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Shadow Sports Minister Clive Efford writes to Gordon on Blackpool FC situation and how Labour’s plans will empower fans

Labour’s Shadow Sports Minister Clive Efford has written to Gordon on Blackpool Football Club and Labour’s plans to ensure greater transparency at football clubs and ensure supporters’ representation on club boards.efford_portrait_400x400.jpg

Below is a response to Clive’s letter put out by Gordon and his Labour colleague in Blackpool North Sam Rushworth. You can also find out more information about Labour’s football policy by following this link.

“We welcome this letter from Shadow Sports Minister Clive Efford that sets out Labour’s better plan for football fans. Fans are the lifeblood of football clubs across the world and Blackpool FC is no different.

“Labour’s plans to give fans a voice in the key decisions surrounding their clubs would make a real difference here in Blackpool. We will puts fans in to club boardrooms, give fans more of a say in vital planning decisions and give the supporter representatives’ access to financial and commercial information about the club’s business affairs.

“This plan will help to close the widening gap between fans and owners and build bridges between fans and supporters.

“Labour will ensure that the contribution the club makes to the community is not put at risk and will always act in the best interest of football fans here in Blackpool.”

Dear Gordon and Sam

I am writing to confirm and expand to you the proposals outlined for greater powers for fans developed at Blackpool Football Club and what you and others have observed is a widening gulf between the owners of the club and many of its supporters. I have attached a copy of our press release which contains more detail of what we are proposing.

Our policy was written after we held an extensive national consultation with fans supporters’ groups. It received over whelming support including from Blackpool Supporters Trust who commented in the Gazette on 14 October last year http://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/sport/blackpool-fc/pool-trust-backs-bid-to-give-fans-more-say-1-6903574
As a football fan myself I sympathise entirely with the frustration of the Blackpool supporters as my own club Millwall is almost certainly set to join them in Division One next season. I think we are fortunate at Millwall that we do not have the animosity that exists between the owners of Blackpool and the fans.

Our plans will give fans a voice in the boardroom of every professional club in England and Wales and the right to buy up to ten percent of any shares on offer when there is a change of ownership which is accepted as being when 30% or more shares are being exchanged.

We will also give bona fide supporters clubs the right to register their interest in their grounds so that their voices will be heard over planning applications relating to their club. This is not a veto but it means they cannot be kept silent while a predatory owner attempts to profit from the asset of their club with no regard for the long term future. There will be a presumption that the land will remain a football ground and any change of use would require a like for like replacement.

Football clubs are more than just businesses and the fans are not merely customers. The response to the call to raise £20,000 for Frank Knight to help to pay the damages in his dispute with the club’s chairman underlines this fact. Football clubs with long histories like Blackpool have been sustained through thick and thin by successive generations and owe their existence today to the support of people from the communities in which they are based.

This is a sad situation, particularly for a club like Blackpool with a tremendous heritage which includes the wonderful Stanley Matthews and the famous 1953 FA Cup Final and is embodied today by another all time great Jimmy Armfield, former England and Blackpool player, who is a wonderful sports commentator and hugely respected throughout the game. More recently the club has been in the Premier League and I know from you what a great boost for the town that was.

It is very sad that concerns about investment and financial transparency at the club, alongside its general direction over the past 12 months, have escalated into a series of exchanges via online comments and text messages which have brought a FA League investigation into the conduct of its chairman, and which have exacerbated the gulf between the owners and fans.

I share your concerns about how this could impact on the work of the club in the local community. The health of the club off the field as well as on it matters greatly to the whole community as well as the dedicated supporters who have followed it. The club’s Bloomfield Road site is in the centre of the town and you have described how it has the potential to be a key building block in the community and in Blackpool’s regeneration.

In that context I’m aware the Community Trust over the recent years has done great work across the whole of the community, on supporting skills initiatives, local school and sports teams, public health initiatives and has seen local health and social services and FE providers situated at Bloomfield Road. Throughout the country football has led on tackling important social issues such as racism and Blackpool has a huge role to play, particularly through the work it does with young people, in the future of the town.

I know that you as the constituency MP for the Football Club are determined that the positive contribution the club makes is not put at risk by the events, which have produced the dangerous gulf between the club’s owners and its fans. I know also that both you and Sam Rushworth, while not condoning what was said on Facebook, have emphasised the £20,000 damages seemed excessive and counterproductive, which is reflected in the public response to the fundraising appeal.

I was pleased that our proposals received the support of the Blackpool Supporters’ Trust and many others across the country. We are the only political party offering such a package of initiatives – which echo the widespread concern to build bridges not barriers between football supporters and owners.

I think they have a lot of offer as models for reconciliation and moving forward in respect of the Blackpool situation. Our proposals will give the fans representatives access to financial and commercial information about the club’s business affairs.

Fans have been asking for successive governments to act on these issues and action is well overdue. This will bring a significant momentum to rebuilding the links between the fans and the club at Blackpool and bring the club closer to the local community.

Yours

Clive Efford
Shadow Sports Minister

 

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