Last night I attended a Fans Forum in the Commonwealth Suite at Manchester City football club, which was organised over the summer by the 1894 Supporters Group, and was attended by City employees Danny Wilson (Director of Sales, Service & Operations), Nick Becker (Head of Events) and Lisa Eaton (Service & Fulfilment Manager). Kevin Parker made his debut as compère, and performed solidly.
The meeting was initially arranged to discuss one issue – atmosphere. Over time though, as the date moved closer, it began to encompass other issues such as stadium expansion, and both were discussed at the meeting, though the atmosphere at matches remained the main focus of debate.
This is not an issue peculiar to City of course. The atmosphere at most Premier League grounds has faded over the years, and I have no doubt that the main solution would be a return to restricted terracing, an issue Wilson said the club are open to, but of course the club’s hands are tied somewhat on this issue. The big games take care of themselves most of the time, but it is the smaller games, the likes of the 12:45pm kick off v Hull where the real problems lie.
Like all forums, a wide range of ideas were suggested by those present, some excellent, the occasional point utterly ridiculous. Banning fans for not taking up their seats seemed a tad draconian though not awarding loyalty points for the same offence could stop those buying tickets just to stockpile those loyalty points.
Other suggestions mooted included utilising the vocal City support at away games and using videos of them in pre-match videos around the ground and in the concourse. The issue of flags and banners and choreographed cards was also mentioned, plus previous efforts to whip up an atmosphere such as the blue moon on the scoreboard and the “dimming” of the lights. Blue Moon should be performed just prior to kick off and not earlier, and perhaps be a fan rendition. Supplying free scarves once more gives the ground colour, but only for that match. The general gist was that City’s immense social media presence could be utilised more to help generate atmosphere and fan interaction.
The issue of relocating away fans was discussed in some detail, there being a strong support in the room for grouping the vocal fans together in one group rather than having them separated by the away fans. Danny Wilson put forward the counter-argument that it could be just as beneficial as it stands by having vocal fans on both sides of the away fans. Either way, they cannot in my opinion be moved to the gods, as this would kill the atmosphere stone dead. Consultation is still ongoing regarding this, another option being thinning the away block to three tiers after the expansion has taken place.
But linked to that, there is no doubt also that many still feel strongly about being forced to move seats. The issue of the Family Stand reared its head, not only because it forced people out of seats, but because it is an area that supplies little atmosphere.
Other points worth mentioning include the role of players in the atmosphere in a ground. One person wanted them geeing up the crowd at corners, but the simple acknowledgement of the fans by the team as a collective at a match-end is something that would certainly go down well. The acoustics of the stadium was also mentioned, and the simple fact that if the club could get the fans in earlier, to drink in the ground rather than elsewhere, then this would improve the atmosphere immensely. This isn’t going to happen though whilst prices remain as they are, or whilst the choice of beverages is so narrow.
Throughout the meeting, the Premier League was compared with the tremendous atmospheres found in many other European Leagues, and whilst some inspiration could be taken from their methods, the fact remains that the English culture prevents the type of synchronised displays that you may see in the Bundesliga.
Regarding the stadium expansion, it seems that it is as yet undecided on the extent of the plans. The south stand alone may be expanded, or perhaps the North Stand too. There can be little doubt that any applications for expansion will be waved through by the council, and any expansion would be in place for the 2015/16 season, with little impact on existing seats, though some areas of the ground away from the seats would have to be closed for a season (e.g. the Legends Lounge) as the ground expanded outwards.
As for the creeping premium seating in the stadium, it was made clear that such seating would only expand when the stadium had expanded and thus the £299 season tickets had been introduced. Danny Wilson intonated that previous fan surveys had shown a strong demand for premium seats, which raised a few hundred eyebrows in the room, and I said to him afterwards that if he wants the stadium to sell out, the annual price increases must stop, as breaking points are being reached for many. Wilson seemed to suggest that the new £299 seats would cover this problem, but it doesn’t as it still leaves the vast majority of fans paying more. After all, we can’t all sit in the cheap seats.
But in many respects the club are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Not many clubs would hold such a forum with fans, but after the meeting there were already disparaging remarks about the forum on social media sites suggesting that the club won’t act on ideas put forward, something that many would argue has happened before. Only time will tell, but those representing City last night do not run the club, and can only do so much. Danny Wilson & Nick Becker answered the questions put to them honestly and seemed open to suggestions.
A quick raffle continued my run of having never won anything, ever, and the meeting was wrapped up and the expensive Amstel drained.
Further meetings are planned, including with safety officers regarding the use of wooden flag sticks (which of course in the modern world are now deemed offensive weapons), and time will tell what improvements will be made.
Further details on future plans can be found here: – http://forums.bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk/viewforum.php?f=16