Over the summer, there have been a number of supporter events. David Michael, your National Liaison Officer, will be providing feedback on the FSF/Supporters Direct Supporters Summit and other meetings later on.
There has also been a Fans’ Conference (held at Rookery Hall, Cheshire) with the clubs’ Supporter Liaison Officers and AVST was represented there by Ann-Marie Fern, your Club Liaison Officer. Here is her feedback:
The meeting was pretty formal and stuck to a set agenda, with time allowed for questions and comments in each section.
Last season, The Premier league saw record average attendances and stadium occupancy despite it being the season with the greatest total distances between grounds since its inception, and a greater number of midweek games due to a shortened season for The World Cup.
Nearly ¾ of supporters – at 71% – are season ticket holders.
Away average attendances were up 2.8%.
Away Fans App
There was a presentation regarding a Premier League Away fans app. They had consulted with fans in workshops in London, the north-west, & the north-east. It would be a free, downloadable premier league app for smartphones which would include things like:
- Directions to the ground including where the away section gates are on that given day
- Up to date travel information. They would update this on the day using info from bus & rail alongside info from fans who are on their way to the game.
- What facilities are available in the away end – e.g. Are they serving alcohol that day?
- Local places to eat
- Away friendly pubs, with types – e.g. – away fans takeover type pubs, through to family pubs, quieter pubs, pubs where home & away mix well, real ale pubs etc. So it would allow people to customise their away experience to their tastes. We did make the point that some fans who like quieter pubs might not appreciate everyone’s smartphone pointing to it, & they seemed to understand this – so hopefully we will keep some best kept secrets too.
- Vouchers for money off travel, food, drink etc in the area.
- Reviews of “the away experience” at the various grounds so that people can read up on what previous visitors have enjoyed, or found difficult, and why.
Away Supporter Initiative
Each club was asked to ring-fence £200,000 to improve the experience of away supporters. This was not a grant but an initiative to set aside existing money in clubs. It was a recommendation made by The Premier League to the 20 clubs, which they voted to accept. This is a 3 year initiative so it will continue for another couple of seasons & it was generally thought to have been a success.
They left in to clubs to decide how the money should be spent as different things work in different places. A Chelsea supporter stated that they had been able to get special trains for £10 – which is generally unheard of for London fares and that they had found this really useful. Some clubs had chosen to improve their own away ends, free coaches had gone down well in a number of places, and some clubs had reduced match tickets and match promotions. Southampton had saved theirs till the last day of the season and given out loads of free stuff to make it a special day out. The Southampton fans had been annoyed all season by the lack of action on the away fans initiative, but the club had wanted to surprise them. It went down really well and Saints fans feel they would enjoy this every year.
I had a discussion with Lee Preece, Villa’s SLO, at the break about our initiatives at Villa which were a mixture of things, with the bulk being spent on free coaches. I stated that whilst I appreciated the commercial aspect of targeting fans who wouldn’t normally travel away, I felt that regular away fans e.g. Lions Clubs had been disadvantaged by the free coaches we had offered. Lee stated that a payment had been made to Lions Clubs and that he believed they had been treated fairly. Personally, I would prefer reductions on some of the most expensive match tickets, as when they get to up around the £50 mark, it starts to feel really unaffordable. However – as these are our “big games” – they tend to sell out at these prices, so the club feel it is better to incentivise games which carry a smaller away following. The Southampton game on a weekday night was a good example of our away crowd being boosted by the club deciding to go for free coaches.
Anti-touting Campaign & Ticket Exchange
This has not been a major issue for Villa, but clubs who are managing sell-out crowds are struggling with tickets going for well over the odds on sites like Viagogo & StubHub. There was some discussion on how best to tackle this, and initiatives to also stop street touting.
Football and Anti-discrimination
There were representatives from prominent campaigning groups for diversity and anti-discrimination in football. The majority of the debate centred on initiatives regarding homosexuality. There were reps from The Gay Football Supporters network & Football v Homophobia.
The Gay Football Supporters Network oversees a number of fans groups who are beginning to become quite visible. “The Gay Gooners” have a banner which is on permanent display on the upper tier of The Emirates, and it is randomly placed – i.e. – it is not actual gay gooners who sit behind it! They have not had any issues arising from this and the idea is that there is a strong visual sign that homosexuality is accepted by football supporters. Other groups include ‘Proud Lillywhites’ at Spurs, ‘Proud Canaries’ at Norwich & ‘Canal Street Blues’ at Manchester City. Matt Lucas as an Arsenal fan & Stephen Fry as a Norwich City fan are patrons of their gay supporters groups and have helped the establishment of the groups. The Spurs & Arsenal gay supporters groups marched together at Pride this year with their banners and were delighted with the reception they got from everyone there.
There was an alternative view (from Burnley) that there isn’t any need for gay people to be singling themselves out like this and making a big show of it. However, I do feel that there will be gay people who feel that they may not be safe from abuse at football, and the accepted visibility of gay supporters groups can only help to make gay fans feel more secure.
Lee & I exchanged a few thought on this, and it’s definitely something we would be interested in at Villa – but it needs to be led by gay supporters – so hopefully someone will come forward.
Returned to the away fans initiative largely. We made the point that Sky fixture changes do not help fans to attend games cheaply. The Spurs rep actually had some figures for their game at Sunderland. That a train ticket had been £38 return in early June, but was over £100 at mid-July.
The Premier league said that the issue which holds up fixture decisions is largely around policing, and whether police are willing to sanction the re-arranged fixtures. This has been exacerbated by public sector cuts which make it more difficult for police to resolve staffing issues quickly.
The Premier League rep did state that fixtures are now sorted until November which gives us stability now into a good distance into the season. However, I think we would all prefer them to get sorted in smaller blocks, but sooner, so that we can take advantage of cheaper fares, organise our working shift patterns etc.
Mike Riley – Goal Line technology
This was really interesting as it showed exactly how it is better than any kind of slow motion replay due to the number of frames per second. There isn’t much more I can say than that though!
He also gave a really good presentation on offside. Apparently they get over 99% of decisions right which amounts to only 2 offsides per weekend across all premier league games. I did want to ask why those 2 errors are always made by the linesman running the left hand line near The Holte End, but didn’t think I’d get a straight answer! We did loads of exercises in spotting offsides and we were all terrible at it!
He was really entertaining, but my favourite question of the day was the bloke who asked him “When you are watching games at home, do you ever shout ‘FFS Ref!’ at the telly?