BIAS Goes to Supporters Summit

Over the weekend of 1/2 July BIAS attended the annual Supporters Summit run jointly by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) and Supporters Direct (SD), as well as taking part in the FSF AGM. The event was held in the very impressing St George’s Park in Burton-on-Trent, and getting off the train at “Sergi Station” brought back great memories of our last trip to the town.
 
The day was opened by Malcolm Clarke, FSF Chairman with Ashley Brown – CEO of SD following with the introduction of the “Clubs in Crisis” panel. The theme of clubs in crisis, helping them, and helping fans prevent their club becoming one was a theme that ran through much of the day. The panel included representatives from the Leyton Orient Fans Trust (LOFT), Coventry City’s Sky Blues Trust and Blackpool Supporters’ Trust.
 
It was inspiring and depressing in more or less equal measure, from the incredible achievements of LOFT in securing a new owner of their club, to Coventry and Blackpool’s ongoing battles with their owners. While every situation is different, there were some common ‘warning signs’ for fans of other clubs to look out for. The descent into crisis is often a slow one, with fans looking with hindsight and seeing issues that could have raised alarm bells if they knew then what they know now. These included:
 
·        Cost cutting exercises
·        Reduction in engagement with fans / change in attitude to fans
·        Lack of transparency over key items such as stadiums, spending, staff changes etc
·        Owners acting autocratically, ignoring staff and advisors
·        Breakdowns in the running of the club, mistakes, bills not being paid etc
 
Questions from the floor included what can we as fans of other clubs do to help the crisis clubs? It is clear that in these long battles ‘campaign fatigue’ can be an issue, as fans dedicate all their spare time (and in some cases even their jobs) to work to protect the club they love. Support from other clubs means a lot, whether it is through fundraising, like at Brentford last season for LOFT, or away fans protesting matches that home fans are boycotting, or just joining a march or a protest day such as Fans United day. http://www.blackpoolsupporterstrust.com/Site/LatestNews.aspx?NewId=76
 
Next up were the workshops, BIAS attended the update session on ‘Structured Dialogue’, which is meetings between the club and supporters groups mandated by the EFL. BIAS take part in Structured Dialogue with Brentford FC – as well as our regular meetings with club reps, two a year need to be with a senior member of staff, usually Mark Devlin. This has been working well for us, though we already had a good programme of meetings with the club.

The update showed that for lots of clubs the scheme is not working quite so well, whether that be because they aren’t getting the meetings, aren’t getting the right people to the meetings, or that the meetings aren’t being treated in the right spirit. For some fans, they can’t get representation at the meetings because they aren’t held with a democratic members organisation like BIAS, but instead with a club selected group of fans who are likely to support the club’s views and not ask tough questions. If you would like to suggest a topic for discussion at the next meeting between BIAS and the club, please contact us and we will put your views to the club, though please note conversations are generally about off-pitch rather than on-pitch issues.
 
After lunch, BIAS attended an ideas workshop for the campaign for lower away ticket prices in the EFL ran by Martin O’Hara from FSF, and Brentford (and the FSF)’s own Billy Grant. Because Brentford fans travel to away games in such brilliant numbers so often this is something that really affects many of our members.
 
Some of the ideas included updating the “twenty’s plenty” campaign to be EFL specific, writing to clubs to encourage the take up of reciprocal arrangements, naming and shaming clubs who keep prices high e.g. “thirty’s dirty” on social media, encouraging all fans to put pressure on their own clubs to reduce away prices and to offer reciprocal deals, and campaigning to end categorisation. Another key point mentioned was to try and make clubs release information on pricing for specific matches at the start of the season, or as early as possible, to allow fans to plan, and to vote with their feet and choose cheaper games. It is clear there is a lot to do, and BIAS plan to participate in the campaign fully, as we have so many regular away fans as members.
 
The closing session was with Guardian writer and author David Conn, who talked about his work covering the Hillsborough inquiry, and the incredible work of the families and survivors that has finally brought charges against six individuals associated with the tragedy. After that there were tours of St George’s Park, a screening of Wonderkid hosted by Supporter’s Direct and Brentford’s Brian Burgess, and a visit to some local public houses for networking! The FSF AGM was met with some slightly sore heads the next morning, the FSF AGM went fairly smoothly, with most of the motions passing or being referred to the national council for further discussion. For more detail on that, check out our twitter feed from the day.
 
Overall it was another good event and really interesting to see what other clubs are doing, and getting ideas for how we can all work together to improve things for Brentford fans and the wider football family.
 
Join the FSF here: http://www.fsf.org.uk/join/