Late last month was the first meeting of the Fans Forum for nearly a year. During that time there had been disappointing transfer windows, and the club had been put up for sale by the owner. NUST had raised the failure of the club to call meetings with the Premier League. Fans were desperate for information about what was going on but it seemed to many that the more there was to talk about the less likely the club were to meet with the fans.
We’ve pushed for future meetings to be diaried in advance and that has now been agreed so let’s hope those dates aren’t missed. The detailed minutes have been issued and can be seen here:
This report isn’t going to go through the minutes again as we don’t dispute the accuracy of them as a formal record from the meeting. I will, as usual try to report on my feelings about being part of the Forum and what it might mean to fans.
Since the minutes were published there has been a lot of reaction mainly through social media but also in the local media. Much of it has been critical of the process and in some cases critical of those who attend the Forum. This seems to be because there were no major controversies or big statements from the club to catch the eye.
Whatever those who weren’t there think about the role of Forum members, questions were asked about the ticket loyalty scheme, supporter safety and security issues around the ground, the national issue of safe standing, the Premier League’s requirement to relocate away fans to pitch side, the future development of St. James’ Park, fixture schedules affected by TV, when the club accounts would be published, transfer issues and commercial income.
There’s no doubt that Lee Charnley and the other club representatives are much better at answering questions than they were at the beginning. Nothing to suggest this time that cups weren’t a priority, that mid table mediocrity was all we were aiming for and there wasn’t a pay day lender in sight. Neither was there, however, the kind of shining ambition we hear from Rafa Benitez when he talks about what he wants to achieve at Newcastle. The non-football senior management are much better at trying to manage expectations than providing inspirational leadership in their dealings with the fans.
The Trust has always tried to represent questions from our members when we attend the Forum. Our role is to develop a better dialogue between the club and fans and we try to do that by encouraging ongoing dialogue and discussion even though at times we are not happy with the answers we get from the club.
I was unhappy with the club’s responses about future development of St. James’ Park, their answer about when the club accounts would be published was unacceptable and the way they explain our level of commercial income is never convincing. Little was to be gained, however, by pursuing these points once the club stated their position.
We persuaded the club to commit to future Forum dates, they agreed to support the need for national discussions about safe standing, they have worked with Forum members and the City Council over road closures on match days and a working group involving fans was organised to review the loyalty points scheme for away tickets. These things may not have generated enough controversy to warrant media headlines but they are important to many fans.
Anyone unhappy about what is asked should contact Forum members before the meeting to discuss questions they might want raised, this includes members of the local media and all fans who are interested. The Trust’s part in the Forum has not been without incident and it is nowhere near a perfect system but perhaps those who criticise how it operates should look to play a more active part.