them to put the bill forwards. Despite this the local Conservative and Labour MPs as well as the leader of the Conservative opposition on Blackpool council have spoken out in support of the Blackpool fans that boycott the club and their call for change. It is the council, Simon Blackburn and the local Labour party that stay silent.

But perhaps they know something about Blackpool football club and the Oystons that we don’t? Perhaps there is a good reason for Blackpool council choosing to do nothing?

Blackpool Council know nothing

When the Blackpool Supporters Trust spoke at the council meeting Simon Blackburn said that he would not disclose the details of his meetings with the Oystons. That surprised me as much as the statement about not taking sides. We expect our politicians to be open and transparent. It makes democracy better.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request showed that, despite his claim to meet Karl and Owen Oyston “from time to time”, that he had only met members of the family twice in the last two years. Curiously the council held no record of the discussions in either meeting.

A snippet from the ICO mail confirming that they had chased Blackpool council for a response.

A follow up FOI request — that only received a response when the Information Commissioners Office intervened — showed that Blackpool Council hold no documents relating to the impact on the town of the relegation of the club from the Premiership. This is despite the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce claiming that Blackpool’s 2010/11 season in the Premier League was “worth about £30m to the local economy”.

It seems strange that the council would not care about such a loss to the economy. With the lack of notes about meetings and lack of research into the club it appears that the council knows nothing.

The curious silence should cause people to ask questions

When Simon Blackburn said that the council could not take sides 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.

It was a bizarre statement from the council but it was also a strange stance from the local newspaper. It is clear that a council can take sides and it is also clear that politicians can choose to tackle wealthy families. They do this to stand up for the people they represent. Perhaps there is a good reason that Blackpool council and the council leader choose to do nothing. That they choose not to stand up for Blackpool fans or the town. That they chose to not even turn up for that protest march to talk with 3000 people concerned about the club and the town.

People on a protest march to Bloomfield Road. Image author’s own.

Maybe the council are more concerned with supporting the Oyston’s housebuilding plans on the edge of town. Perhaps they are scared of legal action from the Oystons. Or simply disagree with the fans and think the issues are unimportant. I’m a fan of Occam’s razor and suspect that this is a cockup rather than a conspiracy but whatever the reason may be, the council and Simon Blackburn are choosing not to be honest and share it with the rest of us. How curious.

Whilst the legal actions and disputes around Blackpool football club continue, the residents of Blackpool and the newspapers should be asking more questions about the curious silence of Blackpool council and its leader.

Football attendance figures are inaccurate and don’t tell the whole story


It can be useful to know how many people attend a football match but the official figures are not accurate. Blackpool fans have been collecting data and working out more accurate attendance figures for their team. They hope it will help them oust the football club’s owners and help a fan-owned club to emerge. The footballing authorities should encourage clubs to publish the more accurate data that they already collect. In the meantime the technique could help fans of other clubs.

Lots of people want to know attendance figures but it is not easy to get hold of accurate data

The police, and other services need to know the attendance figures so they can help maintain safety or in case of an emergency. The home team need to know to keep track of finances, look after health and safety and make sure there’s enough pies and bovril available. The away team might need to know the number so that they get a share of gate receipts. The local council might want to know so they can plan transport or understand the number of visitors coming to their town every other week. The football authorities want the numbers so they can proclaim how important the sport is. Fans want to know the figures too.

A snippet from the Millwall-Blackpool programme from 5th March 2016. Attendance figures are in the 6th column.

An attendance figure might be announced at a match. Printed in a programme. Published in a match report. Gathered on football stats websites with information about clubs, leagues or across the globe. The attendance figure you see in these places is typically wrong.

https://twitter.com/WillWatt/status/699679468760203264/

In England the rules of the premier league say that attendance figures that are publicly reported should be the number of tickets that are issued or sold. Not the number of people who actually attend. (I understand the football league rules say the same, although I couldn’t find the precise clause.)

The actual attendance figure can be quite different to the number of tickets that are issued or sold. Season ticket holders may not turn up for a midweek game. Complimentary, i.e. free, tickets could be issued but not used. People might even walk out in the middle of a match as a protest.

In the case of my club, Blackpool FC, fans wanted to know more accurate figures due to their own protests.

The Oystons, Blackpool, bids for the club and a boycott

The owners of Blackpool football club, the Oyston family, have loaned millions of pounds from the club to other companies, taken legal action against fans, taunted them and abused them by text. Unsurprisingly most Blackpool fans want the Oystons to leave.

In 2015 there were two bids to buy the club. One from an unnamed consortium of bidders. The other from the democratically run Blackpool Supporters Trust. The second bid would have created a fan-owned club. Both bids were rejected. Until the Oystons go many fans have chosen to boycott the club.

Without accurate attendance figures it’s tricky to understand the impact of the boycott. Whilst the fans can speak eloquently of the damage the Oystons have done to them it might be tricky for a bidder, or the local council, to understand the damage that has been done to the club and town due to the dreadful mismanagement of the Oystons.

Crowdsourcing better figures

So, using four people and a couple of hours of effort per game, we worked out better attendance figures.

254 people in Blocks D and E during the Blackpool-Coventry game.

Two people in the ground took pictures of every block. Two other people then used a fairly simple and manually intensive, but effective, technique to count the number of objects in a photo. A small percentage, 5%, was then added to cater for some people not being in their seats at the time of the pictures.

The actual attendances for three home games were as follows:

  • Blackpool v Shrewsbury (February 13): official figure 6,873 (including 790 away fans), revised crowd count 4,289— that’s 62% or 2,584 less than the official figure.

Blocks D and E during a game at Bloomfield Road in 2006. Picture by Matthew Wilkisnon, CC-BY-2.0
  • Blackpool v Bradford (February 27): official figure: 8,780 (including 3,063 away fans), revised crowd count 6,100 — that’s 69% or 2,680 less than the official figure.
  • Blackpool v Coventry (March 12): official figure 8,869 (including 3,000 away fans), revised crowd count 5,845 — that’s 66% or 3,024 less than the official figure.

Before the boycott the home stands were full. As the Blackpool Supporters Trust say:

Blackpool FC states that there are currently 4,600 season ticket holders. These accurate crowd counts would suggest that over half of the season ticket holders are already boycotting home matches.

Undoubtedly this will have serious implications for next season — people not using tickets they have already paid for are unlikely to purchase new ones.

The Oystons are destroying Blackpool football club.

Data helps us make better decisions

All of the turnstiles at Blackpool, like many other clubs, have a system that scans tickets on entry. The club’s owners have access to more accurate data than they publish. We have to hope that all football clubs are sharing this accurate data with each other, with local councils and with the emergency services. Perhaps as well as calling for more transparent publication of data to stop abuses of power at Fifa the footballing authorities should ask all clubs to publish as open data both the real attendance figures as well as the number of tickets sold. It will help lots of people make better decisions. In the meantime if fans of other clubs want help in working out more accurate attendance figures then get in touch.

For Blackpool fans though the immediate decision is the choice they are making about whether or not to support the owners by spending money and time going to their football club. I’ve made my choice. I won’t go back. I hope that my boycott will help persuade the Oystons to go.


I will be joining a community march and demonstration organised by the Blackpool Supporters Trust and the Tangerine Knights on Saturday April 30. Blackpool fans are hoping to get 10,000 people to come along.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Blackpool fan, or even a fan of football. The issues at Blackpool go beyond football. They affect many parts of the town and include concerns about transparency and accountability in the local council. What matters is that you care about people and communities and want to make things better.

Why not join us and stand up for a community fighting to get their football club back?

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.

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