Following on from the recent meeting with Christian Purslow, we returned to more operational matters when we met with the Club on 24th November. This was in the backdrop of the second national lockdown coming towards an end and talk of fans returning to football matches. Though, this was before the Government announced further details on the tier structure for managing the pandemic. Also, as widely reported in the media of our fans being reported for alleged hate crimes.
Here is an overview of what was discussed.
Mo Razzaq; Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust; David Michael, My Old Man Said; Anne-Marie Fern, Heroes & Villans; Scott Jones, Villa Talk; Ian Stoked, Vital Villa; Nilesh Chauhan, Villans Together; Harjit Badesha, Punjabi Villans; Joanne McKibbens, AV Disabled Supporters Association; John Gillet, Lions Clubs.
Steve Gough, AV Independent Supporters Clubs; Nick Sanders, avillafan.com; Peter Warrilow; Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust; Sam Timms, Villa & Proud
Paul Tyrrell, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer; Tommy Jordan, Communications Director; Keith Wiseman, Head of Security & Matchday Safety; Lynne O’Reardon, Head of Ticketing Operations; Ben Startin, Digital Product Manager; Lee Preece, Supporter Liaison Manager.
Ben Startin presented an update on our Digital platforms (Website, App, Villa TV and Single Sign On) and outlined short term and long-term plans.
Single Sign On was questioned and explained as ensuring fans only have to log on once (only one password required) to access any of our platforms.
Issues with the availability of kits after digital kit launches was raised and Ben undertook to investigate this further with Fanatics.
Ben invited the FCG reps to contact him directly with any feedback / ideas on any of our Digital products.
Equality & Diversity – Hate Crime Stats
The club directed the FCG to the statement released in response to the publishing of hate crime statistics with Aston Villa supporters being reported on 13 occasions.
Our relationship with West Midlands Police (WMP) was highlighted and the question of their policing having an influence on the number of arrests was raised. The club have a great working relationship with WMP and work closely with them when incidents are reported. A recent incident on social media led to an arrest within three hours which we believe is testament to the positive relations we continue to have. They are the only force in the country to have a specific hate crime process within their Football Liaison team which we feel leads the industry in how to deal with hate crime within football.
Return of Fans to Villa Park
We have been working since Project Restart on the return of fans. The work has been comprehensive to get us where we are. Christian Purlow has been liaising directly with Government throughout as part of a Premier League Committee.
We all have seen the recent announcement from the Government in relation to the tiered system informing the number of fans allowed:
Tier One up to 4,000
Tier Two up to 2,000
Tier Three no fans
The announcement will be made on Thursday regarding which Tier we will be in, and our first two fixtures that could allow fans are Newcastle and Burnley. Clearly, we will only press the button when we are sure we can offer a safe and secure experience.
NB – following the meeting and prior to the publication of these meeting notes we have been informed that we are in tier 3 and currently therefore cannot return supporters to the stadium. The next government review is due on Dec 10th. Any change in tier classification would then come in to force from Dec 16th.
Across the summer, guidance on how fans could be allowed back to Villa Park was received from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Sports Ground Safety Authority & the Premier League. This guidance allowed us to get the ball rolling and it has been a massive challenge to meet the various requirements. Ultimately, we presented our plans to the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) who have now issued the necessary Safety Certificate to allow fans to return (dependent on our Tier classification).
From early stages, it became clear that the use of concourses for anything other than thoroughfare would greatly reduce our capacity. This means we will be unable to offer catering at the stadium.
It will be a very different experience for fans. The perimeter of Villa Park will be secure, and fans will not be allowed to walk across the stadium (for example, access across the North Stand Car Parks to get from Witton Lane to Trinity will not be allowed). There will be additional information printed on tickets which will be a GATE and ACCESS number. The GATE number will ensure fans arrive at the right point to enter Villa Park.
Once fans arrive at their GATE, searches and soft ticket checks will take place. Once through the GATE, signs and staff will direct you to a specific turnstile labelled with an ACCESS number, which relates to the ACCESS number shown on your tickets. From the turnstile, your route to the Vomitory will be numbered and signed using the same ACCESS number.
Essentially, fans will be spaced and socially distanced as much as is practically possible from the perimeter of Villa Park through to your seating area.
The club will be producing guidance including informational videos that will detail what you can bring, procedures on arrival etc. Comms will be a key element of making our plans a success and keeping everyone safe.
The protocols currently in place for Behind Closed Doors matches will remain in place.
The question was asked whether fans can sing at matches. They absolutely can! There will be a Fans Code of Conduct that is a necessary requirement for our Safety Certificate. This will detail behaviours that may compromise other fans safety and will lead to the strongest disciplinary response from the club for anyone putting the health of other fans at risk.
The capacity achieved under the Safety Certificate is greater than the 2,000 / 4,000 published by the Government. If we are in Tier 2, we do not intend to use all the stadium, and will use the Lower Tier of the Holte only. Wheelchair facilities will be available in the Trinity Road Stand and we anticipate between 16 and 20 wheelchair spaces will be available each match. Additional parking measures will be in place for wheelchair users to enable easy access.
The club was asked if we had liaised with Train authorities. We have been advised to encourage fans to Park and Walk as this is clearly the safest method of travel during COVID. Public Transport will be available, but we will show fans what car parks are available in our pre-match comms. It was noted that our survey we sent out across the summer showed the majority intended to drive to matches.
Attention then moved to ticketing. A massive part of ensuring the safety of everyone is to ensure we have the right people in the right place. We have confidence in our fans ability to purchase on-line (three visits to Wembley for example), an established system of unique FAN ID’s and a survey with over 8,000 results helping us inform the best outcome.
Therefore, our intention is to adopt the following procedure:
Each match, we will invite all Season Ticket Holders (over the age of 14) to enter a ballot. The ballot will be split in to three pots:
- Wheelchair users
- Ambulant supporters
- All others
This will enable us to ensure those with disabilities are allocated seats that are accessible to them.
To enter the ballot, you need to have been a 19/20 season ticket holder.
When entering the ballot as a lead booker, you will be able to apply for up to SIX tickets for those who are in your social bubble according to COVID protocols (complying to Government Guidelines on social bubbles).
We will provide a window of 48 / 72 hours when you can enter, which will be defined by the date of the fixture.
A draw will be made, and those successful will be contacted and given a time frame in which to purchase their tickets. This will be on-line only, and we would ask fans to Print at Home so we can easily check photo id on arrival.
Seats will be allocated in safely distanced PODS leaving 2 seat gaps and unsold rows.
One concern we have is someone being successful and not taking up the option to purchase, and how long we would then have to contact the next potential recipients. Whilst we would ask those who develop symptoms to contact us and not to attend, we would hope that fans will only enter the ballot and identify fans within your social bubble if you are 100% certain you will be able to attend. If you have any doubt on your attendance, please do not enter the ballot.
We are hoping to give every season ticket holder the opportunity to attend at least one game this season and understand that some may not wish to attend whilst some of their traditional match day experiences are not available.
The first match where the number of applications to enter the ballot is less than the number of tickets available will signal to us that we need to re-open the ballot to those who may already have been successful for previous matches.
The impact of TV selections may affect the time we have to offer dates for entering ballots, and we will do everything we can to be certain that a game will not move date before we begin the process.
We would ask all fans to ensure their email addresses are up to date and upload their photo on to their FAN ID account sooner rather than later. It must be you using your ticket.
The group were then asked for their thoughts on pricing. From a fan perspective, consideration should be given that this will not be the same matchday experience usually provided. From a club perspective, we will be running each match at a financial loss and COVID has already had a significant impact on our revenues.
It is likely we will use a Category A, B & C system as we had intended to do for 20/21 season, and that this will be based on the opposition.
The club informed Fan Reps that we anticipate 10% of our capacity to be given to Hospitality areas, and that they have their own seasonal members to accommodate within these reduced numbers.
The question was asked on whether games will continue to be shown on TV. All games will be shown until December 31st. The Premier League will then review the situation again.