Fans’ messenger: Watford SLO pioneers family & disabled work
Posted on 22nd March 2017
This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.
Here at the FSF we like to highlight good supporter liaison work across the country. This time it’s Watford FC’s SLO Dave Messenger who tells us about the work going on at the Hertfordshire club…
Dave Messenger has been SLO at Vicarage Road since July 2015, a Watford fan since he was a boy, and came into the role with no previous experience in football – but that hasn’t held him back, being shortlisted for FSF’s SLO of the Year.
He’s one of a handful of SLOs that goes to every away game, which the FSF encourages, and that is something that he says is vital to maintaining a positive relationship with Watford supporters.
“Talking to people, being at the games, is really important,” Dave said. “A lot of clubs interpret the SLO role in different ways but I get more from 30 minutes talking to supporters than I would a whole week stuck behind a desk.”
Being an approachable point of contact for Watford fans on away trips is part of Dave’s work – supporters can ask him anything if they find him in the away end.
“The majority of the questions are about the away ticket scheme,” he said. “Like other clubs we have a system in place and it’s about getting the balance right.
“Supporters are asking ‘will I get a ticket?’ for upcoming matches and it’s important to be able to offer that reassurance.”
Watford’s away following is in a healthy state, with the club capping the core costs of an away day at £40 – that’s £30 for the ticket, thanks to the Premier League-wide cap, and offering £10 coach travel to all the non-London games.
“It’s been really well received,” Dave said. “Away attendances have been improving every year over the last few seasons.
“We’ve had a few challenges with fixtures moving for TV, the kind of thing that rankles with fans up and down the country, but this season most of our away games have been sold out.”
For home games, Dave arrives at the ground early to prepare the away end for the visiting supporters and briefs the meet-and-greet teams who welcome fans to Vicarage Road, before spending the pre-match build up speaking to supporters who’ve been in contact during the week.
Visitors to Vicarage Road in recent seasons may have noticed the displays organised by the 1881 Movement, an atmosphere group formed in 2013.
“They want to create a better atmosphere at Vicarage Road,” Dave said. “And they’ve really made a difference over the last three seasons”.
Relationships between atmosphere groups and clubs can be fraught, but 1881 and Watford appear to a healthy working relationship.
“The group want to be independent of the club, which we feel is right” Dave added. “We’re happy to let them get on with what they do.”
Watford are the latest club to install a sensory room at their ground, a facility designed to make live football welcoming to autistic supporters.
Dave describes it as his “pet project” and he was vital to driving the project forward at Vicarage road.
He says: “It’s a massive step forward for the club, we’ve always been a pioneering family club.”
The club recognised the success of the sensory room at Sunderland and wanted to provide a similar option for Watford fans.
“It’s been huge for us,” Dave said. “It’s been fully booked since opening and is sold out for the rest of the season.
“We were among the first clubs to provide disabled facilities in the eighties and hopefully this puts us back at the forefront – we’re really pleased with what we’ve created.
“It’s been fantastic for autistic fans and it’s opened up football for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go.”
Dave says that disabled access in football has improved considerably in recent years, but Watford are looking to do more. The club now delivers headsets with audio commentary for fans with visual impairments and has an excellent relationship with its disabled fans group.
“The whole access standards question isn’t just about wheelchair spaces, they are important, but it goes beyond that,” he said. “So many supporters have restricted mobility, visual impairments and other hidden disabilities. We need to open up football to them and we’re working hard to get that right.”
Every year at the FSA Awards we celebrate the Supporter Liaison Officer of the Year, a prize that aims to promote the best supporter liaison work that goes on around the country – and we’ve spoken to the 2019 winner, Dave Messenger, about his role at Watford.
In recent seasons, the supporters’ movement in the women’s game has flourished and Manchester City Women’s Official Supporters Club are just one of the many fan groups riding that wave. In a special long read, which is packed full of ideas for other developing groups, Board member Dave Sheel tells us about the group’s journey over the past five years…