The latest Fans Forum took place on Thursday 29th June 2017 in the Bobby Robson Suite at St. James’ Park. Peter Fanning, Vice Chairman of the Trust was there on our behalf and this is his report from the meeting.
There were six club representatives including Lee Charnley, Managing Director and 15 supporter representatives from various fan groups and different parts of St. James’. The official minutes from the meeting can be seen in full on the Club’s website.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting Fans Forum representatives had reported to the Club concerns raised by fans about security and safety around the ground and particularly in the area of Strawberry Place immediately before and after matches. The matter had been brought into closer focus following tragic events in Manchester and London in public places where there were large crowds. In the knowledge that the City Council is responsible for traffic management around the ground, forum members as a group had written to the Council asking to meet to discuss the matter.
The Club reported that a meeting had taken place between them, the City Council and Northumbria Police and various options were being considered. Fan representatives were pleased that the issue was being given serious consideration but expressed their frustration that they had not been invited to the meeting. The Club representatives agreed that they would pass on our request for a meeting to the City Council.
It was good to know that the Club were being very supportive about this issue.
A preliminary meeting between Council representatives and Fans Forum representatives was subsequently arranged for Wednesday 12th July. On Tuesday 18th July a presentation was made by the City Council and Northumbria Police to the whole Fans Forum. The meeting was positive and very constructive and considered a number of traffic and security options around the ground in preparation for the new season.
Further reports on progress will be posted on the NUST website.
LOCATION OF AWAY SUPPORTERS AT ST. JAMES’ PARK
The Premier League requires clubs to position away fans pitch side. It would seem the television companies need to have on screen atmosphere beefed up by having away fans regularly in shot. Level 7 at St. James’ Park doesn’t seem to do that for them. Other clubs’ fans have also raised the issue through the Football Supporters Federation (FSA) complaining about their location in the ground. Whilst the Trust would argue that the view of the match from Level 7 is fine and many thousands of our own fans are up there every home game the Premier League have only given the Club a one year dispensation based upon the case it has put forward.
The Club’s case is supported by the City Council as part of its licensing responsibilities over the Ground and is quite rightly based on the safe access and exit arrangements of away fans. But whatever the reasons the Trust believes that any attempt by the TV companies and the Premier League to move our fans in our ground should be resisted.
The Club have been working with fan groups about establishing a designated “singing section”. An area in the upper tier of the Gallowgate End has been identified as suitable.
The Club announced that until there are changes to legislation to allow standing areas they have no plans to consider the issue for St. James’.
There was a general discussion about transfer business and the Club’s plans for the future. Lee Charnley answered all questions put to him but understandably could not always go into detail. He confirmed that he and Rafa Benitez would continue to work to bring in the players we needed but explained that it was a difficult market. He confirmed that he was working with the manager to restructure the scouting arrangements and assured fans that these changes and press speculation about the Club was having no impact on what they were trying to do to bring in the right players.
He was asked about previous comments that the Club were not interested in cup competitions. He drew attention to public comments made by the manager during the 2016/17 season which demonstrated a will to win every game played, whether league or cup.
The club is continuing to discuss the development of the training ground but is currently prioritising investment in other areas including the squad, rather than on the immediate construction of brand new facilities.
There is to be a workshop involving supporter representatives to consider a review of the existing loyalty points system. A date would be confirmed in due course.
There was discussion about how fixtures are messed around by the TV companies. Fans asked if they would be consulted about fixture changes. It was explained that they would not be consulted directly but NUST are part of a Premier League Trusts Group who meet with Premier League representatives under the umbrella of Supporters Direct and fixture changes for television are regularly part of the discussions but the influence of supporters over fixture changes is minimal.
HOW WAS IT FOR ME?
It was friendly and positive. There’s a limit to how much commercially sensitive information can be shared with fans in this type of forum so it’s almost inevitable that the Fans Forum will be a bit of a “talking shop” without a lot happening afterwards. However, there were some important supporter issues discussed at this meeting e.g. security, singing section and loyalty points scheme where fans were being included in looking for the solutions to these issues. Location of away fans will become a big issue and we would hope that the Club will keep us informed about future developments and that they will resist pressure to move our existing season ticket holders at the behest of the TV companies.