Supporting Supporters

Over the past year, especially since the launch of Chelsea’s ill-fated proposal to purchase the lease of the pitch at Stamford Bridge, I have had the good fortune to meet many more Chelsea fans. Amongst these decent, upstanding citizens are not only those who spend their spare time entertaining their fellow supporters by blogging and podcasting, but those who are  involved with trying to make things better for everyone.

A question. How many readers of this article are members of a supporters organisation? At the moment, there are two which immediately spring to mind at Chelsea; the Chelsea Supporters Club, and the Chelsea Supporters Group. I am now a member of the latter, and this year also joined the Football Supporters Federation. Both these bodies are free to join and, together with CSC, have the ability to raise issues which affect fans, such as ticket prices, travel and Policing. Another body, Supporters Direct, is an umbrella organisation which represents football supporters’ trusts – we don’t currently have a trust at Chelsea but a lot of  fans will be aware that this is a growing trend.

Both Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation hold AGMs and conferences;  SD also hold an annual football match, and the FSF an awards ceremony that recognises writing and blogging. However, this year the two bodies decided to pool their resources and hold a “Fans Weekend” in which all members were invited to meet, attend workshops, hear an address from Gabrielle Marcotti and participate in a Fans Question Time, with the FSF Awards being held in the evening of the second Saturday in July, and the Supporters Direct match taking place on the Sunday.

As I said, having become more interested in issues of fans working together, I registered for the conference and awards evening. Michelle Shaw, who is the Vice-Chair of the Chelsea Supporters Group was attending as she was hoping to be elected to the National Council of the FSF (a good thing for all Chelsea fans), and I was pleased to learn that both Cliff Auger (CSG Committee) and Tim Rolls, known to many for his work in the CPO debate last autumn, not to mention his media appearances, were also going to be there.

The Saturday events were being held in The Great Connaught rooms a stone’s throw away from Holborn tube, and I made my way there under skies that hinted at something nasty shortly. I walked through the doors, and immediately spotted the signs to conference registration. I was asked my name and given an accreditation from the neat little pile of plastic folders. Under “G”, I spotted a familiar name. William Galliard of UEFA, he who had dubbed The Special One an enemy of football. Incredulous, I asked the young man at the desk if they were indeed expecting him. “Oh yes”, came the reply. “He usually attends”. The young man then pointed me to the FSF desk so I could pick up the impressive delegate pack, including minutes from last year’s AGM, this year’s report, and the motions which were to be put to the conference. Then I went to get some of the “welcome refreshments” and, having helped myself to some orange juice, spotted Tim Rolls and Cliff Auger lurking behind a tea urn. We had a chat before heading into the Cornwall Room for the FSF AGM. For FSF members, this was going to take up the bulk of their day, timetabled for two and a half hours, whereas the Supporters Direct AGM at 17.30 was  scheduled for an hour. You didn’t even have to be a member of either to attend their AGMs, you could simply attend if you were interested, although of course you wouldn’t be able to vote. Malcolm Clarke, the Chair opened the conference and began by welcoming the delegates by saying how appropriate the conference venue was this year, given that it was yards away from the Freemasons Tavern, where the FA was formed. Tributes were paid to officers and former players who have died during the past twelve months, and then the meeting got down to business.

Funding and governance issues were discussed, and the FSF hope to launch a pre-paid travel card, which would of course be useful for fans travelling to away games in Europe.

The minutes from last year’s Fans Parliament were adopted, and the business moved on to the elections. In great news for Chelsea fans, Michelle Shaw was elected to the National Committee, giving our supporters a voice on a national platform, and various other offices were also filled. The highly-impressive FSF report was adopted and, as part of this, a number of motions were debated, amongst these a lively discussion as to whether payday loan companies should be allowed to advertise in football grounds, which ended in an amendment covering all companies rather than just the high-profile firm cited in the motion.

The issue of safe-standing, raised in the annual report, was also discussed. Malcolm Clarke stated that yet more progress had been made on this issue in the last twelve month, particularly citing the pilot scheme in the SPL, and praising Aston Villa for giving the FSF campaign open backing. Other Premier League clubs were supporting the campaign privately, and support is widespread in the lower divisions. Indeed officials of Peterborough FC have undertaken a visit to Hanover to see the safe standing system in action and were keen to trial the system. Whilst the FSF were planning to hold an event and meet MPs, they feel that the major battle will be to change the perception of safe standing with Premier League clubs rather than parliament. A speaker from the Spirit of Shankly group did stress the need for caution with regard to timing when pressing the safe standing agenda due to the imminent disclosure of the Hillsborough documents. John Dart of the FSF put the view that all the clubs who had received a visit from the Safe Standing Roadshow had been supportive.

Ticketing issues were discussed, and the FSF’s SCORE campaign will continue to lobby for a maximum ticket cost of twenty pounds for away fans attending Premier League away games. A QPR fan spoke to the conference and thanked the FSF for their assistance in helping lower ticket costs at Loftus Road last season.

The FSF also hope more fans will support the Non-League Day, which will be held on 12th October this year, to coincide with the international break. Amanda Jacks addressed the conference briefly on law issues, and, rather surprisingly, there were no questions on women’s football. The meeting concluded with Any Other Business, which took in appeals for support on a 92 club walk, and a plug for the Ex-Pat Supporters Club.

The AGM closed at 12.30 and the delegates headed out to lunch. I’d expected a sandwich, so it was a huge surprise to find a tasty hot buffet with mini fish and chips, salads, vegetable stir fry and egg fried rice. There was even chocolate creme brulee for pudding.

After lunch, the fans re-assembled (with many having to stand at the back of the room) to hear an address from Gabriele Marcotti give a well-received speech making a plea for more transparency in the game, and for better coverage of lower league games in order to get kids interested in their local football teams, rather than supporting the big clubs. Then the workshop sessions took place, and I attended “Effective Lobbying and Public Affairs” and “Community Shares” workshops. I thought it might come in useful with CPO, or something. It was certainly an insight into how supporters can marshall their forces and make a real difference to their clubs.

Following the workshops, there was a lively “Football Question Time” chaired by David Conn of the Guardian, and featuring Tom Greatrex MP, as well as Malcolm Clarke of the FSF and David Lampitt, the new Chief Executive of Supporters Direct, whose AGM followed after. I left at about 6pm to grab a bite to eat before returning to the Rooms for the evening’s Quiz/Awards. When I got back, yet more nibbles were on offer prior to the quiz, and I had a drink with Cliff and Michelle (Tim had departed).

The quiz, compered by Kevin Miles of the FSF, was a combination of They Think It’s All Over and Have I Got News for You, and the celebrity panelists were former Gooner Perry Groves, Barry Glendinning of The Guardian, ex-Sunderland man Michael Gray, and MOTD2’s Kevin Day. Between the questions there were many anecdotes from Groves and Gray (mostly relating to alcohol and misdeeds of former team-mates), although the Chelsea table could have done with a few less cracks about John Terry.

Then it was time for the awards. Sadly there was no Chelsea presence this year (CFCUK had been nominated last year), but amongst the winners were Graham Hunter for “Barca – Making of the World’s Greatest Team”, “United We Stand” was voted fanzine of the year, and The Anfield Wrap was named “Podcast of the Year”. It was amusing to see that the bloggers were mainly geeky-looking  young men, who looked as if they wanted to run away and hide. The Scousers were predictably well-oiled, which was some achievement given the price of the drinks at the bar (6.50 for a vodka and lemonade, ouch).

With the last of the awards, Kevin Miles, wrapped up the show and the first day of Fans Weekend was over and the attendees made their way out to a soggy London evening.   In the Supporters Direct Cup on Sunday, Enfield Town beat Wrexham 3-2.

It was a hugely enjoyable, albeit long, day, and it was great to see so many supporters who care passionately about their clubs come together to discuss important issues affecting all fans. The only thing that concerned me was what’s known as the “demographic” – whilst the audience age at the Awards did fall due to so many nominees being bloggers, a lot of whom tend to be young, a lot of those at the AGMs were my own age or older. The ageing supporter base at all clubs is going to be a problem in twenty years time, and it’s a subject this column will be returning to.

The FSF have more than 180,000 members, and is free to join, so there’s no excuse. Find them at Supporters Direct whose goal is to promote sustainable spectator sports clubs based on supporters’ involvement & community ownership are at You can follow them on Twitter at @The_FSF and @SuppDirect respectively

The Chelsea Pitch Owners EGM is imminent, and there’ll be a look ahead to this in the next column. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67