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.

Image from David Collett via Twitter. The placard is from the disgraced Socialist Workers Party.

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.