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Tuesday, 04 July 2017 07:04

Supporters Summit 2017

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20170701 104127The annual Supporters Summit took place on the weekend of 1st and 2nd July at St George's Park, Burton-Upon-Trent in conjunction with the Football Association. The summit is jointly held by the Football Supporters Federation, who include FSF Cymru, and Supporters Direct, who provided invaluable help to Wrexham Supporters Trust when the take over of Wrexham Football Club took place in 2011.

The event brings fans together from across the UK, from clubs and supporter organisations, to debate the issues at the heart of the game. The event provides an insight into these issues by providing informative work shops for these issues to be debated.

The work shops this year included in the morning session:

Preventing Child Abuse in Football, What Role Can Fans Play? - The role fans have to safeguard children participating in the game at all levels and how to create a supportive environment so that survivors feel comfortable reporting abuse. Speakers: Phil Frampton (White Flowers), Richard 

Scorer (Head of the abuse team at Slater Gordon solicitors), Kim Harrison (Principle solicitor at Slater Gordon) and David Lean (former professional footballer and Barry Bennell abuse survivor).
Regulatory reform - Following on from the opening session looking at some of the problems in the game this workshop will identify where there have been regulatory failings, what could have prevented them and what we can do about it. The session will identify and debate a wide-ranging set of proposals to improve the game.

Structured Dialogue (part 1) - The first of our sessions on structured dialogue will introduce the commitments and the joint findings from SD/FSF to see how structured dialogue at club level is working after the first season. We will hear how Fulham FC are embracing this opportunity, alongside plans to develop the current obligations in the professional and non-league game.

Video Assisted Refereeing - Neale Barry, Head of Senior Referee Development at the FA and former PL and EFL ref, will provide a presentation on how video technology will assist referees in the near future. It's a great chance for fans to understand when, where and why the technology will be called upon. Neale will also be summarising rule changes for the forthcoming season.

And the afternoon session:

Away Ticket Prices in the EFL - After the success of campaigns in the Premier League how can we tackle some of the eye watering ticket prices in the EFL? Where and how should the pressure be applied and what should supporters be aiming for.
Football Finance - Leading football executive Trevor Birch will give his unique insight into football finance and how he sees the game evolving with new owners, investment and money continuing to change the landscape.

Structured Dialogue (part 2) - The second structured dialogue session will focus on those more sensitive areas of confidentiality, finance and strategy which are essential to building trust between club leaders and their supporters. We will be joined by leading sports lawyers Gateley PLC as well as former West Ham Finance Director Nick Igoe to provide practical support to supporters at the sharp end of this process.

Supporter Takeovers - We will be joined by leading figures behind the Foundation of Hearts and Big Bath Bid groups which have led Heart of Midlothian F.C. and Bath City F.C. into supporter ownership, to consider what supporters looking to follow their path can learn and their plans for the future.

Watching Football Is Not a Crime! This is your opportunity to ask the industry experts for their views and opinions about matchday safety and football exclusive legislation. There will also be an opportunity for West Midlands Police to talk about their innovative work with problematic fans which looks at addressing their behaviour rather than simply resorting to the criminal justice system. Sgt Mick Wilkinson from the WMP Football Unit, Bob Eastwood from the English Football League and Tim Gant from the UK Football Policing Unit will be panellists hosted by FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks.

The event was opened by the Football Supporters Federation’s Chairman Malcolm Clarke, who was also the sole supporter representative on the FA Council. However, Malcolm announced at the Supporters Summit that Supporters Direct had selected Katrina Law as the second fan representative on the FA Council.

This appointment follows the FA's decision to double the number of supporter representatives on the FA Council as part of its commitment to reform.

Katrina is co-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust and a member of Supporters Direct's England and Wales Football Council.

She has also been heavily involved in FSF activity in recent seasons, lobbying broadcasters for a better deal for match-going fans and supporting Twenty's Plenty, among other work.

Katrina stated: “It's an honour to be selected to represent supporters at this level. I'm looking forward to increasing the voice of match-going fans on the issues that matter to them, and to positively contributing to a more inclusive, modern and representative FA Council,”

Supporters Direct chief executive Ashley Brown said Katrina would be a fair and strong representative of supporters. "Katrina will work closely with Malcolm and help continue the great work he has been carrying out on behalf of football fans," said Ashley.

Following the opening plenary, Ashley Brown, Chair of Portsmouth Supporters Trust, introduced a session on ‘Club’s in Crisis’. He stated that Portsmouth had once been a ‘Club in Crisis’, but had now moved on to becoming a fan owned club, whose members recently agreed to the sale of the club to American billionaire Michael Eisner.

Ashley went on to introduce Supporters’ Trust representatives from Leyton Orient (LOFT), Blackpool (BST) and Coventry City (SKY Blues Trust) who all shared there experiences of working every spare hour to saving there club’s. The fight against Italian owner Francesco Benchetti to save Orient is over, but was well explained by Mat Roper and Adam Michaelson. However, the fight still continues for Blackpool, whose owners are currently in a court case over £11 million that they are accused of taking from club funds following the Seasiders' cash-rich promotion to the Premier League.

Andy Higgins from Blackpool Supporters Trust informed the summit that the Oyston’s actually employ there own “defamation squad” who search the internet for fans who abuse and threaten the Oystons on line. He added that there had been 95+ court cases made against fans, most of which have been settled out of court.

In the mean time the owners drive around mocking the fans with “Oyston Out” number plates on their cars, whilst using the club web site to “goad and cajole fans”. Blackpool Supporters Trust continue to advise members to boycott home games, whilst supporting the team away from home.

Coventry City are in a similar situation to Blackpool, and Sky Blues Trust representative Roger Ellis, who explained the ownership problem with the Ricoh Stadium and the club’s owners SISU.

Having returned to the Ricoh last year, the club only have one season left playing at the stadium, which is now owned by Wasps Rugby Club. Despite this the owners are selling any assets the club have, top players, and more recently the club’s training ground at Ryton, which was purchased in the early 1960s under Jimmy Hill’s tenure. 75 houses are proposed to be built on the site.

Coventry’s owners still refuse to open talks with the Sky Blues Trust, whose members, like BST, refuse to attend home games, but travel away. Roger accused the owners of having no respect for the tradition of the game; the importance of the club to the local community; no respect for supporters, who they regard as customers; but more interested in finance and not fans. Ironically, Coventry City have just appointed Dave Boddy as the club’s new chief executive - a man who was recently Chairman of Worcester City, who sold the club’s St. George’s Ground, and are now homeless.

The fight for Coventry City continues, as does for other club’s in crisis such as Blackburn Rovers, and more recently Torquay United. The situations at these club’s bring back so many memories of Wrexham Supporters’ Trusts fight to save our club. Where as Orient have had an amiable take over, the fight goes on for Blackpool and Coventry.

One work shop that saw the name of Wrexham Football Club raised was the Watching Football Is Not a Crime! The panel consisted of Sgt Mick Wilkinson from the West Midlands Police Football Unit, Bob Eastwood from the English Football League; Tim Gant from the UK Football Policing Unit and hosted by FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks.

The question of safe transport (Bubble) to matches between Wrexham and Chester was raised. The panel were asked for there opinion and experience of bubble matches. The whole panel agreed that this method was draconian, and that it was the only one left in the country. One panelist even stated that the only reason for this was “lazy policing”.

Sgt Mick Wilkinson whose involvement includes ‘derby’ matches at Wolves; Birmingham City; Aston Villa; West Bromwich Albion etc said that the majority of fans behave well, but those in the minority should be dealt with firmly, and if convicted long time banning orders should be imposed. Fans must be clearly made aware of the consequences if they misbehave. Amanda Jacks even questioned the legality of it.

The Chair of the Blues Trust stated that Birmingham City fans organise there own transport from pubs where fans can enjoy the pre-match atmosphere. He said that it had worked well last season with families enjoying the day out.

Trusts from Brighton and Crystal Palace have already met up about setting up fan zones for fans for the matches between the two club’s this coming season. Talks continue between the two sets of supporters to make it a successful day to remember.

The day closed with journalist, author and the Guardian's investigative reporter who once helped highlight Wrexham' s plight, David Conn.

An excellent speech included highlighting of the recent verdict on Hillsborough on which he reported. He added one poignant piece of information in that of the 96 who perished, he had counted 68 siblings, one of whom was just one when Hillsborough happened, and who was 28 now, having lived there life growing up under the fight for Justice for the 96, but the strength, determination and perseverance of all those concerned has seen justice happen for them.

David concluded his speech with praising those members and volunteers of Supporters Trust's who work tirelessly for there club's no strings attached and for free.

We at Wrexham are fortunate to have such a high quality of members and volunteers who work tirelessly for Wrexham AFC. We are thankful to them all.

John Mills