It’s been a busy 12 months for the football fans and the newly-created Football Supporters’ Association. Here we look back at some of the highlights (and lowlights) of 2019…
2019 started much as 2018 had ended – with fans facing significant disruption to accommodate TV kick-off times.
Just ten of 32 games played during the FA Cup third round were played at the traditional time of 3pm on a Saturday. This was the first year of the FA’s lucrative international broadcasting deal for the competition – so expect more of the same this January, too.
FSA chair Malcolm Clarke said: “The third round of the FA Cup on the first Saturday in January was always one of the great highlights of the season, and to have less than one third of the games kicking off at three o’clock on Saturday definitely diminishes the magic of the day.”
The issue also reached Westminster as Labour called for supporters to be protected from late fixture changes with a “Fans Fare” that would provide flexible ticketing on the rail network when games were moved at the behest of TV.
With broadcasters having a huge impact on the fixture schedule (more than half of all Premier League games are now moved) the issue of public transport and particularly train travel, is likely to become an increasingly thorny one.
January saw supporters from across the UK put aside their rivalries to pay tribute to Emiliano Sala, the Argentinian forward signed by Cardiff City who tragically died when the aircraft he was aboard crashed into the English Channel.
After years of campaigning against their unpopular owners, relief came for Blackpool supporters as the High Court ruled against the Oystons – putting the club into receivership and ultimately forcing the Oystons out.
Blackpool Supporters’ Trust said: “To the many thousands who over four seasons took a principled stand against seemingly unprincipled owners, thank you for your unwavering support in helping to bring this change about – and welcome home!”
There was also good news for away fans in the top-flight, as the Premier League announced that its popular £30 away ticket price cap would be continuing for another three seasons.
In early-Spring we published the results of our survey into the policing of the Steel City derby at Hillsborough, and it’s fair to say fans were not impressed with South Yorkshire Police’s operation.
More than 1,000 supporters of the two teams took part in our survey examining police behaviour before and after the derby on 4th March. The results painted a damning picture of the operation, particularly post-match as Sheffield United fans left the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough – 72.6% of fans surveyed said the post-match policing of the derby was worse than it was previously.
Additionally, 70.7% describe the management of the exit from the stadium as very poor, a further 14.8% described it as poor. Just 4.3% described it as good or very good.
“Unfortunately, South Yorkshire Police’s approach did not meet supporters’ expectations of how a modern high-profile fixture should be handled,” said FSA caseworker Amanda Jacks.
Champions League ticket prices were back in the news in March too, as Manchester United and Liverpool fans both faced some pretty steep prices on the road in the Champions League. Away fans heading to the Nou Camp would have had to pay £102 for Barcelona vs Manchester United until the club intervened and subsidised it to (an only slightly less eye-watering) £78.
As the season reached its climax, supporters were once again left out of pocket as the broadcasters carved up the fixture list to make sure they got the games they wanted on TV.
Fans of six Premier League teams face disruption to their travel plans for the penultimate game of the season after Sky Sports moved three games with just two weeks notice. All the result of predictable fixture clashes created by English teams competing in Europe, coupled with Sky Sports and BT Sports unwillingness to give up their initial picks which were always at risk of being moved at a later date.
Speaking about his disappointment that Manchester City’s final home game of the season would be moved to a Bank Holiday evening kick-off, Ray from Man City Fan TV said: “Two weeks notice is absolutely scandalous. This goes beyond who you support, it goes beyond the tribal nature of football, we should all be standing together because it’s ridiculous.”
In April we published the results of our nationwide survey into the state of supporter engagement, which showed that there was still room for improvement. We surveyed specific contacts and affiliated supporter groups and/or trusts with 73 out of 92 clubs covered within the results – which showed most clubs are engaging with their supporters and fielding appropriate club officials (such as owners, directors or senior executives).
Problem areas remain however, as 39% of respondents said their club either misunderstands or doesn’t act upon supporter engagement, although this is an improvement as almost half (48%) of fan representatives said the same last year.
At the end of the 2018-19 season newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers announced they would be installing more than 5,000 rail seats at Molineux, becoming the first Premier League club to retrofit rail-seating type accommodation into an existing stand.
It was a major breakthrough for the standing campaign, as the club said it was meeting its supporters needs as the overwhelming majority surveyed wanted to see the introduction of standing accommodation. Head of the FSA’s standing campaign Peter Daykin said: “We hope that the opportunity to observe such a large installation of rail seats at the highest level of the game provides a lot of data that can further progress the debate.”
Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur fans came together in May to condemn the outrageously expensive tickets to see their two teams go head-to-head in the Champions League final. Four in every five tickets made available to fans at Estadio Metropolitano in Madrid cost more than £150 with the most expensive a staggering £513.
“Ticket prices of in excess of £500 are extortionate,” Spirit of Shankly and Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust said. “And there needs to be transparency from UEFA and our clubs in how tickets are priced and allocated. It is time to stop cashing in on fan loyalty.”
May also saw the launch of our new initiative, alongside Level Playing Field, to improve access for disabled fans at non-league grounds. Find out more about the Disability Inclusion Charter here.
More bad news for Coventry City fans arrived in June as the club confirmed came they would be groundsharing for the second time in six seasons – with their ‘home’ games for the 2019/20 season being played at St Andrew’s in Birmingham. Moz Baker from the Sky Blues Trust said: “To happen once during the disastrous Sixfields period was bad enough but for fans, the real losers in this tragic episode, to have to go through it all again is unforgivable.”
Further south, a coalition of West Ham United fan groups condemned the club’s newly-formed partnership with Socios.com, a cryptocurrency platform that seeks to monetise supporter engagement. Nick from WestHamTV said: “If we allow this to happen unchallenged it opens another door for the powers to be to fleece us again.”
The FSA broke new ground in July by providing it’s first Fans’ Embassy service at a tournament in the women’s game – supporting England fans as they followed the Lionesses across France. Like their counterparts in the men’s game, the Free Lionesses team provided support and advice for fans who had travelled to see England play in the World Cup – including a very smart 32-page guide to the tournament. Look out for more from the Free Lionesses in future.
Policing was back in the news in July as senior police figures began lobbying politicians for additional powers to charge football clubs more for football policing. Tim Passmore, Police & Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, urged other police commissioners across the country to work with their chief constables to “bring pressure on Government” for legislative change that would give police forces the power to recover more costs for policing football matches.
“The intention of the PCC is to change the legislation not just to allow for football cost recovery but other events too,” FSA’s Amanda Jacks said. “This is a step towards a privately funded police force and is deeply concerning.”
Sussex Police also published the results of their investigation into the conduct of its officers during the Brighton & Hove Albion vs Crystal Palace fixture in November 2017. The investigation followed serious complaints from Palace fans, who said that the events at the match, which included blanket ‘kettling’ and forced escorting of Palace fans, had significantly damaged supporters’ trust and confidence in Sussex Police. The investigation upheld a number of complaints supporters made against the force.
The crisis at Bury FC reached its nadir in August as the club, in administration and unable to find a buyer, was expelled from the EFL. Owner Steve Dale faced fierce criticism for his mismanagement of the club, as did the EFL for allowing Dale to purchase the club in the first place. FSA vice chair Tom Greatrex said: “It’s extremely shocking that we’ve reached this point – Bury FC’s demise does severe harm to the reputation of our footballing pyramid. “Our thoughts are with Bury fans today and we’ll continue to support them as they look to rebuild.”
Bolton Wanderers, a club with similar financial woes, managed to escape expulsion after finding a buyer but did receive a points deduction from the EFL.
With the new season seeing VAR introduced into an English league for the first time, the Premier League invited supporter representatives to its video suite at Stockley Park in West London. Fans from across the country got a chance to see how the VARs would review incidents with their Hawkeye cameras and technology, and learn about VAR protocol. Whether VAR has been a success or not is up to you to decide…
September was a busy month for the FSA as we hosted the inaugural Fans for Diversity conference alongside our partners Kick It Out at Amnesty International’s London headquarters. Hundreds of fans from around England and Wales gathered in the capital to discuss the big issues impacting LGBT, disabled and black and ethnic minority supporters.
We also recognised the great work fan groups do by handing out the first ever Fans for Diversity awards in seven different categories – you can see the winners here.
Fans for Diversity campaigns officer Maria Ryder said: “It was terrific to see so many of our nominees at the Fans for Diversity Conference, and the strength of the shortlists in each category is testament to the fabulous work that’s being done on inclusion and diversity throughout the game.”
Bristol City fans’ long wrangle with West Midlands Police was also concluded, as they secured victory in their legal battle over misuse of police powers going back to an away game at Birmingham City in 2015. The Robins claimed they were kettled and forced onto trains back to Bristol without reasonable cause – and WMP finally settled out of court.
Liverpool fans were also hailing a “victory for common sense” in September when the club’s application to trademark the word “Liverpool” was rejected by the Intellectual Property Office.
Cardiff City and Swansea City fans held protests ahead of the South Wales derby back in October, claiming they were “guinea pigs” for live facial recognition technology. Representatives from Cardiff City Supporters’ Club and FSA Cymru also expressed disappointment at South Wales Police’s decision to utilise facial recognition at the fixture – a technology which civil liberties campaigners say still lacks meaningful oversight.
Plans for policing the fixture had been in place since the summer when police assured supporters the technology would not be used at the match – a decision later overturned by senior officers on the force. Vince Alm from Cardiff City Supporters’ Club, an affiliate of the FSA, said: “We strongly oppose the police decision to use facial recognition. It’s just a local football match, yet we haven’t had a say and we can’t opt out.”
The game’s governance, a hot topic throughout 2019, was once again under the spotlight as MPs held an enquiry into the demise of Bury FC, recently expelled from the EFL, and the FSA was invited to give evidence to the DCMS Select Committee hearing.
The FSA was represented by chair Malcolm Clarke and vice-chair Tom Greatrex. “This is the first time an FA Cup winner has been expelled from the EFL,” Tom told the hearing. “This is a real wake up call for the football authorities, there really needs to be change.”
The DCMS Select Committee’s report would go on to endorse our recommendations on the urgent need for governance reform.
Ahead of the 2019 General Election, we launched the “Fans’ Manifesto” to shine a spotlight on five key areas we believe parties will engage with: grassroots football, standing, transport, governance and regulation, and equality. In some form or another, all the major parties back different parts of the Fans’ Manifesto and had something to offer football fans as they went to the polls.
November was also a month of contrasts for two different clubs in League Two: Crewe Alexandra and Macclesfield Town. Crewe Alex supporters, led by the Railwaymen supporters’ group began fundraising to buy a significant stake in the club and help take it forward, something described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” Sadly for the Silkmen, the club’s crisis worsened as wages went unpaid and players remained on strike.
Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk picked up the Men’s Player of the Year award at the 2019 FSA Awards with BeGambleAware. With more than 340,000 votes cast, the FSA Awards are the largest supporter-led awards in the UK and Van Dijk topped the fans’ vote, holding off competition from runner-up Raheem Sterling. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mané, Heung-Min Son, and Jamie Vardy completed the shortlist. Van Dijk is the fourth Liverpool player to scoop the award in seven years.
Elsewhere Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema won Women’s Player of the Year, while Sky Sport’s Jamie Carragher took home the Pundit of the Year prize.