Supporters Summit 2015 – report back

Andy Mills of Hull City Supporters’ Trust  (HCST) reports on the Supporters Direct & Football Supporters’ Federation events in Manchester, July 17-19th 2105

supporter-summit2015Fellow Board member Chris Cooper and myself attended the series of events built round the summit (an annual event held jointly by Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation). The day-long summit was preceded by the SD Members’ Day (HCST is a member of SD, the umbrella organisation for supporters’ trusts) and AGM, and followed by the FSF AGM.

The weekend was an opportunity to meet people active in supporter organisations. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and had interesting tales to tell, so it was certainly a convivial time. The content varied in both form and effectiveness; I’ll try to give a flavour.

The SD day consisted of workshops. I attended the Positive Relationships Building and Supporter Director Training sessions. The first was led by a director of Cardiff City’s trust, with whom of course we share similarities of interest. Attending trusts’ relationships with their clubs varied, from those like ourselves who are shunned by their owners to those, like Swansea, who have a shareholding, form part of the club’s board and have developed an exceptionally good working relationship with the other joint owners. A few things became clear:

  • fate is a fickle master. There were trusts who had worked hard to develop good, structured relationships with an owner only to see that owner move on and the new one not be interested;
  • some trusts at smaller clubs had been exploited by the owners, bailing the club out in times of financial need;
  • even clubs such as FCUM, wholly owned by their trust and gaining success on and off the pitch, experienced strife within the board and with supporter groups;
  • having a seat on the board does not mean you are necessarily included in decision-making; this seemed especially problematic when the club ownership was mainly family-held (the Allams are not the only ones who take the “it’s my business and nobody tells me how to run it” line);
  • if clubs are willing to work with trusts, they can reap many benefits – for instance, those that conducted surveys of their members were sometimes asked for those results by the club to explore how customer satisfaction could be increased, and where the trusts supplied the Supporter Liaison Officer role this led to a lessening of problems.

Incidentally, just to make us jealous was a representative from FC Schalke 04, one of its SLOs. The club is fully owned by its supporters, having 136,000 members (50,000 of which are juniors) and a 62,000 seater stadium, which they fill every match. Their operations board is overseen by the trust’s supervisory board – and fan power can certainly make itself known. A couple of years ago the club’s new marketing director unveiled a deal with a ticketing agency whereby the agency would receive 300 high priced tickets to sell on. Even though 300 tickets was a tiny proportion of the stadium’s capacity, fan groups considered this to be legalised touting and lobbied against it. When the operations board ignored this, 9,000 fans turned up at the AGM (fortunately held at the stadium!) to force a special resolution to get the board to reverse the decision – which they did. Amazingly, this turnout was bettered the following year. Truly, a different world to ours…

The following day’s Supporter Summit had a wider audience and a commensurately greater attendance. The first session – a panel question & answer session – on FIFA was professionally handled and interesting, to be sure, but covered by now fairly well-worn ground on an issue that most of us cannot much affect. HCST presented (about guess-what) at a workshop entitled “Tales from the Terraces”, along with the Iron Trust (the changed relationship with Scunthorpe’s owners), Bradford City Supporters Trust (the Valley Parade fire remembrances) and Leamington Spa’s Brakes Trust (on its Citizen of the Year award). The final session we attended was “Making Fans Heard” and was the best of the day – talks and debate on how policing and stewarding had gone wrong, the value of supporter input into Safety Advisory Groups, and how (using this role) supporter groups can liaise with each other prior to matches to iron out problems and get important messages out to fans.

The topic of fan treatment at grounds (and beyond) spilled over into the next day’s FSF AGM, where horror stories of fans being banned for spurious reasons were heard, and hence calls for the FSF to influence the role and composition of the Independent Football Ombudsman and to press for an independent appeals process to be established. HCST members will, we hope, be pleased to know that our motions to strengthen the FA’s heritage rules were carried and the FSF will now engage with the FA on this.

Other news from the weekend – Malcolm Clarke, a vociferous friend of CTWD/HCST, was re-elected as Chair of the FSF, and the Government’s Expert Working Group on football, established to look at how barriers to supporter ownership could be removed and how supporter representation at clubs be improved, will present its findings in November. This might – just might – be a first step to having mandatory trust representation on the boards of football clubs.

All in all, an enjoyable and interesting weekend, and I would recommend shareholders consider going to future summits (though the next will likely be in the South). Membership of the FSF is free, as is attendance at the summit.

Andy Mills (Hull City Supporters’ Trust)




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