The annual Supporters Summit -jointly organised by the FSF and Supporters Direct -took place earlier this month and NUST were represented by Chair Norman Watson. We attended, together with fans from across the UK, to debate the ‘big issues’ which go to the heart of the game. The event is always a great opportunity to meet fellow fans from other supporter organisations and discuss common aims and objectives.
The Summit always covers a wide range of topics and is divided into a number of differing sessions allowing those attending to pick and choose areas of most interest to them and this year was no different.
Amongst the areas discussed were the following; Clubs in Crisis/ Structured Dialogue/Away ticket pricing/Supporter Takeovers/Preventing Child abuse in Football/Football is not a crime/Safe Standing. All topics which at some point of time your average match going supporter will have had some involvement/interaction with and will have been affected by.
The Summit opened with a session drawing on the experiences of fans of ‘Clubs in Crisis’. Presentations were made from Supporters Trusts at Coventry City, Blackpool F.C and Leyton Orient who were all going through hard times. What was striking about all these presentations was the determination and the scale of the wide range of actions organized by the fans of these clubs desperate in their attempts to ensure a bright future for their respective teams.
Sadly, the owners are still there, pointing to a big regulatory vacuum in the game. The common view at the Summit was the need for a new Independent Regulatory Body, in the absence of any support from the F.A or the Football League, and a new Club licensing system. A common view held by participants was that sadly there was no real enthusiasm within the FA to undertake major reform.
Moving on from the Clubs in Crisis of particular interest to us here at NUST was the session on ‘Structured Dialogue’ part of the move to improve Supporter Engagement with clubs. A relatively new concept introduced out of the expert Working Group on Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement (EWG) where clubs have to meet with fans groups at least twice a year. It will be interesting to see how this develops, particularly since the suggestion is that such meetings should relate to ‘strategic issues such as finance, governance and ownership’. Minutes from NUFC’s Fans Forum would seem to show that they don’t deal with such strategic issues-time will tell as to whether this will change.
Sitting on top of the structured dialogue at club level NUST are pleased to report that our promotion has also meant that at National level we have been requested to attend the Premier League Fans Group meetings with the Premier League representatives, to discuss matters such as TV, fixture scheduling, ticket prices, disabled access, finance and regulatory issues. Whilst we were involved at Championship Level last season we always hoped that would just be a temporary arrangement. We’ll also be joining up with the Premier League Supporters Trust Group again. We’ll report back.
The summit also demonstrated the positive benefit of fans working together for the greater good. The FSF and it’s ‘twenty’s plenty’ campaign resulted in ‘away’ tickets capped at £30 in the Premier League was highlighted. More to come with this. When you consider some of the prices paid last season for travelling NUFC fans in the Championship it puts it all into perspective.
Also discussed was the increased media attention to the ‘Safe Standing’ campaign by way of the proposed introduction of Rail Seating. There’s no doubt that this campaign is gathering momentum. The overwhelming success of the introduction of ‘rail Seating’ at Celtic has really opened the eyes of many. Club officials at NUFC have made the trip to observe the Celtic experience and are awaiting legislative change.
The ‘Watching football is not a crime’ session was of interest, given the increase of ‘bubble’ matches over recent years. A panel of experts discussed the matter incl a Police Sgt involved in policing derby games in the Midlands. It was interesting listening to supporters directly affected by such games. Of course the work of NUFC and fans of our dear neighbours, coordinated by the FSF, prevented the introduction of such matches within Tyne and Wear.
Also speaking at the Summit was football correspondent and author David Conn, who if you’ve read any of his books/material, will know that he’s on top of all issues affecting football supporters. His talk highlighted the Hillsborough campaign and emphasized the strength, determination and perseverance from those involved to bring about justice.
All in all, a very interesting and thought provoking event. What was particularly of interest was the number of issues common to all supporters. On many of the sessions fans talked about certain issues/incidents which have happened to us, as NUFC fans, over the years. The ‘politics of the game’ affect us all in so many ways and as supporters, with one voice, we can have influence. There is no doubt that together, as fans, we can be stronger, both at individual club level, as well as at national level.
We’ll report on fans issues as they develop during the season.
COLIN WHITTLE – FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS FEDERATION – NEWCASTLE UNITED SUPPORTERS TRUST
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