Birmingham City Football Club WM Police and Supporters’ Forum: January 2017

Joys and Sorrows were proud to attend the most recent Supporters’ Forum on 24th January 2017.  Chaired by Rachele Johnson, Blues’ Supporter Liaison Officer.

Location: Legends Lounge, St Andrews.

Chair:Rachele Johnson (SLO) – BCFC

BCFC Representatives: Dave Hoult (Safety Officer), Carl Upton, BCFC SLO.

WMP Representatives: PC Colin Barlow (Designated Football Officer), Inspector Howard Lewis-Jones (Head of Football Unit)

Supporter Group Representatives: Lynda Courts (Redditch Blues), Dave Smith (Official BCFC Forum), Tony Routely (Central Blues Travel), Micky Singh (Blues4All), Linda Goodman (Birmingham), Richard Stanley (Blues Trust), Cliff Horrocks (Blues Trust), Sean Guilden (Irish Birmingham City Supporters’ Club), Russell Dempsey (Joys and Sorrows), Chris Sinclair (Northside Blues), Ray Hobrow (Blues Collective), Tina Hobrow (Blues Collective), Chris Brown (SRB Radio).

Unaffiliated Supporter Representatives (2016/17): Nigel Smith, Emma Wilcock, Adam Pownall, Andrew Orgill.

Agenda:

  1. Introductions
  2. West Midlands Police Open Forum Regarding Aston Villa 23/4/17
  3. Retail
  4. Ticketing
  5. Media and Communication
  6. Catering
  7. Match Days & Facilities
  8. AOB

Introductions – Rachele Johnson

Rachele – new to the role since Dave Boston’s departure – introduced herself and the members of the West Midlands Police present.

West Midlands Police Open Forum Regarding Aston Villa 23/4/17

Inspector Lewis-Jones said the Force had met with representatives from both clubs in the pre-season and agreed a mutually agreeable 12 noon kick off for both matches.  He also agreed a similar meeting to tonight’s meeting had been held with representatives from Aston Villa’s fans prior to the Blues – Villa home match back in October.  They had asked for several items to be provided/granted, most of which could and was provided in order to make their matchday experience more enjoyable.  Tonight’s meeting (at least the Open Forum with the WMP) was with the intentions of making the away day experience for Blues fans safer and more enjoyable, too.

  • After last season’s game, toilets were an issue as police and stewards refused entry back into the stadium after fans were shepherded back to the coaches from the concourse. (Tony Routely)

PC Barlow: “At Blues, all toilets and kiosks were open when the Villa crowds were held back.   We’ll ask for similar from the Aston Villa staff in the away match.”

  • Older fans (in their 50’s?) were pointed toward an unpoliced industrial estate near Holford Drive after the Villa Park match last season, as they were trying to get to their car parked in the Tesco car park.  They were unharmed, but had to walk through crowds of Aston Villa fans. (Tony Routely)

PC Barlow: “There was a ‘sterile corridor’ from Manor Road, Station Road to Witton Road, though common sense should have prevailed, and the fans should instead have been asked to wait 10-15 minutes instead of walk into the industrial estate, until the ‘sterile corridor’ was lifted.”

  • Can anything be done to stop the Witton Arms from charging Blues fans £2 entry? (Tony Routely)
  • Perhaps the £2 could be diverted to a local charity instead of the business’ own profits? (Russell Dempsey)

PC Barlow: “The Witton Arms may indeed not welcome BCFC fans this season after events last season, but the questions will be asked of them.  There will, however, as always, be strict road closures around Villa Park.”

  • Yew Tree Pub was excellent before the last match at Villa Park.  Nothing but praise for the venue, staff and policing of the area. (Chris Sinclair)

Inspector Lewis-Jones: “As a proposal, coaches could arrive at Villa Park an hour before kick off at the latest and be served drinks in the lounge.”  (BCFC could look up the option of a reciprocal idea of a pre-coach breakfast in the Legends Lounge at BCFC)…

  • Why not set up beer sales in the coach park at Villa Park?  Similar sales take place at other grounds, such as The Hawthorns and Ewood Park. (Lynda Courts)

Inspector Lewis-Jones: (in response to a question from the floor) “We are in conversation with London Midland about setting up a ‘football special’ (or two) to and from the match to get fans directly to and from New Street Station without stopping at local stations between, this would be done in liaison with British Transport Police.”

  • Could Blues fans have a designated car park? (Micky Singh)

Inspector Lewis-Jones: “Near Witton Station, Holford Drive, Yew Tree Station perhaps…”

PC Barlow: “We’ll ask the question of Villa Park…Birmingham fans won’t be held back after the final whistle (Aston Villa fans were – at their own request).”

Inspector Lewis-Jones: “A sterile area will be created to protect travelling fans.  We will make sure fans know the restrictions in place, road closures, etc, so they know how to plan ahead.”

A variety of seating options were discussed, including turnstile relocation and it was confirmed that BCFC will receive the same 2,000 seating allocation for the away game as BCFC allocated to Aston Villa.  The fans asked if Welsh officers were going to be utilised as it was felt they had used unnecessary force at the last match.  Inspector Lewis-Jones confirmed that the Cardiff constabulary had been drafted in as part of a national force sharing initiative, necessary due to the cuts in officer numbers in recent years.  At this present time, there are no plans to draft in Welsh Officers in particular

The pros and cons of social media were discussed, such as recent high profile accusations of assault against officers.  Inspector Lewis-Jones conceded that public filming could pose a challenge, but pointed out that more often it provides evidence that clarifies events in favour of officers.

PC Barlow: “Aston Villa asked for provision of their own stewards…BCFC are happy to send their own stewards to the away game…”  This was met with warm approval from the forum.

Officers were strategically deployed at St Andrews to deter toilet smashings, etc, with a great deal of success.  The forum agreed similar deployment at Villa Park was sensible, and would prevent Birmingham City fans from being blamed for things they haven’t done.

  • The cost of official coaches needs to be looked at when it’s so expensive to travel such a short distance to Aston from Small Heath. (Lynda Courts)
  • Free coaches had caused an issue of some missed deadlines as fans felt less inclined to rush as they had ‘nothing to lose’. (Linda Goodman)

The first point was conceded by BCFC and would be looked into.  The latter was suggested more a matter for sticking to deadlines, especially when coaches were subject to police motorcycle escorts to Villa Park.

PC Barlow: “All coaches can be escorted to Villa Park if they are coordinated through the club and arrive at the designated area in time.”

Inspector Lewis-Jones: “The last derby passed off in relative safety and it is hoped with increased fan engagement the next one will do in a similar – if not even safer – manner.”

Retail

  • The last 4 or 5 matches  programme sellers couldn’t be found in the Kop, definitely not at entrance 5.  Is it possible to move the sellers inside the ground instead of Coventry Road or car park? ( Linda Goodman)

RJ/CU: The Supporters’ Liaison Officers’ Help Points would stock more copies which could help, and Rachele had spoken with the relevant staff who suggested programmes should have been available wherever they had always been available.  RJ to look into this matter…

  • The club shop is quite small and cramped – the staff are very friendly but there are long queues and the shop can get quite messy – don’t know how to improve this? (Dave Smith)

It was acknowledged that the shop is quite small, but that there was no scope for expansion.  What would be looked at would be an increase in use of external ‘market style’ sale outlets of items such as scarves, etc to supplement the shop.

Ticketing

  • Following an online petition to lower season ticket prices to create a better atmosphere with more fans attending matches, are there any plans to lower prices? (Ian Reddington, unaffiliated and not in attendance)

RJ: “Three seasons ago, the ticket prices were frozen and we presently have the third lowest prices in the Championship…£350 is average season ticket…our lowest is £230.”

  • Following the example of Bradford City’s successful introduction of a “Flexicard” which allows fans to purchase a “membership” and reserve their seat but only pay for the games they attend – is this something Blues will look into introducing? (Dave Smith & Blues Collective)

RJ: “Blues Loyalty is £30, the Flexicard at Bradford is £50.  The only difference is the reserved seat.”  RJ agreed to look into the possibility of (for example) a 10 match ticket, further incentives for ST holders inviting friends, etc, and to see if there is any evidence that raising the limit of minimum tickets sold to schools in the initiative to 4 has had a detrimental effect on school sales.

  • The Club has recently implemented a no refund policy on coach tickets for away travel. What is the Club’s position if the match is rearranged after tickets have been purchased or if a person cannot travel due to illness? (Linda Goodman)

RJ: “If match ticket and coach ticket are returned, a refund WILL be granted.”

Media and Communication

  • The sound through the speakers is poor – at the back of block 16 you couldn’t hear the half-time interview.  Also, the pre-match video used to have dramatic music to it building it up.  Now it is effectively a silent video – the video seems pointless without build up music before the teams walk out. (Dave Smith)

DH: “The PR system does need to be improved but the media suite itself has been upgraded.  The video silence is a timing issue, and will need to be looked at again.”

  • At the last meeting the club agreed to put team news on the big screen and intersperse it between the adverts so that fans could refer to it to see goal scorers, yellow and red cards and team line up.  If the club don’t intend to do something then they should say rather than make false promises. (Dave Smith)

RJ: “A vacancy actually has to be filled which would help, this could then be looked into…” RD notes – the club didn’t actually promise this, it’s something they said they would look into.  This was mentioned in the meeting, so Dave Smith could take this back to the Official Forum!

Catering

  • Are there any plans to have a wider variety of foods – maybe street food? (Blues Collective)

RJ: “New initiatives are always being looked into and would always be trialled as and when fan surveys suggest and when demand requires.”

  • Are there any plans to introduce beer hawkers/vendors to alleviate queues at the kiosks? (Blues Collective)

RJ: “This is being trialled in the Kop/Tilton Corner.  It does help, but time will tell whether it will be a lasting alternative, as a second member of staff may be required to make it a feasible option for each vendor station.”

  • Cookhouse is really god – is the menu going to be published pre-match to advertise what will be served? (Dave Smith)

RJ: “It is already advertised on email and Twitter, but more obvious advertisement in the ground could well be looked at in the short term…”

  • No Cookhouse menus in the Main Stand – when will this facility be made available in the Main Stand? (Dave Smith)

RJ: “Yes, it is in the ‘D’ Bar already, but will liaise with marketing on advertising Cookhouse in Main Stand……”

Match Day and Facilities

  • Is there likely to be any improvements to the toilets?  There seem to be frequent blockages.  Additional hand dryers would be useful – especially in the winter when your hands are already cold after using cold water! (Katie Alldrit-Rose)

RJ: “A new system is being looked into, in the close-season.”

  • Complaints about lack of hot water and lack of hand dryers/paper towels.  Is it possible to install antibacterial gel dispensers? (Lynda Courts)

RJ: “We will look into this.”

  • What age do you need to be to be searched when entering a football stadium? (Chris Sinclair)

DH: “Eighteen, though each club has its own policy on this.  Even St. Andrews has the right to refuse entry to a child if the adult responsible for them refuses a reasonable request to allow a child to be checked by a DBS-cleared member of security staff, if security staff feel they have due cause to request such a search”

  • Those picked to take part in the Half Time 888 Challenge always seem to be sat in the lower tiers.  Can we have a better way of picking fans that is fairer which includes those at the back of the stands as well? (Lynda Courts)

RJ: “We will look into a few alternative ideas for this and see if we can make it more fair.”

  • We’re always late kicking off – can the clocks be synchronised somewhere? (Dave Smith)

RJ: “The referee is – and always has been – in charge of kick off times.”

  • Can the away fans be moved to the paddocks?  This would mean the entire Gil Merrick is then open to Blues fans.  This would also make policing easier. (Dave Smith)

DH: “The present system means away fans have a designated car park, away only area, where the paddocks would have to be shared, so the suggestion isn’t feasible…”

  • The TVs in the bars in the Kop have no sound and do not work – the bars in the Kop resemble a cattle shed.  Awful. (Dave Smith)

DH: “We’ll try to test the sound.”

RJ: “It may have something to do with Health and Safety, that is, to prevent people loitering, listening to the TV, so it avoids congestion to turn the sound off.  It will be checked regardless…”

  • What is the Club’s stance on safe standing areas? (Dave Smith)

this is from a previous meeting’s (May 2016) minutes:

St. Andrew’s has been constructed as an ‘all seater’ stadium with access and egress, turnstiles and infrastructure built for such (and in accordance with our Safety Certificate). There are many factors to consider and the Club and the FL are in regular dialogue regarding this topic which is deemed to be an ongoing issue.

DH: “Until legislation changes, St Andrew’s will be an all seater stadium!”

AOB

A Steward had told a disabled fan they were ‘not allowed to help’ a disabled fan to access their seat.  Dave Hoult confirmed this is not correct.  It is hoped this was a misunderstanding but fans are urged to bring any complaints to the attention of the club so rare events like this can become a thing of the past.

Club Class fans are having their view restricted by departing corporate guests (before half time) and then them returning after the second half kicks off.  This spoils the entertainment for paying fans, often by fans who haven’t paid and won’t appreciate what they are spoiling.  The club are to look into ways of limiting this.

The forum were also proud to have amongst its number an instrumental member of the party who helped saved a man’s life on the way back from the Newcastle match.  He is hopeful his identity can stay low-key until an official statement can be put out – hopefully by the club – simply to acknowledge the role of the paramedics and the severe lack of emergency first aid facilities at motorway service stations.  A heart-warming tale of Bluenose heroes!

Thanks to Rachele Johnson, Dave Hoult and Carl Upton for providing the venue and for being so open and friendly.  Thanks also go to the two gentlemen from the West Midlands Police who gave a very honest account of life in the police force during derby games.  A real eye opener!

It was a pleasure representing this Forum and seeing for myself just how dedicated these people are to OUR club.

If you have any comments and in particular any suggestions pertaining to fan safety at the Aston Villa v Birmingham City match in April, please leave them below or post them in the Forum!

Keep Right On!

Russell Dempsey

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