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.