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Featured affiliate of the month

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

– Blackburn Rovers Action Group –

The Football Supporters’ Federation has hundreds of affiliated supporters’ groups, from the top of the football pyramid to the bottom. They perform many important roles such as arranging matchday transport, campaign work, liaison with clubs, media representation, and even, in the case of supporters’ trusts, giving fans a voice at board level.

Whatever work they carry out it’s fair to say that no two fans’ groups are identical. With that in mind we though it’d be nice to feature the good work of one affiliate on the FSF site every month. First up, we speak to Glen Mullan, 34, chair of Blackburn Rovers Action Group.

The FSF: Hi Glen, thanks for your time. Blackburn Rovers Action Group is a fairly new organisation – how and why did it all get going?

Glen: Well, it first started with a protest we managed to organise before the Arsenal game in September 2011. We were bottom of the table and we thought we’d do a march, Kean [Rovers manager] would be gone in two weeks, and that’d be it.

The group started with 200, then it grew to 1,000 before we knew it – we just wanted to open a channel of communication with the club .The supporters had no elected voice, nobody fighting their corner and no-one getting answers, there’d never even been the need for one at Rovers before.

Fans had always had good relations with the directors in the past, we were a community club and you could have a brew with the chief exec down the local cafe if he was about. But alarm bells started ringing with the new regime when long-serving staff started leaving the club, so in January 2012 we formed the BRFC Action Group.

There were criticisms of the protests from some fans saying it affected the players and we wanted to move away from the stigma of being a protest group. Yes, we had been involved in organising peaceful protest with full co-operation of the club and police, but always maintained we wanted these issues addressing around a table and away from the stands.

By February myself and Simon Little decided the group needed to be run by committee in a democratic manner. We are of the opinion all fans are equal, whether they’re season ticket holders or not, UK-based or not, there is no such thing as a super fan and we needed a properly elected committee, which would bring credibility to the group, and allow members to have a say on who represented their voice in forthcoming meetings.

The FSF: How do you go about organising yourself in that manner?

Glen: We started advertising these upcoming elections – you needed five people to back you to get on the ballot – and 40 people eventually came forward. A committee of eight was eventually formed after elections and from there we assigned duties such as chair person, secretary, supporter liaison officer, press liaison, international liaison, and so on.

It’s become a full time job to be honest – and as I work anyway I haven’t slept for six days! Employees of the club even started contacting us and informing us of practices that they considered unethical so we put together a 400-page dossier and as things went downhill on the pitch our membership increased.

As things progressed we’ve had to try and keep people’s feet on the ground, keep people out of trouble and I think we’ve managed that. I’m proud of that. We’ve also got a lot of new members for the FSF as everyone who joins us has an option to tick a box and join the FSF.

We were growing within the supporter base but we also felt that we needed to reach out to the community – we now have patrons such as Maureen Bateson MBE, Sir Bill Taylor, and Wayne Hemingway MBE. Having those people on board also encouraged other people to join such as local MPs Jack Straw, Jake Berry, and Graham Jones. The new mayor Zamir Khan also invited us to meet him and the 52 local councillors from Blackburn and Darwen back what we’re doing.

Having so many figureheads as official members of the BRFC Action Group has given the group credibility and allowed the group to not only become nationally recognised but also known by supporters across the globe.

We’re now a democratically organised supporters’ body with free membership but we receive no external funding and it costs a lot money to run something like this. This year’s membership will cost in excess of £10,000 and we are heavily reliant on donations and funding from members of the committee.

We now have over 5,000 official members since launching the 2012/2013 free membership scheme and branches in 13 countries including Australia, the USA, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Croatia, and Brazil. They all have a chair person and dedicated members. Without the help of the group’s supporters abroad we’d never have got to the stage it is at now, they contribute heavily in fundraising events and their dedication as supporters of Blackburn Rovers is something which has not gone unnoticed within the UK BRFC Action Group Branch.

The FSF: Have you had any contact with other fans’ groups?

Glen: Four months ago we spoke to Spirit of Shankly about how they do things and asked for advice. We were already doing a lot of what they suggested and I think they were pretty surprised about that which was nice to hear.

The next step, now we represented members, was to get our arguments in front of people and we’ve already met with Richard Scudamore [Premier League chief executive]. When we showed him our dossier, well, I’ve never seen a man sweat so much! He said, “We need to accelerate this…”

We’ve also met with the FA, the Football League and Jack Straw took us into Parliament to meet with the sports minister Hugh Robertson so he could listen to our concerns. The problem is that anyone can own and run clubs, we’ve seen that with Portsmouth.

But we’ve also tried to help other local teams too. Chorley were in real financial difficulties and we encouraged members to go their games and help the club, they’ve raised thousands and the club even won promotion last season.

The FSF: One of your meetings also made the news thanks to the Venky’s representative at the club, Shebby Singh…

Glen: When Shebby Singh was appointed we emailed him – basically using the club’s standard email address system and guessing what his would be based on his name – and within 24 hours he got back in touch to say, yeah, I’ll meet with you. At first we thought he was maybe paying lip service but it turned out that the offer was real.

We thought we need to get this guy in front of other supporters and asked if he’d attend an open meeting, we said we’d get about 500 people along – he just said yes without batting an eyelid. After various communications with him, three weeks down the line, we managed to hold the event in a local council building, thanks to them letting us have it for free. Of course he said the manager would be sacked if we lost three games and that made headline news!

The FSF: We heard about Blackburn United too, what is it exactly?

Glen: This was Sir Bill Taylor’s idea, he thought all the different groups – the trust, websites, fanzines – had to get in a room and share what we’re doing. It’s not always the easiest meeting as people are always on top of each other seeing what’s been done but it’s about trying to get the groups to work together.

For instance, if the trust wants to buy the club, that’s their thing and we’d support that but equally the BRFC Action Group needs its own space too. We have our own goals and our own strategy to where we want our group positioning. Our aim is to give supporters a democratic voice which engages with any administration the club has both now, and in the future.

Any issue a supporter has with the club is of interest to us. We are available 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year to ensure supporters do not feel alone and helpless. It’s good to share information and progress with other groups though and the collaboration meetings are the perfect platform for this.

As a group, the BRFC Action Group aren’t just about getting a new manager – that’s just 1% of the problem. We’re on to our third board of directors in 18 months now! The BRFC Action Group is also concerned about the lack of funding for the women’s team, disabled supporter issues, away travel costs, falling crowds, lack of corporate interest, sponsorship, and so on.

We’ve even managed to force the club to put their coach prices down as they were going to charge £35 to go away to Ipswich. We rang round the local coach companies and got one for £20 per head, we don’t get any profit on that, but it’s all about getting people to the game. Rovers responded by dropping their cost to £29 per head, it’s not a lot but gives an indication on how the group now can have influence upon changes for the better within our club.

The BRFC Action Group is a group for all Blackburn Rovers supporters, run by everyday supporters. All our work is voluntary and no group money is ever used to cover personal expenses for the committee. We do this because we love our club, and want to give supporters a platform and voice chosen by them.

The FSF: What’s next for Blackburn Rovers Action Group?

Glen: The aim of Blackburn Rovers Action Group is to make sure supporters have a constant voice and be guardians of the legacy of Jack Walker. We want to protect the club, which is part of the fabric of this community, of the town itself. We’ve even got members of staff at Blackburn now asking if we can save their jobs!

We want to meet with the owners, it’s closer than it was and I think it will happen before the end of the year. But we want to keep protests out of the stands and get behind the team for a proper promotion push. If we’d have got rid of Steve Kean after two weeks, like I thought was going to happen, then I’d have gone home and that would have been it – but I can’t put this down now.

Thanks for your time Glen and good luck for the season ahead.

If you’d like your supporters’ group featured on the FSF website, email a summary of its latest work to ‘Affiliate of the month’ at info@fsf.org.uk.

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