Football Supporters Federation (with Supporters Direct)
FA National Football Centre, St George’s Park, Burton
The opening plenary session was introduced by Brian Burgess, Chair of SD, and Malcolm Clark, Chair of FSF and fans representative on the FA Council. Amongst other comments, it was noted that over a single weekend towards the end of last season, 17 times as many young (U21) German players played in the Bundesliga as English U21 players played in the Premier League. Malcolm noted that one of the originally-stated reasons for establishing the PL was to assist the national team!
David Bernstein, retiring Chair of the FA, welcomed the 300 or so delegates to St George’s Park and explained that it was designed as the base for England’s 14 teams – through men’s, women’s and disabled football. He also stressed the importance of fans to clubs wellbeing, and spoke of the importance of openness in club activities, to ensure that the local community was involved. He emphasised the critical role which Supporter Liaison Officers would have to play in connecting clubs to their fans and the community. He also noted that getting ticket prices right was crucial to the future health of the game and welcomed the FSF’s Twenty’s Plenty campaign on away ticket pricing.
He closed his remarks with restating the FA’s commitment to the establishment of a Government Expert Working Group on Supporter Representation in Football, and ended with John Charles’ famous quote: “The fans are at the heart of football.”
Andy Burnham MP
The stage was then taken by Andy Burnham MP (Labour Leigh, Lancs) who is an Everton supporter who has spoken out on football regularly and was an early Chairman of Supporters Direct. He gave an impassioned speech – which was widely reported in the press and on Sky TV – attacking the lack of authority which the FA exercises over the Leagues. He explained that he had posed a number of questions to the FA in 2009 covering everything from financial regulations and fair play through the football creditors and fit and proper persons rules to ways of establishing a better competitive balance in football and ways to encourage home grown talent. He noted that the FA had answered none of the questions but had referred him to the Leagues. This, he said, was the moment when the FA’s abdication of responsibility for football was made clear.
He expressed the view that football was daily showing that it could not run itself. He expressed opposition to the idea of an external regulator for football, but stressed that , unless the FA takes its role seriously and acts appropriately to deal with the problems in the game, then this government is likely to impose such a regulator.
He believed that there were two key things which needed to happen to take football forward:
1. There need to be more supporter-owned clubs, with real connections to the community. Ways need to be found, perhaps through the tax system, to make the establishment of community-owned clubs more attractive than single profit-orientated owners. He asked for any suggestions as to how this could be done and undertook to fight to get the best of any he received into the next Labour Party election manifesto;
2. There needs to be a Royal Charter to support the FA (in the same way that there will be for the Press Complaints Commission following the Leverson enquiry) in order to ensure that commercial considerations of the Leagues cannot overrule the governing body of the game.
These suggestions led to sustained applause from delegates and may well represent a way forward.
The conference then broke into workshops. These covered:
• Away Fans Matter
• Tackling Homophobia
• Sustainability or Bust
• Reclaim our Game
I attended the Tackling Homophobia workshop and helped with the drawing up of an action plan to address the problem. Work will continue for the next couple of months to finalise this plan.
Along with 60 or so other people, I then attended the FSF AGM. Not the most exciting event of the day, but the main things that happened are:
Annual Report from Chair and CEO covered:
• The organisational changes in FSF (splitting into three bodies: one the existing body, a charity arm and a limited company).
• The evidence given to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee enquiry into football governance. It’s worth noting that of all the evidence submitted, only the supporters’ organisations and the FA were called back to give further evidence after the publication of the first draft of the committee’s report. The Committee produced a report which endorsed the majority of the proposals from the supporters’ organisations and it remains to be seen whether the Government takes this forward.
• A brief review of the work done at Fans’ Embassies – which are established overseas wherever the England team are playing.
• The main campaigns which FSF is running: Twenty’s Plenty, on away ticket pricing; Safe Standing, which is gathering momentum as more and more football clubs sign up to trials for the system; Watching Football is not a Crime, monitoring and, where necessary, intervening in overly restrictive policing.
• Supporter Liaison Officers and the patchy response from clubs. Some have put effort into the role with significant results, while a few have sought to ignore it and merely carried on as before. The vast majority are somewhere in between and their SLO’s are finding their feet and establishing the relationships with supporters and club which are crucial to their role. (I’ll leave you to work out where Orient come on that spectrum – our Supporter Liaison Officer is Matt Porter, the Chief Executive……)
Motions debated and passed, or remitted to the National Council (which means everybody agreed with the sentiments but sometimes not the wording of the motions) on: communications and the need for FSF to make it clearer to members what it actually does; supporting the development of the Action Plan on homophobia; opposing the practice adopted at some clubs of changing ticket prices for home as well as away fans depending on who the opposition are.
Elections took place for Board, National Council and Officers of the Federation. The only significant changes being that Jon Keen (Reading) has taken over as Secretary, and I was elected to the National Council (well, its significant to me!).
The final workshop session had the following subjects:
• Fan Engagement
• Transparency and Vigilance
• Safe Standing
• Tackling discrimination
I attended the session on Fan Engagement, led by Tim Connolly, VP Sales & Marketing at the Green Bay Packers (the only fan-owned club in the NFL). It was a fascinating discussion, with mind-blowing numbers: Green Bay has a total population of 102,000, their stadium seats 80,000 and they have 106,000 on the waiting list for season tickets. So many people are so keen to be involved in the club, to buy their vast range of merchandise etc, that the only question left is what does the VP Sales & Marketing actually do?
The final session of the day was a brains’ trust in the BBC Question Time format. This covered a whole range of issues of interest to those asking, and answering, the questions.
Tony Roome, FSF Representative, LOSC Committee
For further info on the Summit from Supporters Direct, click here