Joys & Sorrows – Birmingham City Football Club Supporters’ Forum: August 2017

Joys and Sorrows were proud to attend the most recent Supporters’ Forum on 15th August 2017.  Chaired by Rachele Johnson, Blues Supporter Liaison Officer.

Location: The City Room, St Andrews.

Chair: Rachele Johnson (SLO) BCFC

BCFC Representatives: Roger Lloyd (Senior Finance Officer) BCFC

Supporter Group Representatives: Lynda Courts (Redditch Blues), Tony Routely (Central Blues Travel), Bik Singh (Blues4All), Linda Goodman (Birmingham), Richard Stanley (Blues Trust), Cliff Horrocks (Blues Trust), Sean Guilden (Irish Birmingham City Supporters’ Club), Russell and Christian Dempsey (Joys and Sorrows), Chris Sinclair (Northside Blues), Nick Glynn (East Midlands), Rob Smitten (Yorkshire Bluenoses).

Unaffiliated Supporter Representatives (2017/18): Emma Wilcock, Andrew Orgill, Ian Reddington, Jordan-Leanne Rushton, Richard Cox, Mark Smith, Ben Palfrey.

Agenda:

  1. Introductions/Code of Conduct
  2. Board/Ownership
  3. Retail
  4. Ticketing
  5. Catering
  6. Media and Communication
  7. Match Days & Facilities
  8. AOB

Introductions/Code of Conduct – Rachele Johnson

Rachele – fresh from setting up match day (Bolton were in town) and in preparedness for ensuring Blues TV was up and running, post-meeting, introduced herself and Roger Lloyd, who himself had to leave early for matchday commitments.   The first thing on the agenda was the confirmation that those present accepted the new ‘code of conduct’, which is common sense really, and is outlined here…

Standards of Personal Behaviour

The Supporters Club will ensure that every individual member:

  • Shall not present or represent themselves as employees or representatives of the Club
  • Shall not bring Birmingham City Football Club into disrepute or behave in a way that is (directly or indirectly) prejudicial, libellous, defamatory or slanderous
  • Shall not subject any Club official to personal abuse, either in private or the public domain

The Supporters Club will also:

  • Protect the privacy of their members and ensure any personal details of members are protected under the Data Protection Act
  • Ensure bullying, harassment and discrimination does not occur within their group

Club Responsibility to its Supporters Groups

Birmingham City Football Club will:

  • Add group details to the official BCFC website as a recognised supporters group
  • Invite two representatives of each supporter group to attend the quarterly forum held at St. Andrew’s
  • Offer discounts for room hire, subject to availability
  • Coordinate group bookings** Valid Client Reference Numbers must be provided at the time of booking.  Unfortunately, this is not possible for disabled supporters due to the free carer ticket provision.

Board/Ownership

  • Why is the business side of the Club quiet once again?  The person who took Panos’s role seems to have little to no public presence, we really need to be knowing who owns us after the last debacle. (Russell Dempsey)

Roger Lloyd: It really hasn’t been quiet on the business side, with player signings and our news releases via official media channels.  We are not in a position re: behind the scenes dealings to reveal all the ‘ins and outs’ of transfer discussions, as it would reveal ‘our position’ to competitors, etc.  It was acknowledged that Panos’s role on social media was active, but that was his personal views not necessary those of the club.  Those in charge don’t have the same personality, and it was conceded by those present that we don’t want the ‘Dr Tony’ approach either!  It was pointed out that after 7 years of relatively no money and having to bring in players on a free transfer, money has now been made available in the infrastructure to bring in more expensive players and a new ‘SIS’ pitch with a nylon weave, in line with Premier League clubs.  The ownership was clarified (please accept my apologies if these figures aren’t perfect, there were lots of figures flying about!)….100% of the club is owned by Birmingham City plc interim holding company.  97.5% of this company is owned by Birmingham City Sports plc, 2.5% by shareholders who didn’t take up Carson Yeung’s initial offer floated on the HKSE.  Of the 97.5%, 70% is owned by Trillion Trophy Asia Ltd and 30% is owned by shareholders who buy and sell on the HKSE.  All directors of the club are fit and proper in accordance with the ‘fit and proper person’s test’.  When Harry Redknapp refers to meetings with ‘The Owners’, he specifically refers to ‘the Board of Directors’.

  • At the forum in May, it was pointed out that the supporters would like more communication from the Board. A commitment was made that this message would be conveyed to the Board.  Has there been any response to that? (Blues Trust)

Roger Lloyd: All items released on official Bcfc forums can be taken as communications from the Board, as that is their official route of communication.  Harry Redknapp is also an official spokesperson of the club.  It was noted, however, that some would wish to see a member of the Board speak upon occasion, or at least have a press release with direct quotes from a member of the Board.  This will be relayed to the Board.  It was pointed out that “100% their goal is Premier League football.”

  • Could you explain how the Financial Fair play rules affect the Club and how close (or far away) the Club are from breaking any rules?  Do the rules influence the amount of money the Club can spend on new players? (Blues Trust)

Roger Lloyd: FFP rules are complex, but in the last five years we complied with all of these rules in every respect.  Roger did the return on FFP himself.  Going forward, the Board understands the rules and consequences should we breach them fully.  The ‘headlines’ are that the latest rules are an aggregate is taken of the last three years’ accounts results, along with academy expenditure, depreciation and a statement is given to the club.  A loss of between £0 and £5m means the club can continue unhindered.  Above this amount, the owners must commit £1m plus equity.  Any breach results in a transfer embargo, though it was obviously demonstrated by the recent Neymar Jr, Costa and Atletico Madrid farces that clubs are indeed willing to flout said rules.

Retail

  • Any chance of improving the range for young kids in the Club shop? (Russell Dempsey)

Rachele Johnson: Wayne Cowan, Head of Retail, confirmed that the range in stock always reflects demand.  If the stock is limited, then the demand historically hasn’t been there.  It was a suggestion taken on board that the online stock could supplement the physical stock, but it was further noted that the stock system has issues that has lead to fans arriving to collect orders (when asked to!) only to be told they’re no longer in stock!  This is to be actioned ASAP.

  • Why was our kit just a generic off-the-peg Adidas kit this season?  You can go and buy the exact same shirt, without the sponsor or Blues logo, for around £16.  This is seen by some fans as fairly insulting.  Will they be doing much differently next year? (Russell Dempsey)

Rachele Johnson: The kit was a part of the Adidas deal.  Notts Forest and Watford have a similar kit from a limited number of available ‘silhouettes’.  The price differential will be taken up with Wayne Cowan as this was perceived to be the main point.  Fans can accept the club may not have much choice over ‘silhouette’ but their fans shouldn’t be forced to pay ‘Premier League’ prices for a ‘Championship’ product…

Ticketing

  • I’d like to know why the club feel the need to charge £2 to collect your own ticket on match days? (BCFC Fan Forum/Russell Dempsey)

Rachele Johnson: This is simply a disincentive to queuing as a major complaint from Blues fans has been time taken to queue up and pay for/collect tickets on match days.  The £2 charge – it was hoped – would encourage more fans to print their tickets at home.

  • Are we any nearer to accepting mobile tickets? (Russell Dempsey)

Rachele Johnson: The official line is that this doesn’t yet fully work, so can’t be fully ‘announced’.  However, as some present members have confirmed it seems to work on Android phones, the general consensus was to use the facility if you can, but not to rely on it, particularly as it could result in a £2 admin fee. 😉

  • Can we have reciprocal agreements with Championship Clubs on away ticket prices?  Can we aim for £20 not £25 as per the FSF’s ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign?  I think we should be applauded for our Season Ticket prices, it would be great if we could lead the way on away ticket prices where possible too.  (East Midlands)

Rachele Johnson/Roger Lloyd: It was confirmed that Ipswich and Reading agreed a reciprocal arrangement with Blues this season.  Other clubs – of course – are free to charge whatever they wish and Blues need to follow suit, else Blues fans are ‘punished’ when they travel away and ‘their’ fans feel the benefit of a ‘cheaper St Andrews’…  Other clubs were mentioned as being particularly stubborn and expensive, but I’m sure most readers will be able to work out which East Midlands side, day of the week and ‘dirty nicknamed club’ these may have been.

It was confirmed that four and five away ticket-purchasing fans would obtain ‘Bronze’ status.  It was conceded that some fans would struggle initially as away matches are selling out quickly, but this is surely a good thing for the club.

  • As many people work shifts or away from home, would the Club think of doing a 10 game Season Ticket where fans can choose when they want to go and receive a paper ticket on arrival to that specific game? (Central Blues Travel)

Rachele Johnson: Wayne Cowan confirmed that Blues Loyalty’s discounted tickets are probably the closest you can get at this time, with the half season ticket in the final half of the season.  The disincentive that some would only turn up to ‘Band A games’ was countered with the suggestion that the promotion would offer a certain amount from each band.  The club will look into the feasibility…

  • If an employee of the Club wishes to travel on supporters group coach to an away match, can the supporters group purchase tickets for them? (Central Blues Travel)

Rachele Johnson: This issue impacts on any supporter who – for any reason – doesn’t have a ‘Client Reference Number’, for example some fans who only ever sit in a box at St Andrew’s.  Wayne Cowan will look into this…

  • The disabled supporters club received a reduced rate for the End of Season Awards – would the Club be willing to reduce the price of tickets for the Supporters Groups?  (Central Blues Travel)

Rachele Johnson: The reduction was a private donation, not subsidised directly by the club, though Ian Dutton (Commercial) would look into the specifics, and see if anything could be done for Supporters Groups in general, in future…

  • Why were only some people emailed their away loyalty status – we don’t want to have to phone up to find out! (Redditch Blues)

Rachele Johnson: Wayne Cowan insisted that all valid email addresses should have received loyalty status.  Enough present suggested they hadn’t received it, to suggest a problem, however, so Rachele apologised and said she’ll ask Wayne to send a repeat email.

  • £10 charge to have a match ticket printed if you forget your season ticket is a joke, how much is a bit of card?  Lost season ticket charges at £20 is also a bit steep.  (Redditch Blues)

Rachele Johnson: Again, this is a deterrent issue, but Rachele took on board Russell’s point that paying five times the amount a fan who didn’t ‘print at home’ despite only taking up the same queue space isn’t acceptable.  The club will look into this policy.  Some fans who have yet to receive their Season Ticket, even at this late stage, should contact Rachele at the soonest possible opportunity…

Catering

  • Usual request to be able to pay by Chip and Pin or Contactless at the kiosks (BCFC Fans Forum/Russell Dempsey)

Rachele Johnson: Sharon, head of the retail and catering, said it would require 100 new tills and connections so won’t happen this season.  A noted 10p-20p price rise on some products was explained as happening ‘only after a lengthy period of price freeze’…A complaint about the lack of range of confectionery was noted but it was pointed out that the Cookhouse range has been extended this season.

Media and Communication

  • Blues TV should not only have the live matches but the full match should stay on the site for a whole year so you can watch it whenever you want if you miss it or want to re-watch it. (BCFC Fans Forum)

Rachele Johnson: Extended highlights will remain on the Blues TV paid subscription site – as they always have…

  • Is the text commentary that was on Blues Wall no longer available?  If not, what will be replacing it? (BCFC Fans Forum)

The live blog was part of the EFL deal.  It would have cost a five figure sum to retain it.  The idea from Colin Tattum and Ian Dutton is that the Twitter feed will be fed onto the main match centre.

  • Blues TV states that live streaming is only available outside UK and Ireland.  Over recent years, televised BCFC matches have been few and far between therefore being based in the ROI we miss out.  As a recognised Supporters Group, could we pay for one subscription for the Club? (Irish Supporters)

Rachele Johnson: This idea is not presently feasible, but the club will look into possible solutions to the problem.

  • The Club’s YouTube channel was excellent last year but a 21 second post-match interview with Harry was pitiful.  Yes the Club wants to direct people to paid services but will they put off the majority given the realistic idea most fans will engage with free services? (Russell Dempsey)

Rachele Johnson: This is a brand new service and – as such – is still under development.  We are confident we’ll get it right.  International subscribers in particular will enjoy the afore-mentioned streaming of live matches.

  • The new website is good but it only shows the top 3 stories unless you go via each of the filters in the news drop down.  This makes it easy to miss things if more than 3 items are posted in one day.  (Redditch Blues)

Rachele Johnson: This will be looked at to see if 4/6 per page could be included.  It was pointed out the search box actually works this season, as the EFL version rarely did, properly.  The new-look website had some mixed reviews around the room, but overall received approval.

Match Day and Facilities

  • A clamp down on vaping that goes on would be nice, at times I realise how it used to be back in the day when the steam trains came by the Railway End.  (BCFC Fans Forum)

Rachele Johnson: No vaping signs are now up all around the stadium, complementing the no smoking signs, it is also announced on the big screen,.  Stewards have also been briefed.  Fans who see vaping in the stadium are encouraged to let stewards know.

  • Can we suggest having the flags back on the Main Stand?  (BCFC Fans Forum)

Rachele Johnson: This will be looked into by the Club, as will the reinstallation of a club crest on the back of the Gil Merrick…

  • What are the plans for trialling and introducing safe standing?  I remember the last time it was dismissed out of hand by the safety officer (Dave Hoult) however, momentum is shifting on this and I would be keen to know how Blues are going to engage positively in this development. (East Midlands)

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!’

Rachele Johnson: This will be looked into by the Club, though – as previous meetings have suggested – the Safety Officer has the final say and is unlikely to change his opinion until legislation changes…

AOB

  • How is Blues looking to engage and embrace the people who live closest to the ground?  I am thinking particularly of people living near to St Andrew’s who are from an ethnic minority background, as we are severely underrepresented in the stands.  There have been some projects and initiatives in the past, it would be great to see how successful they have been and what plans are for the future.  (East Midlands)

Rachele Johnson: Sam Taylor’s ticket initiative has been very successful engaging schools (** I can confirm that!  RD**) and the likes of Bik Singh’s ‘Blues4All’.  Alum Rock FC were in attendance for the Bolton match…

Thanks to Rachele Johnson and Roger Lloyd for providing the venue and for being so open and friendly.

It was a pleasure representing this Forum and seeing for myself just how dedicated these people are to OUR club.  I brought my lad along for the experience and he enjoyed it.  Bodes well for the future of Birmingham City when the next generation can feel positively about engaging with the Blues.

If you have any comments, please leave them below or post them in the Forum!

Keep Right On!

Russell Dempsey

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