Perhaps the most important element of any football club is its fanbase, without which they would cease to exist. With that in mind, we were eager to find out more about the various supporters groups at Blackpool FC – who they are, their purpose, what makes them tick and how they respond to any criticism they receive.
Continuing our series of interviews with a number of Blackpool’s supporters groups, we spoke to another one of the regional groups who bring together fans not living in the Blackpool area. Karen McGuiness, Stewart Meggs and John Walsh of the BASIL committee took time out to answer our questions…
Measured Progress: Can you perhaps start by giving the readers a brief overview of who BASIL are and what it is you do?
BASIL: BASIL is the Blackpool Association of Supporters in London. We are a group of Blackpool fans who get together to watch The Mighty and have a jolly good piss-up before and after the game. Real ale and BFC are the foundations of the organisation although we do appear to have a number of members now in the Lager Splinter Group!
MP: BASIL stakes claim to being the oldest Blackpool supporters group in existence. How long has BASIL been around and how has the group changed over the years?
BASIL: The idea of forming a London based group of Blackpool supporters was conceived and initiated by Mark Hillary in a letter in the 1978/79 Christmas and New Year programmes (Chester & Hull). The idea being that ex-pat Seasiders living in the capital would be back home for Christmas. This being our first season ever in football’s third tier and with gates plummeting to an all time low, it probably wasn’t the best of times to start a supporters club. Well in early 1979 BASIL was born in the Kilt and Celt pub off Regent Street. Strangely enough the committee all being twenty somethings and having little experience we were really quite organised.
Who were we? Well apart from Mark there was Dave Sellars, Pete Reynolds, John Walsh, Len Shepherd, Eddie Scutt and Stewart Meggs. However, at this stage we had yet to hit upon a name for our newly arrived supporters club. The name BASIL came about following a meeting of the Association of Provincial Football Supporters Club in London (APFSCIL), which we had joined. From this germ of an idea we came up with the pithy acronym BASIL.
Well apart from being a group of like minded people with who to get pissed with on the weekend what were we going to do with ourselves? APFSCIL helped a lot as they ran darts and football leagues. As we didn’t have enough for a football team we thought we would give the darts a go. Over the years the team have achieved a fair bit of success.
A number of other supporters clubs were also members of the South East Counties Quiz League and as APFSCIL were going to enter a team, Stewart Meggs volunteered to be their captain. It soon became evident however that we now had the numbers to field our own team so away we went. The first few years saw us on the end of quite a few heavy beatings to far more experienced teams. It may be a coincidence but when Stewart left London and Eddie took over as captain the BASIL quiz team went on to become the best in the country winning the league, cup and national competition with monotonous regularity.
The 1979/80 season saw the first organised train trips. Again through APFSCIL a group of 10 travelling together gained cheap travel to matches. At £8.00 a head to Blackpool on 11 August 1979 off we went to the home league cup game against Rochdale. Only four went on the trip so it was a bit of a financial disaster but things did get better and combined trips with other APFSCIL member clubs certainly helped. After a while we began clocking up the miles on a regular basis. London is pretty well placed for getting just about anywhere.
Over the years BASIL have evolved into a Southern supporters group rather than just London, and after over 30 years are still going strong as others like Ian Outram have continued to put the effort into keeping the flag flying.
The main changes over the years have been a core group of people, all of whom lived in London initially, growing up, getting on in life, many moving out of the city into the suburban towns but still having Blackpool, both town and football club, in their hearts. The nature of clubs like BASIL, and clubs in all walks of life, suffer from a lack of younger people joining up. Life has changed so much that the need for a tightly run organisation with committees and agendas is almost redundant. A small number of people keep the organisation ticking over and this is how BASIL has operated for many years. We still have a travel secretary, who co-ordinates train times and ticket bookings but the days of cheap train travel organised through APFSCIL are sadly over.
What we do have is a fellowship of Seasiders, some members, some ex-members, some who have never been members, some still live in London, others have moved to other parts of the UK and a least three prominent ex-members now live overseas. All of us can get together for a pint and a natter about our beloved football club and long may that be the case.
MP: Have there been any particular highlights or memorable moments for BASIL down the years that stand out?
BASIL: There are countless BASIL tales that have grown into folklore over the years. One constant over the years has been the traditional game of cards. On the outward train journey, we play for money, originally a penny a point but this has been increased in recent years. The ‘winnings’ form the beer kitty and the loser becomes ‘The Doctor’. This is a role to be avoided as it involves keeping the kitty and getting all the rounds in until the money has gone. The Doctor then buys the first round, followed by the player with the second worst points total etc.
During the 1980s our return journey would usually involve playing Cartmell Races, with much drunken shouting and passers-by often joining in for a bet or two. Things have calmed down a little since then.
MP: How many members do BASIL currently have, and of those how many would you term as active? Have the numbers been fairly stable in the group’s history, or has the relative success of the last 5-10 years seen an uplift in membership numbers?
BASIL: In the early days of BASIL, numbers were fairly stable and most members travelled to games or played for the various teams. Numbers did dwindle as we moved into the 1990s and then increased considerably during the Simon Grayson era, mainly due to the efforts of the current chairman, Ian Outram. The current membership is around 100. There are a core of members who travel regularly home and away, and many more who tend to attend mainly away games. Any game in the South East of England will have a large contingent of BASIL present, back in the dark days of the 80s and 90s the away support of a few hundred on a Tuesday night in Aldershot was swelled considerably by the BASIL contingent.
MP: In terms of what you offer your members, is there organised transport laid on or any benefits fans based in London get as being part of BASIL?
BASIL: The main benefit is to be in contact with a large number of fellow Pool fans, many of whom are exiled from home. Great friendships have been formed over the years and many of the BASIL community have been friends for 30 years. Train travel is organised for certain popular away games. Many BASIL members also car share, especially to home games. There is also the important role of representing Blackpool FC in London. BASIL have a reputation as a very friendly group of people (as we think do Pool fans in general). It’s our party spirit.
In the past, we have run weekend coach trips, minibus trips, had meet the team and manager sessions and even been invited for a 3 course pre-match meal by Owen Oyston back in the Allardyce era. Unfortunately, relations with BFC are not as strong these days and it is difficult to organise this kind of event now.
MP: Down the years BASIL has also looked to have a thriving social side, including running Sunday league and darts teams. Is this something that still happens and if so how do the teams fare?
BASIL: The raison d’etre of BASIL has always been to have a thriving social side. The football just got in the way of a good day out for much of our existence.
We have had teams competing in APFSCIL quiz, pool, football and darts leagues over the years. The quiz team was extremely successful. Recently we have been reduced to just a darts team. They play in Division 3 and we regret to say that last season they were holding up everyone else. This was mainly due to a poor start and lack of players but numbers did increase towards the end of last season and hopefully the team will be more successful next year. One of our founder members is heavily involved in the organisation of the Darts League.
MP: Compared with many other Blackpool fans groups who have a strong online presence, BASIL’s website appears to be fairly covert with a login required to access any content. Is there any particular reason for adopting this approach?
BASIL: Yes, the site is a member’s only website. The fees for running the site come from the member’s subscriptions. The site was initially open access but we were constantly getting spammed, by one individual in particular, who was well known to a handful of BASIL members but not to the community as a whole. The site is predominantly used for arranging transport, meeting places etc so there is not really anything the outside world would be interested in.
MP: What relationships do BASIL have with other fans groups? Are they any formal links or has a decision been made to be as independent as possible with no political agenda?
BASIL: On meeting the secretary of the Blackpool Supporters Club (Editor: Not to be confused with BSA) we were asked how we got on with ‘that lot’, meaning the football club. Being quite naïve we thought we were going to be all one big happy family. What followed were almost 30 years of turmoil in fighting, an application for re-election to the football league and an almost continuous lack of success on the pitch. Over this time BASIL has tried to keep out of the politics and nonsense.
When the Gibrails took over the club a share issue was made and plebs like us could buy them! However at £5.00 each and only sold in stock of 5 shares 25 quid in the early eighties was a lot of dosh. So in order for smaller ‘investors’ to get involved a trust was formed to purchase shares in the name of BASIL. In the end we had enough money to purchase 70 shares in the property company and they are still held to this day.
BASIL has never had a political agenda. That is not the reason for its existence. We had a very good relationship with the old Blackpool Supporters Club – there weren’t that many Pool fans at away games and the BASIL contingent were well known.
There have been numerous attempts to affiliate with BSA, including paying a reduced subscription to BSA (for one season). Unfortunately, BSA has not been particularly helpful in forming any kind of relationship. This is despite many members of both organisations being well known to each other. As Karl will not deal with any group other than BSA, we find it difficult to arrange anything with the football club as BSA is not very forthcoming in offering assistance.
We have had good co-operation with the ticket office and Matt Williams in the organisation of a block of tickets for our three recent Wembley play-off finals. We also had similar good service, from Geoff Warburton in particular, in the past. This included a block of tickets for our 2 play-off finals at Wembley in the early 90s.
BASIL does not get any preferential treatment in regards to tickets and many long-term members struggled to obtain tickets to watch Premier League games in London. This was a big sore point with many, especially those who frequented Aldershot on a freezing Tuesday night.
Apart from BSA, we do have very cordial relations with the Yorkshire Seasiders.
MP: Finally, what do you think (or hope) Paul Ince and his squad can achieve this season?
BASIL: There would be many different answers to this question from BASIL members. There isn’t a consensus of opinion on all things BFC, which is why we prefer to party rather than politick.
However, we hope for good, exciting, attacking football that keeps us entertained and hopefully successful.
We would like to thank Karen McGuiness, Stewart Meggs, John Walsh and BASIL for their willing participation in this project.
BASIL can be contacted via email – firstname.lastname@example.org